Despite its reputation as a party town, Airlie Beach has plenty to offer those seeking a relaxing escape.
Walking along the Bicentennial Boardwalk on the Airlie Beach foreshore, it was easy to see why holidaymakers from across the world flock to this resort town each year.
The palm-fringed beaches and crystalclear waters of the Coral Sea were exactly what I imagined when planning a tropical Whitsundays (Ngaro and Gia Country) escape, away from the hustle and bustle of Brisbane.
After arriving at our accommodation, Big4 Adventure Whitsundays Resort, just a five-minute drive from the centre of town, it was straight to the pool and 13-slide waterpark to cool off. The pool was large enough to find a quiet spot to relax in, even when families congregated for a final swim before dinner.
The poolside coffee cart, shaded sunlounges and massage tent offered extra options for adults to unwind, while the children enjoy leisure activities including giant jumping pillows, an animal park and mini golf.
The fully self-contained, airconditioned cabin was a perfect size for our family stay. Enjoying breakfast on the veranda the next morning, surrounded by palm trees, colourful bromeliads and a riotous explosion of desert roses in full bloom, it was tempting to cancel our plans and just enjoy the resort facilities.
Aerial view of the Big4 Adventrue Whitsundays Resort.
Duty called, however, as we wanted to visit some of the tropical islands and reefs located on Airlie Beach’s doorstep.
There are plenty of options, but we chose Red Cat Adventures’ eco-friendly day tour, which visited Whitehaven Beach and two separate snorkelling locations on the fringing Great Barrier Reef.
Arriving at the marina we were kitted out in head-to-toe stinger suits to protect against the deadly Irukandji and box jellyfish which frequent these waters during the warmer months. The stinger suits turned out to be a blessing as they also ensured we didn’t get sunburnt, despite spending practically the entire day in the sun.
First stop on the tour was Tongue Bay on Whitsunday Island, where we took a sweaty bushwalk up to scenic Hill Inlet Lookout, before heading down the other side to walk along some of the whitest sand in the world, and swim in the turquoise waters off Whitehaven Beach.
Despite this being one of the most ‘Instafamous’ places in the Whitsundays, there were very few people around and we enjoyed a leisurely swim before departing for Hook Island.
Snorkelling at Manta Ray Bay.
At Hook Island we snorkelled Manta Ray Bay and Stonehaven Bay, both of which should be on the bucket list of anyone with even a passing interest in marine life. I’ve snorkelled in many beautiful locations around the world and Hook Island is up there with the best. The secluded bays are limited to one or two boats at each snorkelling spot to ensure the delicate marine ecosystem is protected.
Giant bommies, staghorn and plate coral lying just below the surface teemed with iridescent parrotfish, bright yellow beaked coralfish, huge wrasse and schools of fusiliers. I could have happily spent the entire day just snorkelling, but we had to get back for a dinner appointment on the mainland.
Airlie Beach’s colourful Main Street really comes to life after dark with myriad bars, clubs and busy restaurants.
We opted to head just out of town, though, to the Whitsundays Sailing Club for dinner and an ice-cold beer at 20 Degrees South Bar and Restaurant.
The club overlooks Airlie Bay and was the perfect place to watch yachts and other watercraft return to shore, while deckhands scrambled up masts to repair and maintain the rigging of their docked sailboats.
The twinkling lights across the hills and bay made for a lovely backdrop once darkness descended, and I can personally recommend the popcorn crocodile and ginger chicken, while other members of our group raved about the fresh seafood.
View from the Whitsundays Sailing Club bistro.
Visitors here on a Wednesday afternoon can join sailing club members aboard their sail boats for Twilight Races, a friendly event that’s open to anyone regardless of skill level or experience.
Another Airlie Beach culinary hot spot that’s worth visiting is La Marina Italian Restaurant and Bar. Located at the Port of Airlie, just a four-minute drive from Main Street, La Marina overlooks Boat Haven marina and is a great place to relax and dine.
Owner Angelo Panuccio is extremely proud of the menu which is based on family recipes passed down through generations, including his famous “Nonna’s meatballs”. The recipe was created by Angelo’s family more than a century ago and he guards the ingredients zealously.
Airlie Beach has a reputation as a party town but based on our experience, we’d say don’t let that put you off visiting if you’re after something a little quieter. There are so many relaxing, familyfriendly activities, plus great restaurant and accommodation options, that if you’re anything like us you’ll likely be planning your next trip before you’ve even arrived back home.
Writer travelled as a guest of Tourism Whitsundays.
The information in this article has been prepared for general information purposes only and is not intended as legal advice or specific advice to any particular person. Any advice contained in the document is general advice, not intended as legal advice or professional advice and does not take into account any person’s particular circumstances. Before acting on anything based on this advice you should consider its appropriateness to you, having regard to your objectives and needs.