13 free things to do in Airlie Beach and The Whitsundays

If The Whitsundays were on the red carpet, they’d win best-dressed, hands down.

The region’s style is impeccable, its colours complimentary, and it sure as hell knows how to flaunt its natural assets to perfection. I give you Heart Reef, Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet.

Unlike most red carpet looks though, you don’t have to be rockstar-rich to explore this tropical paradise. We’ve got you covered with a few tips to saving your cash with these free things to do in Airlie Beach and The Whitsundays:

1. Airlie Beach Lagoon

Airlie Beach Lagoon | 13 free things to do in the Whitsundays

Every city worth its ‘tropical’ status needs a central water park. Brisbane has South Bank, Townsville has the Aqua Fun Park and the Whitsundays has the Airlie Beach Lagoon – a free public park and swimming pool, landscaped to tropical perfection.

We recommend claiming a grassy knoll next to the lagoon and making the BBQ facilities your weekend kitchen. It’s a great spot to catch up with friends and enjoy the tropical vibes, right in the epicentre of Airlie.

2. Browse the markets

Airlie Beach Markets | 13 free things to do in the Whitsundays

What’s not to love about a seaside market? We suggest you head down to the Airlie Beach Markets every Saturday on The Esplanade to bag yourself a bargain. You’ll find all your usual tropical holiday gifts here (so, you’re in luck if you’re chasing a shell chandelier) and a number of culinary delights to tuck into at the right price.

They open in time for breakfast and close just after lunch, so we recommend making the markets your restaurant of choice if you’re in town on a Saturday.

3. Land a marlin

It’s a big call, I know, but I reckon the fishing in The Whitsundays trumps anywhere else in Queensland. It’s not just my opinion, it’s scientific, and it’s all to do with the average water temperature – a warm 27 degrees, which is the scientific sweet spot for fishing (according to my fishing sources).

More than just tropical fish, The Whitsundays’ sparkling waters are a hot-bed of marlin, bass, mackerel and trout. The best place to cast off if you’re shore fishing is Shute Harbour – there’s a custom-made fishing pontoon ready and waiting.

4. Chase waterfalls

Cedar Creek Falls | Free things to do Airlie Beach Whitsundays

If ocean swimming isn’t your jam, could I tempt you with a dip in a scenic rockpool at Cedar Creek Falls?

Nestled in a natural rock amphitheatre, halfway between Proserpine and Airlie Beach, this is as good a place as any to test out your “echo-echo-echo” and swim underneath the falls. All you need is a pair of closed-in shoes and swimmers to make a day out of this natural water park.

5. Discover lesser-known beaches

Whitehaven Beach might be the poster-child of The Whitsundays, but don’t worry, there are plenty of others that don’t need a seaplane, helicopter or private charter to discover.

We like Boathaven Beach, with its soft white sand and box-office views of the Coral Sea, to throw down your towel and take a dip. If you prefer to dial up the activity, can I suggest taking a progressive beach walk along the Bicentennial Walking Track between Airlie Beach and Cannonvale? You’ll wind up at Cannonvale Beach – an excellent spot for beachcombing at low tide.

6. Go hiking

Hiking | Free things to do Airlie Beach Whitsundays

The Whitsundays is full of natural beauty from every aspect, whether you’re staying on the mainland or the islands. Conway National Park packs a rainforest punch on the hills of Airlie Beach and we suggest you lace up your boots or jump on your bike to discover the green behind the aquamarine.

If you’re planning to hike there are plenty of tracks, from a short walk to suit beginners right through to a three-day, two-night overland adventure called the Conway Circuit (formerly known as The Great Walk).

7. Twitch, don’t twerk

If ever there was a place to wheel out the binoculars and bird book, The Whitsundays are it. Twitch, don’t twerk, spotting the hundreds of bird species who nest in The Whitsundays (and seriously, who could blame them?).

Keep your eyes peeled for white-brown scrubwren, kookaburras, yellow-faced honey eaters, ospreys, herons and egrets, some of the regular faces in this neck of the woods. You won’t need any help spotting the charismatic sulphur-crested cockatoos who create a racket at Airlie Beach.

8. Bag a barra

Can’t decide if you prefer your barramundi grilled, crumbed or battered? Get yourself to Proserpine’s Peter Faust Dam to bag a barra big enough it can be cooked three ways.

Peter Faust Dam or Lake Proserpine, is fishing nirvana. No word of a lie, the dam has no ‘off season’ and is loaded with 20,000 barramundi fingerlings each year, which grow metres long. It goes without saying, the odds are always in your (fishing) favour in District Proserpine #hungergames.

9. Do as the local’s do

If you want your choice of secluded coves, head to the locals’ favourite beach, Cape Gloucester for the day. Keep your camera handy if you time your visit over winter, you’re bound to see humpback whales as they start their southern migration.

10. Learn to sail

Sailing | Free things to do Airlie Beach Whitsundays

Sailing need not be a million-dollar hobby (provided you don’t own the boat). The Whitsunday’s Sailing Club conducts Twilight Yacht Racing every Wednesday from 3pm to 7pm, and for the cost of your deckhand skills, you’ll be voyaging the high seas onboard a yacht.

To get involved just pop down to the Whitsunday Sailing Club at 2pm on a Wednesday and offer your services. NB: novices are both welcome and encouraged, so don’t be nervous y’all.

11. Volunteer to clean up the reef

The Whitsundays are pretty for a reason, and we can’t ignore the stylists behind the destination’s primping and preening – Eco Barge Clean Seas Inc.

Join the eco-warriors in their hands-on conservation of this paradise, picking up marine debris on the beaches and coastlines of the 74 islands of the Whitsundays.

Besides a free boat ride around this island wonderland, I guarantee you’ll come away feeling deeply rewarded #payitforward.

12. Get moving

If you’ve spent too much time feasting your way around these Airlie Beach restaurants, you might be in need of a bum-burning hike up Mount Whitsunday. Every morning you’ll see a convoy of people walking up the summit in their neon lycra.

I was sceptical about joining them at first. That was until I saw photos of the view – motivation enough to get a photo in the Whitsundays in my active wear. Get your phone ready at the top for #nofilter panoramic views of the marina, over to the islands.

13. Bounce to Bowen

Bowen | 13 free things to do in The Whitsundays

If I say Bowen and you only picture mangoes, it’s time to fill in the Bowen blanks. Get yourself to this coastal town to check out its beaut beaches.

We suggest hightailing it to Horseshoe Bay, one of the most spectacular, secluded spots to spend a day at the beach. Don’t forget to pack your snorkel and mask, there are a number of fringing reefs just offshore ripe for exploring.

Did we miss anything? What’s your favourite thing to do in the Whitsundays for free?