A local’s guide to Airlie Beach
What do you do when you’re a professional photographer who hates winter? Move to The Whitsundays of course!
Well, that’s how I found myself in Airlie Beach in 2011, but truth is, I fell in love with the place and never left. Of course, it doesn’t hurt the Whitsundays is the wedding capital of Australia, which makes great commercial sense in the photography business.
Whether it’s your first time to Airlie Beach, or you haven’t seen it since your backpacker days – you’re in for a treat. Since I often get a backstage pass to some of the best places in town with my job, let me show you ‘round my Airlie Beach.
“I’m hungry” are words you don’t associate with Airlie Beach – we have so many places to dine out.
If it’s date night with hubby, we opt for Hemmingways or Walters Lounge which both do fine dining, serving up hatted (by the Australian Good Food Guide) food and water views.
If we’re going out with friends, it’s all about Denman Cellars for their massive share boards and beer selection. They’re open lunch and dinner but, confession time, I am a frequent eater of their $19 lunch menu, which includes an epic superfood salad.
If you want to try something completely new, check out Northerlies. It’s already earning a reputation for quality food and a beachfront location and beach volleyball fun if you’re feeling active!
It’s only 10 minutes outside of Airlie, but it feels like you’re miles away. Take it from me, it’s the kind of place you’ll find yourself making excuses to cancel afternoon meetings to stay a little while longer.
Keen for more Airlie Beach foodie tips? Head over here to this restaurant guide.
One word: mojitos!
Airlie Beach’s Fish D’Vine is well known for its mojitos and they’re good enough to turn this non-cocktail drinker into one. While owner Kev will tell you they’re the best in the world, I can vouch they’re at least the best in Airlie Beach.
If you’re more into wine, then my tip is to ask for the matching wine menu at Walters Lounge. They have a range of boutique bottles, the kind you know didn’t just come from a nearby bottle shop along with a hefty markup.
The beer fridge at Denman Cellars has high turnover on those hot, tropical Airlie Beach days. In fact, there’s over 300 different beers and ciders from around the world stocked here. Denmans is a double act – one part bar, one part bottle shop – so you can take away if you’d prefer sundowners on your own turf.
Of course, if you’re after a jug of beer and a game of pool (ummm, who isn’t?) Magnums is the spot. It’s a backpackers magnet (seriously)… so consider yourself forewarned.
Personally, I don’t drink coffee, but no doubt you do! So the best in town I’m told is, again, Fat Frog Café or Bohemian Raw Cafe – the latter also do amazing smoothies!
We also have a homegrown success story in the cold brew world, called Mr Bean. They sell coffee concentrate which has been brewed in pure 0.02 micron filtered cold water for over 20 hours – which will make a difference to coffee aficionados. It started as a stall in the Airlie Beach markets and you’ll now find Mr Bean stocked across Australia, but also in many of Airlie Beach’s local cafes.
Most people visiting the Whitsundays go island-side but they’re missing out on the Airlie action. Big Mistake.
Mantra Boathouse has a wonderful marina feel and is also a lot cooler in the summer months as it doesn’t face the western afternoon sun. That’s not really anything to base your decision on though as all accommodation up here is air-conditioned and built to capture the breeze.
Considering the Coral Sea is the backyard of Airlie Beach, you’ll want to take advantage of our calm, protected waters.
We like to get out on the water as often as we can – whether it’s boating, fishing, SUP or snorkelling, we’re not fussy.
There are also national park islands you can camp on for less than the price of a movie ticket, which is where you’ll find hubby and I some weekends. Check out these island camping spots if you’re thinking of giving it a go.
Shopping takes a tropical twist in Airlie Beach. On the main street, I love Lotus Boutique because it doesn’t matter what time of year you visit, they’ve always got a dress (or two) for me!
For homewares (plus clothes and accessories too) Paya has some cool finds.
If you’ve come all this way and forgotten your swimmers … or just need an excuse for a new pair, check out Beachworx for bathers and surf brands.
Don’t dismiss our Airlie Beach Markets on Saturday mornings either, they have some great local food (Mr Bean, Organic Bananas from Dave the Banana Man and Patrick the Frenchman from Bowen with his frozen mango treats)!
Oh, and if the cruise ships are in town, the market will set up mid-week as well, so don’t worry if you’re not here on a weekend.
Of course, if you want to pick up a souvenir that really captures your stay in the Whitsundays, visit Above and Below Photography Gallery, which is located at Port Of Airlie. Inside you’ll find marine-inspired jewellery, image printed silk sarongs and gifts, and of course an awesome range of fine art prints of the local area – oh yeah and they’re all taken by me!
I hope the locals don’t hate me for sharing, but we have a hidden spot aptly named Hideaway Bay, which is just a 40-minute drive out of town.
Up there, you’ll find secret beaches and two resorts Cape Gloucester Eco Resort and Montes which both serve up incredible food, live music and tropical atmosphere. After one visit, I promise you’ll be planning your next trip back.
Ps. If you’re looking for more locals tips, jump over here for these 13 secrets the locals don’t want you to know about.