Things to do at Cape Pallarenda

Townsville Town Common Conservation Park and Cape Pallarenda Conservation Park borders the ocean and is full of places to go and things to do for those who love a breakaway from it all. Discover secret beaches and venturing deep into mystical forests without a worry.

Things to do at Cape Pallarenda

Location - Townsville, North Queensland, Australia
Distance - 500 metres to 10+ kilometres depending on route
Duration - 30 minutes to several hours depending on route
Difficulty - 3/4, easy
Approach - 9 km, 12 minutes from Townsville City

Manbarra Land of the Wulgurukaba people. Townsville Town Common Conservation Park and Cape Pallarenda Conservation Park borders the ocean and is full of places to go and things to do for those who love a break away from it all. From Rowes Bay through to the tip of Cape Pallarenda, this area has it all; Recreational trails spanning mountain tops, sandy beaches, and coastal wetlands. Visit this area, absorb some amazing views, and enjoy nature-based recreation close to Townsville City centre. Set in a landscape of open woodland and rocky shores, the park protects a variety of animal and plant life and is a gateway to the recreational Cape Pallarenda trails.

Mountain bike riding, rock climbing, bushwalking, bird watching, wildlife viewing and plant identification are a few of the activities on offer here, along with discovering secret beaches and venturing deep into mystical forests without worrying about losing your way.

Townsville Town Common Conservation Park is six kilometres north of the Townsville city centre. Vehicle access to the bird watching areas is via the main entrance on the turn-off from Cape Pallarenda Road. The gate at this entrance is open from 6.30 am to 6.30 pm daily. Automatic gates allow vehicles to exit at any time.

The best time of the year to visit Town Common is between April and June, after the wet season when wildlife and birds are abundant including wallabies, magpie geese, brolgas and quite a few birds of prey.

Both cycling and hiking through the park are popular activities, however, you must take plenty of drinking water, wear sun protection (i.e., a hat and a long sleeve shirt and pants) and appropriate footwear; Remember to take the insect repellent as you may encounter a few mossies, especially at sundown.

There are various treks throughout the park. Some are short, while a few are long and can be strenuous for some. The walks can be a few hours long and general fitness should be a consideration. Since the area is fairly open, there is a nice breeze to keep temperatures very comfortable most of the year.

On these walks, you will encounter birds, insects and possibly a snake, and wander through patches of coastal vine scrub, eucalypt forest and open grassland on the ridge tops. The Lagoon and Freshwater Trails skirt the wetlands, passing Tegoora Rock (which Croc Rock nearby) on its way north. The wetlands are seasonal, the roads may be closed during the summer rainy season, and parts of the track may be underwater, or overgrown, lost in heavy grass growth.

Even if you're not into long walks, there's something for everyone; fishing, boating, BBQs, playgrounds, WW2 history and even an unofficial naturalist beach, it can all be experienced. There are plenty of interesting shells are washed up along here, which is fun for beach walking. Low tides are preferable for exploring.

Both Lagoon Trail and Freshwater Trail are park maintenance roads and run alongside the wetlands. They are very easy going and both walkers and mountain bike riders share these trails.


Lagoon Trail

Distance: 4.6 kilometres one-way
Time: allow 2 hours walking time
Starting at the intersection of Freshwater and Shelly Beach trails or opposite Walter Nesbit Park at the end of Cape Pallarenda Road, this trail follows the edge of Freshwater Lagoon at the southern base of Many Peaks Range. The trail can become boggy after wet weather.

Freshwater Trail

Distance: 3.6 kilometres one-way
Time: allow 2 hours walking time
Starting at the intersection with Shelly Beach and Lagoon trails, or 1.2 km along the eastern end of the Lagoon trail, Freshwater passes through coastal sand dune vegetation, crosses the dam wall of Freshwater Lagoon and provides access to the Freshwater and Jacana bird hides.

Carambil // Many Peaks Trail, Mount Marlow Range

Distance: 5.7 kilometres one-way
Time: allow 3 hours walking time
Track grading: 3, Formed track. May have some obstacles. May have short steep tracks and many steps.
"Car-am-bil" is the Aboriginal name for the area. The walk has spectacular views over the Town Common wetlands and along the coastline. Many Peaks Track has several lookouts overlooking the airport, Town Common wetlands, Tegoora Rock, Castle Hill, Palm Island Group, Magnetic Island, and surrounding beaches. The trail takes you up to the summit of Mount Marlow (213 metres) and descending through vine thickets and woodland towards the wetlands and into the old Bald Rock car park. There is a bit of shade along the way which is great in this climate! You will also pass by Bald Rock and Tegoora Rock. Tegoora means "thunder" in the Coonambella language.

Starting at Bald Rock on the western end, or 450 metres along the eastern end of the Lagoon trail. In some areas, the trail can be indistinct and walkers must follow the orange trail markers.

It is suggested to walk from Pallarenda Park and then you can choose to return via the Lagoon trail which is the easiest, the Freshwater trail is a little longer but still easy walking on level ground, or the Under the Radar trail which is the longest; you'll just need to give way to mountain bikers. This creates a more interesting circuit.

Rowes Bay to Shelly Cove, Pallarenda

Distance: 800 metres one-way
Time: allow 1 hour
This short walk will take you past The old jetty (remains), World War II forts and gun emplacements, and then down into the unofficial naturalist beach. These WW2 structures are worth the walk to see and provide a good place to sit, relax and take in the view.

