Airlie Beach is the best place to base yourselves when travelling to the Whitsundays with children. It is much cheaper to stay there than on the islands, and there are more kids activities to keep them occupied.
This guide not only provides the best things to do in Airlie Beach for families but includes tips on the weather, location, and where to stay.
Our family spent three days in Airlie Beach as part of a road trip from Airlie Beach to Cairns. Airlie Beach has a cool, laid back vibe to it and is popular with families and the budget conscious, like backpackers.
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Location of Airlie Beach
Airlie Beach is on the coast of Tropical North Queensland, Australia.
International visitors will need to fly via either Brisbane or Sydney. A domestic flight will take you to Proserpine Airport, also known as Whitsunday Coast Airport. Find details about visas, prohibited items, currency, and safety on our Australia page.
If you haven’t booked your flight yet, look at our travel resources to find out how to get the best flight deals.
Alternatively, you could make Airlie Beach part of a Brisbane to Cairns road trip.
Travel from Proserpine to Airlie Beach by car, bus, or taxi. Whitsunday Transit runs a shuttle service that meets every arrival and departure, costing A$22 one way. A taxi is the most expensive option; expect to pay about A$100 to Airlie Beach.
Car Hire – There are a few car hire companies available at the airport but I usually find that Europcar has the best deals for us (we hired a Toyota Camry from them on this trip.)
TIP: The earlier car hire is booked, the more options there are, and the lowest prices. Click on the above car rental links to get great deals.
Top Things To Do in Airlie Beach for Families in 5 days
Take a Day Trip to Hamilton Island or Daydream Island
It’s easy to take a day trip to the Whitsunday Islands from Airlie Beach.
Hamilton Island was our choice as it appealed to us over Daydream Island. We felt that despite it being busy, it wasn’t as touristy as Daydream. Also, we read that Daydream centres around the resort and we wanted to see more than a hotel complex.
Hamilton Island has lots of activities and is perfect for families, couples, and solo travellers.
You can read all about our day trip from Airlie Beach to Hamilton Island here.
Airlie Beach Lagoon
The best family-friendly free thing to do in Airlie Beach is visiting the Airlie Beach Lagoon. Like the pool in Mackay, it is completely free to enter.
The 4300 sqm lagoon is right in the centre of Airlie Beach, making it an ideal place to meet up with friends and family. It features a toddler pool, a lagoon, and a sandy beach for the kids to play on.
Airlie Beach Lagoon provides a safe swimming environment, especially during stinger season. Lifeguards patrol the lagoon from 5.30 am – 7 pm in June, July, and August and 5.30 am – 9 pm all other months of the year.
There’s plenty of shade on the landscaped grass under the trees to relax or enjoy a read (if your kids are old enough to be left unsupervised). The views of the Coral Sea are lovely from here too.
The facilities here are excellent, with barbecues, picnic areas, changing rooms, outdoor showers, and toilets.
We spent a couple of hours here, but you could spend longer if you had more time. The supermarket is close by to purchase supplies for a barbecue or picnic.
Visit Whitehaven Beach
Whitehaven Beach was number 22 in TripAdvisor’s Peoples’ choice for the best beach in the world. I think it is special because it is untouched with no hotels, restaurants, shops, or kiosks. Every year over 75,000 people visit Whitsunday Island to see this beautiful beach and views from Hill Inlet.
The white 7km sand beach is spectacular and so soft that it squeaks when walked upon. The ocean is a beautiful turquoise colour with gentle waves lapping the shore.
We took the half day Whitehaven Beach tour with Cruise Whitsundays as we didn’t know if our girls would last a whole day. In hindsight, I wish we chose the full day tour, as we didn’t get to see Hill Inlet. The half day tour drops you off at the southern part of Whitehaven Beach and allows you to explore for a couple of hours. There’s no shade, so take an umbrella to protect you from the intense sun. We walked along the beach and relaxed while our daughters played, then had a paddle in the crystal clear ocean.
