When planning a visit to snorkel or scuba dive within the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns stands out as the budget option, while the Whitsundays is the more picturesque region for romance and luxury. They’re definitely not the only two options to choose from, though.

Townsville is worth a visit in its own right as a gateway to the reef, a starting point for rainforest hikes and a modern staycation destination if you don’t want to camp.

But we also know you’re probably craving sand, sea and sun more than city sights if you’re heading all the way up there, so we’ve included places to stay on the alluring and appropriately named Magnetic Island, too – just a short ferry ride away. Here are some of our favourites.


Church House, Townsville

Sleeps 4 / from $400 per night / two-night minimum Church House, Townsville This property was once a 1920s Baptist church. Its church hall has been renovated into an inner-city apartment where natural light streams in through stained glass windows. There’s an open-plan living room, kitchen and dining room all in one space. The two bedrooms (one up in the loft, another in a separate room) each has its own bathroom with a feature tub. Its central location puts it a short walk away from the city proper, restaurants, and seaside foreshore The Strand.

New York-Style Loft, Townsville

Sleeps 5 / from $300 per night New York-Style Loft, Townsville This apartment in a former printery on Flinders Street in the CBD is as central as it gets – The Strand, aquarium, galleries, restaurants and Tobruk Pools are just a few steps away. The open-plan living, dining and kitchen areas are upstairs, along with a guest toilet and workspace. Downstairs there are two bedrooms, with a TV and ensuite in the king-sized master bedroom and a queen bed in the second. A fifth guest can sleep on the sofa couch.

Coastal Corner, North Ward

Sleeps 5 / from $225 per night / two-night minimum Coastal Corner, North Ward With more sprawling waterside views than the city proper, the suburb of North Ward is where to stay if you’re looking for a beachy getaway. The ground-floor, two-bedroom unit in this two-storey Queenslander has been converted into a self-contained space, with its own entrance and access to a fenced-off courtyard, private pool and outdoor setting. There’s a kitchen, dining area and living room area that opens up into the undercover patio.

Cape Escape, Pallarenda

Sleeps 8 / from $252 per night / three-night minimum Cape Escape, Pallarenda Further north and away from the hustle and bustle of the city, Pallarenda is a beachside suburb that looks out right onto Magnetic Island. This four-bedroom home has views directly out onto the water, with easy access to the beach or there’s a private pool. There’s also a fully equipped kitchen and dining space that opens out into the garden and a barbeque area, where you can enjoy the sea breeze blowing through.

Magnetic Island

The Pavilions, Picnic Bay

Sleeps 8 / from $820 a night / three-night minimum The Pavilions, Picnic Bay Built for privacy in paradise, this award-winning house has a pool with elevated views towards the Coral Sea. You’ll get much the same views from the bathtub, with doors that open up towards the balcony, giving the bathroom an indoor-outdoor feel. All four bedrooms include a queen bed, and the rest of the house includes a full kitchen and home cinema if you want to stay in.

Maggie A-Frame, Horseshoe Bay

Sleeps 2 / from $225 a night Maggie A-Frame, Horseshoe Bay You’ll find laid-back coastal vibes aplenty in this wooden A-frame house on the north side of the island. The cute home is strewn with fairy lights outside and surrounded by palm and mango trees, making the outdoor deck a good spot to relax and soak in the surf vibes. Inside, there are pastel hues and hammock. One bedroom is up the ladder in the left, and there’s another bedroom downstairs.

Maggie Studio, Horseshoe Bay

Sleeps 2 / from $200 a night Maggie Studio, Horseshoe Bay By the same team as the A-frame, this tiny home keeps the same beachy vibes going in a simple, private space. It’s got a simple kitchen, workspace and bathroom, plus a bed that faces big French doors that open out to the yard where you can sit on rattan furnishings under the mango trees.

Horseshoe Bay Retreat, Horseshoe Bay

Sleeps 10 / from $600 a night / three-night minimum Horseshoe Bay Retreat, Horseshoe Bay Two pavilions connect to make this thoughtfully designed vacation home just a seven-minute walk from the beach. It has four queen bedrooms (and a sofa bed), a magnesium plunge pool, a spacious living room, a big undercover deck and a butler’s pantry in the kitchen, so this space is designed for groups.

We hope you like the places we recommend on Broadsheet. Our editors select each one independently. Broadsheet may receive an affiliate commission when you follow some links.