Airlie Beach (or Airlie) is a town in Queensland, Australia and is the closest port from which to access the Whitsunday islands on the Great Barrier Reef. With around 25,000 residents, it is developed to cater for almost every kind of tourist and backpacker, and is the major hub for trips out to the Whitsunday islands and Outer Great Barrier Reef.
Abel point marina is the location for taking boats out to islands, and is a brisk 15-minute walk from Shute Harbour Road, Airlie's High Street, around a renovated seaside boardwalk.
Airlie beach used to be a backpacker haven but has now been discovered by Australians and has consequently become more commercialised. Still plenty of good cheap accommodation and an excellent stop off on the East Coast of Australia.
The main strip of Airlie where most of the backpacker resorts and pubs are is usually known as Airlie Beach proper. Cannonvale is the section west of the strip to where the developments peter out. Beyond that is Cannonvalley and Strathdickie - more rural areas where the housing is more acreage style or farming land. Other suburbs in the area are Jubilee Pocket and Shute Harbour, where the ferries to the Whitsunday Islands depart from.
Flying to Proserpine Airport, also known as Whitsunday Coast Airport, in Proserpine is the easiest way to reach Airlie. The two main airlines flying to here are Virgin Australia and Jetstar. It has upgraded facilities with full baggage collection, hire car and service desks and a small bistro area.
There is also Hamilton Island airport which is just off Airlie Beach. Do your research though as you have to get off Hamilton Island and this could be expensive.
There is a train station in Proserpine for those travelling up the East Coast.
There are also tours that travel up the East Coast and visit Airlie Beach.
HitchHiking is rare but it can be efficient.
A number of buses serve the airport terminal, and drive to Airlie beach or other locations but all but one must be prebooked. The tickets cost a flat $15 per person one way and can be purchased in a queue at a clearly marked booth just inside the arrival gate. The bus driver mans the booth, and when everyone has got a ticket (about 30–40 minutes wait from arrival) the bus gets going. Another option is to take a taxi, for which there is also a booth inside the arrivals gate. However taxi rides seem to match the bus price, and cost $15 per person. Also, there may not be any taxis waiting. The ride to Airlie beach is smooth and takes about 40 minutes. The driver will ask where you are staying and take you to the door of the hostel or hotel in Airlie Beach.
On Saturday morning there is a charming market along the waterfront, with a range of locally produced foods and souvenirs.
Despite its name, Airlie Beach is not the best place for the beach. The few near Shute Harbour Rd are small and pretty, but the presence of jellyfish (there are signs up detailing different species near the beaches) means people do not swim in the water from around October to around May. There is a new man made beach Port of Airlie which has a larger beach than Airlie beach proper and it also has a shopping area and boat marina. A swim in the water requires a stinger suit - made from rash top type material. However more than making up for this, Airlie has a fantastic man made lagoon. This is around 200 m long and 50 m wide, landscaped with a bridge and grass to lie on surrounding. It is watched by lifeguards during the day and security at night, and because it is open to swim in at all times the lagoon makes relaxing in Airlie pure delight.
Airlie Beach features several hiking trails of different length. One starts at the end of 1 Kara Cres and leads in about 90 minutes up through the national park to a beautiful lookout over the harbor and the Whitsunday Islands.
Airlie has many varied restaurants, both budget and more expensive, and a range of takeaway places with specials catering to the backpacker market.
For those foodies out there, Deja Vu at Water's Edge Resort is beautiful and Capers at the Airlie Beach Hotel is always reliable.
For those on a budget, Morocco's, Beaches or Magnums offer good pub-style meals, with some of the sailing trips offering meals there included as part of the trip cost.
Airlie has a great nightlife with bars concentrated on the main road.
- 1 Nomads Airlie Beach, 354 Shute Harbour Road, ☏ , toll-free: 1800 666 237, ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 10AM. Right in the centre of town has lots of accommodation options - dorms, privates and camping (tents, powered and non-powered sites) within 7 acres of tropical gardens. Nomads Mad Card Holders receive a discount. Free Wi-Fi in the reception. Dorm $30-34, double $97.
- 2 Beaches Backpackers, 356 Shute Harbour Rd, ☏ , toll-free: 1800 636 630, ✉ email@example.com. Right in the centre of town has many dorm beds and is connected to one of the liveliest bar in town. A normal dorm sleeps eight, has its own shower and toilet, fridge and TV. These are fairly clean, depending on your co-habitees. The bar (open to everyone) has live music every Friday and Saturday singing teeny songs to cater for the large young British and Irish contingent of visitors. Nomads Mad Card Holders receive a discount. Paid Wi-Fi. Dorm $20-24, double $85.
- 3 Magnums Backpackers, 366 Shute Harbour Rd, ☏ , toll-free: 1800 624 634. Connected to a food court, bar, club and unfortunately seedy looking joints for the pokies (slot machines for gambling). In the bar the crowd looks older the live music more alternative and rock style. Free Wi-Fi. Dorm $24-26, double $58-63.
- 4 Backpackers by the bay, 12 Hermitage Drive (a 5-minute walk along the main road and up some steps), ☏ , toll-free: 1800 646 994, ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. An excellent choice for something smaller, and is the 2004 Whitsunday Tourism award winner. There is a very good kitchen for cooking, a small pool, bar, tables and sofas on a relaxed terrace looking into the harbour (under construction for a new marina!) The staff are friendly and offer helpful advice, the dorms sleep four, are kept clean and artistically decorated. You can sleep in your car or van on the hostel's private parking space and pay $10 to use all the facilities. There is a bus stop just outside for the motionally challenged, or for trips back to the Proserpine airport. Dorm $27-31, double $83.
- 5 Flametree Tourist Village, 2955 Shute Harbour Rd, ☏ , toll-free: 1800 069 388, ✉ email@example.com. Nestled in 7 acres of shady tropical foliage next to the Conway National Park. Minutes in one direction to Shute Harbour and in the other to the tourist centre of Airlie Beach. Camping $28-36, cabin $109-129.
- 6 Airlie Beach YHA, 394 Shute Harbour Road, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. This hostel is near the Airlie Lagoon plus lots of restaurants and cafes. Every second night they have a $10 dinner such as roast chicken, as well as movie nights, quiz nights and pool volleyball. Dorm $30-33, double $88, 10% off for YHA members.
- 7 Airlie Waterfront Backpackers, 6 The Esplanade, ☏ , toll-free: 1800 089 000. Quiet hostel in front of the beach. Free Wi-Fi in the communal area. Dorm $25-30, double $70-130.
Hostels and hotels provide internet access, some for free but most at a cost of a few dollars per hour or day. You can also check 'The Whitsunday Central Reservation Centre' at the end of main Street Airlie Beach ($1 for 30 min; 30 min free if you're using AI's Laundry opposite the road). Peterpans travel agency on the main street provide Wi-Fi, computers and a printer. McDonald's offers free Wi-Fi.
- 1 Cannonvale Library, 8 Galbraith Park Drive, Cannonvale (6 km (3.5 mi) west of Airlie Beach following the main Shute Harbour Road). Offers Internet access, including Wi-Fi.
For those with access to a car and don't mind a bit of a hike, a trip to Cedar Creek Falls is well worth it. Dingo Beach and Hideaway Bay are also within 30 minutes drive, and the quaint restaurants are a quiet break away from the younger crowd. Quad biking and horse riding are also other options for something to do in Airlie.
Airlie Beach and Shute Harbour are access points to the Whitsunday Islands and cruises around them.