Whether visiting Whitsundays on a Budget or with money to burn, a trip to Whitehaven Beach and some of the seventy-four Whitsunday Islands off-shore will top your Airlie Beach wish list and rightfully so. You can read how to visit Whitehaven here, or rent a yacht in the Whitsundays here, but this post gets into the nitty gritty of what to do in Airlie Beach after you’ve visited the Whitsunday Islands Queensland. For more posts on Australia check our Australia Travel Blog.
Our suggestions are mostly free things to do in Airlie Beach and work well for anyone visiting Whitsunday on a Budget, whether an overseas backpacker, road-tripping Aussie, holidaying family or a week-end escapee from the city. They work equally well for those who don’t give a fig about how much things cost.
For those with their own boat and wheels who are basing themselves in Airlie Beach, I’d like to mention two free things to do outside of Airlie Beach that aren’t covered below. One is the magnificent bird watching and fishing haunt of Peter Faust Dam to the west and the other the Murals and Beaches of Bowen in the north.
Halfway between Brisbane and Cairns, claiming an average temperature of 26 degrees Celcius and a sand, sea and palm persona, you can’t ignore Airlie Beach, the heart of the reef.
We’ve enjoyed a long love lazy affair with the Whitsundays and I have fond memories of carefree Airlie Beach camping as a child and later with our own kids. Since then we’ve island hopped by private motor launch (me), taken commercial tours to Daydream Island, South Molle Island, Hayman Island, Whitehaven and Hook Islands (both) with Marty adding many of the smaller islands during his 30 plus years with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA).
Our knowledge of Airlie Beach things to do is a slow burn. Did you know there are crocodile tours on the Proserpine River or consider joining in Whitsunday Sailing Club Wednesday Twilight Racing (arrive by 3 pm)?
In July 2019 we were road tripping to Townsville in North Queensland and visited the Whitsundays again for a Whitehaven Beach day trip. Marty had been fast boating before, but this trip with Ocean Rafting was my first and I fell hook line and sinker.
I’m a fast boat kinda girl but do love reading around the world sailing memoirs. In real life though I just want to get there and start snorkelling ASAP. More importantly I’ve learned that I don’t get seasick on a fast boat.
Before the Ocean Rafting boat joins the open ocean, the skipper puts the boat through it’s paces with adrenalin filled figure of eights and pure fun. As our tour had children on board our Skipper said she toned it down a bit. It was fun with a capital F.
Whitehaven is spectacular and we thoroughly recommend it. If you’re after more the best trip is to combine the Ocean Rafting Trip to Whitehaven with a flight in a fixed wing aircraft over the great barrier reef, Heart Island, Whitehaven Beach and many many more.
Some people think of Airlie Beach as a backpacker destination only, but this simply isn’t so. There are many different genres of travellers enjoying Airlie Beach.
The original Airlie Beach township on Main Street is pretty much backpacker central. It is where you will find Nomads (see Where to Stay in Airlie Beach below) bars and nightlife. It is also where you will find Airlie Beach lagoon, playgrounds, shops and restaurants.
There are plenty of things to do in Airlie Beach outside of this zone though.
What You Will Find in This Post
- What to do in Airlie Beach
- Things to do Near Airlie Beach
- Where to Eat Airlie Beach (and Drink)
- Where to stay in Airlie Beach?
- Airlie Beach Events
- How to get to Airlie Beach
What to do in Airlie Beach
Cool off in Airlie Beach Lagoon
See the yachts anchored in the Coral Sea beyond the pool in the photo below? The Bicentennial Walkway leads between that pool and Pioneer Bay.
Situated in the tropics, Airlie Beach weather does get sultry and cloudy at times. This was one of those times, but although it was technically winter and threatening to rain, the weather was still warm and inviting. This is why we love tropical North Queensland.
With half of Airlie’s visitors recovering Lagoon-side from the night before and the rest cooling off in the pools, Airlie Beach Lagoon is an obvious first choice for what to do in Airlie Beach.
