The Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef Region
For those of you who don’t know, or maybe just figured it out by my subtitle, Airlie Beach is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef Region. It is a fantastic base if you intend on doing a bit of island hopping, or doing any water activities along the Great Barrier Reef. Here, I will provide a little guide on some of the best things to do, and places to go in Airlie Beach!
How to get around
The first thing you are probably going to want to figure out is how you are going to get from the main airport to Airlie Beach! Piece of cake.
If you are on a budget, like me, you are going to want to go with the cheapest and most convient transportation option. That is an airport bus shuttle.
The airport you will most likely be flying into is Proserpine Airport. So you want to make sure you select a shuttle bus that will pick you up from there. The shuttles are pretty affordable, shared, and drop you off directly in front of your hotel.
Sailing Whitsundays offers a great list of shuttle services, starting from 20 AUD (about $15 USD) and up. Just go with the cheapest.
Now that we have gotten that out of the way. You are probably concerned about getting around on your day to day. Well, I’ll keep it simple : walking, the bus, and taxi.
Airlie Beach, believe it or not, is quite small. Walking around from place to place will be very easy. Always make sure you have your Google Maps ready to go.
As for the bus, this was probably my most used form of transportation. Buses are pretty reliable, and the Queensland Government’s website has an updated and downloadable version of the bus timetable and map.
Taxis, are another great option. To be honest, I didn’t use these as often. However, depending on where you are, it might be ideal to take a taxi if the area is not well lit at night. Of course you naturally want to feel safe wherever you go, but in Australia, and especially at night, a concern you might have are the animals. I’ll get into that in another post, but for now just know that Australia is wild! Especially during their Summer season, the stories of snakes, lizards, spiders, and more…are no joke. So to be safe, take a taxi if needed.
Now mind you, taxis can be quite expensive, and at the time I traveled to the region, back in 2019, there was no Uber. From my understanding it is now slowly being introduced in certain areas in and around Airlie Beach. However, its probably best to at least ask your hotel or airbnb on the best ways in which to catch a taxi.
Where to go
I’m sure that is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of this place. I mean, its already in the name. You will technically be surrounded by beach areas, although depending on where you are staying, you might have to catch the bus over to the water.
For example, I stayed in a town called, Jubilee Pocket, in Airlie Beach. My hotel was a little further away from the beach, so I would take the bus to the Whitsunday Saturday Markets, and just head on over to the water. Which leads me to the next topic.
Whitsunday Saturday Markets
When I traveled to Airlie beach, their Summer season was just starting – in August. So that meant sunny, tropical, beautiful weather. I happened upon this open market that was absolutely lovely. They sell a variety of things from trinkets to food. My all time favorite thing to try here was the freshly- made, mango sorbets. This stand will stick out from the rest, because it will probably be the only one with a line. You will enjoy watching them gather the fresh mangos and compress them in a machine, into your sorbet.
UPDATE : CLOSED AS OF SEPTEMBER 2021
Although the Whitsunday Markets are currently closed, you might want to check out Lions Airlie Beach Community Markets, which are in the same area.
I’ll preface this by saying, I’m not a big shopper, but if this is something that truly brightens up your day, then you MUST check out the little boutiques along the Airlie Esplanade road. It is actually the main bus road in that area. Since this is a beach lover’s and surfer’s haven, you will likely find many water-related attire.
Looking for a secluded beach, place to really relax, and good food to eat? Well, to be honest, you could probably find that all around you, but the locals informed me that this particular place was a must see! The Northerlies is really a restaurant, but it feels more like an outdoor retreat. If I could best describe it, the Northerlies is like the suburbs of Airlie Beach. It has comfortable daybeds everywhere, beach games, and an outdoor restaurant.
When I visited, getting there was probably the best kept secret in Airlie Beach. There is a free shuttle that picks you up in the center of town, and drops you back, at your leisure. Finding the pickup spot was a bit of a challenge back then. I only found out about the pick-up location through word-of-mouth. Now however, you can simply go to their website, and call them to secure a booking for the free shuttle bus. You can arrange drop-off with them as well.
