Airlie Beach is one of the main gateways into the irresistible Whitsunday Islands chain, but still provides an outstanding holiday destination in it’s own right, for all types of travelers year round. The beautiful town is renowned as a backpacker’s paradise, and is one of North Queensland’s fastest growing destinations.
Airlie Beach is just north of Mackay and south of Townsville on Australia’s east coast – an ideal launching pad to the sparkling waters of the Coral Sea, the iconic Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island, and the tourism playground that is the Great Barrier Reef.
Despite its commercialisation in the region over recent years, the town still boasts a relaxed yet touristy ambiance, with lots of things to see and do.
When is the best time to visit?
While Airlie Beach enjoys perfect year round tropical weather, spring is the best time to visit, more specifically, the months of September to November because the weather is perfect and town comes alive.
When the weather is good, you can easily get around town in a guided Tuk Tuk tour (pictured below) – a fun twist on a traditional sightseeing tour.
Airlie is home to a great coastal beach, but stingers can make it difficult to swim in the ocean between November and May. However, the Airlie Beach Lagoon, which was built at the town’s foreshore, is a man-made public swimming pool that provides great entertainment, including picnics, barbecues and of course, a fantastic spot to cool off.
Winter (June to October) in Airlie Beach is absolutely perfect with highs of 25’c and consistent sunshine and is often a great winter escape for Australians further south. Evenings generally are cooler, which may require you to pack a light sweater, jumper, or jacket out on the water, but it rarely gets any colder than this.
Is Airlie Beach better than Cairns?
While Cairns and Airlie Beach offer similar easy access to different parts of the Great Barrier Reef, the towns are very different. Airlie is much smaller, giving off a relaxed “beach town” vibe, compared to Cairns’ bigger city feel.
And while Airlie Beach is only about 1,000 kilometres south of Cairns, it does mean it’s generally cooler. Airlie will typically be a few degrees cooler than Cairns which can make a big difference in summer.
Cairns (pictured below) can also experience more rain than Airlie Beach as it’s closer to the equator.
But if you get the chance, and you’ve come this far, why not experience both!
Top things to do in Airlie Beach
Surrounded by water, Airlie Beach has easy access to the Great Barrier Reef, and has long been a magnet for visitors drawn to the white silica sand and azure waters of Whitehaven Beach just off shore, along with the vibrant nightlife and bar scene of the town itself.
Around 12 hours north of Brisbane and 7 hours south of Cairns, Airlie is a great place to break up a long journey – so naturally is has become a popular destinations for backpackers exploring the east coast.
There are plenty of budget friendly places to eat and drink, as well as a load of activities in town and in the region.
So, what should you do when you visit Airlie Beach? Browse our list some of the best things to do at Airlie Beach – our local’s guide to Airlie Beach…
1. Explore the town
Along the waterfront, there is a Saturday morning market that offers a range of spectacular fresh produce, locally-produced handmade jewellery, clothes and merchandise.
Grab a coffee, and mingle with locals and enjoy listening to local singers and musicians whilst relaxing on the grass. Even though the town is never usually busy, vibrant crowds can be seen at this morning market.
Stroll through the boutiques, cafes and shops of the main street. Treat yourself at one of the alfresco restaurants – from fresh local seafood at a bustling seafood cafe to hand-made tapas made from fresh local produce.
While wandering around the area, soak up the sun on the Bicentennial Boardwalk, while keeping your eyes peeled for turtles and dugongs along the way.
If you’re feeling active, hire a bike and explore the many cycle tracks in the area.
2. Take a dip in the lagoon
Cool off at Airlie Beach Lagoon – a free public park and man-made lagoon swimming pool, perfectly located in the heart of town right on the shoreline in between the iconic palm-fringed beach and main street.
Airlie Beach Lagoon is the ideal place to swim all year round (and avoid any stingers). There’s also a kids’ swimming pool and free barbecues, all set amongst tropical parkland with plenty of shade, making it the perfect spot to spend the day.
3. Soak up the view at Honeyeater Lookout
The view from the top of Honeyeater lookout is wonderful with the most amazing views of Airlie Beach and the beautiful bays and islands in the area.
Honeyeater is along an approximately 7.5 km (return trip) trail near Airlie Beach with some spectacular views when you reach the summit. The trail is open year round and is beautiful to visit anytime.
It can be a manageable but at times challenging walk with some steep sections, that should take around 2-3 hours (return trip).
Is it worth it? You’ll see!
