Petite, palm-dotted, and a honeypot for a nomadic community of would-be sailors and just-passing-through sunseekers, Airlie Beach points the way to the Whitsunday Islands. A small, walkable town, Airlie Beach’s focal points are a short boardwalk that wiggles around its waterfront, and an artificial swimming lagoon bordered by cafes and beachwear boutiques.
As a town, Airlie Beach has little of intrinsic interest. Its bars, hostels and eateries are mostly frequented by a young, backpack-toting crowd, biding their time here before leaving to crew boats departing for the Whitsundays or the wider Great Barrier Reef. And, it’s as a gateway to the Whitsunday Islands that the town serves its greatest purpose for visitors.
You can reach Airlie Beach by flying into nearby Proserpine Airport from Cairns or Brisbane. Then, from the town, you can take a ferry directly to Hamilton Island, one of the most accessible islands in the Whitsundays, or embark on a multi-day cruise around the entire Whitsunday archipelago.
Despite the name, Airlie Beach isn’t blessed with the greatest beaches: for these, you’re best heading to the Whitsundays. You can also take a ferry from Airlie Beach directly to Whitehaven Beach, the poster child for Whitsunday sandscapes. It’s famed for its white silica sand, which forms psychedelic whorls and looping patterns.
Best time to visit Airlie Beach
Northern Queensland has a tropical climate, with a humid wet season (November to April) and a drier mild season (June to October).
For the best of the weather and fewest crowds, aim to visit between mid-August and mid-November. Be mindful that Australian schools have a three-week break from September to early October, turning Airlie Beach very busy during that particular short period.