Whatever did we do in North Queensland before the advent of free seaside lagoon pools? They really are a god send and are popping up everywhere.
Having driven 4 minutes from Seabreeze Tourist Park into the CBD and parked on Main Street, we went directly to the Lagoon.
Pools include a sheltered toddlers wading pool, another 1.5 metre maximum depth pool for children and a 2 metre deep large lap pool for serious swimmers.
Lifeguard Patrol: 5.30 am – 7 pm June, July, August (winter) and 5.30 am – 9 pm for the rest of the year. There really are only two seasons up here – Summer (long) and Winter (short).
Walk it off on the Airlie Beach Boardwalk
From Fat Frog Cafe in Cannonvale (see Where To Eat below) join the Airlie Beach Boardwalk, a Bicentennial initiative waterside path that leads 4 km to the Airlie Beach Lagoon.
Along the way look out for Piccolo Espresso’s cute black and cream coffee van on the Cannonvale foreshore.
There are fish and turtles below the boardwalk so be ready with your phone and/or camera, especially at sunset or sunrise.
The whole waterside walk takes about 45 minutes with a quick drink break mid-way at Abell Point Marina. Grab a quick take away or pull up a stool at Sorrento’s Bar and Grill and inhale the views.
Watch all the day-tripping action if your visit coincides with island departures or arrivals.
Tip: You can also explore the boardwalk via Segway (see Airlie Beach Segway Tour below).
Abell Point Marina Airlie Beach
Abell Point Marina is the departure point for Ocean Rafting, our chosen Whitehaven Beach day trip provider. Airlie Beach has been perfecting it’s tourism game for a long time and Ocean Rafting runs an impressively smooth operation.
Whitehaven Beach is a popular destination and we recommend pre-booking especially during school holidays.
Abell Point Marina is where you will find Sorrento Bar and Restaurant (see Where to Eat Airlie Beach below)
Airlie Foreshore Playground
If you’re in Airlie Beach with Kids, this playground will wow you. I temporarily wished for small children again so we could join in the fun.
The whole area is part of the 6.3 million post cyclone makeover compliments of the Natural Disaster Relief Fund after Severe Tropical Cyclone Debbie hit Airlie Beach in 2017. Opened in April 2019 in time for Easter, it has to be one of the best playgrounds around.
At 10.5 m tall with a rope skywalk, 3 big slides and one of those scary climbing nets, it’s a playground for adventurous kids and one of the best things to do in Airlie Beach with kids.
With new lawn underpinned by a plastic grid system designed for high traffic areas and an amenities block completely covered by vertical gardens, this is one innovative facility. Only open for a few months, the grass is still growing into the plastic grid system, but looks great.
You will find the playground behind the Whitsunday Sailing Club at the end of Ocean Road. When walking from the lagoon continue on from the playground to Port of Airlie, but before then…
Take a Airlie Beach Segway Tour
On the oceanfront beside the new playground and boardwalk is Whitsunday Segway Tours offering a 3 hour 7 km Bicentennial Boardwalk tour finishing with a pizza pasta dinner or a 4 hour ride through the rainforest to Impulse Creek.
Suitable for children over 12 years of Age.
Visit Port of Airlie
Port of Airlie is a boutique shopping and dining area and terminal for Whitsunday Cruises. This is where you can find direct island transfers to Daydream Island and Hamilton Island. It is the departure point for their Barrier Reef Half Day, Day Trip and Reef Sleep tours.
Port of Airlie is home to The Mantra Boathouse Luxury Apartments.