Fly Over the Great Barrier Reef
I’ll have to devote a special post for this, but this is also a MUST-DO! If you can’t swim, like me, but you really want to see the Great Barrier Reef, consider flying! Although I travel pretty frequently, that is not to say that I enjoy flying. If anything, I really dislike flying. Haha However, some tourist friends I made while visiting, really convinced me to do this.
Let my start by saying, this is NOT a cheap excursion, but if you are adamant about seeing the reef, I would factor this into your budget. You have a few options in order to view the reef. From snorkeling, scuba diving, flying, to jumping out of a plane and scuba diving.
Of course, I went with the flying. and let me tell you, I loved the experience! Along the main road of Airlie Beach Esplandae, you will find many tour companies offering the experience. I went with the popular GSL Aviation, and the price was a little over $250 AUD ($182 USD) per person. Keep in mind though, prices might vary slightly with each company.
The flight is a shared plane ride lasting either 1 or 2 hours. But let me tell you, the experience is everything and more. Just peep this image!
Oh boy! Now this is something that I will also have to delve a little further into in another post.
Its going to be so hard for you to be in Airlie Beach and not island hop. This is THE thing to do there. From Kangaroo island to Whitehaven Beach, you’ll find that each island has something so different to offer to the Whitsunday region. You’ll have to go to the ferry port, Port of Airlie, in order to get timetables, pricing, and tickets. Prices can vary between $44 USD to roughly $170 USD, depending on the island you are looking to visit.
So you can probably find quite a few things happening around town in the evenings. But this particular place seemed to be a party hardy kind of spot : Beaches Bar & Grill.
I happened to ask a waitress in a restaurant for directions to another place, and she suggested I checkout this spot in the evenings. It is a hostel that also has a restaurant and bar area. Boy was I surprised by what I saw! Flashing lights, dancing everywhere; it was certainly a good time. The best part, it was completely free to enter.
Where to eat
Cold Rock Airlie Beach
Now this list is not even close to what a real foodie needs when traveling, but its comprised of some of the spots I frequented. Its not extensive, but definitely worth having on hand.
So, lets start with Cold Rock Airlie Beach! When its Summer time in Australia, it gets HOT! And if you are looking for some really good ice cream to keep you cool, this place will certainly hit the spot.
Cold Rock Airlie Beach has a wide selection of ice creams and sorbets and specializes in mixing some great flavors. I cannot remember the name of this sorbet pictured below but it was the owner’s special! I do recall, he mixed in fresh pomegranate seeds and passion fruit. You can probably even see it pictured. Haha I was addicted to this place. Trust me, you will be too.
It is a family-run business, whose owners are the absolute sweetest! They are also quite beloved by the neighborhood. You cannot go wrong with a little ice cream!
Village Cafe Restaurant & Bar
Sadly, I don’t have pictures of this place, BUT it is one of the cutest and classiest cafes I found in Airlie Beach.
I was strolling the area late one evening, and was craving a hot cocoa. Village Cafe Restaurant & Bar made the perfect drink for me.
They have a lovely little outdoor space. It is a great little date spot, if that is what you are looking for.
Sorrento Restaurant & Bar
Sorrento Restaurant & Bar is another great place I came upon completely by accident! One afternoon I was really craving some pasta, and I took a little stroll a bit further away from the main town until I came across a restaurant in which I heard live music. Everyone was seated outdoors enjoying not just the food, but the fantastic view of Pioneer Bay.
The water glistened as the sun shone brighter and brighter. A 360 panoramic view of the of the area drew patrons in, as it did myself.
However, the best part of the visit for me, was the food. I had a very delectable pasta bolognese. Between ambiance, food, and music, I was sold!
So if you are ever in a sushi type of mood, Joa Sushi is fantastic place to make a pit stop. It is more of a grab-and-go type of eatery. I had seen lines of people standing around this place, and never really understood why, until one day I decided to check them out!
The sushi is pretty affordable, and very well prepared. The service is also very good. Honestly, it really hits the spot on a hot day.
Now before you judge me, let me tell you, I thoroughly enjoy frequenting McDonald’s in other countries- this coming from a person who barely steps foot into one in America.
In Airlie Beach, it’s another great place to grab and go. I found the food to be freshly prepared as well. Though my analysis might be limited, as I stuck only to chicken nuggets and fries. Haha Still, if you are ever hungry and need a quick, cheap eatery, just head over to McDonald’s.