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Northern light

Townsville’s undiscovered gem is Pallarenda, a coastal spot where locals can take in the views of Magnetic Island and take a step back from city life.

In Townsville, The Strand is like the A-side of a record: catchy and instantly likeable. With its cafes, restaurants, rockpool and coastal walking track, it’s the tune you can’t help playing over and over again.

But if you venture further north you’ll find the city’s lesser known B-side: Pallarenda. It, too, has a coastal walking track and the magic views of Magnetic Island and Castle Hill, but it’s the dreamy melody that will quietly capture you.

At the end of Cape Pallarenda Road, about 10km north-east of Townsville’s CBD, you’ll find the Cape Pallarenda Conservation Park. Its open woodland and rocky shores are a go-to spot for locals when they are ready to relax and unwind. On weekends there’s often a food truck near the park’s entrance for anyone who needs a morning caffeine fix to get into gear.

For those who prefer to rev things up in another way, the park contains mountain biking tracks from the short and sweet Shelly Cove trail (750 metres one-way) to the more challenging Under the Radar trail (10.1km one-way), which crosses the northern and western slopes of the Many Peaks Range.

Walkers can join the mountain bikers on the Shelly Cove and Under the Radar trails. Or they can opt for one of the walkers-only trails such as the Forts walk. The walk, which is 500 metres one-way, offers sweeping views of Townsville and Magnetic Island, and takes in a number of World War II gun emplacements and a searchlight station on Cape Pallarenda headland.

A slice of history

Apart from appealing to the activewear lover, the conservation park contains a gem for the history buff: a cluster of 17 timber buildings that were the town’s quarantine station.

Originally, Townsville’s quarantine station was located at West Point on Magnetic Island in 1885. But the water supply proved problematic as did the distance between the port and the quarantine station.

So the quarantine station was moved to the mainland. Literally. The buildings were dismantled and, over the course of six months, brought by barge to Cape Pallarenda. The new quarantine station was operating by June 1916 and a jetty was built where ships could dock.

Passengers entered the site near what is now the park’s museum. First all clothes and luggage had to be left in racks to be fumigated by the enormous steam disinfector (which is still there) while they showered and changed into clothes provided by the hospital.

While residing at the quarantine station people were divided according to the ship’s passenger classes. First-class passengers were given the best beds and linen and table service at meals, while those on the bottom rung of the social and racial classes were expected to sleep in hammocks with only a roof for shelter.

Not everyone survived. Visitors to the site can see the graves of 13 Vietnamese people who died of meningitis in 1920.

The forts were built during the Second World War to help protect the entrance to the port of Townsville. The area’s quiet and peaceful location meant the American military used to send soldiers to the hospital to recover.

Its role as a military hospital continued during the 1960s and early 1970s.

The last quarantine patient at the Cape Pallarenda site was someone suspected of having smallpox in late 1973.

Since then, the site has been used by the likes of the Australian Institute of Marine Science; the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority; the Department of Environment and Heritage; and the early Environmental Protection Agency.

Now, a new chapter for the heritage-listed buildings is emerging. At the time of writing, Conservation Volunteers’ Australia (CVA) was in negotiations with Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service to take over the lease for the entire site. CVA already uses one of the buildings as its office and it hopes other buildings will be used by community groups, small businesses, adventure sports operators or tourism ventures.

Cape Pallarenda Conservation Park is open 6:30am to 6:30pm daily. Weekday visitors can learn more about its history at the site’s museum. Open Mon-Fri 9am-3pm.

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