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Airlie Beach description

Tourist and backpacker party town with good access to the the Whitsunday Islands and Great Barrier Reef

Paradise for divers, boating and sailing, backpackers and all tourists, however the seacoast, mangroves and towns are now being destroyed by developers.


Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, Airlie Beach is a small rapidly expanding tourist town in sub-tropical Queensland (Latitude 20 15.5S Longitude 148 43.2E), about the same distance from the equator as Hawaii.

It is a stopping point for 1500 passenger cruise ships such as Pacific Sky (first visit 16 November 2004), about 900 of whose passengers toured the Whitsunday region. Since then, cruise ships have visited every season.

The entry point to the beautiful Whitsunday group of 72 islands, discovered by Captain James Cook in HMS Bark Endevour on 4 June 1770 (the Whitsun religious festival). Most of the islands are National Park, with only eight having homes or resorts. The islands are less frequently known as the Cumberland and Northumberland Island group, and are all remains of a range of mountains submerged 6000 or so years ago.

Virtually all the islands, and the adjoining coast, have fringing coral reefs, and many tourists perhaps fail to realise that, although beautiful, these magnificent fringing reefs are not the corals of theGreat Barrier Reef some considerable distance further out to sea. Visiting the Great Barrier Reef takes time. On a day trip, you spend most of the day on a high speed boat. Consider flying out for maximum access. I have a page about boat trips near Airlie Beach.

Airlie Beach is at the foot of the Conway Ranges and National Park. More than half the old 2650 square km Whitsunday Shire is National Park. Whitsunday Shire is 1200 kilometres north of the state capital Brisbane, about 160 kilometres north of Mackay, and 300 kilometres south of Townsville. During the 2007 State Government destruction of small local government, the original Whitsunday Shire was joined to the shires centred on Bowen and Collinsville.

Airlie Beach is one of relatively few eastern seaboard towns in Australia with a north facing sea aspect. Weather and sun for beach and seaside life are at their best in such north facing towns, which also include Noosa, Byron Bay, and Port Douglas. Recent climate changes may have produced inclement weather during peak tourist seasons, with high winds and overcast during times that are normally sunny.

Please note that as with most tropical North Queensland waters, marine stingers such as jellyfish and the potentially deadly Irukandji are present during the summer. Local papers and tourist operators will warn if stinger suits need to be worn. Do not enter the water between November and May, especially if the water is warm, without checking with local sources.

You should also note that a salt water crocodile has been sighted in Muddy Bay. As salties are subject of ecotourism tours on Proserpine River, it is possible that they could be anywhere in Pioneer Bay. Salties are ambush predators, and unlikely to prove a risk to those not entering the water near them.

Airlie Beach is sited in a natural ampitheatre, open along the seaside. There is less than 500 metres of flat land at the widest point between the coast and the hills, so developers are building more land. Once the hills are developed, there basically isn't any more land in Airlie Beach. About 3000 individual residences are the limit, and this should be reached this decade. See my page on Airlie Beach property for a more detailed description of real estate, resort and apartment sales, and community problems.

The short main street is only a few metres from the beach, and contains many small food shops, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, travel agents, and internet cafes. Check my shops page for a comprehensive list. There is now a loop road, Waterson Road, also known as the developer's road, on the flat land below the hills. Business development is in the area between this and the main street, with residential and resort views from the hillsides.

Provided current building height limits (9-12 metres) are firmly enforced, hillside dwellings will continue to have magnificent water views. It is therefore very important to always resist developer pressure to put taller commercial buildings in the business area. The very first taller building will establish a precedence, and will drop the value of every single piece of hillside land, and of every dwelling around Airlie.

Attempts are being made by developers and council to seize public waterfront land for commercial development. Council appear to have a culture of secrecy about pending development deals, often claiming commercial in confidence when selling out the public interest. Expect continued mass public protests regarding planning issues, as for example McDonald's signage, secret sale of Proserpine airport, public lands given over for potential marina use in Muddy Bay, hotel and gambling den in the middle of Airlie Beach occupying public land and exceeding town building height limits, lack of parking space in town.

