Airlie Beach (or Airlie) is a town in Queensland, Australia and is the closest port from which to access the Whitsunday islands on the Great Barrier Reef. With around 25,000 residents it is developed to cater for almost every kind of tourist and backpacker, and is the major hub for trips out to the Whitsunday islands and Outer Great Barrier Reef.
Airlie beach used to be a backpacker haven but has now been discovered by Australians and has consequently become more commercialised in recent years. Still plenty of good cheap accommodation and an excellent stop off on the East Coast of Australia.
The main strip of Airlie where most of the backpacker resorts and pubs are located is usually known as Airlie Beach proper. Cannonvale is the section west of the strip to where the developments peter out. Beyond that is Cannonvalley and Strathdickie - more rural areas where the housing is more acreage style or farming land. Other suburbs in the area are Jubilee Pocket and Shute Harbour, where the ferries to the Whitsunday Islands depart from.
Flying to Proserpine Airport, also known as Whitsunday Coast Airport, in Proserpine is the easiest way to reach Airlie. The two main airlines flying to here are Virgin Australia and Jetstar . It has upgraded facilities with full baggage collection, hire car and service desks and a small bistro area.
There is also Hamilton Island airport which is just off Airlie Beach. Do your research though as you have to get off Hamilton Island and this could be expensive.
There is a train station in Proserpine for those travelling up the East coast.
There are also a number of tours that travel up the East Coast of Australia and visit Airlie Beach.
HitchHiking is rare but if by yourself or in pairs it can be efficient.
A number of buses serve the airport terminal, and drive to Airlie beach or other locations but all but one must be prebooked. The tickets cost a flat $15 per person one way and can be purchased in a queue at a clearly marked booth just inside the arrival gate. The bus driver mans the booth, and when everyone has got a ticket (about 30–40 minutes wait from arrival) the bus gets going. Another option is to take a taxi, for which there is also a booth inside the arrivals gate. However taxi rides seem to match the bus price, and cost $15 per person. Also, there may not be any taxis waiting. The ride to Airlie beach is smooth and takes about 40 minutes. The driver will ask where you are staying and take you to the door of the hostel or hotel in Airlie Beach.
Despite its name, Airlie Beach is not the best place for the beach itself. The few near Shute Harbour Rd are small and pretty, but the presence of jellyfish (there are signs up detailing different species near the beaches) means people do not swim in the water from around October to around May. There is a new man made beach Port of Airlie which has a larger beach than Airlie beach proper and it also has a shopping area and boat marina. A swim in the water requires a stinger suit - made from rash top type material. However more than making up for this, Airlie has a fantastic man made lagoon. This is around two hundred metres long and fifty wide, landscaped with a bridge and grass to lie on surrounding. It is watched by life guards during the day and security at night, and because it is open to swim in at all times the lagoon makes relaxing in Airlie pure delight. On Saturday morning there is a charming market along the waterfront, with a range of locally produced foods and souvenirs.
Airlie has many varied restaurants, both budget and more expensive, and a range of takeaway places with specials catering to the backpacker market.
For those foodies out there, Deja Vu at Water's Edge Resort is beautiful and Capers at the Airlie Beach Hotel is always reliable. Armarda's, further along the main street is a city style cocktail bar and restaurant, offering a stylish alternative for a night out. For those on a budget, Morocco's, Beaches or Magnums offer good pub style meals, with some of the sailing trips offering meals there included as part of the trip cost.
Airlie has a great nightlife with bars concentrated on the main road.
- Nomads Airlie Beach, 354 Shute Harbour Road, ☎ +61 7 4999 6600, toll-free: 1800 666 237, e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 2pm, check-out: 10am. Right in the centre of town has lots of accommodation options - dorms, privates and camping (tents, powered and non-powered sites) Located within 7 acres of tropical gardens. Nomads Mad Card Holders receive a discount. from $25 for dorms.
- Beaches Backpackers. right in the centre of town has many dorm beds and is connected to one of the liveliest bar in town. A normal dorm sleeps eight, has its own shower and toilet, fridge and TV. These are fairly clean, depending on your co-habitees. The cost is $24 per night, with a $10 deposit for the doorkey (don't lose it!). The bar (open to everyone) has live music every Friday and Saturday singing teeny songs to cater for the large young British and Irish contingent of visitors. Nomads Mad Card Holders receive a discount.
- Magnum's Hostel is also on the main road and is connected to a food court, bar, club and unfortunately seedy looking joints for the pokies (slot machines for gambling). In the bar the crowd looks older the live music more alternative and rock style.
- Backpackers by the bay. Is an excellent choice for something smaller, and is the 2004 Whitsunday Tourism award winner. There is a very good kitchen for cooking, a small pool, bar, tables and sofas on a relaxed terrace looking into the harbour (unfortunately undergoing construction at the moment for a new marina!). The staff are friendly and offer helpful advice, the dorms sleep four, are kept clean and artistically decorated. The dorms cost is $26 a night (although there may be reductions for YHA card holders). Alternatively, you can sleep in your car or van on the hostel's private parking space and pay $10 to use all the facilities. The location is not on the High street, but a five minute walk along the main road and up some steps (although the actual address is 12 Hermitage Drive). There is a bus stop just outside for the motionally challenged, or for trips back to the Proserpine airport.
- Flametree Tourist Village. Nestles in 7 acres of shady tropical foliage next to the Conway National Park. Just minutes in one direction to Shute Harbour, gateway to the 74 islands of the spectacular Whitsundays, and in the other to the tourist centre of Airlie Beach, with its many shops and fine restaurants.
- Airlie Beach YHA, 394 Shute Harbour Road, ☎ +61 7 4946 63 12. Its $27.50 for a dorm room with a private bathroom and $77.50 for a double/twin room. YHA members get a 10% discount. This hostel is centrally located near the Airlie Lagoon plus lots of restaurants and cafes. Every second night they have a $10 dinner such as roast chicken, as well as movie nights, quiz nights and pool volleyball.
Most Hostels provide internet access (about 4$ per hour). You can also check 'The Whitsunday Central Reservation Centre' at the end of main Street Airlie Beach (1$ for 30 mins; 30 mins free if you're using AI's Laundry opposite the road).
For those with access to a car and don't mind a bit of a hike, a trip to Cedar Creek Falls is well worth it. Dingo Beach and Hideaway Bay are also within 30 minutes drive, and the quaint restaurants are a quiet break away from the younger crowd. Quad biking and horse riding are also other options for something to do in Airlie.
Airlie Beach and Shute Harbour are access points to the Whitsunday Islands and cruises around them.