The coastal city of Townsville in northeastern Queensland, Australia is known for its natural beauty – it’s a popular gateway to the Great Barrier Reef! Read on to find out what to do in the tropical city during your time studying abroad in Oz.

1. Spend a weekend on Magnetic Island

Part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Magnetic (Maggie) Island is a short 20- to 30-minute ferry ride from Townsville. To maximize your time, I suggest spending the weekend at one of the local hostels in which you can meet other students and peers from around the world.

“While living in Townsville, a favorite place to go for a weekend trip was Magnetic Island. The most common place to stay was a hostel on the beach there. Everything there was so laid back, and it was always a lot of fun.” | TEAN Alum Eric Kazyak, University of Maryland

At Maggie, you can enjoy beautiful beaches, stand up paddle boarding, go horseback riding, hiking, snorkeling and scuba diving. There are a couple of dive shops on the island that can take you out on the Great Barrier Reef to snorkel or try your hand at diving. If you’re already scuba certified, even better! You could advance your certification (PADI or SSI) with one of the many dive courses offered. Advanced divers should take the opportunity to dive the SS Yongala which is one of the top ten wreck dives in the world. Horseshoe Bay at the northern part of the island houses little shops and restaurants with a netted beach area. Hiking trails are also all over the island. Trek along for a chance sighting of a koala! As always, bring your sunscreen (a coral-friendly brand please) because the sun in Queensland is no joke and you will definitely burn.

View of Magnetic Island from The Strand in Townsville

2. Hike up Castle Hill

If you study abroad in Townsville and don’t take a chance to hike up Castle Hill, what are you doing with your life? This giant outcropping at the center of Townsville is hard to miss and gives you a 360-degree view of the city and Magnetic Island. Water and sunscreen are your best friends for the hike, but the view at the top is worth it. During my semester we did it as a group TEAN activity. It is a great way to get out, burn some calories and become the quintessential outdoorsy Aussie.

TEAN crew taking on the Castle Hill Hike

3. Stroll along The Strand

The Strand is a long footpath along the coast of Townsville. Locals flock here for a quick jog, to walk their dogs or grab a meal at one of the many restaurants or cafes. The beaches all face toward Magnetic Island, which is a beautiful sight for every beachgoer.

Beautiful morning on The Strand

If you want to swim in the ocean, be sure to find the netted beaches and swim between the red and yellow flags. Marine stingers are prominent along the coastlines, so this rule can be said for the majority of the North Queensland coast. There are also a couple swimming pools along the Strand if you would rather not get sand in your toes. If you’re searching for surf, don’t look here. The Great Barrier Reef cuts off any possible swells, but SUP is a very popular alternative. Here you can even try your hand at sailing and sea kayaking. Most importantly though, don’t leave The Strand without getting a scoop of Juliette’s delicious gelato.

Enjoying two scoops from Juliette’s with ocean views

4. Meet the Local Wildlife at Billabong Sanctuary

You cannot say you traveled to Australia without taking a photo with a koala or kangaroo. The JCU Student Association plans a trip to Billabong Sanctuary during Orientation Week, but you should venture there regardless (perhaps even volunteer). You can take photos and learn about Australia’s indigenous creatures; to name a few: koalas, kangaroos, wombats, crocodiles, emu, dingoes, and even the endangered Cassowary. There is so much more to see, so you must take a day to visit this beautiful place and learn about the unique animals of Australia.

The endangered Cassowary

5. Cheer the North Queensland Cowboys

Rugby is a part of the Australian national identity, so it is only natural that to get the full Australian experience one must go to a Rugby game! Prepare to be completely confused if you have no idea how rugby is played, but one quickly learns what a “try” is and can easily cheer along with the locals. Rugby is a hardcore sport with all the tackling of American football, but with no body pads or helmets. The North Queensland Cowboys are the team based in Townsville, which is extremely lucky and convenient for study abroad students. This is another popular TEAN hosted cultural event most semesters, so get excited for a great night of rugby at the 1000 Smiles Stadium with your fellow TEAN-ers and Townsville locals.

Cheering for the North Queensland Cowboys against the South Sydney Rabbitohs


Jessica Willis is a TEAN Alum and student at University of Missouri. She studied abroad with TEAN in Townsville at James Cook University.