Airlie Beach is known as the 'heart of the reef' and the gateway to the Whitsunday islands, one of the world's best sailing and cruising grounds.
If you’re planning to get amongst the islands, whether on a skipper yourself barebaot yacht charter or with a local tour operator, then you’re likely to be bookending your trip with some extra holiday time in Airlie.
To help you get the most out of this thriving coastal town, we've pulled together a few local tips on the surrounding area as well as our favourite places to eat, stay and play.
Whether you’re looking for vibrant nightlife and shopping or you’re after a slower-paced, relaxing escape in paradise Queensland's Airlie Beach will not disappoint.
The town of Airlie is relatively compact which makes it a great place to explore on foot. You'll find plenty of cafes and restaurants, palm trees to read a book under and several rainforest hikes on the outskirts of town.
If you enjoy a music scene, then Airlie Beach is the spot. Airlie hosts some great bars and pubs which always seem to have live music or DJs playing when the sun goes down. The town attracts some really big international acts, so keep an eye on the gig guide when planning your trip.
Due to its proximity to the Whitsunday Islands, Airlie Beach attracts yachties from all over the world who use the marinas as a pit stop or place to stay for a while. Some “old salts” joke that Airlie is a drinking town with a sailing problem! Well, it is true that Airlie does have a bit of a reputation as being a party town along with being a sailing mecca. But the problem bit is yet to be proven.
There is much more to Airlie than its party reputation with something on offer for everyone, from upmarket weddings to retirees, to families and backpackers making their way around Australia – Airlie is a town that gives its visitors access to tropical living and the gorgeous Whitsundays in a way that suits them.
Most of the Whitsunday Islands are national parks and what makes them so spectacular is they are pristine. Crystal clear waters, white sandy beaches, rainforests and abundant marine life make sailing the Whitsundays feel like you’re on the set of a movie. And the gateway town to this island paradise is Airlie Beach, with Whitsunday Rent a Yacht's base at Shute Harbour being the closest mainland port.
Located 25 km south-east of Proserpine and 150 km north of Mackay and surrounded by the Conway Ranges National Park, Airlie is just far enough away from a big city to keep its charm. The closest big city is Townsville, 275 km away.
Proserpine Airport is only 30 minutes from Airlie Beach and it receives all major airlines from Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.
There are several airport transfer services running from the Proserpine Airport and of course taxies and rental vehicles. We recommend using either Whitsunday 2 Everywhere, Heart of the Reef Shuttles or Airlie Beach Transfers & Tours
Alternatively, flying into Hamilton Island airport is another way you can get to Airlie. Resort Link is the islands shuttle service that will take you to the Hamilton Island Marina. You can then catch a stunning ferry ride with Cruise Whitsundays through the island to either Shute Harbour or the Port of Airlie.
Airlie Beach is a subtropical environment, which means the weather is mostly fine throughout the year.
Winter is one of the best times to visit the Whitsundays, with clear skies and an average daily temperature of 23°C. Many boating enthusiasts say the ultimate time to visit the Whitsundays which is September to October. Spring brings perfect weather and calm seas.
November to December, while coinciding with the start of stinger season, are great months to stay in Airlie or charter a yacht away from the crowd and before the wet season. Late summer can get humid and it’s also the wet season with temperatures sitting at around 32 degrees. The wet seasons vary, but often it rains in the afternoon and evening with clear skies during the day, making the wet season a great time to travel on a budget taking advantage of low season rates.
Airlie Beach has a wide range of accommodation for all budgets.
Backpackers will find several hostels in Airlie's township, many with adjoining restaurants that offer discounted meals.
Another budget accommodation option is one of the many caravan parks in Cannonvale and Jubilee Pocket. Families will love the award-winning Big 4 caravan park in Cannonvale with its petting zoo, mini-golf, huge waterslide park and heated swimming pool.
If you’re looking for more upmarket accommodation, there are plenty of resort hotel complexes with pools and views over to the islands. Check out Pinnacles Resort and Peppers and the Coral Sea Resort to name a few. Also, along the waterfront, you can find luxury serviced apartments at the Mirage where you'll hear the sounds of the sea from your room.
There are many amazing places to eat in Airlie and it’s hard to list the best, but we asked around the office and these are our top local eating haunts.
Constantly voted one of the best places to eat out in Airlie Beach, Fish D’Vine & Rum Bar serves fresh seafood with a range of local catches on the menu. And if rum is your thing, check out the 500 different types of rum on offer at the bar with cocktails to match.
Operating since 2012, you’ll find La Tabella on the esplanade serves delicious Italian food. This is a great spot for people watching as it sits right on the strip opposite the beach. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner you can dine inside or out for alfresco dining on the esplanade. And a hot tip for people travelling from the big cities, if you’re looking for a “Melbourne style coffee” this is the place.
Northerlies is one of those places that the locals tell you to check out. The open-air venue is lovely and breezy with picturesque views making it feel like you’re at a classy resort with a relaxed atmosphere. It’s hard to find a bad review about the food and the craft beers on tap are always a hit. The venue offers musical entertainment on the weekends, games behind the restaurant and a complimentary shuttle bus to and from the town of Airlie.