The magnificent Airlie Beach Lagoon, opened in early 2001, is a tourist feature between the main street and the sea, and allows year round swimming in a safe area, especially for families. This was partially funded by a $8 million contribution from the State government. Although costs of maintaining the lagoon were estimated before construction at $200,000 a year, after local council took over it claimed the costs were $961,000 a year. Council claimed that this justified commercial development on public foreshore land and over a main waterway adjoining the area as a means of raising income to cover the costs. Protesters do not agree.

Please note that parking near the lagoon is on a Pay and Display system, and costs around $4 a day in the area that council wishes to hand over for hotel development.

There is a proposal originally fronted by the Whitsunday sailing club to develop a larger Port of Airlie marina in the Muddy Bay area. State funding of $2 million for the approval process has been granted in 2001, and state government approval obtained in 2004. Protest groups have pointed out this would be a problem for the mangroves and marine life in the area, including dugongs and salt water crocodiles. Anyone taking photos of construction equipment sinking in the mud will be wondering about the stability of any potential buildings. Construction of the Port of Airlie marina has commenced, and is making the entire eastern end of Airlie Beach utter hell.

The nearby marina a few kilometres north at Abel Point has also been expanded to four times its former size. This resulted in a large reclaimed area of muddy land, and mud being widely spread through the water around the construction area. Marine conditions in Pioneer Bay are likely to have been adversely affected.

There is a proposal for another marina about 10 km south at Shute Harbour, infringing on National Park. Protests regarding this have commenced.

Day trips to resort islands, three day sailing trips for scuba divers and snorkellers, and bare boat charters leave from nearby Shute Harbour and the Abel Point Marina. Check my boats page for some of the tourist boats.

There are over a half dozen well known resort islands within easy reach of Airlie Beach. They range from the absolute luxury of Hayman Island (said to be one of the world's top ten resorts), through the bustle of Hamilton Island (largest resort in the South Pacific), from family resorts like South Molle, Club Med on Lindeman Island, Novotel's newly refurbished Daydream Island, several resorts on Long Island, and even a camping resort on Hook Island. My resort islands page briefly describes some of the islands.


Airlie Beach is situated in the dry tropics, rather than the wet tropics. Local terrain contributes to many tourist areas being in rain shadows from south east breezes for much of the year. Vegetation nearby does include some fine examples of tropical rain forest.

The weather includes a rainy season (January thru March), although overall rainfall is usually under 1000mm a year. The number of rainy days is in the order of 80-100, fewer than most capitals in Australia, with only a few days of rain a month from May through November. More than 8 hours sunshine a day is the average. You should note official weather bureau figures typically come from Hamilton Island (which is offshore and not typical) and from Proserpine Airport (which is plain silly, since no-one lives there). There are no official weather figures for the Airlie Beach area.

Daily maximum temperatures peak just below 32 (Celsius) in November through March, with maximums in June and July around 25. Minimums are around 24 in the hot season, dropping down to around 15 during winter. It rarely gets below 10.

Some locals claim the figures are:
Maximum and minimum Temperatures in Celsius, then rainfall in millimetres

Jan  Feb  Mar  Apr  May  Jun  Jul  Aug  Sep  Oct  Nov  Dec
30.5 30.2 29.6 28.1 26.0 23.4 23.1 24.3 25.9 27.5 29.5 30.4
24.8 24.9 24.1 22.7 20.4 17.1 16.6 17.4 19.2 21.3 23.4 24.5
253  278  314  150  145   62   45   24   15   40   58  114

Others say average maximum, minimum, rainfall and days of rain

Jan  Feb  Mar  Apr  May  Jun  Jul  Aug  Sep  Oct  Nov  Dec
30   29   28   27   25   22   21   22   25   27   29   30
24   23   22   20   18   14   14   15   18   19   22   24
280 300  280  150  110   60   40   30   15   22   90  190
15   16   16   15   14    8    6    5    4    7    7   12

Click for Hamilton Island, Queensland Forecast

Click for Hamilton Island, Queensland Forecast

Note that weather conditions may be changing. In particular, the cloudy season now appears to start much earlier, is less predictable, although it doesn't bring much more rain.


