“Too easy” is a common phrase in Airlie Beach, Australia, and while the locals mean it more like “no problem,” we decided to take it literally as it seemed to sum up just how wonderful this lively sun-seekers haven is. Airlie Beach is the kind of place where everyone is welcome, whether it’s the backpacking, haven’t-showered-in-four-days-crowd, the locals who enjoy the laid-back lifestyle, or the international jet-setters who use it as a jumping-off point to explore the best of the stunning Whitsundays.
Thanks to the bustling town centre packed with great restaurants, bars playing live music, and swimming spots just steps away from the hotels, everything in Airlie Beach really is just “too easy,” making it the perfect place for a sunny getaway.
This particular trip found me exploring Queensland with my mother and sister, and we arrived in Airlie Beach via the Cruise Whitsundays ferry from neighbouring Hamilton Island. As we skipped off the boat and onto the wooden pier, a wave of hot, humid air reminded us that we were still in the tropics despite being back on Australia’s mainland—as if the vibrant green palm trees and ridiculously turquoise water that surrounded the harbour weren’t indication enough.
The compact town meant it was only a two minute drive before we found ourselves checking into our generously-sized apartment at Water’s Edge Resort. The view from our balcony overlooking the ocean dotted with white sailboats was stunning and the chilled infinity pools below looked extremely enticing, but we decided to skip the R&R time in lieu of getting a lay of the land. And that’s how we found ourselves hopping onto a trio of Segways.
Now before you judge, I’m the first to voice my displeasure of such obvious tourist things like selfie sticks, zip-off pants and fanny packs, but since we were graciously invited by Whitsunday Segway Tours to go for a ride how could I say no? Plus I’ve never been on a Segway and you only live once, so why the heck not. Well, let me state for the record that a part of me wishes we could fast-forward to a world where we all zip around on Segways like something out of The Jetsons, because man is it ever a fun way to get around!
We were picked up at our hotel by our friendly guide Daniel, and drove down to Lions Park which is just steps from the coastline and also happens to host a great market on Saturday mornings. Daniel handed us our helmets, unloaded the Segways and gave us a tutorial about how to use them, including handy tips like how to not crash (apparently it happens more than one might think, which must be pretty funny to watch). Once we mastered the all important braking maneuver, we zipped off along the Whitsunday Bicentennial Boardwalk.
Our first point of interest was Airlie Bay, where we came across an elephant and a dragon shaped out of sand, and stone sculptures including the Dugong which some refer to as the Elephant of the Sea.
Just steps away was the Airlie Lagoon, which is essentially a large wading pool. The Whitsundays are home to jellyfish, and during at certain times of the year it’s safer hit the pool to cool off instead of trying your luck against the stingers, hence the popularity of the lagoon. The Esplanade that runs alongside it has some great boutiques selling beach wear, cafes ready to whip up an iced coffee, and even a book exchange. Facilities such as free showers and washrooms are also on hand, making this a popular spot for the camper-van crowd.
Putting our new-found Segway skills to the test, we expertly whizzed up to Shute Harbour Road, which is the colourful main strip through Airlie Beach. Passing by the restaurants, souvenir shops, travel agencies and hostels that line the street, we maneuvered around the flip-flop-wearing vacationers sauntering down the sidewalk, trying our best not to plow them over as we zoomed by like mall cops. Sure we got a few amused glances, but I think they were just jealous that they had to walk through the sticky heat as we created a nice breeze for ourselves by speeding along. At least, that’s what I told myself.
We soon found ourselves back on the boardwalk, passing by resorts and trendy condo complexes before arriving at Abell Point Marina which is where boats, luxury yachts and many tours take off from. While the restaurant patio was packed with 20-somethings sipping Pinot Grigio, the harbour itself was calm with hardly a soul in sight, making for an enchanting scene.
