With a very upscale beach vibe, Airlie Beach is a nice place to relax and enjoy the Aussie sun. Except when the place is overrun with “schoolies” aka high school kids on their summer break! Try to avoid going there during the end of November to mid December. Otherwise it’s a lovely place! The main draw of course is the Whitsunday Islands, which boast pure white sand and epic views. Spend a day or two relaxing in town and exploring the stunning islands, and you’ll have an awesome time!
How to Get There
We had our Greyhound hop on/hop off pass, and used it for the first time when travelling to Airlie Beach. We started in Cairns and took a basic bus (no wifi, no chargers) to Townsville, before switching onto a nice bus (working wifi, chargers) for the rest of the trip. The whole trip took 13 hours, and we arrived in Airlie Beach at 6:50pm. Our driver was super nice and pointed out hostels and made recommendations as we headed to the bus station. We would recommend trying to take this trip overnight to save time!
The trip going the other way is long as well. Between Airlie Beach and Hervey Bay (the starting point for Fraser Island) is a 14 hour bus ride. We made sure to tackle it overnight, leaving at 9pm and arriving at 11am.
Where to Stay
- Magnums – A funky hostel on the main road, we snagged a double room here for $56 AUS. Much nicer than our previous spot in Cairns, Magnums had comfy beds, a mini fridge, A/C and a fan. The rooms go back behind the main check in and are found in multiple lodges hidden among trees and windy paths. Each floor has a communal bathroom. One building has a giant kitchen and there’s a gazebo in the middle of it all that has communal wifi. It was nice, relaxing and a great place to make friends! You can book online here.
What to Do
- Whitsunday Islands – The reason almost anyone travels to Airlie is to witness the spectacular Whitsunday Islands. We booked our tour with Thundercats and we were not disappointed. We got picked up at 8:30am from Base Backpackers (also on the main drag) and got a quick ride down to the harbour. From there we were given stinger suits and signed our lives away (not really we promise!) and got on the boat. Booze is allowed by the way, so if you want to bring something casual to sip, they have an “esky” (Aussie for cooler) to store it. Compared to the sailboat trips, which we definitely considerd, we were extremely fast which allowed us to see much more over the course of the day. We zipped over to Tongue Inlet in about an hour and then made the hike from there to the viewpoint. Whitehaven Beach was stunning, pure white sand set against intense turquoise water. We then headed down to the beach, and we found rays and baby lemon sharks in the shallows. We had an hour and a quarter to take in the fantastic sights. After that we went back to the boat where they had set out great lunch of pasta salad and sandwiches. We found a turtle that surfaced while we were eating, and then took off to snorkel! We snorkelled in Manta Ray Bay on Hook Island with a gigantic bumphead wrasse named George and tons of other fish for one stop, then a sandbar known for turtle sightings. We arrived back at Airlie around 4:15pm. The guides were very informative and super fun and we had an amazing time. We also want to give them HUGE shoutout because Alex forgot his wallet and passport on the boat, and within 30 mins it was found and returned to him! As if that wasn’t enough, they gave us a ride to the bus station just in time to make our night bus to Hervey Bay. Literally saved our whole trip itinerary because there wasn’t another bus until the morning. These guys rock, and we highly recommend seeing the islands with Thundercats.
Where to Eat
- Down Under – $12 meal plus a drink was the best deal we could find. It was also recommended by Thundercats so we went for it. Alex got a decent steak and a beer and we both felt good having one of our first real meals after eating mostly grocery store snacks to save money.