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10 free things to do in Airlie Beach and The Whitsundays

In all of Mother Nature’s jewel collection, The Whitsundays are some of her most spectacular treasures.

Flashing with sapphire blue, emerald green and pure white gold, glinting like a diamond and formed to perfection; we give you Heart Reef, Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet.

Unlike the crown jewels though, you can enjoy this tropical paradise on a budget.

Read on and uncover the best free things to do in Airlie Beach and beyond.

1. Discover secret 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 pale sand and box-office views of the Coral Sea, to throw down your towel and take a dip. Prefer to get a little more active? Choose a 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.

Want more secret beaches in the Whitsundays? Head over here.

2. Learn to sail

Free things to do Airlie Beach

Photo by @bowentourism

Sailing need not be a million-dollar hobby (provided you don’t own the boat). If you’re looking for cheap (or even free) things to do in Airlie Beach, the Whitsunday Sailing Club conducts Twilight Yacht Racing every Wednesday from 3pm to 7pm. For the cost of your deckhand skills, you’ll be voyaging the tropical high seas on board a yacht.

To get involved, just head down to the Whitsunday Sailing Club at 2pm on a Wednesday and offer your services. Novices are both welcome and encouraged.

3. Volunteer to clean up the Great Barrier Reef

The Whitsundays are pretty for a reason, and we can’t ignore the facilitators behind its pristine beauty – 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, we guarantee you’ll come away feeling deeply rewarded.

4. Find a swimming hole

Cedar Creek Falls | Free things to do Airlie Beach
If ocean swimming isn’t your jam, could we 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. Take a dip

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.

6. Get to know Bowen

The Big Mango | 100 things to do in the Whitsundays

Photo by @jarradseng

Bowen is a special place that few know about.

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 that are ripe for exploring.

7. Browse the markets

What’s not to love about a seaside market? 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.

8. Take a hike

Conway National Park | free things to do Airlie Beach

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, so 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).

9. Reel it in

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

More than just tropical fish, The Whitsundays’ sparkling waters are a hotbed 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.

10. Take the scenic route

Cape Gloucester | Whitsundays

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.

11. Spot the native locals

Speaking of locals, 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 honeyeaters, 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.