4. Visit Whitehaven Beach
Often seen as one of the most iconic beaches in Australia, you just have to visit Whitehaven Beach while you’re staying at Airlie Beach, it’s just a short hop away.
Very few experiences compare to taking in the azure waters and perfect white sand – if you miss this unforgettable experience, you will kick yourself!
Getting to Whitehaven is part of the adventure. Boat day tours to the Whitsundays region and Whitehaven Beach operate regularly out of Airlie Beach and nearby Shute Harbour. You can also enjoy the beauty of Whitehaven Beach from the air by taking a scenic flight over Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet.
One of the best ways to enjoy Whitehaven Beach is to simply laze on the soft sand, take a dip in the warm water, and enjoy the view. Take a short walk up the hill to the lookout across Hill Inlet and Whitehaven Beach.
5. Snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef
One of the main reasons people visit Airlie Beach, is its easy access to the Great Barrier Reef. Snorkelling is one of the best ways to experience the reef, and there are plenty of operators in Airlie Beach that will take you out for the day.
While on your snorkelling trip, you’ll likely visit two or three different reef sites where you can jump in and explore the underwater world. The Great Barrier Reef is home to an abundance of marine life, including colourful fish, turtles, stingrays and even sharks!
Most snorkelling tours will provide you with all the gear you need, including a mask, snorkel and fins. If you’re not confident in your swimming ability, don’t worry – many operators offer life jackets and floatation devices.
Read more: Snorkelling Tours
6. Go kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding
Kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) are great ways to explore the Airlie Beach area. There are many operators that offer kayak and SUP hire, as well as guided tours.
One of the best things about kayaking or SUP is that it’s a great workout, but it ‘s also incredibly relaxing. Glide through the water and take in the stunning scenery as you paddle your way around. Keep your eyes peeled for marine life, including turtles, fish and rays.
Read more: Stand Up Paddle Boarding
7. Visit Conway National Park
Conway National Park is located just a short drive from Airlie Beach, and is well worth a visit. The park is home to lush rainforest, cascading waterfalls and secluded beaches.
There are many different walks you can do in Conway National Park, ranging from easy to challenging. One of the most popular walks is the Rainforest Circuit, which is an easy 1.5 km loop walk that takes you through rainforest and past a stunning waterfall.
For the ultimate hinterland adventure, ride a Segway through the gorgeous Conway National Park. Learn about the local flora and fauna through an expert guide as you weave through lush rainforest and ancient native trees.
Read more: Segway Tour through Conway National Park
8. Take a day trip to the Whitsunday Islands
The Whitsunday Islands are a group of 74 islands, located in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef. The islands are world-famous for their white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters and stunning scenery.
There are many different ways to explore the Whitsunday Islands, including by boat, yacht, helicopter or seaplane. One of the most popular ways to see the islands is on a day cruise from Airlie Beach. These cruises typically include stops at some of the most popular beaches, such as Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet.
9. Go sailing in the Whitsundays
Airlie Beach is well-known as a sailing destination, and for good reason. The Whitsundays area is home to some of the best sailing conditions in Australia, with gentle breezes and crystal clear waters.
There are many different operators that offer guided sailing tours and private sailing charters in Airlie Beach. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced sailor, there’s a tour to suit you. There’s nothing quite like spending a day on the water, taking in the stunning scenery and enjoying the gentle Whitsundays breeze.
10. Skydiving at Airlie Beach
Airlie Beach is one of the best places in Australia to go skydiving. The area is renowned for its beautiful scenery, with spectacular views of the Coral Sea and Whitsunday Islands.
If you only ever skydive once, you should skydive from Airlie Beach – overlooking the beautiful Whitsundays. Take off from the airport at Airlie Beach, with views to die for (not literally!). Jump from up to 14000 feet, the higher you go, the longer you will be in freefall.
There are many different operators that offer skydiving in Airlie Beach, and most will pick you up from your accommodation. Skydiving is a great way to get an adrenaline rush, and it’s also an incredible experience. There’s nothing quite like jumping out of a plane and freefalling through the air!
11. Go on a guided Jetski tour
If you’re looking for an adrenaline-pumping activity, then hiring a jetski or going on a jetski tour is for you. There are many operators in Airlie Beach that offer jetski hire, and most will provide you with a map of the area.
Jetskiing is a great way to explore the waters around Airlie Beach, and it’s also a lot of fun. Keep your eyes peeled for marine life as you zip around the water.
