Airlie Beach

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Airlie Beach in Queensland
Airlie Beach is a paradise to many grey nomads. Pic: Tourism Queensland

While Airlie Beach has long been much loved by backpackers, this north Queensland tourism hotspot has plenty to offer adventure-loving grey nomads, as well.

The average caravanner or motorhomer is probably less interested in the pubs and clubs that line the main street and which kick into gear when the sun goes down than they are in the town’s gorgeous climate and its title as ‘The Gateway to the Whitsundays’.

Beneath the glitz and the glamour, behind the hotels and the caravans parks, and beyond the shops and the pubs, this place – with its palm-fringed beaches – is still very much a paradise … and it is ultimately the stunning natural beauty that is the main attraction for both young and old.

With a population of some 10,000 or so, Airlie Beach – which sits approximately 270 kilometres south of Townsville in tropical north Queensland – is famed as the jumping off point for an exploration of the fabled 74 islands of the Whitsundays. There are a mind boggling array of boats that will happily take visitors on a variety of cruises and island trips. The wonders of the Great Barrier Reef are also easily accessible from here.

Most tours depart from the Abell Point Marina, and a few also from the recently completed Port of Airlie. While most of the Whitsundays are beautiful, deserted islands, eight boast resort accommodation, including Hamilton Island, Daydream Island, and Brampton Island.

Whitsunday Island is the largest of the islands and is home to the iconic Whitehaven Beach, seven kilometres of pristine silica sand. At one end is Hill Inlet, a stunning cove where the shifting tides create a beautiful fusion of colours.

Airlie Beach itself is packed with shops, services and accommodation options, including several caravan parks. While it is still a well-known destination for backpackers, the town is evolving, with some saying it is going more upmarket, and they point to the completion of the Port of Airlie marina, hotel and restaurant complex in 2014 as proof.

The beachfront Saturday morning market with its jewellery, clothing and souvenir stalls is certainly popular with all generations, as is the superb Airlie Beach Lagoon. The 4,300 m2 lagoon offers a man-made box jellyfish-free place to swim year round … and is a perfect spot to picnic and relax.

When you’ve finished taking it easy, a stroll along the 850-metre Airlie Creek Track is the way to go. The gravel path winds up the hill behind Airlie Beach past fig trees and sub tropical plants to gorgeous rock pools, and there are great  views of the lovely Coral Sea.

The stunning Conway National Park with its rainforest clad hills, private beaches, panoramic views and rugged cliffs is also on the doorstep, as is the fresh water wetlands of the Proserpine River, which is home to hundreds of crocs and a rich variety of other wildlife. If you’d rather see things from a ‘safer’ distance, one of the flights offered over the town, the islands and the iconic Heart Reef could be for you.

Phew! Who said the backpackers had all the fun here!

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