Take your dog off-leash in Airlie Beach
These are the Council allocated off-leash dog areas:
- Cannonvale Beach (Sand area at the Eastern End from 5 am to 8 am and 5 pm to 8 pm)
- Cannonvale Bicentennial Park
- Cannonvale Gailbraith Park
- Cannonvale Whisper Bay Boat Ramp
- Shingley Beach Eastern End
- Airlie Beach Jubilee Pocket Road (enclosure)* with BBQ and Playground
- Out of Town – Hydeaway Bay
*Island Gateway Holiday Park at 1 Jubilee Pocket Road has pet friendly (on lead) powered and unpowered sites. From Island Gateway it is only a 200 metre walk to the Jubilee Pocket Road Off-Leash Dog Area.
Nowadays in Australia it is common for any cafe with an outdoor seating area to accept well-behaved dogs on a lead. The following Airlie Beach cafes are specifically dog friendly but I’m sure most cafes with outdoor areas will be fine with your pooch.
Specific Dog Friendly Cafes in and near Airlie Beach:
- Fat Frog Cafe at Cannonvale has a 4 legged furry friends menu and provide water bowls. A dog friendly off-leash beach is across the street.
- George’s Diner at Conway Beach (deck only dining) water bowls provided. The beach is on-leash only.
- Cafe One 3 at 13 Waterson Way up the street behind Base Backpackers. Due to roadworks the Cafe is closed for two weeks from 12/10/19, but instead Cafe One 3 Food Truck is on site from 7 a.m. at Island Gateway Holiday Park. Check out their Facebook Page for updates.
Fat Frog Cafe Airlie Beach has an outside dog friendly area
Conway National Park Walks
It is easy to go hiking from Airlie Beach proper. The easiest option is to start walking the Airlie Trail from Main Street and connect to Honeyeater Lookout trail in Conway National Park.
But there are many more walks – take a look at this map.
Shute Harbour near Airlie Beach
Before Abell Point Marina came into being all island traffic left from Shute Harbour. It’s a nice drive out there from Airlie Beach and you can get some great natural harbour views from the lookout. It is also a residential suburb with fabulous views.
If you’re interested in Camping on a Whitsunday Island, Scamper (Whitsunday Island Transfers) operate barges from Shute Harbour to the islands.
This is also where bare-boating and charter boat operations are based.
Fishing Airlie Beach style is as simple as packing an esky and heading for Shute Harbour Fishing Jetty. Lots of boat action around and if you don’t pull your catch in quickly the resident groper will snap himself a free lunch. My Mum and Dad always took us fishing to Shute Harbour Jetty.
Things to do Near Airlie Beach
Road tripping around Airlie Beach is relaxing and really the only way you are going to see the other smaller communities surrounding Airlie.
Waterfalls near Airlie Beach – Cedar Creek Falls
On a hot summer’s day you won’t want to leave Cedar Creek Falls.
To get there from Airlie Beach Lagoon:
- Take Shute Harbour Road (State Road 59) toward Proserpine.
- Turn left into Conway Road, signposted Conway Beach and Wilson Beach at approx. 18km.
- After 8.5 km turn left into Saltwater Creek Road and
- Follow it 4km to the fall’s Car Park.
The road to Cedar Creek falls is partially dirt.
The falls are only a few minutes from the car park which is small and surrounded by grass trees.
This totally Instagrammable swimming hole is a good place to cool off in a natural rock pool setting. It’s especially good after rain, but jumping from the waterfall is not allowed for safety reasons.
Wear your swimmers and bring drinking water, hat and sunscreen. There are no shops or amenities so you might like to bring a picnic also.
This fresh water pool offers safe year round swimming.
Beaches Near Airlie Beach – Conway Beach
If you have time after visiting Cedar Creek Falls continue on to Conway Beach at the mouth of the Proserpine River. The wind was belting into the small fishing community from the ocean the day we visited.
Conway Beach Caravan Park is situated in Daniels Street at the rear of the village. It’s only a short walk to the beach from the caravan park.
There is a fairly new looking kid’s playground and Picnic Shelter on the foreshore.
One of the quirkiest reasons to come to Conway Beach is George’s Diner at the Conway Beach Tourist Park. This authentic replica of the Great American Diner opened in July 2017 after George’s USA trip. It was a case of out with the billiard table and in with the diner. Look for some classic cars on site too.