12. Go fishing in the Coral Sea
Airlie Beach is a great place to go fishing, with many different spots to choose from. Whether you’re an experienced fisherman or a beginner, there’s a spot to suit you. There are many operators that offer fishing tours and charters, which is a great way to learn about the best spots and how to catch fish.
Fishing is a great activity to do in Airlie Beach, and it’s also a great way to relax and enjoy the scenery. So, what are you waiting for? Grab your rod and head out on a fishing adventure!
13. Take a scenic flight
A scenic flight is a great way to see the Airlie Beach area from above. There are many different operators that offer scenic flights, and most will pick you up from your accommodation.
Scenic flights are a great way to get an aerial view of the stunning scenery, including the Whitsunday Islands, Whitehaven Beach, Hill Inlet and the Great Barrier Reef.
You’ll be able to see the gorgeous iconic Heart Reef as you soar above the ocean. Great Barrier Reef’s Heart Reef, a beautiful coral arrangement in the shape of a heart.
You’ll take off in a seaplane from Airlie Beach, soaring over the Whitsunday Islands and circling over Heart Reef for photos before landing on the water at a nearby coral lagoon. Then jump into the water from the plane and snorkel the Great Barrier Reef before taking off again.
Several companies give you the opportunity to choose from a fixed-wing plane, a helicopter or even a flight + cruise adventure package.
14. Visit a winery
While not as well-known as Australia’s other iconic wine growing regions like the Hunter Valley or the Barossa, Airlie Beach is home to many different wineries, which are well worth a visit. The area is known for its white wines, and there are many different styles to choose from.
Whether you’re a wine connoisseur or just looking to try something new, Airlie Beach is the perfect place to do it. There are several different operators that offer wine tours, which is a great way to learn about the different wines and taste them for yourself.
15. Go golfing at Airlie Beach
The Whitsundays Country Golf Club near Airlie Beach is a great 18 hole course to go golfing, with beautiful views of the Coral Sea.
Whether you’re a seasoned golfer or just starting out, Whitsundays Country Golf Club is a perfect place to tee off. There are many different operators that offer golf tours and lessons, which is a great way to improve your game.
Another option is the Hamilton Island Golf Club, a golf course located in near the Island Resort. The course offers stunning views of the Whitsunday Islands and the Coral Sea.
A little further inland is Proserpine Golf Club , which is located in the town of Proserpine. The course is set among tropical rainforests, and it offers a challenging game for golfers of all levels.
So, what are you waiting for? Grab your clubs and head out on a golfing adventure!
16. Day trip to Daydream Island
Daydream Island is a small iconic island located in the Whitsundays, and it’s a great place to visit for a day trip. There are many different operators that offer day trips to Daydream Island’s resort, and most will pick you up from your accommodation.
Once you’re on the island, there’s plenty to do on this little tropical gem in the Great Barrier Reef. You can relax on the beach, go swimming, snorkelling or diving, or explore the island. There’s also a variety of restaurants and bars, so you can enjoy a meal or a drink while you’re there.
Daydream Island is a great place to visit for a day trip, add it to your to-do list!
17. Take an ocean rafting tour
Ocean rafting is a great way to see the Whitsunday Islands and Whitehaven Beach. There are many different operators that offer ocean rafting tours, and most will pick you up from your accommodation.
Ocean rafts are semi-rigid but still inflatable, travel at up to 65km/h, and they’re a great way to see the beautiful scenery, including the Whitsunday Islands and Whitehaven Beach. You’ll also get to go snorkelling and swimming in the clear bluewaters. So, what are you waiting for? Grab your towel and head out on an ocean rafting adventure!
Read more: Ocean Rafting Tours
18. Airlie Beach Glass Bottom Boat Tour
If you want to see the Great Barrier Reef without getting wet, then an Airlie Beach glass bottom boat tour is for you.
Airlie Beach Glass Bottom Boat Tours take place on a catamaran, and they’re a great way to see the reef and the fish without getting wet. You’ll also get to learn about the Great Barrier Reef, and the different types of fish that live there.
19. Swim in a waterfall
Leaving south from Airlie Beach, visit Cedar Creek Falls for a refreshing swim in the natural rock pools. The falls are located in the rainforest about a 30 minute drive from Airlie Beach, and they’re a great place to cool off on a hot day.
Cedar Creek Falls are beautiful, especially after a big rainfall. You can swim with turtles at the waterfalls, embark on guided walks then chill out around the Balinese-style resort pool at the exclusive Coral Sea Marina Resort.
