As a must-visit city in Australia, this guide will cover the incredible Airlie Beach and its surroundings. Between the various activities, stunning landscape and mild weather all year round, there are endless elements that will make you fall in love with this little corner of paradise.
We will explain the reasons below why you need to visit Airlie Beach, one of the most popular cities in North Queensland!
The Whitsundays Region
Airlie Beach is the gateway to the heavenly, Whitsundays area as it overlooks the Whitsundays Islands – a collection of 74 islands which are surrounded by the Great Barrier Reef. Airlie Beach provides the perfect base to explore these world famous islands, with most tours starting and ending in the town.
Why is this region so popular? In addition to the stunning landscape on your doorstep and excellent weather most of the year the area is renowned for its agriculture. This makes it a favoured place with backpackers in search of farmwork. Bowen is the main town to find farm work to tick off the famous 88 days. Farm roles here include picking or packing of mangoes, melons and tomatoes as well as most citrus fruits.
The area is also known for its large production of sugar cane. If you have ever wondered what those huge plantations were in Queensland, it’s likely to be sugar cane fields. You will quickly spot them as you travel to Airlie beach, whether you come from the north or south – you cannot miss them! The sugar cane plantations are actually very picturesque, especially during the harvest period when the famous sugar cane trains run from field to field providing a unique photo opportunity.
The Whitsunday area is also evolving quickly due to the popularity of tourism. It offers a wide range of unmissable activities which makes Airlie Beach a mandatory stop, a few of these must-see activities are mentioned below.
The must-sees at Airlie Beach
No backpacking trip is complete without visiting the Whitsundays. There are many ways to explore this incredible place and once you have been you will long to return again and again.
Firstly, the most common is via a boat tour. You can take tours which last either 1, 2, 3 or more days. There are party boats or adventure boats, large groups or small sailing groups – regardless of your budget or travel style there is a boat tour to suit everyone.
During your boat tour you will have the opportunity to snorkel on the coral reef, paddle and swim in blue water and stroll on the white sandy beaches.
Generally, the backpacker boat tours have groups of around twenty people and often have a fun party atmosphere. They offer the opportunity to make your friends envious as you snap that selfie on the famous Whitehaven Beach before sleeping under the stars onboard the boat.
The second way to see the Whitsundays is from above. Have you dreamed of capturing that postcard perfect photo of the islands from the sky? Or to admire the coral reef from above? Then a helicopter tour is for you. A one hour of flight from Airlie beach will reward you with the most incredible views and provide unforgettable memories.
Generally, a flight tour has a dozen (or less) seats, so it is a more intimate experience. You will enjoy a panoramic view of the Whitsundays Islands, and unique views of the coral reef which are usually only accessible on postcards. You can photograph the views from start to finish, ready to make your friends jealous at home.
For those with a slightly larger budget, there is the possibility to do both. There are dozens of tour agencies in Airlie Beach who offer boat tours with the flight on top. Don’t forget to compare prices, ensuring you get the best deal!
The best hikes in Airlie Beach
Hiking is a favourite activity for backpackers because it is both fun and free. A 10-minute drive from Airlie Beach will take you to the start of the Whitsundays Great Walk (also known as The Conway Circuit). At 28km it is recommended for experienced hikers only. As always when hiking in Australia don’t forget comfortable shoes, a good supply of water and plenty of snacks.
Not only will you be treated to a quiet walk, free from crowds but you can admire the local flora and fauna. This includes birds of all colors and if you’re lucky the Ulysses Butterfly which is bright blue and has a wingspan of up to 14cm. Note you may also come across snakes during your hike, so be careful and avoid unmarked roads in case of a bad encounter.
Practical tip: the walk is 28km one way. The best plan is to get dropped off at the Forest Road Park (Brandy Creek) then the walk ends at Airlie Beach so you will have no need to turn back and return to the car. Experienced hikers can finish the trail within 6-7 hours. Otherwise, if you plan on taking your time there is the possibility to go camping. However, you will need a license a little preparation in order to pack the essentials.
For those who do not have the time (or experience) to hike the full circuit, there are shorter routes available, such as:
- Wompoo way: 7km round trip
- Kingfisher circuit: 2km roundtrip
- Honeyeater lookout: 8.5km round trip
There are hikes in Airlie Beach to suit all levels. Just make sure you choose the right route for your ability and pack the essentials. Stay safe!
Enjoy the sunshine at Airlie Beach
Not forgetting another favourite free activity – relaxing in the sunshine! Airlie Beach offers a lagoon to relax in the sun. It is considered one of the largest and most beautiful on the North Coast, so it would be a shame not to check it out. Not only does it offer a sea view but the lagoon allows you to swim in serenity all year round. Even during the jellyfish season which is November-May but they can be found in Airlie Beach throughout the year.
When to visit Airlie Beach?
The Whitsundays region is located above the Tropic of Capricorn and therefore has a subtropical climate.
Summers (December to April) are hot with an average of 29-30 degrees and winters (June to September) are milder at 22-24 degrees.
The winter period is generally calm with very pleasant temperatures. July, August and September are the ideal months for a visit to Airlie Beach due to the climate. If you ever go there during this period check out the dates of the Great Barrier Reef Festival (July) and the Airlie Beach Race Week (August). Two major events in the region.
Avoid Airlie Beach in the rainy season which is from January to May. Despite looking like paradise, due to the tropical climate, the Whitsundays are no exception and tropical rains are very common during the rainy season. Some years are worse than others, but to avoid rainstorms ruining your trip plan your Airlie Beach visit during winter!
How much time to spend at Airlie Beach?
This will depend on what you are looking to see and do. If you just want to visit the main attractions Airlie and Whitsundays, 2 or 3 days can suffice. But a week is ideal to enjoy the surroundings – and give you extra days to rearrange tours if there is a cancellation due to weather.
As it is so beautiful, many people may want to settle for a while and work in the city. However, this is not super simple. As previously mentioned, it is a popular little town with a lot of backpackers which makes serious competition for finding accommodation and jobs. The best time to look for work is at the end of winter, around mid-August.
If you have experience in housekeeping or hospitality as a bartender or waiter, this is a major advantage to get ahead of the competition. Be brave and ask around, don’t forget to smile and prove you’re approachable and hardworking.
Already fallen in love with Airlie Beach? Do not waste time and book your Whitsundays stay for a trip you will never forget!