This is where I live. A great base for exploring the islands that lay just off to the east of us. As I've said Airlie is probably not a destination in it's own right, although it is a great little seaside village with some of the best views you will get anywhere, Airlie exists to provide you easy access to the islands and the treasures of the Great Barrier Reef.
How to make the most of Airlie
Ok this is where the choice thing comes into play. Their are choices in where to stay in Airlie and how to experience the islands. You can choose to stay in luxury or share a dorm in the social heart of Airlie. You can do any number of daytrips or see all the best places over a few days on an overnight cruise. And this is where the confusion starts, too many options.
-Stay in Airlie at the accommodation of your choice and do daytrips to the Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef. Anyone can do this, there are plenty of trips to choose from.
-Base yourself in Airlie and experience an overnight sailing trip. This is my preferred option as you get to see the best place in Australia in the best possible way. All the cruises share similar itineraries as in visiting Whitehaven and snorkeling and diving in the best places. Your choice is the style of travel. A handful of cruises visit the outer GBR and for divers that may be a bonus.
This option is not the best choice for those with young families!!
-Do one or both of the above and throw in a couple of nights on an island resort to go with it.
Whatever standard of accommodation you desire you can find it at Airlie Beach. From great little backpacker hostels, beautifully kept caravan and camping grounds or top end apartments with stunning views. You can stay at a wonderful B&B or waterfront hotels at a much cheaper rate than anything on the island resorts. I'm going to mention a few favorites, but please don't think that if I don't mention it I don't like it, just a lot to choose from. If you have a particular accommodation house in mind that you'd like my opinion on, sweet, let me know.
-Backpaker Hostels. Bush Village, Backpackers By the Bay, Beaches and Airlie Waterfront are all very good and obviously the well established Magnums is good value centre of town.
-Caravan parks. There are some very good quality van and camping facilities. Adventure Whitsunday probably leads the way despite being a little out of town with Airlie Cove being a good option and Island Gateway being well positioned.
-Good Quality Value Accommodation. Love Sunlit Waters, great views with great value. Whitsunday On The Beach are well positioned as well as Airlie Court being main street behind KC's. The Whitsunday Terraces give great views at reasonable rates. In Cannonvale Club Croc does a good job with Brekkie included.
-B&B's Whitsunday Moorings has always been my favorite with Airlie Waterfront B&B being top notch and good value at Myaura and Island Views B&B. Airlie Organic has a good rep as well.
-More up Market. Golden Orchid drive has some good places with Pinnacles right up there Martinique, Toscana, and Mediterranean offering great views but beware the hill. Great cardio workout if you don't have a vehicle or make friends with a cabbie, Waters Edge at the bottom of the hill isn't a bad optiion to save the legs. Portside, Airlie Beach Hotel and Coral Seas Resort are well placed with position being the key for Coral Seas. Searene, The Summit, Seastar also offer great views.
Around Abel Point side some nice accommodation can be found at Shingley Beach Resort, Marina Shores and The Penninsula Apts.
Towards the southern end of town there is some fine accommodation but views may not be the best with the current construction work, I hesitate to recommend for now but good deals may be done and a lot of accommodation houses do have views over the top of the new marina construction site.
Just make a note, at peak times of year, Christmas especially, a lot of accommodation houses implement a minimum successive nights stay, makes it hard for those wanting to cruise.
Plenty of choice again, that word keeps popping up. Great seafood at Fish D'vine and Sunday lunch at De Javu cannot be missed. Capers has good quality meals, KC's are good value with an Aussie theme and your Reef and Beef can be found at Shipwrecked Bar and Grill. Hogsbreath Tavern is in the middle of town
and Sushi, Indian Curry, Thai as well as good pub meals can be found. All the major fast food chains are represented bar KFC for now. Cafe's, Deli's and Juice shops are all here, you will not go without we even have some great icecream shops. Would love a Krispy Kreme though lol.
Ok break these up into 2 main groups, Islands and Great Barrier Reef. We'll do the GBR first because it is easy.
2 choices for the outer reef daytrips from Airlie Beach. Fantasea which are a very well established Whitsunday Company will take you to their pontoon "Reefworld" at Hardy Reef.
Cruise Whitsundays have been here around 5 years and offer their pontoon at Knuckle Reef for their GBR experience. Both operators have pontoons with slippery dips woohoo as well as glass bottom boats and semi subs. Diving and snorkeling as well as scenic flights are all available. Both are good operators, pick a day with the less wind for this one. Similar in price.
These again can be broken up into 2 main categories. Resort islands or those without the resorts.
No second prizes for my favorite here. Get a daytrip that does Whitehaven Beach (make sure it does Hill Inlet) as well as snorkeling preferably at the north end of Hook Island in Mantaray or Luncheon Bay. Boats like Reefjet and Whitehaven Xpress as well as companies like Ocean Rafting do this very well. The bigger companies Fantasea and CW do this trip but Fantasea is a poor choice and while Camira with CW is a good day you don't get Hill Inlet and the snorkeling is very ordinary in front of Hook Island Resort.
For those less mobile Voyager can somtimes be a good choice with Daydream offering their Living Reef Lagoon as a great substitute for a snorkel.
A quick mention for Maxi Ragamuffin and Domino as 2 of the best island day sailing trips.
Cruise Whitsundays does various resort island hoppers while Fantasea services Hamilton Island if a resort visit is a must for you.
Well these are my favourites. Air Whitsundays does a great flight out over the islands and the Great Barrier Reef showing you the beautiful Heart Reef. You can choose to land and spend a couple of hours snorkeling in relative privacy with a semi sub and sundeck ther for you and max 8 other people, yeah feels pretty special. Chopper flights in Robinson or Bell helicopters can be done, a little more expensive but unbelievable.
Other stuff you should consider.
Airlie Beach offers a great diversity in activities with Skydiving heading the list. great way to see the islands before they kick you out of the plane. Whitsunday Jetski Tours offers a great tour for the thrill seekers with an open water ride around the islands. Tiger Moth Aerobatic flights and of course all matters of water activites can be found here.
Again these could be broken into 2 categories. Skippered cruises and bareboat charters. Not being a huge fan of bareboats unless you are or have a good sailor or 2 among your group I generally recommend skippered cruises. I may touch on bareboats later in the blog I've heard some great things over the radio over the years and that may help explain my hesitation in recommending them.
OK I personally think this is the best way to experience The Whitsundays. You can spend up to 6 days exploring the Whitsunday Islands and Great Barrier Reef and all the little nooks and crannies that they hide. Whether you are young or young at heart there is a cruise here to suit you. You can choose from a top line white boat or a traditional sail all the way to experiencing the power of a full blown maxi racing yacht.
Boats like Pacific Sunrise suit most with fine dining and great atmosphere in a very casual setting, Whitsunday Magic does the same. Descarada is a different experience being a motor cruiser with very low numbers. At the other end of the spectrum we have Atlantic Clipper which offers a great value cruise for the younger brigade that don't mind bigger numbers and a very social atmosphere. Maxis like Broomstick, Condor and Hammer offer a very good value alternative without the trimmings.
Dvivng can be catered for with some great spots for the experienced and less so.
A great way to see the best place in Australia. contact me and we'll see if we can't help you find the best option for you.