Tropical cyclones occur between December and April (when the ocean is warmest) in north Queensland. An average of almost three a year cross the Queensland coast, mostly travelling south west from the Coral Sea and then curving south east at 6-10 knots. They tend to last between 5 and 10 days.

Cyclone Ada hit the Whitsundays on 17 January 1970. It was relatively small, about 20km across the eye, with winds gusting to 100-110kph, rising to 160kph on Hayman Island. Ian Mackay reports it lifted the roof of the Royal Hayman hotel, spoiling the caberet night. Hayman Island guests (346 reported) were evacuated to Townsville on the ore tanker Clutha Oceanic. South Molle caught the eye, cabins were wrecked, and one guest was killed and another seriously injured. Cyclone Ada crossed the coast at Shute Harbour at 5 a.m. with 160 kph winds. At Airlie, the hotel and 85 homes were wrecked, and the town was cut off by flood waters. Proserpine was badly flooded, with half the town damaged.


The original Whitsunday Shire contains about 15,891 residents (2001), and increases by about 440 a year. Median age is 33, and 9% are over 65. Single households are 19%, couples are 25%, and 28% are couples with children. I have no idea what the missing 28% are (Martians?) There are real estate reports in mid 2002 of a population of 21,800, with Hamilton Island increasing by 36%, Airlie Beach by 20% and Cannonvale by 31%. Population was 16874, an increase of 399 (2.4%) in the year ending June 2004.

The major population areas are Proserpine, and the Whitsunday area (Cannonvale, Airlie Beach and Jubliee Pocket), each of which contain over 4,000 residents. There are several smaller communities, and a considerable rural population. Almost half the population live in rural and rural residential areas. Proserpine is a fairly typical small country sugar town, just off the main Bruce Highway, and holding the administrative center of the shire, as well as the sugar mill. It includes the railway station, and a major airport for the region is nearby (the Proserpine Airport has been renamed Whitsunday Coast Airport for tourist reasons). Other rural activities are grazing and some small crops.

Census figures for Whitsunday shire seem somewhat higher than listed above, but 13% (2677) of them were overseas visitors, and 19% (3974) were domestic visitors. Census figures for 1986 was 11,581 (Airlie 1279, Cannonvale 1675, Proserpine 2762). In 1991 the figure was 15227 (Hamilton Island 1101, Airlie Beach 2524, Cannonvale 2402, Proserpine 3034). In 1996 the population was 18282 (Hamilton Island 1502, Airlie Beach 3029, Cannonvale 3137, Proserpine 3247). In 2001 the total was 20990 (Hamilton Island 1837, Airlie 4186, Cannonvale 3935, Proserpine 3250).


Of the occupied private dwellings in the Whitsunday Shire, 39% are owned outright, 22% are being paid off, and 39% are being rented. I can't find a count of houses vs units. Real estate agents seem very active in the area. Australian home ownership exceeded 70%, with 37% these mortgage free in Queensland. Around 30% are renting. For more details of real estate see my property page.


Tourism is now the largest industry in the shire. Although many of my own web pages may be of some interest or use to tourists, especially for background detail, I do not run these pages specifically as a tourist site. I don't make bookings nor do I receive the associated commissions. I don't sell travel, nor make commissions on travel. I do not sell advertising on these pages. Yes, I have thought about accepting advertising, because there is a certain cost associated with running a web site. However I suspect advertisers may wish to influence my ability to freely express myself if I grew to depend upon advertising revenue. Plus I am absolutely sick and tired of web sites full of blinking, pushy and often

I have listed a number of tourism oriented web pages about Airlie Beach, most associated with travel companies. Some of them seem very extensive and detailed. Some are run by companies with excellent reputations for travel services. I have linked to one tourism oriented site here. Why them? They asked me to link to them when they started building their site, plus they were willing to attempt to make their web site comply with W3C web standards. I think attempting to reach standards is important.

