Airlie Beach

Famed as the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands, Airlie Beach has become one of the main backpacker towns on the east coast of Australia. Located almost halfway between Brisbane and Cairns on the Whitsunday Coast, the town was developed to cater for all the hordes of visitors wishing to travel to the Islands rather than for what the area itself holds. The name Airlie Beach is in fact misleading, there is no sand here and instead a lagoon has been built next to the sea front which becomes filled daily with visitors. The town has a permanent holiday feel to it due to its purpose, and the bars are packed out into the small hours of every morning. However, Airlie Beach is active by day as well as night, and you will find many activities that will keep you occupied at all times of the day.


Airlie has the reputation of being one of the great dive destinations of Australia, offering opportunities for both experienced divers and beginners. Turtles, manta rays, dolphins and whales can often be spotted, as well as reef sharks, and night dives are especially popular here. Outer reefs which lie beyond the islands offer great diving opportunities and overnight trips are available to Hardy, Hook and Bait Reefs, whereas Mantaray Bay is one of the best spots if you just want to snorkel. There are a couple of dive schools in the town, and it is advisable to be wary of the ones which offer cheap courses as these will probably involve most of your dives being in the pool. Ask how many dives you get and where you dive, and if any additional features are included. [ Reef Jet] offers a fast boast which takes people who do not wish to stay overnight on one of the islands to Bait Reef, a location that can be enjoyed by both beginners and experienced divers. [ Oceania Dive] is a twenty seven metre dive boat which departs for three night trips around the Whitsundays and is solely for divers.

Conway National Park lies a few kilometres east of Airlie Beach and is a welcome retreat from the town. It contains some of the oldest surviving rainforest in the world, as well as mangrove swamps and rugged valleys. Several walks are available all of varying lengths and degrees, some of which include walking up to Mount Rooper lookout which provides outstanding views of the Whitsunday Islands. For the more adventurous there is the opportunity to tear around this bush on a quad bike, details of which are available at the Tourist Information Centre.

Sailing around the Whitsunday Islands is obviously the most popular attraction that is offered here. These journeys can be booked from almost any major town or city in Australia, and many chain companies offer you the chance of combining it with other tourist trips, e.g. Fraser Island, for a discounted package price. Within Airlie Beach itself you will find dozens of companies all offering similar deals on trips to the islands, these usually range from two to three night trips. The average number on a boat is twenty, and accommodation can often be budget but the beauty of the area makes up for this. Prices include main meals and drinks, often extras will have to be paid for, and snorkelling and fishing equipment is usually included. Make sure you check exactly what is included in the cost of the trip before you go, and ask to see the boat if possible.

Fishing trips are also available from Airlie Beach. Mackerel, cobia and tuna can be readily found, the M.V. Jillian offers trips to areas where you can catch such fish and includes lunch onboard. Trips on M.V. Moruya offer a more relaxing day, and the Blue Marlin offers longer trips that explore some of the islands.


Most of the restaurants in Airlie double up as bars and clubs come 9 p.m., apart from a few cafes available which offer cheap daytime food. The main bars are adjoined to the main hostels in the town, and they offer cheap drinks and deals most nights. Beaches, Magnums and Morocco’s are the firm favourites here. Food is also often offered, and packages that include food and accommodation in these hostels, combined with Whitsunday sailing trips, are popular. There is one supermarket in the centre of town which is the only place which caters for those partaking in the self-catering option.


Most of the shops in Airlie are focussed around its busy tourist industry; internet cafes are two a penny, and there are dozens of travel agents ready to sell you trips to the Islands. There are a few clothes shops selling standard Australian surf wear, as well as cheaper chain shops and a few boutiques. There are also a surprisingly large number of beauty and hair salons, as well as a few health resorts and spas.

Tourist Information

Tourist Office: City Tourist Bureau348 Shute Harbour RoadAirlie BeachQueensland Australia

  • Tel: 0061 (0)7 4946 6673
  • Fax: 0061 (0)7 4946 7902
  • Free Dial: 1800 819 366 (within Australia only)
  • Email:


The closest airport to Airlie Beach is the Whitsunday Coast Airport, recently renamed from Prosperpine Airport. This is located thirty km inland from Airlie Beach and has internal connections to all major cities in Australia, and well as international flights to most capital cities around the world which go via Brisbane. A shuttle bus meets every flight and for a very reasonable cost (around Aus$14), lifts to Airlie Beach are available. There is also a light plane airport only 5 km from Airlie Beach for private flights.

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