The launching point for trips out to the Whitsunday islands off the coast of Queensland, Australia, Airlie Beach is a backpackers haven where you’ll find plenty of sunbathers working on their tans pre and post sail trip, a plethora of bars to get down and dirty at, and great hostels where you can post up and enjoy sunshine, making new friends and lots of booze.
While Airlie Beach is a small town completely centered around the tourism industry and sailing trips to the Whitsunday Islands and out the Great Barrier Reef, there are definitely some great ways to pass time before or after you’ve made arrangements for Sailing in the Whitsundays.
1. Go on a Sailing Trip around the Whitsundays
There is no question that any and all visitors to Airlie Beach should make arrangements to go on a sailing trip in the Whitsunday Islands. The port at Airlie is actually one the busiest in all of Australia, with a wide range of different kinds of boats and sailing tours leaving each day. Sailing trips range from 2-night backpacker friendly (and budget friendly) trips to privately chartered and catered excurisions to romantic honeymoon sails. There are many agents and boating companies located right in town where you can book your sailing trip once you arrive in Airlie. If you are not sure which boat or type of trip is right for you, you can also chat with fellow travelers and/or your hotel/hostel staff to get a better idea of which sailing trip you should take.
>>Read more about Sailing in the Whitsunday Islands
2. Shop at Airlie’s Saturday Market
Located in tropical Queensland, there is never a lack of fresh tropical fruits and great produce in Airlie Beach. On Saturdays, the foreshore in town fills with a range of merchant selling local arts and crafts, fresh fruit and vegetables and more. It’s a great place to soak in the relaxed, chilled atmosphere of Airlie Beach.
3. Visit Cedar Creek Falls
Follow Conway road out of Airlie Beach to Cedar Creek Falls, where you will find a stunning waterfall and a water pool perfect for swimming. In the wet season, the waterfall flows freely over the rocks, though you will probably still see water flowing during the drier season (in the winter). It’s a perfect place to bring a picnic and cool off by jumping in the turquoise water.
4. Eat and Drink on the Esplanade
Dubbed Airlie’s “Eat Street,” you will find a wide range of restaurants, cafes and bars along the Esplanade in Airlie Beach. With fresh ocean breezes blowing in your face and a fantastic view of the islands off shore, you’ll be able to sip your coffee or cocktail surrounded by stunning scenery.
5. Work on your tan at the Airlie Beach Lagoon
The Airlie Beach Lagoon sits overlooking the ocean, and unlike the nearby ocean waters, is stinger free year-round. The grass and BBQs around the lagoon make it the perfect place to soak up the sun, take a dip and BBQ with friends. On any given day, you’ll find the lagoon packed full of backpackers in bikinis and boardies as well as families enjoying a relaxing day. Not only is this a great place to kick back and work on your tan, but it’s also totally free-making it that much better.
6. Hike the Whitsunday Great Walk
For those who are up for a little more adventure than just shopping at the Saturday market or soaking up the sun at the lagoon, there is a 28 km walk near Airlie that offers some truly spectacular views. While certainly not easy, this walk is well worth the spectacular vantage points and allows you to see and experience the beauty of the local area. The walk can be completed in one day (leave early), or you can take a more leisurely walk and camp at one of the two campgrounds along the way.
7. Meet your boat friends at Beaches
Since almost all the travelers coming through Airlie Beach are there either before or after a trip Sailing the Whitsunday islands, it is no wonder there is a nightly party at one of the local hostel/bars. After spending 2 nights packed onto a boat with a group of strangers, you’ll come away feeling like you have 18 great new pals. When you get off the boat at the end of the trip, it’s comforting knowing there will be a reserved table at Beaches for your boat, so you can find your new ship mates to continue the drinking done on board on land.
8. Camp at Whitehaven Beach
It is absolutely obligatory that any trip to the Whitsunday islands must include a stop at Whitehaven Beach. A truly spectacular beach with powdery soft sand (its 98% silica), clear azure waters and green hilltops make this one of the most breathtaking spots not only in Queensland, but also the entire world. While sailing trips to the Whitsundays will definitely include a stop at Whitehaven, you can also camp in this pristine spot. There is a public camp site run by the National Parks service at the southern end Whitehaven beach where you’ll find basic toilet facilities, but no water or supplies.
While staying at Whitehaven won’t cost you much, getting there might. Water taxis will transport you to the beach from Airlie for about $90/person.
>>Visit Camping Whitsundays web site for more info
9. Go sea kayaking
If you want to get out on the water and get some exercise, sea kayaking can be a great way to not only enjoy the scenery, but also work your arms. There are several kayak tour operators in Airlie beach that offer guided half day, full day, extended and self-guided adventure kayaking tours in the Whitsunday Islands. You can paddle around the waters, visiting the islands and snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef for a few short hours or a few days.
Salty Dog Kayaking offers great kayaking options for visitors to Airlie Beach. Choose from the schedule of tours or customize a trip to suit you or your group. You can also explore the islands at your own pace with a ‘freedom’ rental kayak, camping out under the stars or living it up at luxury resort-style accommodation en route.
>>Visit Salty Dog Sea Kayaking’s web site for more information
10. Go on a day cruise to Reefworld
If you aren’t up for a multi-night sailing trip in the Whitsundays (though I would highly recommend it), you can also opt for a day cruise aboard a luxury catamaran that will still allow you to check out the reef without necessarily spending the night aboard a boat. There is a daily day cruise from Airlie Beach’s Shute harbor that goes to Reefworld (a floating pintoon on the edge of Hardy Reef). Known as one of the most beautiful reefs in the Whitsundays, Hardy Reef has startling coral formations, tons of tropical fish and more.
Once you are at Reefworld you can snorkel, scuba dive or check out the fish and coral from the underwater viewing chamber.