Airlie Beach holidays & travel guide

The Ultimate travel guide toAirlie Beach

This coastal playground is a great jumping off point for adventures in the idyllic isles of the Whitsundays, and for exploring the vast subaquatic marvel that is the Great Barrier Reef. But it’s not just a gateway: long relegated to the status of backpacker haunt, this small town (population 1,208) perhaps deserves a few more column inches than might have previously been thought. There’s a surprising number of things to do in Airlie Beach, not to mention some stellar accommodation options, and a variety of local bars, cafes and restaurants to choose from. Moreover, using Airlie Beach as your base typically makes for a much more economical holiday than staying on the islands will.

Spend sun-drenched days careening around the nearby islands on a high-speed boat, exploring national parks blanketed by lowland tropical rainforest, and wallowing in the warm waters of the Airlie Beach Lagoon before heading out for cocktails and a slap-up seafood dinner.

Top things to do in Airlie Beach

Nature & walks

Drink in gorgeous shoreline views and fill your lungs with salty sea air on a stroll along the four-kilometre long Bicentennial Walkway. The walk stretches from Airlie Beach Lagoon to Cannonvale Beach and takes around 45 minutes to complete; it’s best rounded out with coffee or brunch at Cannonvale favourite Fat Frog Beach Cafe.

If the Bicentennial Walkway felt too easy then shift gears and make for the 7.5-kilometre-long walk to the Honeyeater Lookout: it’s a steep uphill climb, but tired bodies are rewarded with superb vistas over the park and the sea. The walk lies within the Conway National Park, which sits just behind Airlie Beach town and boasts a host of walks and mountain biking trails among the tropical rainforest.

Beaches & activities

There’s only one beach in town: man-made Boathaven with its sweep of soft white sand. Alternatively, make for the shores of Cannonvale Beach, a 30-minute walk or five-minute drive from the centre of town. If basking in crystal clear waters is on your agenda then spend a lazy day at Airlie Beach Lagoon (admission free).

A plethora of snorkelling, diving, sailing, jet ski touring, and sunset cruising trips leave from Airlie Beach: choose your own adventure from the listings on the Tourism Whitsundays website.

Markets & attractions

Boating enthusiasts should mark their calendars for August when the annual Airlie Beach Race Week and Whitsunday Festival of Sailing takes place. Expect six days of offshore yacht racing, and seven nights of socialising and entertainment (think free live music and food stalls every afternoon, as well as wine tastings and long lunches).

If you’re in the mood for a spot of retail therapy then check out the curious cross-section of stalls at the Airlie Beach Markets, which has an unbeatable location overlooking the beach.

Airlie Beach accommodation

From family-friendly caravan parks to glamorous five-star hotels, there’s a wide array of Airlie Beach accommodation to choose from.

Hotels & resorts

The one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments at Pinnacles Resort all come with their own balcony and either a jacuzzi or internal spa tub. But the real scene-stealer at this luxury resort is the rooftop infinity pool which boasts panoramic Coral Sea views.

The high-end apartments at Peninsula Airlie Beach occupy a plum spot right on the Abell Point Marina and feature spacious balconies perfect for sipping on a sundowner, or dining al fresco. Pick from one-, two-, three-, or four-bedroom apartments.

Camping & caravan parks

From Island Getaway Holiday Park it’s just a 20-minute walk right into town. Guests love the friendly staff, the coffee van that rocks up in the morning and the food trucks that descend by dusk, plus the plentiful resort amenities (resort pool, barbecue areas, laundry facilities, children’s playground, kiosk/shop). The holiday park also has pet-friendly and pet-free areas.

This BIG4 Airlie Beach park has powered slab and grass sites for both campers and caravaners and is located less than a 10-minute drive from town. The grounds and facilities are known to be kept spick and span, and it wins rave reviews from families with young kids.

Apartments & holiday homes

Soak up the stylish bohemian vibes at this high-end studio on the border of Cannonvale Beach and Airlie Beach, which has a 4.9 rating on Airbnb. Or go for this equally chic, yet slightly bigger three-bedroom, two-bathroom, unit with stellar balcony views.

Airlie Beach restaurants & bars

From health food cafes to breezy whitewashed bars with waterfront views, there’s a wide array of Airlie Beach restaurants to choose from these days.

Get your caffeine fix at Fat Frog Beach Cafe, located opposite beautiful Cannonvale Beach. They serve a mean brekkie too (think pikelet stacks with bananas and ice cream, and yoghurt panna cotta with granola and fresh berries).

Health nuts might prefer to spend their mornings at Bohemian Raw, a Bali-inspired cafe that’s big on ‘bowls’ of both the smoothie and pokē variety.

Choose from surf or turf at 20 Degrees South Bar & Restaurant, hidden away within the Whitsunday Sailing Club. The sizable balcony promises stellar views of the marina, and the menu offers a seafood tower, complete with Sydney rock oysters, scallops, calamari, tiger prawns, mussels and more.

For tapas, paella, and other Mediterranean-inspired dishes visit Paradiso Rooftop Bar & Restaurant. It boasts lagoon views and tables spill onto the street.

If pub grub (and a cold glass of wine) is the order of the day then Anchor Bar should be your destination. This bar and restaurant is good for a hearty feed (burgers, chicken wings, racks of ribs, tacos), along with occasional live music.

Sip on seasonal, fruit-driven cocktails made with locally grown fruit at The Garden Bar Bistro. The waterfront bar/bistro also has ‘teaser boards’ that feature either four different gin and tonics, or four different espresso martinis, plus a food menu full of light dishes that skew heavily towards seafood.

Getting to Airlie Beach

There is no Airlie Beach airport: instead, catch a flight to either Hamilton Island Airport (a one-hour ferry ride away) or the Whitsunday Coast Airport, also known as Proserpine (a 30-minute drive away). A scheduled ferry service connects all arriving and departing flights from Hamilton Island Airport with Abell Point Marina in Airlie Beach.

Best time to visit Airlie Beach

Airlie Beach has a tropical climate, with an average daytime temperature of 23°C-30°C year round. The best cruising weather in the Whitsundays is between August and early November when the trade winds ease off. And following that, the wet ‘green’ season takes place between December and April. It’s worth noting that ‘stinger season’ occurs from October to May, however, jellyfish can be present year round, and most operators offer stinger suits.

Airlie Beach tours & packages

Airlie Beach is a fantastic base for Great Barrier Reef tours. Choose from a number of local operators, many of which offer day trips that include snorkelling and beach hopping, scenic flights, and boat cruises. The Tourism Whitsundays website is a great resource for more ideas.

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