Love finding these random gems.
Tip: Order the classic banana split.
Beaches near Airlie Beach – Wilsons Beach
On the way back pop into the small seaside village of Wilsons Beach 2 km to the north-west. You will have passed the turn-off on the way in to Conway Beach.
There are a few beach houses plus an amenities block and new kids playground. The ocean pool here needs work done to the netting and in July 2019 was not safe to swim in.
The beach is directly behind the lovely new playground and between playground and water in true North Queensland style is a crocodile warning sign!
Beaches Near Airlie Beach – Dingo Beach, Hydeaway Bay, Cape Gloucester
Within minutes of leaving the Airlie Beach suburb of Cannonvale you are in farm country. It’s a pretty drive through roadside fields of sugar cane surrounded by shade trees dotted with tropical palms.
Spend a half or full day visiting the northern beaches near Airlie Beach, namely Dingo Beach, Hydeaway Bay and Gloucester Point at Cape Gloucester.
It will take about an hour to drive the 60 km to the end of the road at Cape Gloucester with the final 4 km being a good dirt road or about 45 minutes to Hydeaway Bay.
If like us and enjoy country road trips, this one is for you. Look for seasonal roadside stalls which may have just the one item for sale and an honesty box to pay. We picked up some exotic looking limes on our last visit.
Tip: Bring gold coins for the honesty boxes.
The first stop on the road trip is Dingo Beach Pub with it’s undercover outdoor area overlooking a park and beach. This could be a good spot for lunch or happy hour. The Dingo Beach Store sells cakes and breakfasts, doubling as the Post Office too. As a jack of all trades it also sells bait, fishing tackle, fuel and ice.
We spent a week relaxing here a few years ago, using it as a base to explore the Proserpine and Airlie Beach area. Hydeaway Bay Caravan Park is delightful, with huge spaces, plenty of trees for shade and good amenities. It’s very much a country park with wood burning BBQ, Fire Pit and Camp Oven Pit. It does have a coin operated laundry for clothes drying during rainy season.
The road into Hydeaway Bay is sealed but apart from the caravan park there is only a smallish residential community. There isn’t a shop but the Caravan Park’s on-site kiosk sells necessities. As you can imagine the trees invite parrots and lorikeets and Kangaroos and Wallabies consider the grass their own private smorgasbord.
It’s a short 5 minute walk to Hydeaway Beach from the caravan park with no roads to cross. Both Dingo Beach and Hydeaway Bay are in Edgecumbe Bay which is a renowned snorkelling and fishing destination.
We fished off the beach at Hydeaway Bay and Gloucester Point and in our boat out the front of Dingo Beach but didn’t catch anything. I find this hilarious – we musn’t have been trying.
The green hills in the background of the below photo are Gloucester Island. It is possible to camp on the island and it is easy to get to in your own boat. Bona Bay on the western side of the island is the most popular campground with 36 sites with composting toilet and picnic tables.
Dingo Beach boat ramp is the only boat ramp in the area and is tide dependent. This means outgoing and incoming boat trips must coincide with high or mid tide when the water reaches the ramp.
All Australian beaches are public and the one at Gloucester Point always has a yacht or two moored off shore.
Point Gloucester is one of our favourite places to view Australian Sunsets.
Fishing from the beach while the sun sets over the water is a magical experience. See our photo doing that here.
There are two resorts here.
Montes Reef Resort comprising eight air-conditioned beachfront bungalows, with views to Gloucester Island. They welcome the public to their licensed waterfront restaurant and bar. See their menu here.
Tip: North Queensland Mackerel is always good.
Nearby is the Cape Gloucester Beach Resort which has a variety of air-conditioned cabins and a motel unit.
Returning Home to Airlie Beach at the end of the day.
