If you’re looking to explore the Whitsunday Islands, you might want to consider basing yourself in Airlie Beach. This little town is the focal point of activity on the Whitsunday mainland.

The village of Airlie Beach is the centre of the action on the mainland. But the islands themselves are just as good a stepping stone to the outer Great Barrier Reef as Cairns, and some people consider them better, because you don’t have to make the 90-minute trip to the Reef before you hit coral.

While Airlie Beach is the launching pad for trips to the Whitsundays in the morning, at night, the town turns into a party station. In the morning, cruise boats leave with hoards of tourists heading for the outer Great Barrier Reef and don’t return by late afternoon. By nightfall, the town comes alive with the sounds of loud, pumping music as the party crowd gets down to business for the night.


Where is Airlie Beach?

Airlie Beach is located south of Cairns and Townsville in southern Queensland, Australia. In terms of distance, it is located 623 km south of Cairns and 275 km south of Townsville. The closest town is Mackay located 150 km south of Airlie Beach.


Airlie Beach Map

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Things to Do in Airlie Beach

Most visitors to Airlie Beach use it as a base for getting to the outer Great Barrier Reef and Whitsunday Islands. If you’re planning on spending some time on Airlie Beach itself, you might be wondering what to do in Airlie Beach. You’ll be pleased to know that are quite a few Airlie Beach activities that will keep you entertained whether it’s on Airlie Beach or from Airlie Beach.


Airlie Beach Lagoon

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If you’re interested in swimming and water sports on Airlie Beach, the gorgeous Airlie Beach lagoon on the foreshore provides year-round safe swimming and is an attractive, popular public space for those wanting to work on their tan. The beaches at Airlie Beach and Cannonvale are OK for swimming, and while you don’t have to worry about the tides at Airlie Beach, the presence of stingers (box jellyfish) means swimming in the sea isn’t advisable between October and May.


Airlie Beach Marina

The Airlie Beach marina is located at Abel Point northwest of the main town. If you’re thinking of taking a cruise or sail to the Whitsunday Islands from Airlie Beach, then you’ll need to know where the Airlie Beach marina is located as several cruises, sail boats and fishing boat charters depart from here. The other departure point for cruises is Shute Harbour located southeast of the main town.

It’s a good idea to compare the various cruise or sail boat companies to see which option is best suited to your needs, so a visit to Airlie Beach marina is a good option.


Airlie Beach Sailing

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One of the top activities in the Whitsunday Island is sailing. What could be better than sailing from one island paradise to another?

While sailing requires money and time, the good news is that there are several sailing options available to you in the Whitsundays. If sailing the Whitsundays is the thing for you, then you must read our Sailing Whitsundays page for more information on the sailing options available to you.


Airlie Beach Cruises

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Not everyone has the time or money to sail and therefore must rely on the faster catamarans to whisk them to several different islands on a day trip. If snorkelling, laying on the beach or exploring the rainforests of a few of the Whitsunday Islands appeal to you, then it’s just a matter of hunting down the tour that will suit you.

Finding an operator to take you out to the Whitsundays and the Great Barrier Reef can be a confusing business. While you’re spoilt for choice, choosing the right cruise to suit your needs can be overwhelming. The best plan of attack is to talk to other travellers and read reviews. Word of mouth is the best research you can do.

To get started, read our Cruise Whitsundays page which will give you an introduction to the biggest and best cruise operators as well as other tips on how to cruise the Whitsundays.


Fishing Charters Airlie Beach

If you’re not interested in cruising or sailing the Whitsundays, you might be keen about taking a fishing charter from Airlie Beach. The waters around the outer Whitsundays provide some of the best fishing spots making game fishing very popular here.

Charter-boat operators provide all-inclusive day trips to the outer Whitsundays. Some popular fishing charters from Airlie Beach are the Jillian2 (fishwhitsunday@austarnet.com.au) which departs Abel Point Marina for a full day fishing trip, and the MV Moruya (info@fishingwhitsunday.com.au) which departs from Shute Harbour.


Airlie Beach Boat Hire

Hiring your own boat is also an option and not all boats require a boating licence. For those looking for Airlie Beach boat hire options, head to the front of the Airlie Beach Hotel where you will find (seasonal) operators that hire out jet skis, catamarans, windsurfers and paddle skis. Also Harbour Side Boat Hire has various runabouts for rent at the Ferry Terminal at Shute Harbour.


Skydive Airlie Beach

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For those active travellers and adventure enthusiasts, skydiving Airlie Beach might be on your radar. Try tandem skydiving with Tandem Skydive Airlie Beach and get a bird’s eye view of Airlie Beach from high in the sky. For more sedate pastimes consider dropping a line or taking a scenic flight with Air Whitsunday Seaplanes or Aviation Adventures. Flying is the only way to do day trips to exclusive Whitsunday Islands such as Hayman Island.


