Known as the gateway to the famous Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef, Airlie Beach is paradise in our very own backyard. It’s a stunning coastal town with a tropical and laid-back atmosphere, with plenty of things to see and do. We spent six days here, which gave us enough time to explore this little gem.
What to do:
1. Take a dip at Airlie Beach Lagoon
Due to the risk of jellyfish in the surrounding waters, it’s not advisable, especially in the summer months to swim at the beach without a stinger suit on. The perfect place to cool down without the risk of being stung is at the Airlie Beach Lagoon. It’s located in the heart of town and is surrounded by palm trees, grassy knolls and spectacular views over the beach and the Whitsunday Islands. There are a number of facilities available including toilets, showers, BBQ areas and plenty of shaded picnic areas – making it easy to spend a couple of hours here or even make a day of it.
TRAVEL NOTE : Entry into the lagoon is free. There is parking available on either side of the lagoon, however you will need to purchase a ticket (we stayed here for around 3 hours and only paid a few dollars). There is also free 1 hour parking available on the Main Street.
2. Walk the Bicentennial Walk
Constructed as part of the 1988 Australian Bicentennial Celebrations, the Bicentennial Walk starts at the Airlie Beach Lagoon before ending at Cannonvale Beach. The walk not only gives you magnificent views of the surrounding ocean and Abell Point Marina, but it’s a great way to explore more of the area.
GRADE : EASY. The walk is 4km return and took us roughly 40 minutes to complete. The track isn’t well signposted however, it is just a straight track along the beach making it easy to follow. The track is also well-formed and is flat the entirety of the way.
3. Explore the lush Conway National Park
One of the best things about visiting tropical places is seeing the rainforest! There are a number of walks to explore in the Conway National Park and we chose to do the Wompoo Walk. The trail is a 7km return hike taking around 3.5 hours to complete. There is an abundance of flora and fauna to see along the way, making it a very interesting walk. We visited in the warmer months and did see a few small snakes, so please walk with care.
TRAVEL NOTE : The road to get to the national park is an old logging road and is very narrow and windy. We were lucky the road wasn’t busy when we visited, but we would still recommend to proceed with care.
GRADE : MODERATE. Although the track is mainly flat, there are some steep sections and shallow creek crossing after rainfall.
4. Cool off at Cedar Creek Falls
We decided to check out Cedar Creek Falls after a walk through the Conway National Park. It’s located about 20 minutes away, or halfway between Airlie Beach and Prosperine. The falls are only a short walk from the carpark and the cool, clear waters of the waterhole make it an amazing place to cool off.
TRAVEL NOTE : We would recommend bringing shoes appropriate for water (as walking barefoot across the rocks to get into the water can be a little unpleasant), a towel, sunscreen, bathers and insect repellent. Be careful when entering the waterhole as there are rocks present underneath the water. This does make it quite slippery at the start, but it’s fine as the water becomes deeper.
5. Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef
It would be a shame to visit Airlie Beach and not experience one of the seven wonders of the world. The Great Barrier Reef is not only one of Australia’s most magical natural gifts but it is also the world’s largest coral reef. We actually snorkelled the reef on two seperate days and with two different tour companies (not on purpose though!)
On our first day we went with Explore Group on a full day tour (8 hours) at $350 per adult where we visited two different reefs. We were supposed to visit Bait Reef (and snorkel three different reefs), which is the closest of the outer reef locations, but were unable to due to the residual swell leftover from the previous week of bad weather. We ended up snorkelling in both Butterfly Bay and Manta Ray Bay instead. Both bays offered something different; Butterfly Bay offered us some amazing views of the coral below, whereas Manta Ray Bay offered us more of an up close and personal view of the tropical fish (we felt so close, we could almost touch them!). We spent a little over an hour snorkelling in each location and then had the rest of the afternoon to explore Whitehaven Beach.
The next day, we did another cruise, this time with Cruise Whitsundays. We were originally going to do a half day cruise which would have only taken us to Whitehaven Beach, but given that we visited here the day before, we decided to upgrade and do the full day tour (6 hours) instead, this was a little cheaper at $235 per person. The full day tour included snorkelling and Hill Inlet. Snorkelling on the tour is optional, however doesn’t cost extra. We went to Chalkies Beach and spent about 45 minutes here, personally, we preferred this reef to explore given that we had more space to snorkel and there wasn’t as many people.
TRAVEL NOTE : This activity can still be done even if you aren’t extremely fit or a strong swimmer. The water is calm in all locations and both companies offer lifejackets and noodles.
If you’re prone to motion sickness, we would recommend taking travel sickness tablets along. If choosing the Cruise Whitsundays tour, the ride from Hamilton Island to Whitehaven Beach and then from Whitehaven Beach to Hill Inlet is extremely rough.
Both companies offer morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea options. Although both were good, we personally preferred the food offered by Cruise Whitsundays, as the morning tea had better options (delicious muffins with fresh fruit) and lunch was make your own burgers on the beach.
TRAVEL FACT : The Great Barrier Reef is the only living thing visible from space and is bigger than the Great Wall of China. The reef is not only made up of 3000 individual reef systems, but it’s also home to a plethora of marine life.