Where to Eat Airlie Beach (and Drink)
Fat Frog – suitable for kids and dogs
Fat Frog Cafe sits just across the street from Seabreeze Caravan Park at the start of the Bicentennial Walk. It has the perfect water front location and relaxed open air dining. We scored a table with a view and indulged our coffee and scone addiction.
The Campos coffee here is good and got our tick of approval (ask extra hot if you prefer). We didn’t dine here, but it’s a popular brunch spot for locals and that says a lot.
Hogs Breath – suitable for kids
261 Shute Harbour Road just a 3 minute walk from Airlie Beach Lagoon. It’s the most googled place to eat in Airlie Beach and a favourite with families. What more can I say.
Sorrento’s Restaurant and Bar
Situated at Abell Point Marina on the point beyond Ocean Rafting’s office, Sorrento has an airily open downstairs bar with Coral Sea views and Sorrento restaurant upstairs featuring a nostalgic wall mural, fairy lights and expansive deck. Along with all interested passengers on the day, we received a discount voucher from Ocean Rafting and used it to relax here post Whitehaven trip.
If you’re looking for romantic things to do in Airlie Beach, I think dining here fits the bill. Having said that, if your kids are frequent restaurant diners, this venue would be enjoyable especially on the deck.
The food is good and we thoroughly enjoyed the ocean views and drinks. The restaurant menu is identical both in the upstairs restaurant and downstairs bar.
Airlie Beach Nightlife at The Pub Airlie Beach
Situated at 16 Airlie Esplanade half way between Whitsunday Sailing Club and the Lagoon.
The Pub has a lovely sidewalk area great for Al Fresco dining day and night, ocean views and people watching. Some meals, namely Open Flame/Specialty House Ribs and Mains come with a full buffet which is a bit of a rarity nowadays. But hell it’s not all about the food right?
True. This is where the girls we met on our Whitehaven Beach trip went to party the night before.
Banjos Airlie Beach Bar and Bistro – family friendly
The second most googled place to eat in Airlie Beach.
Situated at 6 Island Drive Cannondale. Within walking distance of Seabreeze Tourist Park, Banjos came recommended.
It’s definitely great Pub Food and with regular specials. Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday are 2 for 1 meal days. Other special days are Parmi/Lamb Shank/Pizza. Check out their Facebook Page for daily specials.
We arrived on Parmi night, when all of the fancy Parmis were priced same as basic $16.
I couldn’t do my tasty Calamari topped Parmi justice and requested a doggie bag. No shame there, because the four young guys at the next table did the same. Enthusiastically, they chose the Curry Parmi, which came with a generous serving of curry atop the chicken schnitzel. I kid you not.
A real local’s hangout but word is out and visitors flock here too. It is great after a big day exploring to have a good reasonably priced meal in nice surrounds (try beneath the trees in the courtyard) and not have to wait too long.
Northerlies Beach Bar and Grill
Northerlies is the one that got away from us on this visit. As the name suggests it’s a little north at Woodwark, but only 11 km and 16 minutes from Airlie Beach Lagoon.
Situated directly on the ocean it has views back to Airlie from oceanfront decks. Northerlies came recommended also but we just ran out of time. It’s situated in Freedom Shores Resort and you can check their menus on their website. This Quote is from their facebook page.
Several years ago, we came across a beautiful and secluded valley just outside Airlie Beach in the Whitsundays, Queensland. It took several years of hard work by local craftsmen to create a truly memorable destination, but now we can share this piece of paradise with those looking to relax with friends at Northerlies Beach Bar and Grill. We have friendly staff, an inspired Head Chef, a wine selection for the connoisseur and a huge array of craft beer on tap.
I mean I’m smitten. Note to Self to review my facebook blurb. Did I mention they have cabin accommodation in the shape of boats…
Where to stay in Airlie Beach?
Seabreeze Tourist Park
Best for Budget Travellers, couples and families.
This Caravan Park suited our needs best, although all Airlie Beach Caravan Parks have good reviews and individual specialties.