To access Hill Inlet, you need to go to Tongue Bay on North Whitehaven, and from there, it’s a 20-minute walk to the lookout. Hill Inlet is the most photographed location in the Whitsundays, and I’m sure you’ve seen photos of the stunning swirling sandy waters. On this Full-Day Snorkeling Cruise by High-Speed Catamaran, enjoy a fun-filled day of swimming and snorkeling as you cruise around the islands and discover the colorful underwater world of the UNESCO-listed Great Barrier Reef. Admire dramatic coastal views on a hike to Hill Inlet Lookout, then indulge in a delicious buffet lunch on-board (included).
For the more adventurous, the Ocean Rafting Tour is rated as the number one tour on TripAdvisor. Take a thrilling ride aboard this raft with the choice of two tours (North Whitehaven or South Whitehaven). Both include Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet, plus snorkelling. Read more about this fun tour here.
If you’re short on time, you can still thoroughly explore the Whitsundays with this comprehensive Whitsunday Bullet tour. The fast modern boat will take you to Whitehaven Beach, secluded coves, and a snorkeling spot that is filled with marine life.
Klook has some great deals on tours at the moment, and Get Your Guide and Viator have a wide range too. Check the cancellation policies on them as most activities have free cancellation if your plans change.
Take a scenic flight over the Great Barrier Reef
What could be better than flying over this incredible heart-shaped reef? The birds-eye view from the small plane is spectacular as you soar above the Great Barrier Reef and the Whitsunday Islands’ white sandy beaches.
On this 60-minute Whitsundays Reef and Island Scenic Flight from Airlie Beach, you will see Shute Harbour, Molle Islands, Long Island, Dent Island, Hamilton Island, Daydream Island, and more.
Alternatively, take a panoramic helicopter tour for views of the iconic Heart Reef, Whitsunday Islands, and Whitehaven Beach. Did you know that Klook has a price guarantee? If you find a better price, they’ll refund double the difference (T&Cs apply).
The downside is it may be a little pricey for a lot of families.
This 7 km walk trail runs from Airlie Beach Lagoon to Cannonvale Beach. It mainly consists of a boardwalk and is flat, making it ideal for prams and bikes.
The boardwalk runs alongside the stunning coast with views out to the Coral Sea and Whitsunday Islands. There’s always something to see, whether it’s luxury yachts or marine life (look for turtles near the Volunteer Marine Rescue).
The walk is child-friendly, with playgrounds along the way to break it up and one at the end at Cannonvale Beach.
Abell Point Marina is around the half-way mark, making it the perfect place to stop for a drink at one of the many cafes, bars, or restaurants.
The Fat Frog Café at Cannonvale Beach is a locals favourite serving delicious food and great coffee.
It can be hot during the day, so the best time to walk this trail is early morning or late afternoon. It’s a spectacular place to watch the sunset.
Cedar Creek Falls
If you visit Airlie Beach during the wet season, a visit to Cedar Creek Falls in the Conway National Park is a must.
Cedar Creek Falls is a half hour drive from Airlie Beach, so transport is required for this one. If you don’t have a vehicle, compare prices to hire one with Rentalcars.com.
The beautiful waterfall cascades over the natural rock amphitheatre into the pool below. The clear water of the rock pool makes for a refreshing swim. You might even see some fish or turtles swim by. Kids will love it here; don’t allow them to jump from the falls, though.
If you don’t want to swim, relax by the lovely white cedar trees and look for the many birds and butterflies that inhabit here. There are bush-walking tracks for the more energetic.
The falls are an easy walk from the car park. There are toilets here, but that’s it, so bring your food (remember to take all the rubbish home with you).
Bring a beach towel, bathers, hat, walking shoes, water, sunscreen, and insect repellent. This Mesh Beach Bag is brilliant for carrying everything.
Arrive early before it gets busy.
