Airlie Beach is a small seaside town located 7 hours South of Cairns and 11 North of Fraser Island. From Airlie Beach you can quickly access the 74 islands which make up the Whitsundays.
The area is popular with backpackers and the town has a number of hostels including a YHA, Nomads and Base X hostel. Greyhound and Premier buses stop at a bus station 15 minute walk from the town center. If you cannot afford a bus then you may want to read my guide on How To Find A Rideshare Online.
The town boasts a lively nightlife and a range of action sports. Spending money in Airlie Beach is not hard! Not everyone can afford skydives and 3 day boat trips but I would recommend you at least set some money aside to do half a day kayaking or visit White Haven Beach. The town has a pleasant relaxed atmosphere to it but the main selling point of this place is the islands.
I have not been sponsored by any of the companies I mention below. The content is all my own words.
Update: I have now partnered with East Coast Tours. If you book through them, use the code ‘ross’, to receive a 5% discount. You can organise Whitsunday and Fraser Island trips through them.
I ended up finding the drink prices at the bar Magnums very affordable, it was $9 for a jug of Carlton Dry. In Melbourne I was sometimes paying $11 for a pint.
While downing the jugs of the beer you can enjoy live music, play pool, watch the major sport matches and cheer on the girls who are competing in the wet tshirt contest.
Magnums has a dance floor but you may want to party the night away at Moma Africas or Boom instead. Both the night clubs are free entry on specific days of the week.
The big night clubs and bars are all located within walking distance of the three hostels mentioned above.
Free falling from 14,000ft was a strange and magical experience. You can reach speeds of 220km an hour. I got to experience breath taking views while the instructor was busy keeping us both alive.
I used the company Skydive Australia. You take off from Whitsundays Airport, it is a 5 minute drive from the town centre and the company provides transport.
Extreme sports are never cheap but skydiving is particularly expensives. Frustratingly the GoPro footage and pictures were an extra $160, hence the lack of photos. If you are booking the skydive as part of an East Coast trip, you may be in a position to haggle on that cost.
Another way of lowering costs is to skydive from a lower height. In Airlie Beach the company does dives from as low as 6,000ft.
After seeing the islands from 14,000ft in the air, it was now time to see them from sea level. Salty Dog Sea Kayaking does a range of trips, including a half day one. The half day trip gives you plenty of time to admire the spectacular views and the calm sea allows inexperienced paddlers to join in on the fun. Sadly on the day I went, it was to windy to go to the snorkeling spot. The wanderlust views still made the trip very worthwhile.
The half day trip costs $80 dollars, transport from Airlie Beach and photos are included in the price. The trip was good value for money and inexpensive way of seeing the area. If you are on an extreme budget then I would personally recommend sacrificing a night out and going on the tour instead.
Over Night Boat Trips
There are a number of boat trips you can get. The Atlantic Clipper is aimed at young travelers who want to experience the area but also party. Some boats just focus on the sailing and others are intended for the more mature traveler.
During my time on the Atlantic Clipper we saw White Haven Beach and Hill Inlet (I have given this feature its own section), did two snorkeling sessions and experienced the most amazing sunset. If you have asthma like me and want to Scuba Dive, then go to a doctors in Airlie Beach who can provide you with a certificate saying that the asthma will pose no risk.
If you want to take pictures underwater then there are are a number of places in Airlie Beach which sell cameras.
- Pharmacy – Sell disposable cameras for $20.
- Magnums – Rents out GoPro cameras.
- Toprix Photography – sells waterproof cameras and cases for smart phones and non waterproof cameras. Also rents out a GoPro style camera.
I eventually chose to get a waterproof case for my iPhone. In some ways the phone became an inconvenience, it was tied around my neck and limited my ability to swim. Different options will be more or less inconvenient. If there had been more space on my phone I would have just taken one long video as oppose to lots of still shots.
White Haven Beach and Hill Inlet
Whitehaven Beach is a 7 km stretch along Whitsunday Island. The island is accessible by boat (the Atlantic Clipped stopped off there) from the mainland tourist ports of Airlie Beach and Shute Harbour.
Whitehaven Beach is known for its white sands. The sand consists of 98% pure silica which gives it a bright white color. The beach is consistently ranked highly.
Australia has many beaches which have beautiful sand and feel spacious. After a while all these fantastic beaches blur together. What made the trip to White Haven Beach incredibly memorable was walking up to Hill Inlet. There you are treated to a breath taking view.
The water around White Haven is crystal clear. It was odd being able to see the sea bed in so much clarity. When you swim at the beach wear a wet-suit to prevent yourself being stung by jellyfish.
Conway National Park
The second time I went to Airlie Beach, was with a group of six. A couple of the group were into fishing and I gave it a go myself. You can buy bait and other fishing equipment in the town.
We fished at a number of places in and around Airlie Beach, including Shute Harbour and Conway National Park (the park and harbour are around a 15 minute drive from the town). I was not the biggest fan of fishing but loved Coral Beach which was located within the national park. To get to Coral Beach you can leave your car at Coral Beach car park and then the beach is a 1.1km walk. I would recommend people who are into fishing, photography or simply chasing a good view visit Coral Beach. This is a secluded destination so would be ideal spot for a picnic. The beach does not have any sand though!
Cedar Creek Falls
Cedar Creek Falls are about 20 minutes drive from Airlie Beach. The best time of year to see the waterfall and enjoy the natural swimming hole is during the wet season. Unfortunately I went during August, the water was very cold and we were unable to jump from the rocks because it was to shallow. This would be another memorable picnic spot.
Honeyeater Lookout, Whitsunday Great Walk
This walking trail is close to the town center, meaning you do not have to worry about driving or catching a bus. If you are simply chasing a good view then you may not want to bother climbing all the way to the top. The start of the walk offers a fairly decent view. If you are going to climb to the top take walking shoes, the terrain will be too steep for all but the most stubborn thong wearers.
There is a large free outdoor pool where you can cool off. Bear in mind you are in a place with stunning scenery, it would be a shame to spend your whole trip in a man made pool.
One of the reasons why the Lagoon was created, is because the beach 5 minutes walk from the Lagoon has Box Jellyfish in it. You can still go to the beach, you just need to wear a wet-suit.