Saturday, June 21, 2008

Spending Time in Airlie Beach

Airlie Beach with Able Point Marina and Cannondale in background (image Azure Sea)

Image - Whitsunday Transit
There is a good area map and map of Airlie-Cannondale combined here

Airlie Beach is the mainland base for multi-day cruises around Queensland’s tropical Whitunday Islands - see Cruising Tropical Islands on a Budget.

Many travellers arrive in town with a day or two to spare before their particular boat leaves. Quite a few simply hang aound the rather nice artificial lagoon pool, but in fact Airlie has quite a range of activities to fill the time.
Airlie Beach Lagoon - there are actually 2 pools here, situation bayfront with the lawn at top right having a nice view out over the bay. Pool is open 24/7 with lifeguaurds on duty for about 14 hours. There are even a couple of lane lines for lap-swimmers measuring off 25m and 50m of the bigger pool.
The djacent ocean beach, centre of top pic has nice enough sand above half tide - sandy mud flats at lowest, stinger threat Nov-May.

If you are cashed up there is no shortage of things to do. When you book into your accommodation you will find dozens of brochures about these, plus Airlie’s main street has about 20 booking agents who can give advice and book activities. People wanting to be organised beforehand can find most activities online, although the stand-by discounts offered on quite a few are not always shown there.

Some of the activities include:

Sky diving

Reef flights

Helicopter flights


Guided nature tours/croc safaris

Boat Day Trips
There has got to be a several dozen boats involved in taking people around the islands or out to the Barrier Reef itself for sight-seeing, fishing, snorkelling or diving. You can get trips on big fast catamaran ferries, even faster large rubber-ducky type thingos with big twin outboards, ex-Sydney to Hobart racing yachts, fast sailing catamarans, slower cruising yachts, slow ferries and motor cruisers. A lot of the trips include 2 or 3 destinations in the day.
Beach lovers should try to get a trip which includes Whitehaven beach which has got to be one of the best in the world. Langford Reef has a very nice beach section too. Snorkellers should try to get one which includes Manta Ray Bay or Blue Pearl Bay (Border Island is not bad either) - I personally have found the coral and sea-life on these island fringing-reefs better than the Barrier Reef itself which is a fair bit further out and more expensive to reach. But I think the reverse might be true for divers - I’m not a diver.
It’s not a bad idea to pick a trip which visits other places to those of your intended muli-day cruise.
Daytrippers at Whitehaven Beach - 7km of the whitest sand in Australia. This southern end also has camping facilities - permits from Queensland National Parks, transfers for $30 each way from Island Camping Transfers.

Resort Island Day Trips
The main WhitSunday islands are connected to Airlie Beach’s two departure points (Able Point Marina which is about 15 minutes walk north of Airlie‘s main street, and Shute Harbour which is about 10km south, by good ferry services operated by two companies FantaSea and Cruise WhitSunday
I was surprised by the frequency - for instance Long Island which is not a major destination has over a dozen daily services between the two operators.
So a good way to spend a day is to buy a return ticket, cruise out and check the island.
For trekkers, I reckon Long Island and South Molle Island are the go. Both have enough tracks to fill the day plus a nice enough resort area to spend some pool and beach time. Hamilton Island has more variety - a busy marina with its own small service township, a much bigger resort, a residential area for millionaires and a steep rather rugged trek up to a panoramic viewpoint. Daydream Island is a bit small for a full daytrip.
Ferry costs have risen greatly lately with the fuel crisis. Return trips to Long Island, Daydream and South Molle are $64 and Hamilton $84! Some operators offer a return trip with lunch thrown in, but a booking agent in Airlie told me you can usually get better value buying your own stuff on the island.
Approaching smallish Daydream Island - better visited for a few hours as part of a multi-island trip which is offered by quite a few operators. The resort is pretty nice though, would be an okay place to laze a few days and there is fairly good snorkelling in a hard to find bay behind it from this angle

Staying on Islands
Every time I visit Airlie, the trip-booking places are offering standby-rates for one or more nights at various island resorts. Most of these deals include transfers and a lot include food, and they can be very attractive at big discounts to normal rates. Check my Budget Resorting on WhitSunday Islands page for not only budget staying at Long Island Resort and Hook Island Wilderness Resort but midrange there and elsewhere.
Hell, even super luxury Hayman Island and drink-all-the-wine-you-can-stand Club Med Lindeman Island usually have deals advertised. Note these resorts' websites don’t usually show the stand-by deals.
Date wise, these deals could be scarcer around Xmas-New Years, Easter, Hamilton Island (yacht) Race Week and at Queensland and other states’ school holiday times