Cannonvale Beach has a stinger net from November to May. I wouldn’t recommend swimming anywhere without a net during stinger season unless you hire a stinger suit.
Boathaven Beach is another beach that has a stinger net and near to town, near Port of Airlie. It’s a man-made beach with 60,000 cubic metres of imported soft, white sand. Toilets are located across the road.
Dingo Beach is a 40-minute drive from Airlie Beach but worth it for this quiet, stunning beach. During stinger season, a net keeps you safe. This beach is excellent for snorkeling; you may even see a turtle or spot a dolphin or migrating whale. Facilities include BBQs, showers, toilets, a playground, café, shop, and pub. There’s also a boat ramp to launch your dinghy quickly.
Combine a day trip to Dingo Beach with the long, white sandy beach of Hydeaway Bay. This 1.5 km sandy beach has views across the water to islands, including Gloucester Island and Saddleback Island. Hydeaway Bay Caravan Park has a small on-site store, and there are two beachside restaurants/ eco resorts at Cape Gloucester, just at the northern end of Hydeaway Bay.
Airlie Beach Hikes
We did two hikes during our stay in Airlie Beach. The first one was the Airlie Creek Track, a 1.7 km return walk. It starts as an easy Grade 1 but ends up at a difficult Grade 4. The last part is steep with rocks to traverse, but the beautiful forest with fig trees and the Whitsunday Bottle Tree makes it worthwhile. Allow an hour to complete this walk.
The Conway Circuit (which used to be called the Whitsunday Great Walk) is a massive 27 km trail through the Conway State Forest. The walk is meant to be done over three days, camping along the route, but can be done in a whole day. The track starts at Brandy Creek (Forestry Road Car Park) and finishes in Airlie Beach. Transfers will be required as it is not a return loop. The trail is suitable to ride, walk, or run. It takes you through the lush tropical rainforest with views out to the Whitsunday Islands.
The Conway Circuit has shorter trails, including Honeyeater Lookout. This is the one we did; well, let me clarify, Dave did. The girls and I only walked part of the track, but Dave ran the 8.2 km return trail. The walk starts at Kara Crescent and leads you uphill to the lookout. Here you are rewarded with the best views in Airlie Beach over Cannonvale, the Dryander Range, and out to the Whitsunday Islands. Allow three hours to complete this walk and take plenty of water with you.
Other Things To Do in Airlie Beach
If you’re in Airlie Beach for longer or want other things to do, consider some of these additions.
The Airlie Beach Foreshore Playground is a new addition since we last visited, and it looks fantastic. The new playground has a 10.5m high skywalk, a climbing net, three giant slides, a rope bridge, and a Pirate Ship playground for the younger kids.
Some other tours that get raving reviews and are popular (although we haven’t done these) are the Thundercat Whitehaven & Great Barrier Reef Eco-Snorkel Cruise, a full-day catamaran cruise sailing on the Camira (this is not suitable for children under four years old), and the Whitsundays Jet Ski Tour (Minimum passenger age of 8 years and over for Airlie Adventure tour). I would do the Whitsunday Crocodile Safari next time; I mean who wouldn’t love to see these incredible creatures in their natural environment while safe in a boat?
If you want to snorkel on the outer Great Barrier Reef, there’s a day tour to Reefworld. It’s a long day for kids, though, and the reviews are mixed. As we were heading up the coast to Cairns, we didn’t do this tour. Get Your Guide is currently offering free cancellation up to 24 hours before. Read more about it here and see if it is for you.
Is it better to stay in Airlie Beach or Hamilton Island?
Our family prefers to stay in Airlie Beach because we feel it is more family-friendly and cheaper than Hamilton Island. There’s a more extensive range of things to do in Airlie Beach and more food options. I like the relaxed backpacker vibe of Airlie Beach. However, if you are looking for an island experience, consider Hamilton Island, Daydream Island, Hayman Island, or Long Island.