We chose Seabreeze Tourist Park because of it’s proximity to Abell Point Marina and the Bicentennial Boardwalk. It is directly opposite Cannonvale Beach and Botanical Gardens where you will find walkways, playgrounds, a skate park, basketball court, exercise equipment, an off lead dog beach, free public BBQ’s, covered picnic huts and a boat ramp.
It is also walking distance to Banjos (see eating section) and Coles Cannondale shopping centre.
As it turned out Ocean Rafting collected us in a mini-bus prior to our Whitehaven Beach trip (something passengers can arrange during or after booking). Because Seabreeze was so close to Abell Point Marina, we were collected last and dropped back first, meaning we didn’t do the mini-bus run around. This is a bonus after a big day of sunshine, snorkelling, bush and beach walking.
As well as powered and unpowered sites, Seabreeze has bungalows and Bali style villas and two pools. Dogs are allowed on leads.
At the front of the park is an old style economy amenities building while toward the back of the park, near the vibrant communal kitchen are new individual business-class bathrooms available to all residents. Business Class bathrooms have toilet, hand-basin and shower all in the one room. This is how our caravan wrangler laughingly described them.
I choose the term caravan wrangler, but he’s just an experienced employee who directs you into your allotted caravan space. Most drivers hate someone telling them how to reverse their van, but this service has undoubtedly saved a gazillion marriages. Just saying…
Big 4 Airlie Beach Adventure Whitsunday Resort
Best for Families with children.
Although this Big4 Airlie Beach (Adventure) is a more expensive caravan park/resort, many families prefer it for activities and facilities it offers. These include 18 holes of mini-golf, waterpark, jumping pillows and resort pools. They even run movie nights in the outdoor cinema.
It’s billed as the best family resort in the Whitsundays and I don’t doubt that description.
Nomads Airlie Beach
Best for Singles and Budget travellers/backpackers.
Location. Location. Location. Just opposite Airlie Beach Lagoon in the heart of Airlie Beach. Nomads offers Melanesian style accommodation set in 7 acres of garden.
- This is affordable backpacker style accommodation.
- Every Room has an ensuite.
- Every Room has Air-conditioning.
- Choose from Dorm Rooms. Private Rooms. Family Rooms.
- Their own Campground – you won’t camp closer to all the action.
- Facilities include car parking, communal kitchen and fridge, swimming pool, outdoor areas and laundry.
Airlie Beach Events
I’ve added this section to enable booking flights to Airlie Beach and Airlie Beach Accommodation in advance. Most of the year you can wing it in Airlie Beach without pre-booking but in peak times like these I suggest some pre-planning.
Whitsunday Reef Festival or Great Barrier Reef Festival is held over four days on the first weekend in August. Celebrating Airlie’s Heart of the Reef role, it includes a family fun day plus street parade with floats, show rides, market stalls and a pop up bar near Airlie Beach Lagoon.
Later in August (18th to 24th August 2019) is Hamilton Island Race Week. Based out of Hamilton Island this yacht race comes with activities both on the water and land.
Airlie Beach Festival of Music rocks this year from 8th to 10th November, 2019 on the main stage at the Whitsunday Sailing Club. The line up in 2019 includes John Williamson, John Butler, Yothu Yindi, Australian Rock Collective and more.
How to get to Airlie Beach
By Car from Brisbane to Airlie Beach
Turnoff just past the town of Proserpine.
By Car from Cairns to Airlie Beach
Turnoff 80 km south of Bowen.
From Airlie Beach Airport
Otherwise known as Proserpine Airport, Whitsunday Airport or Whitsunday Coast Airport, it is 38 km inland from Airlie Beach. Qantas, Jetstar, Virgin and Tiger Air currently have flights to Airlie Beach/Proserpine from Brisbane and Sydney.
“Whitsundays 2 Everywhere” run a door to door bus service from Proserpine Airport to Airlie Beach.
From Hamilton Island to Airlie Beach
Cruise Whitsundays Island Transfers.