Driving to Nearby Destinations.
Hire cars, motorcycles and scooters are available in town which allows you to check nearby attractions like Cedar Falls, Laguna Key Golf, Bowen to the north.
Bowen has some nice sheltered beaches along a small peninsula about 4 km east of town centre, including Horseshoe Bay here . I found all the backpackers and other cheap accommodation booked out in Bowen by fruit pickers, so I took a Greyhound coach up and back for a daytrip - about $25 for 70km each way.

Low Cost Activities
There is some good trekking starting at or near Airlie.

The coastal board walk is one - it runs north from the Airlie Yacht Club (see aerial photo top) past the lagoon and Able Point Marina and then onwards for 2-3 km up the Cannondale waterfront. There are quite a lot of parks and good coastal scenery along this walk - no real slopes.

The daywalk section of the Great WhitSunday Walk is more challenging with some slopes that fit into the steep-steep category**. This starts at the top of Kara Crescent which is a short but steep distance uphill from the northern end of Airlie’s main street (see map at top). There is some very good rainforest plus nice views along this track. It’s about 20km return to the Bloodwood Camp viewpoint - and maybe 15 return to another more northern viewpoint on a side track, so this is a pretty decent workout. I started pretty late in the day, and only got about 5 km into the trip - but even the first few kms provide some good viewpoints over Airlie and the Cannondale coast. Hell, just the first 100m of the track is not bad (see below) if you want a quick but strenuous walk to a viewpoint.
Note that it is possible to continue another 20km onwards - past Mt Haywood to Bandy Creek which is about 12km by road from Prosepine. But National Park permits are needed for this major walk and park notes suggest it needs more than one day even one-way. There is a map of the complete walk here.

Coral Beach Track is a short 3km return trek, moderate slopes at worst, thru nice rainforest to a stone and coral beach to the east of Shute Harbour. The track begins at a small carpark on Harbour Street about one km east of the ferry terminals - check the strret map near the Cruise WhitSunday ticket office. From the beach you can walk a further 700m to an elevated viewpoint with nice Molle islands’ views.
There is a good bus service from Airlie to Shute Harbour costing about $4.50 one-way. Or buy one of the day ticket hop on hop off all you like at $8.50 which allows you to get off and do the next walks - Mount Rooper and Swamp Bay (below) about 2 km back up the main road to Airlie, and then jump on the next bus thru at minimal cost.
Mount Rooper
This is a nice walk to a viewing platform on Mount Rooper in the Conway Natinoal Park, mainly thru rainforest, slopes moderate to steep, but no real steep-steeps or killers**. Shortest is 4.8km return but there is a longer 5.4km loop track. Viewpoint atop Mount Rooper. Long Island at right, South Molle left, Whitsunday and Hamilton background.

Swamp Bay track starts at the same main road carpark and is a 4km-return flatter, more open-forested walk. The beach is inferior to Coral Beach, and looks pretty ordinary at low tide, but there are nice views of the Molle group islands, a picnic area and some National Park camping sites.
It is possible to combine the Mount Roper and Swampy Bay walks by using part of the former’s loop track, resulting in a 7.5km total walk (carpark to carpark).

Both Greyhound and Premier bus companies connect with Brisbane (1200km) and Cairns (600km).
There is a train service into Prosepine about 25km from Airlie Beach.
You can also fly into Prosepine and Hamilton Island airports via JetStar and Virgin Blue.

From Prosepine Airport, WhitSunday Transit will drop you at all Airlie resorts via a big coach for $14 - you are looking at maybe 40km. They will also pick up at Prosepine railway station.
A ferry from Hamilton Island airport to Airlie is not such a good deal at $50 one way.

WhitSunday Transit’s bus service is surprisingly frequent (it averages about a bus every 25 minutes) and inexpensive. The muliti-use day ticket is a ripper, and can be used all the way from Shute Harbour to Prosepine (but not the airport), which must be 40+ km. The bus drivers are fountains of knowledge and very friendly.
There are two bigger shopping centers a few km north of Airlie itself which are easily accessed by these buses - Airlie main street has a smaller supermarket and a 24 hour convenience store for general shopping. There is a host of restaurants, fast food joints, bars, trip-booking places, fashion shops etc in this lively little street.