Family-Friendly Accommodation in Airlie Beach
We stayed at the Mantra Boathouse Apartments, overlooking the Port of Airlie marina. Our two-bedroom apartment had a balcony with views over the marina and out to the Coral Sea. The property features a children’s playground, a swimming pool, a tennis court, and barbecues. It was handy being so close to the departure point for the Cruise Whitsunday ferries. We used Booking.Com due to their fantastic cancellation policy. Look here to find out the up-to-date price.
Brief History & Settlement of Airlie Beach
I would like to respectfully acknowledge the Ngaro People, the Traditional Owners, and First People of these lands. I would like to pay my respect to the Elders past, present, and future, for they hold the memories, the traditions, the culture, and hopes of the Ngaro People.
The Ngaro Aboriginal people, seen by Captain James Cook, were one of Australia’s earliest recorded indigenous groups.
Thomas Abell and his family were one of the first European settlers in 1906 when they moved to Airlie to grow fruit and vegetables.
The Queensland Lands Department put up land for sale by the beach in 1935. It was initially called Airlie, which is believed to have derived from the town in Scotland.
Today Airlie Beach is a tourist destination and the gateway to the stunning Whitsunday Islands.
If you’re looking for something a bit cheaper, Big 4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort have deluxe studios for rent. The resort offers a year-round outdoor pool,13 waterslides, tennis courts, mini-golf, and pedal carts.
Airlie Beach Forecast & Weather
Airlie Beach has a tropical climate meaning the summers are generally hot and wet. Winter days are warm and sunny, although night temperatures can drop.
The wettest months are January to March, with the driest months being August to October (September and October is the peak season for the Whitsundays).
The daytime maximum temperatures are around 30 degrees during the summer (wet season) and 21-25 degrees during the winter (dry season).
Airlie Beach has a cyclone season, from January through to March.
We visited in June and had a mixture of weather, as you will see from our photos. Our daughters enjoyed swimming in the lagoon, pool, and ocean, but it was too cool for me. If we went again, I would try and go in October (although the prices would be high).
See the detailed 7-day forecast at the Bureau of Meteorology.
For more things to do in Queensland, check out this Queensland Travel Guide.
What is the population of Airlie Beach?
According to the 2016 Australian Census, Airlie Beach had a population of 1,208.
What is there to do in Airlie Beach for free?
There are plenty of things to do in Airlie Beach for free. Some suggestions are:
Airlie Beach Lagoon
Cedar Creek Falls
One of the many beaches
Airlie Beach Foreshore Playground
Is Airlie Beach worth visiting?
Most definitely yes. Airlie Beach is worth visiting for the many things to do as well as being the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands.
Can you swim in Airlie Beach?
Yes, you can swim at Airlie Beach. The best place to swim is at the Airlie Beach Lagoon. If you want to swim at a beach, both Boathaven Beach and Cannonvale Beach have stinger nets.
How many days do you need in Airlie Beach?
You need, at the minimum, three days in Airlie Beach. If you want to take some day tours, allow five.
Are there crocodiles in the Whitsundays?
It is rare to see a crocodile around the Whitsunday Islands, but the Proserpine River has the highest number of saltwater crocodiles in the area. Take a Crocodile Safari tour to see them.
What are the best things to do in Airlie Beach?
The best things to do in Airlie Beach all involve the water. Make sure you tick off these must-do bucket list items on your travels to the Whitsunday Islands:
Whitehaven Beach, Hill Inlet Lookout & Top Snorkel Spots
Guided Jet Ski tour through the World Heritage-listed Whitsunday Island Marine Park
A 2-Night Whitsundays Sailing Cruise including Whitehaven Beach & Great Barrier Reef
Take a Whitsundays Sunset Sailing Cruise
If you don’t want to get wet, see the Whitsunday Islands and GBR from above on a scenic flight.
Visit Reefworld on a day cruise
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