Airlie Beach is much more than just a gateway to the Whitsundays. This achingly pretty town – a place where azure tropical seas meet vertiginous rainforested peaks – boasts a vibrant community, cracking restaurants and bars, and a buzzy nightclub scene. Here’s what to see and do when you’re not sailing the Whitsundays or exploring the Great Barrier Reef.
Keen to kick off your day like a local? Start with a wholesome smoothie bowl and organic coffee at Bohemian Raw, an al fresco cafe overlooking the Coral Sea Marina. For something heartier, opt instead for corn fritters or chorizo omelettes at Airlie Beach Treehouse on Shute Harbour Road, right in the middle of town – a seat on its deck overlooking Airlie Bay is a prized possession on weekend mornings.
Try to time your Whitsundays visit for a Saturday, when a terrific fresh produce and artisan market lines up under the palm trees on the foreshore (7am–1pm). It’s a great spot to grab a coffee, mix with locals and maybe buy a souvenir.
Later, take a Segway tour along the Whitsunday Great Walk through the spectacular Conway National Park rainforest. This nine-kilometre round journey includes morning tea by the beautiful Impulse Creek, and an experienced guide is on hand to help you interpret the flora, fauna, sights and sounds of the surrounding bush.
Head 15 minutes out of town for lunch at Northerlies, a fabulous restaurant and bar set inside an open-air timber pavilion with views across Pioneer Bay back towards town. Feast on marinated octopus salad, herb-crumbed chicken schnitzel or chilli-crab spaghetti while enjoying the soothing breeze that cuts through the dewy tropical afternoon.
“Feast on marinated octopus salad while enjoying the breeze that cuts through the dewy tropical afternoon.”
Afterwards, head back into town to cool off at Airlie Beach Lagoon, a beautiful shade-lined artificial lagoon that’s a favoured meeting place for local families and travellers. You can swim some laps, play in the sandy shallows or just laze on the grass.
Once you’ve freshened up, head to Airlie Beach Hotel for sundowners. This buzzy icon has been extensively refurbished after the devastation caused by Cyclone Debbie in 2017 and is once again the place in town for a debrief of your day’s activities.
For dinner, slip next door to La Tabella. At least one night in town should be spent here. It packs out with tourists and locals ordering generous plates of house-made pasta and rustic entrees and mains – think Moreton Bay bug and barramundi ravioli, handmade burrata with toasted sourdough, and pork tenderloin scallopini – washed down by a drop chosen from an extensive wine list that covers both old- and new-world labels.
Turn a day trip into a long weekend and extend your stay to experience Reefsleep – an overnight cruise that allows you to sleep under the stars in a custom-designed Reefbed. Cruise Whitsundays also offers a range of day cruises and sailing adventures to explore remote spots, secret beaches and scenic walking trails. To find out more, visit cruisewhitsundays.com.
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