Forts Track

This track ascends the ridgeline where you can find more bunker ruins and witness some stunning views as well as the opportunity to explore the historical ruins. The trail ascends the ridgeline all the way to the radar tower. There is a link track that takes you down to Under the Radar track.

The Grave Circuit

There is also a short loop track here that takes you past the historic Quarantine Station and gravesites. The trail then ascends the stairs leading to the old weir. Continue to follow the track past a viewpoint with a bench seat and finish at the Forts Track.

A perfect circuit is to start walking on the lower graves circuit, up past the old weir, and then ascend to the forts. Then walk uphill and take the next trail along the link track to under the radar. From UTR, walk back via Shelly Cove. Alternately, you can skip the graves track altogether and start walking up the forts

Other short walks

Jacana bird hide

This walk is 450 metres one-way and takes you to a bird hide that overlooks Freshwater Lagoon. It's a good place to spot nesting and foraging waterbirds.

Freshwater bird hide

From Freshwater Car Park, the 120 metres one-way trail brings you to Freshwater Bird Hide that overlooks Freshwater Lagoon.

Wetland walk

This walk is 850 metres return and meanders through the melaleuca forest within a seasonal wetland.

Forest walk

This walk is 1.7 kilometres return and follows the edge of Barramundi Waterhole and is shaded by melaleucas, eucalypts and acacias. In the cooler parts of the day, this is a good area for viewing forest birds such as honeyeaters and kingfishers.

The Rowes Bay Wetlands Boardwalk

This short but beautiful boardwalk circuit is separate from the QPWS-managed parks and is located instead on Townsville City Council land.

Other Trails

Shelly Beach, Cape Pallarenda
Shelly Beach

Shelly Beach Trail

Distance: 8.2 kilometres return
Time: allow 4 hours walking time
Shelly Beach is accessed via Shelly Beach Trail or via continuing on past Shelly Cove at low tide. Following the edge of a large marine plain, the Shelly Beach Trail leads through coastal woodland before finishing at the western end of Shelly Beach. The northern part of this trail, towards the beach, is soft and sandy and can be physically demanding.

Under the Radar (Mountain Bike Trail)

Distance: 11 km one-way
Time: allow 5 hours walking time or 1.5 hours riding
This narrow, two-way trail is designed for cross country mountain biking. Walkers must be alert and considerate for mountain bike riders approaching from either direction. It provides excellent views of the islands to the north and the Coral Sea beyond and crosses the northern and western slopes of Many Peak Range. UTR (Under the Radar) is fairly easy but has rough surfaces and some steep sections.

The trail begins 700m along the Shelly Cove trail at the eastern end and at the western end, UTR begins 500m along the Shelly Beach trail in Townsville Town Common Regional Park. There is also a link trail that leads to Smedley's trail (see map).

Smedley's trail

Distance: 6.8 kilometres circuit
Time: allow 3 hours walking time
Accessed via a link from UTR (6.6 km from the eastern beginning of UTR) or 2.8 km from the beginning of Shelly Beach trail. This circuit winds around Smedley's hill taking in panoramic views over the Town Common wetlands, Bohle River and the Coral Sea to the north. It is a challenging but rewarding ride with steep sections, rock obstacles, rock armoured corners and optional B lines that are rated as difficult. WWII 'sangars' constructed of loose rocks and are dotted all over Smedley's Hill and Many Peaks Range. The sangars, soldiers kept watch for any approaching Japanese.

Smedley's homestead

These buildings are located near Smedley's Hill and the Bohle River and have been registered by the Australian Heritage Commission as part of the National Estate. The homestead complex was established in the 1800s on leasehold land occupied by members of the Smedley family who were part of a small, commercial fishing community based at Shelly Beach.

This complex represents the type of building construction common in the area more than a century ago. The buildings are also symbolic of the lifestyle of the community which lived and worked in this area. This site is a part of Queensland's heritage.

The Great Shelly Loop

This trail is a great loop circuit for the more adventurous. Walk along the Shelly Cove trail and continue following the beach around to the main bay - best at low tide. Cross the stream and continue along the beach passing a shelter and crossing another stream. Walk back along Shelly Beach Trail towards Townsville and join in with Lagoon Trail. See the interactive map below:

Interactive Map

See also the Townsville Town Common Conservation Park map and the Cape Pallarenda Conservation Park map.


Cape Pallarenda is a Marine Park Zone A, so you will have to check on limits with fishing. At the time of writing, the limit was one line per fisherman and certain bag limits on crabs and oysters etc. Remember that domestic animals are not allowed in this park. Please note that camping is not permitted in Cape Pallarenda Conservation Park.

Those metal structures located in the wetlands - which can be seen from many vantage points - are in fact Airservices Australia High Frequency (HF) radio antennas.

Kapoks (Cochlospermum gillivraei) are deciduous trees growing on the rocky hill-slopes beside Alligator Creek. They break out in brilliant yellow flowers after the dormant winter months. Leaves then follow before the flowers form large seed pods that eventually split open revealing a mass of white fluffy seeds. During the early settlement of Australia, these soft seeds were used to stuff pillows and mattresses.

Dangerous stinging jellyfish (stingers) may be present in the coastal waters at any time but occur more frequently in the warmer months. If you do enter the water, a full-body lycra suit, or equivalent, may provide a good measure of protection against stinging jellyfish and sunburn.

Remember to be crocwise in crocodile country.

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