Airlie Beach / Whitsundays
We arrived in Airlie and as soon as we stepped off the bus the glorious heat hit us! We got instant party vibes from the place, it reminded us of somewhere like Magaluf or Malia (places young English folk go on holiday to party). We decided not to judge a book by its cover and by the end of our time there we grew to love it. Airlie is where most backpackers go to catch a boat out to the Whitsundays or spend a few days getting drunk, most hostels in the area are really well suited to backpacker life offering cheap food and free drinks as well as discounts to bars and nightclubs.
We were at Nomads Airlie Beach Backpackers when we stayed in Airlie although there are plenty of other hostels in the area to chose from:
- Airlie Beach YHA
- Beaches Backpackers
- Airlie Beach Waterfront Backpackers
- Magnum backpackers Airlie Beach
- Backpackers By The Bay
We chose Nomads due to its proximity to the lagoon and its price! (It’s one of the cheapest in Airlie) We also love getting advice from their MAD travel desk; we used them a lot down the east coast to book our trips. Here’s what we thought of our stay:
Location – 9 Nomads is just across the road from the lagoon, so if you’re planning on topping up your tan while you’re in Airlie this might be the perfect place! It’s also very close to shops and the main nightlife but quite a walk from the bus station if you refuse to pay for taxis like us! (They don’t/didn’t offer a shuttle bus when we stayed)
Vibe – Party! This hostel had a real party vibe, when we first arrived they were having a belly flop contest in the pool. The prize was free drinks at the hostel’s bar where they had live music every night. It’s the perfect place for a weekend of drinking and going to nightclubs if that’s your scene.
Facilities – 6 The kitchens were really ill equipped but pretty clean (for a hostel!) you had to pay a deposit each time you wanted to use plates, bowls, cutlery which got increasingly annoying with every meal. Although they did have a really nice pool and a helpful travel desk at reception
Overall – 7/10
What to do in Airlie
Airlie isn’t a very big place but there is a LOT to do! Like I said earlier most people use it as a gateway to the Whitsundays so people don’t tend to stick around for very long. We chose to stay in Airlie for 10 days because we were unsure about the weather and wanted to make sure we didn’t get rained off on our Whitsundays tour (at the time a massive storm was ripping it’s way down the east coast – eek!) I think 10 days is a great amount of time if you are taking it slow, but if you’re pinched for time 3-7 days should be enough to do everything you might want to do.
We spent a few days at the lagoon, basking in the sun like lizards and topping up our tan, but if swimming pools aren’t your thing then you can go for a wander down to the beach. Airlie is still in the jelly fish zone so you cant swim in the sea without an (oh so attractive) stinger suit, but there is a stinger net on the beach nearest the harbour. Not a lot of people know it’s there so you can thank us later! It’s definitely worth the walk, we prefer the ocean to a pool any day.
We went on a Whitsunday boat tour for three days with a company called ‘Sailing The Whitsundays’ and had the time of our lives! Our boat was called The Boomerang and we had the funniest captain ever, he liked to call himself El Captino and nearly everything that came out of his mouth was either a very dry joke or laced with sarcasm! We sailed, snorkelled, swam with turtles, ate delicious food, drank too much sangria and met so many lovely people. We highly recommend doing the three-day sail as you get to see so much more than if you just go for the night.
We saw loads of dolphins and reef sharks swimming around the boat at dusk and a crew member also got a bucket full of water from the ocean and showed us the bioluminescent krill glowing inside the bucket. We learned so much about the ocean and had such a laugh on our tour!
Inside knowledge: When it gets dark go and ask the staff if you can have a roll mat (most boats own them) and then grab yourself a level piece of the deck and set up your bed for the night. I will tell you now that it will be the most uncomfortable nights sleep of your life but its so worth it. I woke up in the middle of the night to a sky full of stars; more stars than I’ve ever seen and then heard dolphins splashing around next to the boat. I even managed to wake up and lay in ‘bed’ watching the sun rise over the ocean, memories I will never forget.
When we got back from the Whitsundays we booked onto a Jet Ski tour, this is also worth trying to fit in if you have the time. The tour allows you to ride your own jet ski over big waves, they make it action packed and included lots of exhilarating (terrifying!) turns. We stopped on Daydream Island for lunch and a tour around their sea life sanctuary, before an exciting bumpy jet ski back to land.
Sea Kayaking is something else we highly recommend doing too if you have the time/money. We booked our tour with salty dog kayaking. Our tour guide was really lovely and the group only had 6 people, which made it even better. We kayaked out to a little island where we stopped for some snacks before going snorkelling. We highly recommend teaching yourself how to free dive while you’re Oz because you can see so many more fish if you dive down. It also helps you to save money, as scuba dives are so expensive! We saw loads of beautiful fish and sea urchins around the reef; we think that we saw a more colourful reef and wide array sea life in the Whitsunday islands than we did on The Great Barrier Reef so keep that in mind if you do want to book a scuba dive.
Another activity, which we didn’t get to do but would have liked to, is called Reef Sleep (our trip was cancelled due to the storms, so keep that in mind when planning your sailing trips around the Whitsunday islands), A boat takes you out to a pontoon in the middle of the ocean where you get to spend the day snorkelling, you even get to go to the famous heart shaped reef. You get dinner cooked for you and then sleep in a swag under the stars. After our boat tour of the Whitsundays where we slept on deck, we didn’t feel like we had missed out too much but we would love to be able to do it if ever we get the chance.
Because we weren’t able to go on the reef sleep the company we were booked with transferred us onto a day pass to Hamilton Island. Hamilton Island is one of the elite Whitsunday islands where people go to relax and play golf. It hadn’t been on our list of islands to go to but we made the most out of our time there. If you do happen to find yourself on Hamilton Island they have free shuttle busses that take you all over the island, which is super useful. The island itself isn’t very big and you can catch the bus all the way around in about an hour. We walked up Passage Peak, which had spectacular views from the summit. We highly recommend it, although it is quite the hike!
Other activities you could do but we didn’t do are:
- Whale/dolphin watching (June – September)
- Air Tours where you go over the islands in a tiny plane/helicopter and see the spectacular views from above
- Speed boat/raft tours
- Sky dive – for those of you braver than us!
So there you have it. Your full and complete guide to Airlie Beach/The Whitsundays and all the things you can get up to, so what are you waiting for… get booking!
Kay and Dom
* All views and opinions are our own, we are not sponsored by any company(s) we just want to create great guides for people to enjoy their time travelling in Australia.