From palm-fringed beaches and hidden waterfalls to lively markets and trendy cocktail bars, this lively little beach town has it all.
Airlie Beach is a little piece of tropical paradise tucked away in a remote part of northern Queensland. Located on the Whitsunday Coast, it is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the heavenly Whitsunday Islands. But Airlie Beach is also a great destination in its own right, with lovely relaxed beach vibes and plenty to see and do. We’ve put together a list of some of our favorite activities to make the most of your time Airlie Beach.
1. Go on a sailing adventure
Is there anything better than feeling the sun on your skin and smelling the sea breeze as you glide through the ocean? On a Pentecost sailing adventure, anchor in secluded coves to snorkel with colorful fish and stop at iconic spots like Whitehaven Beach, where you can relax on white silica sand and swim in crystal clear waters. When you’re not exploring, kick back with a cold one on the deck and watch the sunset over the islands. Ah, now this is what life is a boat. There are plenty of tour packages to choose from, depending on how much time you have to play with, or whether you prefer to go basic or splash out on a luxury cruising yacht.
2. Take a scenic flight over the Whitsundays
If you thought the Pentecost coast was beautiful when you’re out at sea, just wait until you see it from the sky. Jumping into a small plane and seeing the rocky reefs, sparkling turquoise waters and white sandy beaches from above will give you an even greater perspective of how beautiful this part of the world is. You will see all the Pentecost highlights, including the beautiful Heart Reef, which you can only see from a bird’s eye view.
3. Relax on hidden beaches
The Whitsunday mainland is full of beautiful beaches to explore. Boathaven and Cannonvale Beach are perfect if you’re looking for somewhere to relax, take the occasional dip and pop into a restaurant for dinner afterwards. If you want to escape the hustle and bustle and get away from it all, head to Dingo Beach, Coral Beach or Hydeaway Bay. Just a short drive from the main town of Airlie Beach, these secluded coves have fantastic coral reefs for snorkelling and stunning views of the sea and surrounding islands.
4. Experience the Great Barrier Reef on a day trip
Airlie Beach is only a few hours away from one of the seven natural wonders of the world: the Great Barrier Reef. It is the largest coral reef system on Earth, and many parts of it can be seen from space. Twist into a wetsuit, put on your snorkel and jump in. It’s a whole new world under the sea, and you’ll get to swim with glittering fish in all the colors of the rainbow. If you’re lucky, you might also see sea turtles, manta rays and stingrays gracefully gliding by. If you love the sea and want to see the vibrant marine life even closer, you can try diving.
5. Swim in lush natural swimming holes
Queensland is full of bushland with hidden swimming holes and waterfalls. Sandwiched between Airlie Beach and Prosperine is Cedar Creek Falls: a stunning waterfall and pool nestled in the coastal hinterland. The pool is set in a natural rock amphitheater enveloped in native flora and fauna. You might want to spend a whole day in this tropical paradise, so bring plenty of picnic food, cool drinks and a good book. You can even sit in one of the shallow run-offs if it’s really hot. If you get tired of lounging by lush waterfalls all day (what a hard life it is), head out on one of the bushwalks that go around and up to the falls. You will see some pretty special views from the top.
6. Spend a day relaxing by the lagoon
Airlie Beach Lagoon is the perfect place to relax if you don’t have much planned for the day. This 4,300 sq m freshwater pool is located on the shoreline just in front of the main strip so you can dip in and out of the hustle and bustle. The lagoon has fantastic sea views, picnic benches, barbecues, grassy areas and changing facilities. There are proper swimming lanes, shallow sections to laze in and a kiddie pool to keep the kids entertained. The best part? It is free to use. Grab a beach blanket, fill up the esky and head down for an afternoon of fun in the sun.
7. Pick up some fresh local produce at the Airlie Beach Markets
If you’re in town at the weekend, don’t miss the Airlie Beach Markets. It is every Saturday from 7.00 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. on the foreshore near the Sailing Club. There are plenty of food trucks to grab a tasty treat, and local vendors selling fresh produce to fill up your picnic basket. You’ll find your typical beach market stalls selling Christmas souvenirs, homemade crafts, clothes, jewelry, plants, etc. Even if you don’t buy anything, it’s really busy down here on a Saturday morning and it’s worth coming down for a coffee and a stroll.
8. Explore nearby national parks
Airlie Beach is a short drive from some beautiful National Parks including South Molle and Conway National Parks. Slip on a pair of sneakers, grab some sandwiches and head out for a day of exploring a stunning coast-meets-rainforest. Discover lush rainforests, mangroves, hidden lookouts and natural wildlife. Look out for colorful rainbow loris, currawongs and endangered bush stone curlews in the trees.
9. Have a drink in Airlie Beach’s quirky bars
The main strip in Airlie Beach is full of cozy cafes, delicious restaurants and quirky bars. It’s quite nice to sip a cup of coffee or eat outside and watch the world go by. The chilled beach town atmosphere changes when the sun goes down and the bars and restaurants fill up with beachgoers ready for a cold drink and a bit of a knee. Magnums, Mama Africa, Paddy’s and Shed Bar are popular places to get a little lively, but there are plenty of bars where you can enjoy a cocktail or two and watch the sun set over the marina if you prefer a quieter atmosphere.
10. Experience a Welcome to Country ceremony with the Ngaro people
The traditional owners of the Whitsundays and the surrounding coastal fringe are the Ngaro people, who are also known as the “Canoe People”. Experience a Welcome to Country ceremony and a short talk about the history and rich culture of this region from a local member of the Ngaro family. Ngaro history goes back thousands of years, and Nara Inlet on Hook Island is one of the oldest Aboriginal sites discovered on Australia’s east coast.
Related reading: Learn more about First Nations experiences in Queensland
11. Walk the Bicentennial Walk
The 5km Bicentennial Walk from Airlie Beach Lagoon to Cannonvale Beach is a must. The trail takes about 45 minutes to do and is fully paved and mostly flat. It takes you along a gorgeous stretch of coastline and there are a handful of secluded beaches to retreat to if you need some solitude. If the sea breeze whets your appetite, stop midway at the vibrant Coral Sea Marina and choose from cafes, bars and restaurants. There is a great atmosphere down here for an evening of people drinking, eating and enjoying some live music.
12. Visit nearby cities
There are so many cool places to visit along the Whitsunday Coast that don’t require you to hop on a boat. Hop in your car instead and head to the tropical town of Bowen (situated at the top of the Whitsunday Coast), where you can work your way through eight stunning beaches, snorkel the colorful reefs and dine on freshly caught seafood. Oh, and you have getting a picture with Big Mango… it’s a rite of passage in Bowen. You can also visit the old mining town of Collinsville, 85 km west of Bowen, to escape the beach crowds and get an outback experience.
Whether you want to switch off and relax or have an adventurous holiday, good times await in Airlie Beach. If you were just planning on passing through, it might be time to carve out a few extra days to experience all that this city has to offer.