Whitsunday Island (tours from Airlie Beach), QLD, Australia

With waters that radiate turquoise intensity, sands as white as snow and forests the color of emeralds, the 74 islands that make up the Whitsundays are the definition of paradise - so beautiful you’ll hesitate to leave. 

Your guide to Airlie Beach (Whitsunday Islands).

Sandwiched between the coast of Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef, the Whitsunday’s beaches rank among the best in the world. In Airlie Beach itself, you’ll find a laid-back coastal town with surf boutiques, charming souvenir markets and inviting bistros serving a plethora of seafood. Its star attraction, however, is a swimming lagoon of mirage-like proportions. Be sure to wear your swimmers or you’ll kick yourself when you see it.

Exploring.

Balancing tradition with modernity, Airlie Beach offers a diverse selection of cultural sites and experiences, both along the beautiful coast and inland. The section of the long Shute Harbour Road is the center of activity, with ticket agencies, information centers, restaurants, cafés and shops to entice you. Conway National Park, a short distance off the road to Shute Harbour, offers several scenic walks, while Airlie Beach and the Whitsunday Islands are renowned for the opportunities to snorkel and scuba dive. The Whitsunday Islands can be reached by ferry from Airlie Beach in minutes and offer wonderful opportunities to see tropical fish and coral reefs up close.

Eating and Drinking.

Airlie Beach enjoys a diverse culinary scene anchored around flame-grilled steaks and fresh catch of the day while its ambient frontline bars offer cold drinks accompanied by ocean views. Seafood reigns supreme in The Whitsundays; coral trout is a local delicacy (considered to be one of the tastiest fish in Queensland) while shellfish features prominently on Airlie Beach menus. Shute Harbour Road and the Esplanade are where you’ll find a concentration of restaurants and cafés as well as informal street food outlets serving carry-out dishes. Look out for the few establishments designated BYO (Bring Your Own), allowing you to provide your own wine for a small corkage fee.

Shopping.

The stunning sands and warm waters of Airlie Beach are a haven for surfers, so it’s unsurprising that many shops cater to this nature of traveler. If you did forget your swimwear at home, Airlie Beach will be your salvation. The town is teeming with surf shops and fashion brands selling a range of holiday-wear suited to sunnier climes. If you’re looking for a keepsake from your time in The Whitsundays, Airlie Beach market – which opens on Saturdays and ship days – offers craft goods by local makers. On Shute Harbour Road you’ll also find shops selling semi-precious stones and aboriginal art.  

Beyond Airlie Beach.

Airlie Beach is one of the most popular departure points for travelers visiting the Great Barrier Reef and The Whitsunday Islands. Of the latter, Hamilton Island offers magnificent beaches, excellent snorkeling and hiking trails that lead to incredible panoramic vistas. It can be easily reached from Airlie Beach by a ferry from the marina, with around 10 crossings each day. Alternatively, the historical town of Proserpine (famous for its sugar production) lies half an hour’s drive from Airlie Beach via Shute Harbour Road. Here, you’ll have the opportunity to visit the Proserpine Museum or take a boat trip down the Proserpine River in search of saltwater crocodiles.