We continued down the wood-planked boardwalk, which became more and more deserted as we got further away from the town centre. Save for the odd person walking their dog or a young group of energetic, uniformed school boys, it was just us and our humming Segways. We slowed down as we passed through the still-unfinished Whitsunday Botanic Gardens, where Daniel pointed out the native vegetation and reminded us that pretty much all of the poisonous spiders in the world live in Australia. Great timing, Daniel. From that point on you can bet we were keeping our eyes peeled for creepy-crawlies, but fortunately the only creatures we saw were little geckos scurrying across the hot pavement.
Our last stop was Cannonvale Beach, a family-friendly spot which is a great alternative to staying right in Airlie Beach. Only a few minutes drive (apparently longer if your transport of choice is a Segway), Cannonvale has numerous accommodation options, supermarkets and chain stores. While the beach itself has nothing on, say, Whitehaven Beach, it is a nice quiet place to spend the afternoon and boasts BBQ facilities and children’s playgrounds among other things.
After sprawling out in the grass and soaking in the view, we headed back down the boardwalk, making a pit stop at Barcelona Tapas Bar and Cafe for an ice cold beer and some appetizers. While the seven kilometre tour usually ends back at Lions Park, we were in luck: Daniel wanted to go crocodile hunting. OK so that’s not exactly true, but when he saw the intrigue on our faces when he mentioned that crocodiles lurked in the water not too far away, he graciously agreed to take us there.
As the sun began to set, we zipped along the twisting highway toward Shute Harbour, which was once a bustling marina. Due to other developments in recent years it has diminished in popularity, forcing many of the once busy businesses to shutter their doors for good. On this night, the only sign of life was a group gathered on the dock, their feet hanging over the edge with fishing rods straight out, hoping for a bite. We, on the other hand, were hoping not to see any sort of bite, as we warily kept our eyes peeled for signs of crocs lurking in the shallow water nearby. This sign did little to put us at ease:
As we silently stood along the marina, the sun disappeared, leaving behind a vibrant orange streak that stretched across the sky and cast a spectacular glow over the dark water. While we didn’t end up seeing any crocodiles, it was a beautiful end to a memorable day exploring the highlights of Airlie Beach.
Where to stay: Airlie Beach has great options for every budget, including fun backpacker hostels located along the main strip and numerous sites to park your camper van or pitch a tent. For those wanting more rest and relaxation, there are some wonderful hotels including Water’s Edge which is just a two minute walk from the town centre and beach. The one to three-bedroom suites are set up like spacious apartments, with full kitchens, a living room and incredible views of the ocean for those staying on the top floors. The Balinese-inspired pool area is also a wonderful place to soak up the sun, which includes two serene infinity pools overlooking Airlie Beach.
How to get there: Airlie Beach is accessed via land, air and sea. The easiest way is to fly into Hamilton Island airport, which is serviced from many major cities including Sydney and Brisbane, or Prosperine Airport which is only a five minute drive from town. If you’re already on Hamilton Island or one of the nearby islands such as Daydream Island or Long Island, book a ferry transfer through Cruise Whitsundays, which costs about $50 per person depending on where you’re coming from. Alternatively, book a scenic flight transfer through a company like GSL Aviation, which will include a jaunt over the spectacular Great Barrier Reef and famous Whitehaven Beach. You can also drive to Airlie Beach by taking the Bruce Highway, on hop on a train operated by Queensland Rail.
Where to eat: It’s hard to go wrong when it comes to dining out in Airlie Beach, with so many great options all located along the beach and main strip. The rule of thumb is the ones along Shute Harbour Road or attached to a hostel are generally more inexpensive than the ones located closer to the beach, so keep that in mind if budget is a concern. Sorrento Restaurant and Bar is a good choice for those who like Italian food, and has an enviable position overlooking the Abell Point Marina. Closer to town, Beagles Pizza is just delicious and has great specials, while those looking to grab a cocktail will want to try Fish D’vine, which boasts over 400 types of rum.
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Globe Guide travelled to Airlie Beach in partnership with Whitsundays Marketing, Cruise Whitsundays and Water’s Edge Resort. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles.
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