Read more: Swim at Cedar Creek Falls
20. Experience crocodiles up close
While at Airlie Beach, you could head to the Whitsunday Crocodile Safari to see crocodiles up close in their natural habitat. Go crocodile spotting on a Proserpine River cruise, and look for other wetlands wildlife. Get to see a variety of different crocodiles, including saltwater crocodiles.
The tour is led by an experienced guide, and they’ll provide you with croc safety tips so you can enjoy your experience while staying safe.
21. Enjoy the nightlife
In the evening, Airlie Beach comes alive with a vibrant nightlife scene. There are many bars and clubs to choose from, as well as live music and entertainment. Whether you’re looking to dance the night away or simply relax with a drink, Airlie Beach has something for everyone.
Airlie Beach is a beautiful place to visit, with plenty of activities and attractions to keep you busy. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing holiday or an action-packed adventure, Airlie Beach has something for everyone.
…Ok, we could go on
Obviously there’s so much more to do in Airlie Beach that we could just keep going. The reality is there’s more to do than you could imagine. Eating and drinking, relaxing on the beach, snorkeling, diving, and island hopping are just the start!
The Abell Point Marina and the Port of Airlie, along with Shute Harbour, are where most of the daytrips into the reef depart.
Shute Harbour, a protected port located approximately 10 kilometres east of Airlie Beach, is one of Australia’s busiest marine ports. The Whitsunday Coast, which encompasses some of the Great Barrier Reef’s most remote and beautiful coral-fringed islands, serves as an essential entrance.
Charter boats may be found in plenty at this busy harbour, offering unmatched sea excursions to the nearby reef. A full day of diving and snorkelling is highly suggested right off the coast of Shute Harbour.
Where to stay at Airlie Beach?
There are a diverse range of Airlie Beach hotels and lodgings can be found in the town, so tourists can always opt to use it as a base to explore the incredible Whitsundays region.
Want an experience beyond the standard Great Barrier Reef day tours? Spend the night underwater in an amazing ‘reefsuite’ (pictured above). Enjoy a day of snorkelling, then have a peaceful sunset dinner before retiring to your underwater suite with reef views.
Read More: Underwater Reef Suite
Travellers looking for that true beach-getaway along the Great Barrier Reef should look no further than Airlie Beach. This laid-back, chilled-out town is a gateway to many dozens of pristine coral cays and islands of the Whitsundays.
It is a popular destination to visit year-round, thanks to its warm climate and enticing attractions. Hotels in Airlie Beach have seen a change in ambiance and clientele over the last few decades.
What was once a primarily backpacking accommodation scene has now transformed into a holiday market for all travellers.
Caravan parks in Airlie Beach
Airlie Beach caravan parks and holiday parks are a perfect base for your Whitsundays region getaway. Stay in a modern and spacious cabin or villa, or make the most of their great camping and caravanning facilities.
Many of the holiday parks are conveniently located, (and there are more just up the road at Bowen) so you can relax and easily enjoy many of the experiences in the area. Whether you are looking for a spacious caravan park or a simple campsite, Airlie Beach has it all.
1. BIG4 Holiday Parks at Airlie Beach
BIG4 Holiday Parks at Airlie Beach is a popular accommodation choice for those travelling with young children, as it offers a great range of family-friendly facilities and activities.
The park is located right on the water’s edge, so you can enjoy stunning views of the Whitsunday Passage. It is also within walking distance of the town centre, so you can easily explore the area. The caravan park features a range of amenities, including a swimming pool, BBQ area and laundry facilities.
2. NRMA Airlie Beach Holiday Park
The NRMA Airlie Beach Holiday Park is located just a short walk from the town centre. It is a great option for those looking for a central base to explore the area and is close to Airlie Beach, Coral Sea Marina and the Airlie Beach Lagoon.
The caravan park offers a range of accommodation options, including cabins, villas and campsites. It also features a swimming pool, BBQ area and laundry facilities.
3. Discovery Parks, Airlie Beach
Discovery Parks Airlie Beach (formally known as BIG4 Airlie Cove Resort and Caravan Park) is a beautiful caravan park set amongst lush tropical gardens. The caravan park offers a range of accommodation options, including cabins, villas and campsites. It also features a swimming pool, BBQ area and laundry facilities.
4. Tasman Holiday Parks, Airlie Beach
Tasman Holiday Parks at Airlie Beach is within a 5-minute drive of Conway National Park and is surrounded by natural delights yet is just minutes away from Airlie Beach’s supermarkets, cafes, bars and restaurants.