It's on the main road between Mackay and Townsville. Whether you're a twenty-something explorer starting out on the road to discovery, or a grey nomad exploring this great land, Airlie is a great stop off point for a few days, weeks or months.
As you wander around, you see teenagers and young twenty-somethings as well as baby boomers and retirees. English is not the only language spoken as Airlie is popular with Europeans, Asians and Americans.
This sleepy town is picturesque, appeals to all ages, tastes and budgets, and there's heaps to do at whichever pace you choose.
It's easy to get to. Both Jetstar and Virgin fly into Proserpine or Hamilton Island. Proserpine is 30 kms from Airlie Beach, whilst Hamilton Island is a comfortable and scenic 30 minute ferry trip to Shute Harbour on the Fantasea fast catamaran. This is generally included in your airfare if you specify that when booking your passage to Airlie Beach. Once at Shute Harbour, you are transferred by comfortable coach to your lodgings.
Cruise Whitsundays operates 'Resort Connections' which is an island resort transfer service in the Whitsundays. It connects Hamilton Island Airport to Daydream Island Resort and Spa, Airlie Beach and Long Island.
This is a more circuitous and longer journey but is worth considering if you like scenic boating. This arrives at Able Point Marina which is slightly closer to downtown Airlie, but still requires vehicular transfers to your lodgings.
At the Hamilton Island end, both services are right there at the Airport. Just check in at the appropriate desk, identify your bags and step onboard your chosen vessel.
Driving Airlie Beach is in the tropics, 1,115 kms north of Brisbane and 625 kms south of Cairns. Short-term tourists fly in, yet even more have been known to escape the cold weather in the south of the country and relocate to warmer climes for several months. These people take their time meandering up the East Coast of Australia, stopping off at picturesque towns and beaches up and down the coast. Then there are those for whom time is irrelevant as they travel around Australia.
Motor Coach and Train Greyhound and McCafferty's have services which will deliver you comfortably to Airlie Beach whilst the train services from Brisbane or Cairns will take you to Proserpine which is 30 kms from Airlie. Transfer to Airlie from here is painless.
Where to Sleep and Eat
At the medium to high end, you might choose to stay Portside at the Holiday Inn and admire moored luxury yachts bobbing around in their berths while you dine at one of the downstairs restaurants or cafes.
Stroll just one block across the Park and you're in town. Maybe pop in to Mangrove Jacks at the Airlie Beach Hotel for a drink or a reasonably priced Pub Lunch, and have dinner nearby at Fish D'Vine
Stroll a little further along the main street, officially known as Shute Harbour Road, and you'll find all manner of eateries. Right down the other end of the main street is the well known Hogs Breath Cafe which started in Airlie in 1989 and, at the time of writing, has mushroomed Australia-wide and expanded internationally to close to twenty countries.
To avoid the shops and eateries, meander along the beach instead and lap up the beauty and serenity. The vegetation is the greenest of green, the water is pristine and the skies are usually clear and blue.
Follow the seashore a little further you'll stumble across the Coral Sea Resort on your way to the vast and well appointed Able Point Marina.
There are literally hundreds of places to stay in this idyllic getaway, and almost everything is negotiable or being offered as some sort of package deal.
Views from on high so you can see out to the islands are everywhere. Choose one of the many studio, one and two bedroom holiday lettings. Some are just gorgeous whilst others are acceptable. It all depends on your budget.
If budget is a prime consideration, Airlie Beach is definitely the place to be. There are more backpacker hostels and low cost options than you can imagine. More importantly, low cost does not mean 'terrible'. Many are clean and basic and more than acceptable.
Airlie Beach is a very affordable destination. Whether it's entertainment, eating, accommodation, sightseeing, car rental, shopping or day trips to the reef or other islands, it's long been a chosen destination for young people and backpackers. As you drift through the town, you see lots of combi vans and campervans. Names like Britz and Juicy occupy car parks and kerbside parking spots.
Driving just a little out of town towards Cannonvale, you'll find Club Crocodile , a "charming" 3 Star resort where a room will set you back around $90 per night.
Cannonvale also has a large Coles supermarket which has just about everything, so if you're self catering or provisioning a charter yacht, this is the place to come. The butchery and fish shop have been here for as long as I can remember. Having first sailed the Whitsundays in 1989, I have been shopping here for many years. There's a bakery, pharmacy, liquor store, and much much more.
This time I also discovered a fabulous little fruit and vege store selling only locally grown produce at amazingly reasonable prices.
What to Do?
Several thousand words and innumerable links could be dedicated to this subject. There is so much to choose from. Most of it involves the water in some way. Much of that is boating, be it day sailing, night sailing or "tallship" sailing. Other sailing includes multi-day combined sailing and snorkelling trips, dinner cruises, or bareboat or skippered yacht or catamaran charters. There are fast jetboats that do full day diving and snorkelling trips, or if you want something a little less adventurous, Fantasea offers day trips to the outer reef for snorkelling or viewing in glass bottomed boats. Most people want to get to the spectacular Whitehaven Beach and manage to do it by either day trip by boat or seaplane. Then there's the crocodile safari, fishing expeditions, and golfing at either Proserpine or the picturesque Dent Island.
The Whitsundays comprise 74 Island Wonders, located in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef and is a feast of the senses, surrounded by natural beauty, dotted with secluded beaches. Very few of these are inhabited and many are national parks. It is possible to visit many of these places by booking with tour operators in Airlie Beach or by arranging it before you get there. Booking a helicopter at Whitsunday Airport is one way to get a birds-eye view of them. Another is by booking a seaplane, or by taking the ferry to Hamilton Island and renting a golf buggy to do your own island tour.