I discovered Airlie Beach in Queensland for the first time in October 2017 part of my trip to the Whitsundays Islands and found that there are a lot of things to do in just a few days! My total stay there was only two days and a half but I felt it was the right amount of time to discover the surroundings. I’d say it’s good to add a few more days if you’d like to explore more of the region as a road trip.
In the meantime, I’ve listed here the top things to do in Airlie Beach for endless inspiration on your next stay whether it shines, rain or hail! And stay tuned for my next blog post soon about sailing the Whitsundays Islands.
1. Obviously, check out the FREE lagoon in the middle of the city
What I love in many Aussie cities, especially in Queensland, is all the free lagoons you can dive in! Airlie Beach makes no exception and right at the heart of the city, you can see the lagoon located between the beach and the main street.
The lagoon is huge and on a nice day surprisingly relaxing although I usually prefer to swim in the ocean (but it’s complicated in Airlie Beach, more on this below.) And you can also relax around on the grass, pure bliss!
2. Check the main street with food & bars
Since we are on the main street, don’t look further it’s really all happening here! Airlie Beach has quite the backpackers vibe so don’t be surprised to see many bars coming to life at night and a horde of young travellers from all over the world happily going from bar to bar. And good news for Sydney-siders, there are no lockouts in Queensland!
For food, there is a massive amount of choice on where to eat in the main street. From McDonald’s to seafood restaurants, you have lots of choice for different budgets. However I wasn’t very convinced by the restaurants there, lots were overpriced and the food didn’t seem that good. We found a gem of a cafe though a bit further - more on this one below!
3. Go for a tiny beach walk
It does say beach walk but I would rename it “tiny beach walk” because it literally takes 15 minutes to do it haha. It’s good though for the lazy ones wanting to take a quick stroll and you can still see Airlie Beach main beach, enjoy the park and if you’re there on a Saturday or Sunday, have a look at the market.
4. Lay down by the ocean - but beware when swimming!
The beach isn’t the most beautiful I’ve seen but nice on a sunny day. However, there’s one thing you got to know in Airlie Beach: the jellyfishes can be super dangerous! During “stingers season” as they call it - which is from November to May - you can see or be stung by certain types of Jellyfish in some part of Queensland. The main two types that you need to watch for are the box jellyfish (typically huge and very dangerous, you shouldn’t but can die from it) and the Irukandji jellyfish (typically tiny, you can’t see it, and extremely dangerous, you can very well die.).
Therefore you’ll see in many beaches huge signs warning about the dangerous Jellyfish and how to prevent stings. During stingers season, it’s very recommended to wear a stingers suit or to not tempt swimming. During non-stingers season, it’s still recommended to wear the stingers suit just in case and as the water temperature is raising. There’s also vinegar available on each beach in case of stings. If in doubt that you’ve been stung and can feel a massive pain, call 000 if you are able or get some help nearby.
5. Check one of the two marinas and secret relaxing spots!
The first one is Port of Airlie where you’ll find more cute cafes and restaurants. I haven’t tried any of those but the setting is pretty relaxing and there are some shops too. The one good thing to know if that a few minutes walk from it, you also have another small beach called Boathaven Beach which is much nicer than the main beach in Airlie Beach, plus you actually have nets to prevent jellyfish! So perfect for a safe swim while overlooking boats coming in the marina.
The other marina is Abel Point Marina and is a 10-minute walk from Airlie Beach. There you have more nice restaurants (there’s one pizza place where you get 2 pizzas for the price of one on some days!) and more cafes. It’s a nice view, plus the walk to this place is really nice from Airlie Beach (more on this one below).
6. Go on a flying experience above the Whitsundays islands and outer reef
This was definitely the highlight of my trip to Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays Island. After booking our experience through backpackers deals, we took the tiny plane from Whitsunday Airport onto a magical ride of one hour over endless blue paradise. It was really incredible to see the different islands, the white sand beaches like Whitehaven beach and finally the Great Barrier Reef from up high.
I think the Great Barrier Reef part was even the best because the colours and shapes are just out of this world and it’s really amazing to witness this. It was the perfect combination of our sailing trip as we only stayed in the islands. Thanks for backpackers deal for organising this amazing adventure, you can check my full flight adventure on their blog here.
7. Go swimming in a wild waterfall
Things don’t always go as expected when travelling. And you would certainly not wish for crazy rain on the first day of your trip! Well, we had to deal with it and after a bit of researching, I found this incredible waterfall spot about 25 minutes drive from Airlie Beach. That said, if you don’t have a car it’s a bit hard to get there and there is no phone reception once there.
The spot itself is super cute, a small waterfall called Cedar Creek Falls, which might get dry if it hasn’t been raining but otherwise quite consistent. The best thing is that you can swim there and there are not many people around. Nothing like a wild swim in a waterfall!
8. Get away to secret beaches north of Airlie Beach
It’s a bit of a drive but I can assure you it’s worth it. If you have a bit more time, don’t hesitate to go out explore other surroundings from Airlie Beach. Once again researching for cool places to explore, I discovered a secret beach next to Hideaway bay, part of the Montes Reef Resort. The view is more than amazing and you wouldn’t think you are in Australia. Plus, there is a SWING attached to a PALMTREE! Yes, you’ve read that right! It’s so beautiful and let’s be honest - instagrammable.
It’s peak beauty if you get there for sunset and watch the sun sink into the ocean. There’s also a bar and restaurant at the resort - which seemed lovely! Finally, you can also stay in the resort which seems like a good escape away from everything. I wish I could stay in this place all day, it was a true paradise.
9. Back in Airlie Beach, go for a walk from Airlie Beach to Cannonvale and end up in a nice cafe
Or vice-versa! The walk is really nice and you’ll see beautiful ocean views on the way. I particularly liked the wooden walkway which is quite picturesque. There’s also little creeks along the way to relax in. The whole walk would take about 30 minutes.
Finally when you get to Cannonvale, take a break in my favourite cafe: fat frog cafe! Remember how I said I struggled to find a good place to eat in Airlie Beach? I am glad I discovered this little gem which has Campos coffee (I do love me a good Campos coffee) and delicious and good-priced food. Bonus, there even was my favourite dog (border collie) while I was there so it could have enhanced my experience…
10. Plan your sailing experience in the Whitsundays
If you haven’t planned yet to sail in the Whitsundays, I’d highly recommend it to those loving the ocean, boats, snorkelling and some beach time. I planned my sailing adventure in advance as the spaces are filling up very quickly so I would recommend planning as soon as possible.
There are boats and itinerary for all kinds of holidays and ages. There are backpacker/party boats, day boats, 3+ days boats going to the outer reef, family boats, luxurious boats and more… I was on Prima, a sailing boat that’s doing lots of snorkelling and has a very very relaxed vibe. It was great although a bit too calm sometimes! I’ll write my sailing experience in the Whitsundays very soon to stay tuned.
Bonus: check the kangaroos before the airport!
On your way in or out, you’ll notice so many Kangaroos feeding on the grass next to the airport. You can easily stop and observe or photograph them, it’s super cute!
So have you been to Airlie Beach? If not, what will you do first? Let me know!
You can also check the video of my flight over the Whitsundays and Great Barrier Reef here: