It’s often considered just a jumping-off point to the Whitsundays, but Airlie Beach is all grown up and now a destination in its own right, Georgia Rickard discovers WHERE IS IT?
Airlie Beach is more than somewhere to sleep between island-hopping: the thriving café culture and beautiful climate ensure there’s plenty to do on shore… or not do, if you’re that way inclined.
- Airlie’s newest hotspot, Denman Cellars Beer Café, has more than 700 beers to choose from – as well as an extensive wine list. Nab an outdoor lounge, order a glass and peruse the tapas menu, if the mood strikes you – the zucchini balls are worth the calories. Shop G15, 33 Port of Airlie Drive, (07) 4948 1333.
- it sounds weird, but that’s probably why it works: perennial Airlie favourite Fish D’vine Restaurant is also home to a rum bar. Whatever your normal poison, these guys guarantee they’ve got a drink you’ll love – and with more than 280 rums on hand, they’re not lying! The atmosphere here is cracking, too. 303 Shute Harbour Road, (07) 4948 0088.
- If you’re looking for a low-key spot to spend a sunny afternoon, you really can’t go past a few beers on the balcony at the Whitsunday Sailing Club. It’s a local haunt, not an upmarket tourist destination, but that’s exactly why it’s so charming – and the views from this place are absolutely the best in town. Airlie Point, (07) 4946 6138; whitsundaysailingclub.com.au
- If there’s one place to try while you’re here, Mr Bones is it. Pared-back decor, warm service and a beachside outlook provide the perfect spot for families and couples alike – and, of course, the food is excellent. Try the simple, thin-crust pizzas – the chicken and sweetcorn with barbecue sauce and lime is truly phenomenal. Shop 8, Lagoon Plaza, 0416 011615; mrbones.com.au
- If it’s a warm evening (and Airlie Beach has a lot of those), head to Capers restaurant. The service is slow, but when you’re outdoors under white umbrellas and fairy lights, dining on a forward-thinking “localvore” menu (daily specials, with ingredients sourced entirely from within a 100km radius), that’s easy enough to overlook. The waterfront location doesn’t hurt, either. 16 The Esplanade, Airlie Beach, (07) 4964 1777; airliebeachhotel.com.au/capers If you’re keen for brekky, there’s really only one place to go: Sidewalk Café. It holds the unofficial title for best coffee in town, and the morning menu is a solid combination of crowd-pleasers – think thick-cut French toast, pancakes with crème fraîche, grilled haloumi with oven-roasted cherry tomatoes… Be warned, though: there can be a queue. 1a/293 Shute Harbour Rd, (07) 4946 6425; sidewalkcafe.net.au
WHERE TO STAY
- Coral Sea Resort: This family-friendly hotel sits smack bang on some of Airlie’s best real estate – right on the point. The rooms do feel somewhat dated, though a recent refurbishment has done much to revive them – and you won’t be spending too much time inside anyway. Especially when the rest of the resort is gorgeous – manicured lawns, a beautiful 25m pool, lazy palm trees, a backdrop of expansive island views… If you’re feeling a little too relaxed, it’s also only a two-minute walk to the centre of town. 25 Oceanview Ave, Airlie Beach, 1800 075 061; coralsearesort.com
- Peppers Coral Coast Resort: The location alone of this place is enough to jump-start any romantic engine – it’s set atop the steep crest of Airlie’s immediate hinterland, with views that stretch out to the islands and far beyond. Having only opened in 2010, the resort still has that “new” feeling – without the hiccups that normally accompany a new operation. Generously sized rooms with lavishly oversized tubs and five-star service add to the general sense of luxury, as does the oft-photographed wet-edge pool, perched on a balcony overlooking the town. Mt Whitsunday Dr, Airlie Beach, 1300 737 444 or (07) 4962 5101; peppers.com.au/coral-coast
- BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday: If you’ve got kids, you can’t beat this place for value and fun – the facilities are phenomenal. Water slides, tennis, minigolf, outdoor movies, playground, a giant jumping pillow and Airlie Beach’s largest resort pool will keep them occupied in a safe, friendly environment while you relax in a deluxe cabin (or BYO caravan/tent). Adventure Whitsunday is a five-minute drive out of Airlie, but within walking distance of Whitsunday Shopping Centre – Airlie’s main mall. There are regular shuttles and buses into Airlie. 25-29 Shute Harbour Rd, Airlie Beach, 1800 640 587; adventurewhitsunday.com.au
- THE ISLANDS. They’re the kind you see on dream holiday wish lists – right in your own backyard.
- THE WRITER’S FESTIVAL. From July 13 to 15, you can listen to talks from respected writers, channel your inner author with a creative writing workshop, sample Airlie’s best food and wine and then fly home with a tan.
- HARDY REEF. Just off Airlie’s coastline as part of the Great Barrier Reef is Hardy Reef: something every Australian should have the privilege of seeing once. Truly breathtaking.
- THE ACTIVITIES. There really is something for everyone here. Take it as fast or as slow as you like.
- THE SAILING. It’s one of the best sailing destinations in the world – and each and every Wednesday, the Whitsunday Sailing Club goes sailing at dusk (volunteer crew members welcome!). August 10-16 sees the town play host to Airlie Beach Race Week, an event with some 125 participating boats. If you feel like extending your stay this year, the following week (August 17-25) is Audi Race Week on nearby Hamilton Island.