Have you ever wondered what a dumpy little town would be like if it had all the money in the world? Your answer might reside in Townsville, where, with the recent economic boom due largely to mining, the crappy little town has actually become quite nice. To be fair, I had not visited Townsville prior to Monday, so I can't give you an exact account as to what the city was like 20 years ago, but I imagine it was not particularly nice.
Why is Townsville not very nice, you might ask? We can begin with geography. The city is located at 20 degrees south, which means it is tropical, or to put it more bluntly, HOT. Fortunately it is now May and going into the "winter", which means that the humidity occasionally drops below 80%, the temperature below 70 and it doesn't rain for days upon days.
Second, although Townsville is located on the coast, you can't swim here. Or rather you can, but you take the risk of being stung by one of five dangerous jellyfish or being eaten by a saltwater crocodile. Granted, the highest risk for getting stung by an Irukandji or Box jelly is November - May, but I'd rather not take my chances. (These jellyfish are also found out on the reefs but are way more common by the mainland.) Even if there was nothing in the water to kill you, the water itself is not very inviting -- it is murky, super salty and contaminated from local mining pollution.
So not only is it hot but you can't swim. However, with the massive amount of money pouring in from the mines, as well as the huge numbers of families that have moved to Townsville to live closer to work, the powers that be decided to make the city more livable.
On The Strand, the stretch of about a mile from the marina to the end of the main drag along the water, there is an olympic sized public pool ("heated" although totally unnecessary) and next to that there is a kid's water-park -- free and open all day every day. But if you don't like chlorine or want a more "natural" atmosphere, there is also a manmade saltwater Rock Pool at the far end of The Strand. The free guide states, "Sea water is constantly pumped into the pool, after being strained from marine life and stingers into a natural beach setting. The pool, which is about 10 times the size of an olympic swimming pool, has the entire water volume replaced every three hours." Moral of the story? At least for now, money has conquered nature and Townsville has a safe swimming beach.
After a swim in the Rock Pool (I couldn't resist a salty swim without worry of stings or bites) I walked around town. I came across "The Sweatshop", a cute little hipster cafe with cool art on the walls and funny (albeit cheeky) signs out front, where I got the best cappuccino I've had in a long time.
Yes, in spite of my low expectations I actually found Townsville to be a nice place. There are tons of bars, restaurants and cafes, the Museum of Tropical Queensland (which I didn't get a chance to visit but hear is good), some nice hikes, good dives and other tourist attractions.
Then again, I am not particularly sad that we only spent two nights there. While I was pleasantly surprised by the city, I was also glad to leave. We are now en route to Cairns and hope to be there in a few days.