The Sailing Club is one of the best views in town. If you want to escape the businesses but stay right in the heart of Airlie Beach, follow the coastal boardwalk west past the esplanade and you’ll see the sailing club tucked away on the coast. This is the best spot for a sunset drink as the outlook is west, over the ocean and hilled landscapes. The bistro is open for lunch and dinner and serves both members and visitors.
For anyone wanting a home-cooked meal, a vegetarian/vegan alternative or simply something fresh have breakfast or lunch at Café One3. Located on Waterson Way up from the main drag, this little gem of a place is unassumingly great. The owners serve and cook all of the food and they take great pride and care in their menu. You can take a cookbook or magazine off the shelf or play a game of cheese and spend a morning here knowing you’re eating something to nourish you in good company.
For more on where to eat out in Airlie, we've recently written a blog on the best Airlie Beach restaurants for 2021.
If you're looking for ways to play and enjoy the Whitsundays, we suggest looking at these independent local businesses who operate out of Airlie Beach and Shute Harbour. We have listed a few versatile options, but there are many more local operators to choose from.
Take a scenic flight over and to the Great Barrier Reef, the islands, Whitehaven and/or land at your own private beach. Air Whitsundays offer a service for bareboat charterers where they can pick you up from your vessel and take you over the island and to the reef.
Mars charters offer a plethora of services including water taxis to the island resorts, boating support, dive and location tours as well as private boat charters. You can customise a charter with Marse, where "we supply the private vessel, personal skipper & fuel, you supply anything else to make your day".
A speedy and exhilarating day tour to Whitehaven Beach, Hill Inlet Beach and the Lookout. You're also able to go snorkelling and enjoy a guided walk through Whitsunday Island National Park.
Explore the awe-inspiring Whitsunday Islands by sea kayak from Shute Harbour. Tours range from a half-day, full-day or even a six-day expedition! Take in the beautiful fringing coral reefs, swim, hike and explore nearby tropical islands all in the company of a knowledgeable local guide.
Charter fishing from Shute Harbour and the Port of Airlie Willfish customise fishing trips to suit your needs. You can opt to have 4 people on a private fishing boat with a tour guide and fishing expert Will at the helm.
Whitsunday Island Camping Connection operates “SCAMPER” a 10m aluminium barge, takes campers and their luggage out to the best camping spots around the islands.
Eco-tours with Whitsunday Paradise Explorer will take you to explore hard to get at places, away from the crowds. They can custom tailor tours to suit the interests and needs of small groups and are the only operator to offer cultural tours with a Ngaro indigenous guide.
On the Airlie adventure tour, drive your own jet ski out to view the Whitsunday Islands from the protection of the coastline, before exploring Airlie’s beautiful bays and enjoying some turtle spotting.
Not everything in Airlie Beach comes with a price tag and you'll find plenty of things to do around town that won't blow your budget. Some of the best free things to do around down include:
For more details and free activities around Airlie, check out our blog post on 10 Free Things to do in Airlie Beach.
Technically speaking the town of Airlie Beach is small, however, due to the proximity of neighbouring suburbs, it feels much bigger. While Airlie is where the action is, it’s worth checking out some of the surrounding suburbs which are all less than 10 minutes away.
We are biased because Shute Harbour is where we live, but we think Shute is the best place on the Whitsundays’ mainland. With stunning views to the islands, a large natural harbour and surrounded by the lush Conway National Park reaching down to the coast – Shute is a tranquil haven.
There’s great fishing off the jetty and several walks in the area. Coral Beach can be accessed from the Shute Harbour residential area. A short 2 km walk through the rainforest and you'll find yourself on a secluded beach which is, you guessed it, made of coral.
Shute Harbour is 10-minutes south-east of Airlie Beach
You can take the Bicentennial boardwalk and track north from Airlie up to Cannonvale. It’s a lovely 3km mostly waterfront walk with great views and no hills! The best thing you can do on your bicentennial walk is to stop off at The Fat Frog Café in Cannonvale to rehydrate and maybe grab a delicious brunch.
Cannonvale has a beautiful sandy beach which is a great spot for swimming, barbecuing and exploring. At the end of the beach, you'll find some rock formations with rock pools to be enjoyed at low tide.
Cannonvale is a 3-minute drive north of Airlie Beach.
Jubilee Pocket sits snugly inland, just slightly from the Airlie coast. The kids (and parents) will love Jubbilee’s huge fenced playground shaped like a castle, complete with a decent flying fox. For a local favourite, check out The family-friendly Jubilee Tavern where you can get classic pub meals for great prices, again with a playground for the kids. They have special nights such as $20 pasta or Parma night making “The Jubes" a great option for the budget-conscious traveller.
Jubilee Pocket is only a 2-minute drive to the south of Airlie
If you are without a car you can access the areas surrounding Airlie using the local Whitsunday Transit bus which stops in all suburbs.
There are so many reasons to travel to Airlie Beach and equally as many ways to enjoy the area. Whether you’re looking for vibrant nightlife and shopping or you’re after a slower-paced, relaxing escape in paradise this coastal Queensland town will not disappoint.
Join us in the Whitsundays, spend time in Airlie Beach and enjoy the freedom to explore