There has always been a good selection of midrange/midrange+ places to stay - Club Crocodile Airlie Beach and Coral Sea Resort being 2 of the most popular. Coral Sea has the better position, waterfront, 10 minutes boardwalk into Airlie main street, 3 minutes to Able Point marina
Coral Sea Resort is in a pretty sweet position - image-

Club Croc is at Cannondale about 3 km north of Airlie main street and 500m from the waterfront. Very close to Coles shopping complex.
However in the past 3 years or so there has been an explosion of building both waterfront and high on the steep mountainside behind the main street. About 80% is condo-style, much of this private apartments for rich retired dudes or holiday places for people into boats, views and tropical islands - but there are still a lot of resort rooms and rental holiday units going in. There will be even more when Port of Airlie - a huge marina/residential/retail complex going in on Boat Haven Bay just south of the main street, is opened in 2010. I reckon there will be an oversupply of midrange and better places in the near future, leading to some very nice deals.

Some 0f the new unit development behind the main street- great bay views from up there.

Budget places.
There are motels and plenty of cheaper holiday units, plus an array of Backpacker joints.
In Airlie main street from north to south are Koala Beach Resort (doesn’t get good reviews, but has nice views), Beaches (party place, huge bar, noisy, bit shabbly), Airlie Waterfront (actually just off the main street - was kinda regimented with huge single sex dorms when I stayed a few years back, apparently getting a bit shabby now), Magnum’s (people who haven’t been here for several years will not believe the transformation - must be accomm for a thousand people in lots of newish blocks, heavily landscaped, lively street front bar/restaurant, party rep but I noticed some quiet pockets) and Airlie Beach YHA (good rep in the reviews).
About 5 minutes walk south of the main street is Backpackers By the Bay where I stayed this trip. This small friendly place has nice elevated views which could disappear when the Port of Airlie marina is finished and was a pretty good place to stay although not to the rave point that some internet booking site reviewers give it. Decent prices for beer at $3.50 - blew Magnums $6.10 out the window. Neither as cheap as tezza’s 2l cardboard cask of cheap Oz red though!

Sipping elcheapo red on the deckchairs, lower terrace of Backpackers By the Bay. As you can see, a lot of the bay is being filled in for the Port of Airlie project.
Sign adjacent pool on next level up - PLEASE DON'T MOON PASSING CARS.

Out of town in Cannondale is Bush Village (always gets good reviews, free shuttle into town, close to Coles shopping complex) and Reefo’s (big pool, small lively bar/restaurant area but chalet dorms dumps when I stayed 5 years back and according to recent reviews, no better).

Airlie from the south-west - Able Point marina top left. Most of Boathaven Bay on the right is being filled in and redeveloped into the Port Airlie marina/residential/retial complex (image Resort Corp)

**The tezza slope range grades steepest to easiest as follows:
KILLER - prolonged climbs that have or need ropes or steps as aids. Even ferret-bodied over-trained tri-athlete dudes are know to go “Aw Strewth!”
STEEP-STEEP - good workout for the most fit.
STEEP - good workout for all but the most fit.
MODERATE - Homer Simpson types may puff, most others are okay.
GENTLE - no problems for 99.99% of the population.
KANANGA - named after the circumferentially-enhanced, fitness-challenged travel forum nasty and big-time plagiariser of this blog, who hails a taxi anytime the slope hits 1%. Trekker he aint.

bobbybanks who lives in the Airlie area gave this info: "If people are looking at Whitehaven Trips make sure they get one that includes Hill Inlet. Excellent view from the short walk to the lookout.

Sth. Molle best resort island, due to it's rewarding views from the walks and fish feeding from the main jetty.

Standbys in all areas get a little difficult around Christmas and school holidays in general and cruising standby's get harder to get after Sept through to early January.

Reefo's you mention on your blog has closed down and rumour has it that Gilligans Flaspackers are moving in there. It could be a good thing.

Great pic of the black hole that is the construction site that has been plaguing us and will continue to do so for a while. I was in town the other day and they were piledriving with a constant hammer, it was a Saturday morning and the thud could be heard for miles. Progress.

The croc safari in winter is a definite to do thing. The crocs are plentiful and rather large here and winter sees them on the river bank trying to warm up."


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