Airlie Beach Festivals

To see Airlie Beach at its best, head here during one of the Airlie Beach festivals to see the town come alive.

Whitsunday Run Race Festival Airlie Beach is the centre of activities during this annual festival each September. Apart from the yacht races, the Miss Figurehead and Mr Six-Pack competitions set the tone for the festivities.

Whitsunday Reef Festival A 10-day celebration in late October and early November with food, wine, music, dance, theatre, fireworks and fashion.


Accommodation & Restaurants at Airlie Beach

The town of Airlie Beach is only a few blocks long, but you will find an adequate choice of decent accommodations, a small selection of good restaurants and bars, a nice boutique or two, and facilities such as banks and a supermarket.

Below are details on the caravan parks and camping facilities in the area as well as information on the best restaurants in town.


Caravan Park Airlie Beach

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There are no caravan parks in Airlie Beach itself, but in Cannonvale and on the road between Airlie and Shute Harbour there are several parks to choose from including Flametree Tourist Village and Island Getaway Caravan Resort.

Flametree Tourist Village is not as glitzy as the other big parks, but the spacious sites are scattered through lovely, bird-filled gardens and there’s a good camp kitchen and barbecue area. It is located 6.5 km west of Airlie. See Flametree Tourist Village for more information.

Island Getaway Caravan Resort is a big park about 1.5 km east of Airlie Beach, making it the closest camping grounds to the town centre. The sites are shady and the facilities are excellent and include a camp kitchen, a shop, half-court tennis and minigolf. See Island Getaway Caravan Resort for more details.


Airlie Beach Camping

QPWS manages national-park camping grounds on several islands for both independent and commercial campers (tour companies). There’s also a privately-run camping ground at Hook Island.

You must be self-sufficient to camp in the national-park sites. You’re advised to take 5L of water per person per day, plus three days’ extra supply in case you get stranded. You should also have a fuel stove – wood fires are banned on all islands.

The national-parks leaflet Island Camping in the Whitsundays describes the various sites and provides detailed information on what to take and do. Camping permits are available online and from the Whitsunday QPWS office. If you book online, don’t forget to pick up your permit/tag from the office.

QPWS is located on the corner of Shute Harbour and Mandalay Roads past Airlie Beach, 3 km towards Shute Harbour. See QPWS for more details on Airlie Beach camping.


Restaurants Airlie Beach

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Most of the restaurants in Airlie Beach are located on Shute Harbour Road. The Esplanade is now starting to carve its own niche. Whichever restaurant you choose, seafood is the order of the day with fresh and tasty seafood options available at most restaurants in Airlie Beach.

Shipwrecked Airlie Beach is an upmarket seafood bar and grill that is sure to please. If you’re looking for a special place to dine in Airlie Beach, make a booking here to have an all-out special meal whether it’s fresh seafood, steak or duck.


How to get to and from Airlie Beach?

Below are the details of getting between Airlie Beach and Cairns as well as getting to the main Whitsunday Islands from Airlie Beach.


Airlie Beach to Cairns

The only way to get from Airlie Beach to Cairns and vice versa is by road. There are no flights from Cairns direct to Airlie Beach as most go via Hamilton Island or Proserpine (Whitsunday Coast).

If you’re driving, expect the journey to take an entire day as Airlie Beach is located 623 km south of Cairns. Head south on National Highway A1 passing Innisfail, Tully and Townsville along the way.

You can catch a bus from Airlie Beach to Cairns and vice versa with Greyhound or Premier Motor Service. It takes about 11 hours with the buses stopping at the Esplanade, between the sailing club and the Airlie Beach Hotel. Head to the booking agencies along Shute Harbour Rd for reservation and ticketing services.


Airlie Beach to Whitehaven Beach

The best way to get from Airlie Beach to Whitehaven Beach is by boat from Abel Point Marina. There are notice boards at the Whitsunday Sailing Club and Abel Point Marina showing when rides or crew are available. Alternatively, you can check out the Fantasea who provide the transfers from Airlie Beach to Whitehaven Beach.


Airlie Beach to Hamilton Island

The easiest and most comfortable way to get from Airlie Beach to Hamilton Island is on a flight. Whitsunday Airport, a small airfield 6 km east of Airlie Beach, is midway between Airlie Beach and Shute Harbour. Half a dozen different operators are based here, and you can take a helicopter, a light plane or a seaplane out to Hamilton Island.

Alternatively, you can go from Airlie Beach to Hamilton Island by boat from Shute Harbour or Abel Point Marina. For more details, see Fantasea.


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