6. Feel the sand beneath your feet at Whitehaven Beach
We were lucky enough to see this beach two days in a row (see why above), and once you visit here it’s easy to see why this beach is voted as one of the best in the world (at the time of writing, it’s sitting at number 2!).
The beach is famous for its crystal clear waters and its iconic silky smooth white sand. The sand is actually made from 98.9% pure silica, which gives it its unique colour and powdery grain. Because of this, it doesn’t retain heat like your average sand making it a dream to walk across without burning your feet.
There are plenty of things to do at the beach. The tour companies that will get you here, provide beach games, but there are also plenty of surrounding walks. If you’re up for taking a dip in these gin clear waters, it’s recommended to wear your stinger suit (provided by your tour company), as there is a high chance of being stung by jellyfish; especially when visiting in the summer months.
7. Experience panoramic views of the famous Hill Inlet
Once you reach Tongue Bay, it’s a easy 20 minute walk from the beach to the lookouts. You will be able to view the Inlet from three different lookouts (all with amazing views!). We got to spend about 2 hours here (including the trip to and from the Inlet). We could head down to the beach, but the downside was that we only had 30 minutes to check it out. Personally, it would have been great to have just a little bit longer to explore, but it’s understandable as we were on a time crunch.
8. Explore the rainforest Segway style
One of the truly unique activities you can do here is to explore the surrounding rainforest on a Segway. Whitsunday Segway Tours, only take small groups along and we were lucky enough to be the only ones on this tour! The tour is a total of 4 hours and costs $139 per person, including hotel pick up and drop off, as well as, morning tea. Neither of us had been on a Segway before, so it was a little daunting at first, but our guide gave us a briefing and let us practice before we felt comfortable. The Segway tour explores the Conway National Park along the Conway Circuit (8kms return). Our guide was an Airlie local and gave us a wealth of information on the local flora and fauna and about the forest in general.
Our morning tea included an apple, fruit and nuts, a homemade blueberry muffin and brownie, all while enjoying the crystal clear waters of Impulse Creek.
9. Take a drive up to Shute Harbour and discover the hidden gem of Coral Beach
Located about 10km east of Airlie Beach, Shute Harbour is a beautiful natural harbour that provides some sensational views! The harbour is mainly used as moorings for private boats and as a boarding point for boating operations to the islands.
Arguably one of the hidden gems of this area is the Coral Beach Walk. It’s located about 10 minutes away from Shute Harbour and the walk starts from the carpark. There is plenty of parking available and it’s a great walk with an abundance of flora and fauna to see along the way. The trail brings you out to Coral Beach, which has some sensational views. The plus side is that this beach isn’t a busy little spot, but there isn’t a lot of shade available, so make sure to bring plenty of water.
GRADE : EASY. The walk is 2.2km return and includes a few small inclines, but overall it’s an easy walk – and suitable for all ages and fitness levels.
Where to stay:
Located in the heart of town is the Toscana Village Resort. The facade of the resort, reminded us of something you would see in the middle of the Mediterranean and it simply wowed us every time! The owners were absolutely lovely and we were even lucky enough to have the best view in the resort – literally. The ocean view apartment was huge and featured two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a full kitchen and living area, as well as, picturesque views from the balcony; and trust us when we say they were simply magical no matter the time of day.
Where to eat:
Airlie Beach Hotel: If you head into the Main Street, chances are you won’t be able to miss this place. With a beautiful exterior, pumping tunes and some gorgeous views, we went to this place twice, both during the day for a snack and then for dinner. For our snack, we had hot chips, which were seasoned nicely with a homemade creamy garlic sauce and we paired this with a cider which was an excellent addition. For dinner we had the buffalo wings, the supreme pizza and the calamari. Not only was the atmosphere amazing at both times of the day, but the food was delicious too!
Northerlies Bar and Grill: We had this place recommended to us by a few locals and we’re so glad we decided to come here on our last day. The place provides some stunning beach views. For food and drinks we tried the Island Thyme and Tijuana Tropical cocktails, and the Pasta Primavera and the Chicken Schnitzel. We loved the food and atmosphere here and we ended up spending most of the afternoon relaxing here on the outdoor furniture.
Anchor Bar: This place was actually pretty close to our hotel and although we weren’t expecting a bar so close to our accommodation, it was pretty cool little place. The restaurant includes a rooftop pool, with nearby seating and some pretty splendid views. At nighttime eating here had a romantic atmosphere and we ordered both cocktails and food – all of which tasted delicious and was generously sized.
How to get there:
We were lucky that Jetstar does direct flights from Tullamarine Airport (Melbourne) to Prosperine Airport, taking just under 3 hours. However, if there are no direct flights from your location, you can fly to Brisbane and then to Prosperine Airport.
There is a shuttle bus transfer between the airport and Airlie Beach. Most activities are located in town or close to it, meaning most can be accessed within walking distance. We did hire a car from Hertz for the full six days which gave us a bit more freedom and allowed us to go to places which can’t be accessed by foot.