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Airlie Beach Heart of the Whitsunday Coast

By Kris Madden

Gateway to the Whitsundays, Airlie Beach, just north of Mackay and south of Townsville, is a coastal town of palm-fringed beaches, waterfront parks and alfresco restaurants. Spend a few days exploring before you head off on your island holiday and you’ll find plenty of action, from sailing to scuba diving to skydiving. Take a seaplane for a picnic on the powder white sands of Whitehaven Beach or learn to sail in clear waters. Airlie Beach is more than just an aquatic playground; nearby you'll find tropical rainforest and waterfalls in Conway National Park.

Map of Airlie Beach, Queensland

Discover local restaurants and bars 

The Clipper Restaurant Bar and Lounge is regarded as one of Airlie Beach's best restaurants. Located at the Coral Sea Resort, this upmarket restaurant has endless views of the Coral Sea and Whitsunday Islands. Fish D’vine and Rum Bar offers fresh seafood and more than 500 rums from around the world. Choose from more than 800 beers and ciders at Denman Cellars Beer Café or watch the boats on the water over a cool drink at the Whitsunday Sailing Club.

Shop the markets and boutiques 

The main street of Airlie Beach is the hub for shopping. You'll find everything including souvenirs, art galleries and swimwear by Australian companies including Rip Curl and Billabong. The Airlie Beach markets are held every Saturday morning on the esplanade for locally made jewellery, clothes and crafts. 

Learn to sail

The Whitsundays are among the most magical sailing destinations in the world, and many sailing tours are offered from Airlie Beach, aboard everything from luxury cabin cruisers to bareboat charters on which you sail a yacht yourself. Don't know how to sail? Learn to Sail Whitsundays will teach you how, with a range of courses from beginners to Sail Learn to Earn, a great option for those with a working holiday visa.

Take a scenic flight to Whitehaven Beach

Whitehaven Beach is renowned for having some of the whitest sand in the world, and is a must-visit from Airlie Beach. See the highlights of the Whitsundays, including the romantic Heart Reef, from the windows of a seaplane or helicopter with Air Whitsunday or Cruise Whitsundays. If you want an adrenaline rush, tandem skydive with an expert over the islands of the Great Barrier Reef and land on Airlie Beach with Skydive Airlie Beach.

Enjoy the Airlie Beach Lagoon

Between the palm-fringed beach and the main street is a huge man-made lagoon where you can swim all year round. Lifeguards are on duty during daylight hours. There's a kids' pool and the surrounding parkland has lots of shade and free barbecues. It's like having your own five-star resort pool.

Explore the hinterland

Just minutes from Airlie Beach, Conway National Park is one of the best kept secrets of the Whitsunday hinterland, with scenic lookouts and numerous walking trails that wind through lush rainforest and seasonal waterfalls. The Coastal Fringe Circuit is a flat, easy walk of 1.2 kilometres (0.7 miles). If you're lucky, you might spot an endangered Proserpine rock wallaby. 

Sleep on the reef 

Sleep under the stars in an Australian swag at ReefSleep, a permanently moored pontoon on Hardy Reef, in one of the most spectacular stretches of the Great Barrier Reef. By day, Cruise Whitsundays will take you snorkelling on its large luxury catamaran, and then when the day adventurers leave, you and up to 17 other guests will spend the night. Watch the reef come alive after dark from the underwater observatory.

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