Nestled in amongst the Whitsunday region, you’ll find the gorgeous, sunshine filled Airlie Beach. A sub-tropical escape in North Queensland, Australia. Airlie Beach is touted at a stopover point for those wanting to visit the Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef, but it’s so much more than that. This bustling coastal town has a hidden waterfall, coral-filled beaches, incredible marine life and the most awe-inspiring seaside walks.
On your entrance into Airlie Beach, the first sight you’ll notice is the bright, pastel blue water. It’s a colour like no other coastal town I’ve been to. It almost has a milky tinge to it. This rich aquamarine colour is supposedly due to the fine sediment floating in the water. When the light hits these sediments, it reflects back to the surface. You’ll also be amazed at all of the pristine yachts in the distance.
Getting to Airlie Beach
James and I have travelled to Airlie Beach twice now, both times in our van. Let me tell you, its a long, longggg drive. On both of these occasions we drove up from Bundaberg where some of my family lives. From Bundaberg to Airlie Beach it’s 8 hours and 45 minutes. (And don’t forget to factor in taking breaks every 2 hours in addition to this).
This drive’s not for the faint hearted. The road is long, straight and incredibly boring. There’s nothing to see and it all looks the same. To such an extent there are signs along the highway with trivia questions and answers to keep you alert and awake. It’s this drive that really makes you realise the sheer size of Australia. After Airlie Beach, we travelled further to Tropical North Queensland so if you plan to do the same, remember you’ll have to drive back through this long stretch to return home!
On our first trip to Airlie Beach we stopped off at two towns on the way up. Mackay and Yeppoon. However, we wouldn’t do this again as there’s not much to see here. (To any locals of Mackay and Yeppoon, I’m sorry!) This is just our opinion, so if you feel like you want to take the visit, do your research beforehand and decide for yourself.
The second time we made the journey to Airlie Beach, we broke the trip up over two days, staying at a rest area just outside of Rockhampton. It’s called the Yaamba rest area and it’s the perfect split between the two locations.
You can fly into Airlie Beach. You’ll arrive at the Proserpine Airport, otherwise known as the Whitsunday Coast Airport. It’s 30 minutes away from Airlie Beach.
And of course, you can sail right into Airlie Beach! There are many different operators here who you can hire yachts or boats from. Incredibly, in the Whitsundays you are allowed to charter a yacht without a boating license. However, you will need to have basic sailing and navigating knowledge.
How to spend your time in Airlie Beach
James and I spent weeks exploring Airlie Beach. At one point we even wanted to live in this paradise! I’m going to share with you some of my favourite things to do here.
Look for turtles!
One afternoon James and I went down to the Whisper Bay Boat Ramp and Breakwater to watch the sunset. It didn’t take long before we saw turtles popping their heads up all over the place! There were some out to sea, some right beside the anchored yachts and some right beside us near the boat ramp! We even discovered a huge turtle in this little spot. We’d never seen one so big in the wild.
Do the Foreshore walk
This is a stunning walk that takes you all the way into the centre of Airlie Beach. It’s called the Bicentennial Walkway. It’s right beside the water and goes past some of the marinas. The track winds beside cute little beach coves and some really nice modern appartments. It was hard not to picture myself living in one of them!
Depending on the time of year you visit, try not to leave it too late in the day to do this walk because it get’s really hot. We usually started the walk at Coral Esplanade near Lions Park.
Comb the beach for cowrie shells
The first cowrie shell I ever found was in Airlie Beach! You have to really look hard to find them but there are some here. I love this about Airlie Beach as cowries are my favourite type of shell.
Visit Cedar Creek Falls
Just under 30 minutes out of Airlie Beach you’ll find Cedar Creek Falls. A small waterfall that runs into a natural swimming pool. The first time we visited here the waterfall was running, but on our second visit it wasn’t because of the drought. There’s a track to some higher rock platforms here as well which offer a really nice view.
