You’re going to have to carry on reading if you want to find out the answer to that question, let’s talk about Airlie Beach. We were pleasantly surprised by Airlie. After spending a few days in the solitude of Cape Hillsborough, we were a bit nervous about visiting somewhere that is a major draw on the tourist trail. We’d previously visited Apollo Bay on the Great Ocean Road and didn’t like it all. Airlie, however, had a different feel. It’s obviously commercial and there are plenty of tour operators trying to get you to part with your money. Nonetheless, it had a friendly feel and the views out towards the Whitsundays across the marina were beautiful. Dare we say it, we also preferred Airlie Beach to Byron Bay.
We were camping again, and stayed at Seabreeze Tourist Park which is actually on the edge of Airlie Beach and it’s neighbouring suburb Cannonvale. You could take a pleasant 2.5 km along the boardwalk, past Abell Point Marina into the centre of Airlie and it was also really handy for shops with Whitsunday shopping centre just next door.
As with most visitors, one of our main reasons for visiting Airlie Beach was to see the Whitsundays. We’d bust the budget a bit to book a day sailing on The Lady Enid and it was definitely worth it. With a maximum capacity of 24 guests you didn’t feel crowded like some of the tour boats. It was also a really peaceful way to see the islands, particularly when under sail rather than motor power. The skipper, Dave and crew Antoine, Bec and Hazel were magnificent. They looked after us exceptionally well, including regularly feeding us with top quality meals. The crew were also very knowledgeable about the region and could answer all of our questions. Antoine even gave us a geography and chart reading lesson as we sailed back to port.
The Whitsundays themselves, didn’t disappoint. We sailed through the Whitsunday passage and into Tongue Bay on Whitsunday Island. Here we climbed to the top of a lookout over the famous Whitehaven Beach, followed by some time on the beach itself. Despite it being the middle of winter we braved the water as we had to have a swim at one of the most famous beaches in the world. Back on board, and after lunch, we sailed to a quite cove above a coral reef for a spot of snorkelling. We’ve been snorkelling a few times before and the conditions that day weren’t the best with the water being a bit cloudy. It was fun anyway, and we felt we deserved our glass of bubbles as we sailed back with the sun going down. A truly memorable day.
On other days we explored a bit outside of the usual tourist haunts in The Whitsundays. Just outside of Shute Harbour, about 15 km from Airlie Beach we found a fabulous little cove, Coral Beach. As the name suggests, rather than the white sand usually associated with The Whitsundays, the beach was made up of coral and pebbles. It was, however, just as beautiful as the more famous locations. It was reached via a rainforest track, and from the beach, you could also hike up to ‘The Beak’ for more fabulous views of the ocean and the islands.
Another treat for us in Airlie Beach was to go out for a good meal. In general, we’d rather cook for ourselves and save eating out for when we’re somewhere we can get a really good meal. We’ve said elsewhere, that one of our indulgences is good food and we don’t mind splurging when its worth it. That doesn’t mean we don’t like the occasional pub meal or Chinese takeaway. Just that if we’re going to spend a bit more on a meal we want to make it count. The Michelin star system doesn’t extend to Australia, and instead, a similar rating scheme is run by the Australian Good food guide, who award ‘chefs hats’. There were only two ‘hatted’ restaurants in Airlie Beach and we chose to eat at one of them, Walter’s Lounge. It was definitely worth the expense as we had a lovely evening. We chose the six course tasting menu and Andy had the matched wines. The food was superb and the service excellent. You can read our TripAdvisor review if you like.
Finally, before we leave Airlie Beach, the answer to the question posed in the title to this post. The owners and staff of Seabreeze Tourist Park are well connected with their community and do a lot of fundraising. If you visit, every Thursday they have a dinner in the camp kitchen with raffles generating funds for local causes. We were lucky enough to be there for the biggest one of these in the year, Christmas in July. In case you’re not aware, this has become a bit of a thing in Australia. Celebrating a second Christmas in the coldest part of the year given that December is the middle of summer. Of course, in Airlie Beach, even in July, it’s hardly freezing. Anyway, for a bargain price of $20 we had a full Christmas dinner with turkey and plum pudding, serenaded by live act, the Baby Boomers. Over $2000 was raised in the raffles and we had a brilliant evening. The answer to the question, ‘what’s red and white and can be spotted in Airlie Beach in July’, is of course, Santa.