Tracy lived and worked 'down under' many years ago and we've both been lucky enough to get there several times with work. We've done all the main cities and quite a bit in between, but it's such a vast island so we're far from finished 😅 I went on holiday there with the family a few years ago and we spent 7 weeks travelling around the east coast. I'd done the Barrier Reef a couple of times previously but had never made it to the Whitsunday Islands on the northeast coast of Queensland.
There are 74 islands for you to discover, most of which are uninhabited. They're characterised by dense rainforest, hiking trails and white sand beaches and the town of Airlie Beach where we stayed on the mainland, is the region's central hub. We were there for New Year which meant we had to deal with torrential downpours, but they disappear as quickly as they come and the temperatures hardly ever dip under 30⁰c in the Australian summer months.
Airlie Beach is a laid-back tropical resort town in the heart of the Whitsundays. This little haven is the perfect place to base yourself to explore all that’s on offer in the Whitsunday region. With snorkelling, hiking, dining and sunsets to enjoy, this is a holiday made for couples, families and adventure-seekers alike. We were there on a family holiday, but we met all kinds of people whilst we were there and the area is crawling with travellers and backpackers taking in Queensland's beauty.
Airlie Beach has a lot to offer visitors, including Conway National Park. It is home to secluded beaches, mangroves, open forest and tropical rainforest. Conway National Park is also known for its walking trails. We didn't manage to do too much hiking as our boys were too young, but the short, but nonetheless sweet, Coastal Fringe Circuit is great for families. Check out the Mount Rooper Track for breathtaking views. For adventurers, there’s also the 28km (17mile) Conway Circuit.
While the main hub of Airlie Beach offers a strip of shops, cafés, bars and restaurants, there are so many other nice destinations to visit on the outskirts of the town that don’t cost a thing! We found a gorgeous little spot called Coral Beach in Conway National Park and in this case the name says it all as it's full of washed up coral. Remember you're not allowed to take it home with you!
There are two public beaches situated in Airlie Beach where you can swim, one is located near the Port of Airlie Marina and is known as 'Boathaven Beach', while the other is located in Cannonvale. Both of these popular locations have floating swimming enclosures in place during most months of the year. You're recommended to swim in the enclosure, but please note there are no lifeguards on duty. Swimming enclosures not only decrease the chance of being stung by jellyfish, but they also deter small marine life and boats from the area.
It's a lot cheaper to stay on the mainland when visiting The Whitsundays. Our budget wouldn't stretch to the luxury hotels on Hamilton Island on this long trip! Book your hotels well in advance though, especially if you're going to be there over the holidays. We ended up staying at Airlie Beach Motor Lodge just 5 minutes walk from the strip and loved the amenities there and the daily visits from all sorts of wildlife! If like us, you do decide to stay on the mainland when visiting, you'll be able to book a variety of boat or air tours all departing from Airlie Beach. Like I mentioned in the last Oz post, we were there at the end of December and the tropical weather can play a big part when deciding which day you go out to explore. We'd had plenty of rain and were eager to get out snorkelling but there's no point booking a boat trip if the wind and waves have whipped up murky waters. Walk along the Airlie Beach main strip and you'll see several tour guide companies offering a variety of ways to sightseeing around the Whitsunday Islands. If you're planning a day on land, head over to the esplanade on Saturday morning for a wander around the Airlie Beach Markets. Grab a coffee, mingle with locals, browse a colourful array of fresh produce, handmade jewellery, clothes and art. There's something for everyone. If you just wish to stay away from the ocean but still want to soak up the sun, there are a few man-made and natural freshwater swimming areas, including Airlie Beach's popular lagoon situated on the main street, next to the shoreline. This is a large man-made lagoon with smaller wading pools for children, surrounded by public facilities and amenities, including barbecues, tables and chairs. It not only provides a controlled area to swim but it is also monitored by lifeguards and has an amazing view of the Coral Sea and Whitsunday Islands.
When it comes to restaurants in Airlie, you'll be spoilt for choice! There's something for all tastes and budgets. We'd been recommended to try Little Vegas Burger and Bar 🍔🍟 We ate there more than once as it was conveniently very close to our hotel and their menu went down a treat with our boys 😋 I admit I wasn't complaining, their pulled pork was to die for!
(Photos credited to Whitsundaymenu.com.au)
Apart from this you should try the Airlie Beach institution Fish D’Vine. A casual restaurant and rum bar in one, the space has forged an admirable reputation for its fresh seafood, especially its mud crab. 🦀🦀🦀 You’ll find another must-visit in The Boathouse Fishbar. Perched atop the water, nestled among the yachts, the eatery is heavily seafood-focused. Tuck into hearty sashimi poke bowls, and buckets of fresh, local prawns while you watch the boats at play. What could be more idyllic!?🦐⛵ We have one last recommendation for you which we stumbled upon and absolutely loved 😍 Make sure you try Fat Frog Café!
From Airlie, take the Bicentennial Walkway into Cannonvale. It's a flat 7km walk both ways and will help you work up your appetite before you reach this little gem 😉
Be warned though, this place is no secret and gets busy so get there early. It also closes at 2pm so no late lunch.
We're so glad we found Fat Frog and heard their breakfasts are to die for so I'll be going back next time I'm in Airlie! Great, friendly service, gorgeous sea views to enjoy and extremely yummy food.
Lastly, if you're flying in to the area, Proserpine is one of the most popular airports to use with great connections to Airlie Beach and the Whitsunday Islands. Also known as the Proserpine Airport, Whitsunday Coast Airport and located only 26km outside of Airlie Beach, you'll easily be able to hop on one of the shuttle buses departing regularly after buying your tickets in the arrivals hall.