Take a bushwalk to Coral Beach
Coral Beach can be found in the Conway National Park. It’s a short 1km bushwalk down to the beach. The beach is covered in washed up white coral instead of sand! You can find cowrie shells here too if you look close enough in the coral.
To find this little beach, put Coral Beach Walking Track in Google maps and you’ll be taken there along Whitsunday Drive. It’s about 15 minutes from the centre of Airlie Beach.
Crack some coconuts!
There are a lot of fresh coconuts around Airlie Beach. If you’re lucky you’ll find some that have just fallen and are ok to eat. We found a couple and then also managed to knock one down from a palm tree. We had no idea how to open them properly so watched a YouTube video and opened them with success! It was a nice and refreshing drink and the coconut flesh was a really good pre-lunch treat.
There are a bunch of small beaches around Airlie. However, they aren’t the nicest to swim in. Most of the beaches are man made and have lots of sharp oysters hidden beneath the surface. You also have to watch out for saltwater crocodiles in Airlie Beach. People do swim here but I personally wouldn’t. The water isn’t always clear, so you can’t always see whats beneath.
Jellyfish are also a problem at certain times of the year. Stinger season generally runs from October to May. The warmer months of the year. However, they can be present throughout the whole year. The jellyfish to lookout for is the deadly box jellyfish and Irukandji. Look these up before you set out on your adventure. Unfortunately the Irukandji is hard to spot as it’s translucent and around the size of a cubic centimeter.
Airlie Beach is the gateway to the Whitsundays. If you want to visit the islands, this is the best place to do it from. There are many operators taking people over to the islands, either on a day trip or just as a mode of transport.
We’ve been lucky enough to go out to Whitehaven Beach twice now. Whitehaven Beach stretches 7km along the coast of Whitsunday Island. It’s incredibly beautiful. You know that image you see of the white sand beach with the crystal clear turquoise water on all of the marketing brochures? Well this is it!
If you want to go out to Whitehaven Beach for a day there are two companies I can recommend. The first time we visited we ventured out with Ocean Rafting. This was an adventurous day out on their rubber speed boat. The second time we went out to Whitehaven Beach we spent the day with Cruise Whitsundays onboard their purple catamaran, the Camira.
To find out all of the details on our trips to Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island, I’ve written a separate blog post! Check it out here.
Day trips from Airlie Beach
If you have a few days in Airlie Beach I’d recommend taking a day trip up to some of the neighbouring towns! One of our favourite places was Bowen. We even ended up revisiting and spending a few nights there.
Bowen is 1 hour away from Airlie Beach. There are so many beautiful little cove beaches here just waiting to be explored. If you’ve got the time it’s definitely worth the visit. It’s much quieter than Airlie Beach and it’s filled with palm trees! Bowen is known for its delicious mangoes and is also home to ‘the big mango’ which you can find on the Bruce Highway.
Where to eat
This blog post wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention my favourite places to eat.
For the coffee lovers!
Every morning I visited Fat Frog Cafe for a coffee. (They do awesome food as well!) James and I would bike ride here and spend the morning sitting in the sun across the road on the grass. It’s right across from the water so you can look out to the Whitsundays. The tide can go super low here. If you look out to the small island in the middle of the water, you might even see a dugong put his head up! We saw one when we were here.
For the sushi lovers!
If you love sushi like me, visit Joa Sushi! It’s right in the heart of the Airlie Beach shops. The rolls are a little smaller here but SO good. I always got the vegetable tempura roll. It’s amazing.
Fish and chips
On Wednesday nights a little food truck pulls up to the Seabreeze Tourist Park and you can order fish and chips. It’s really good. The servings are big too so be careful not to order too much. The Seabreeze Tourist Park is on the main road into Airlie Beach, Shute Harbour Road.
Exploring Airlie Beach for yourself
Airlie Beach is full of hidden gems. I haven’t given everything away here so there are still some surprises for you to find yourself!