Airlie Beach Australia - Gateway to the Whitsunday's
Get information on Airlie Beach and the popular activities you can do there on holiday. Also find comprehensive travel and accommodation advice as well as business listings from this beautiful town in the Whitsunday's, Queensland.


The shoreline area looks like a double horseshoe, and the bay east of Airlie Creek was originally called Horseshoe Bay. Robert Shepherd, chairman of Proserpine Council, suggested in 1935 or 1936 it be named Airlie. Locals called it Airlie Beach. It wasn't until 1959 that the Airlie Beach post office was approved at H J Rowe's store, to serve the 83 residences in the area. For details of the names of localities, check

Cannonvale was known by this name from at least 1907, but was not made a place name until 1987. Cannon Valley was named in 1866 by Commander George S Nares after Richard Cannon, Assistant Surgeon on HMS Salamander.

Conway National Park

If you head east from Airlie Beach along the main street, Shute Harbour Road, you will pass the light plane Whitsunday Airport at Flametree, where there is also a antique doll museum.

Further along is the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service visitor information centre for the Conway National Park adjoining the road. About 4 km past the visitor centre there is picnic ground with a 1 km walking track. There are a number of 2 to 5 km walks in the area, to Hayward Gully, Mt Roper lookout, Swamp Bay Beach, and Coral Beach. The road continues to Shute Harbour.

Shute Harbour

Shute Harbour is about 11 km from Airlie Beach. It is the major deepwater port for the area, and site of all the ferry and barge traffic to the islands. You can enjoy spectacular views of the islands from the car park to the left. You can also continue to Coral Point for even better views. Captain J.F.L.P. Maclear of HMS Alert named Shute Island at the entrance in 1881.

Other nearby areas

Cedar Creek Fall

Conway Beach

Wilson Beach

Dingo Beach (partly unsealed road)

Hydaway Bay (sea transport to Monte's Reef resort at Gloucester Passage, very secluded).

Laguna Queys Resort and Midge Point Beach, Turtle Point golf course.


The Whitsunday shire seat is in Proserpine, on the Bruce Highway, and about 20 km inland. The big industry is the local sugar mill, and supporting the cattle stations and farms around the area. Proserpine was founded in the 1860's, and is variously claimed to be named after the Proserpine Creek run claimed by Charles and William Emmerson in 1861, or by explorer George Dalrymple. The main airport is about 10 km south of town, off the Bruce Highway. According to some reports the airport was secretly sold by council to a developer. Newspaper reports mention a secret February 2001 deed of agreement to sell Whitsunday Coast airport to David Marrineer of Laguna Quays resort. The sales contract was to be entered into by April 2001. In December 2005 were in court seeking to have the agreement declared non-binding. What this council needs is more whistle blowers.

The town has some fine examples of older style building, still in good condition. It has several supermarkets, a five pubs, a services club, films and concerts in the Culture Centre near the library, an excellent swimming pool, and a small hospital. It really is a pretty typical, good sized country town. We do a certain amount of our shopping there, as it is amazing how helpful the country stores can be. The annual show at the showground is well attended by locals. There is a fine new historical museum with tourist information and craft exhibits a little south of town on the highway.

The entire area is served by nearby Proserpine airport (renamed Whitsunday Coast to help draw tourists, although it is nowhere near the coast).

Click for Proserpine, Queensland Forecast

If you are into fishing, the Peter Faust dam (26 km past Proserpine, along the Main Street and Crystalbrrok Road) and Lake Proserpine further inland is a wonderful camping and fishing spot. It was completed in October 1990 and filled in early 1991. It was stocked with barramundi fingerlings around 1996, and the fish stocking asssociation have a web site

I hope you have enjoyed -> airlie beach -> airlie background