Whitsunday Island (tours from Airlie Bea

Located in the lovely tropical state of Queensland, Australia, Airlie Beach is famed for being the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands. But it’s much more than a stopover towards the Great Barrier Reef.

The largest town on the Whitsunday Coast, Airlie Beach enjoys the same tropical feel as the neighbouring islands, but with the bonus of shopping, dining, pampering and nightlife.

On Whitsunday in 1770, British explorer Captain James Cook passed through a spectacular cluster of islands off the coast of mainland Australia. He named them the Whitsundays, and today these 74 islands welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

Tourism in the area began in the 1920s, and in 1935 the town of Airlie Beach was simply named Airlie, after the Scottish parish of Airlie. Its name was later changed to Airlie Beach in the 1980s.

The pace of life in Airlie Beach, a town of some 10,000 residents, is carefree and relaxed. Follow in the footsteps of the locals by strolling along the town’s main street, known as The Esplanade, where you can find plenty of cafes and restaurants for a laid-back coffee or meal.

The town’s man-made lagoon is the ideal place to swim and enjoy the spectacular tropical surroundings without any danger from the local jellyfish. Enjoy fine dining overlooking the picture-perfect Pioneer Bay, or venture out of town into Conway National Park, which hugs the edges of the town, to cool off in the lush rainforest.

Undoubtedly though, Airlie Beach’s main attraction is the Whitsunday Islands, just a couple of hours’ boat ride away through piercingly blue waters. Whitehaven Beach is said to be one of the best beaches in the world – its powdery silica sand stretches for over four picturesque miles on the edge of tropical Whitsunday Island. Visitors to the island can hike to a lookout point to take in the famous sight, or simply sink their toes into the fine white sand and wade out into the warm water.

Most of the area’s action takes place under the surface of the water, where a kaleidoscope of marine life darts and glides through rainbow-hued coral. Diving and snorkeling enthusiasts can come face-to-face underwater with a Maori wrasse, a friendly giant of the Whitsundays. Or the less adventurous can peer from the safety of a glass-bottomed boat into the crystal-clear underwater world.

There is plenty to do on the surface as well. From swimming to canoeing, and from golf to fishing, there is an activity to suit all Airlie Beach cruise passengers. Of course, if you would rather relax, and drink in the Queensland way of life, watching the world go by in one of the most beautiful places in the world will only leave you with one worry: having to tear yourself away from paradise.