Right at the heart of the Great Barrier Reef and once a small beach town known as a gateway to the Whitsunday Islands, Airlie Beach has grown to become one of the hottest tourist destinations in Queensland – both in terms of climate and activities. While snorkelling over coral reefs is a highlight, there’s a wealth of things to do here – from skydiving over the Whitsunday Islands to hiking through Conway National Park. Here’s our guide on how to spend your time while visiting this east coast hub of Australia.
Sail to Whitehaven Beach
Just an hour’s boat trip from Airlie Beach, Whitehaven Beach is the type of picture-postcard destination that desert island dreams are made of. The sand at Whitehaven is said to be some of the softest in the world, while the swirling waters are such stunning shades of turquoise that you’ll want to dive in immediately. It’s best visited by booking a day sailing trip with SamBoat – they offer an array of skippered yachts for the ultimate crowd-free experience. Alternatively, hire a vessel from Dream Yacht Charter for an extended trip.
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Swim at Airlie Beach Lagoon
If getting salty and sandy isn’t your thing but you still feel like a dip, the Airlie Beach Lagoon has you covered. Right on the foreshore, there’s only a tiny strip of land and palm trees separating the 4,000sqm (43,055sqft) pool from the Coral Sea, studded with yachts and tropical islands. The best part? It’s open to anyone and it’s totally free to use.
Go wildlife spotting in Conway National Park
With over 225sq km (86sqmi) of old-growth rainforest, coastal mangroves and remote beaches, Conway National Park is a haven for nature lovers. A short drive from Airlie Beach, the park is home to plenty of wildlife including Ulysses butterflies, buff-breasted paradise-kingfishers and emerald doves. Prefer a side of reef with your rainforest? Follow the Conway Outlook and Mt Rooper trails up to the lookout spots for sweeping panoramas over the Whitsunday Passage.
Sunbathe on Boathaven Beach
A relatively new addition to Airlie Beach, Boathaven Beach is a little pocket of paradise a short stroll from the centre of town. It’s a great spot for escaping the crowds at the Lagoon and comes complete with an all-important stinger net for year-round sea swimming. Come here to soak up the sun with a good book or spend an afternoon watching sailboats drift past.
Hike the Airlie Creek Track
A short but very sweet walking trail in the heart of Airlie Beach is Airlie Creek Track – where the shady pathway winds uphill behind the town to some natural rock pools. Expect spectacular island views and towering fig trees en route. The walk is impressive at any time of year, but especially so in the wet season when the creek and pools are in full flow. Beach walks more your thing? Check out the Bicentennial Walkway, a 4km (2.4mi) wooden boardwalk that hugs the coast from Airlie Beach to Cannonvale.
Spot cetaceans with Whale Watching Whitsundays
Whale-watching tours in the Whitsundays are pretty special – and not just because of the islands. The warm, sheltered seas here act as both breeding grounds and kindergarten for these gentle giants from July to October every year. From watching baby humpback breach to spying on courting cetaceans, whale watching doesn’t get any better than this.
Go paddling with Salty Dog Sea Kayaking
If your idea of paradise is gliding through clear water alongside dolphins and sea turtles, look no further. Sea kayaking is one of the best ways to explore the Whitsundays – offering a glimpse of a magical underwater world – where nature rules and humans are the guests. Take your pick of half-day, full-day or even a six-day kayaking and camping expedition with Salty Sea Dog Kayaking to experience the best that the islands have to offer.
Tuck into fresh seafood at Fish D’Vine and the Rum Bar
A true local institution, Fish D’Vine is the spot to sate your appetite after a full day of adventuring around Airlie Beach. They offer the freshest boat-to-belly seafood and a plethora of other options to keep everyone happy – including Neapolitan-style pizza and sticky pork belly bao buns. Swing by for lunch or make a night of it by sampling all the delicious rums and cocktails on offer at the Rum Bar. Reservations are highly recommended.
Skydive over Airlie Beach
Though not for the faint of heart, Airlie Beach is one of the best places in the world to go skydiving. If you dare to take the leap, you’ll be rewarded with an exhilarating freefall over the jewel-like Whitsundays before your parachute unfurls and you slowly drift back to earth. Take in aerial vistas of the kaleidoscopic waters of Hill Inlet and the verdant rainforested peaks of Conway National Park on the way down.
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