Facing a long drive to our next stop in Airlie Beach, we left early and breakfasted en route. As we drove away from Rockhampton, we saw fewer cattle but more and more tropical crops. There wasn’t much traffic on the road and we made good time, arriving in Airlie just after lunch at our home for the next four nights, a resort perched on a steep hill overlooking the beach. Again, we had a spacious one-bedroomed apartment, with balcony, spa bath – what is it with Aussies and spa baths? – and a well-equipped kitchen.
We dumped our luggage and headed out for a fishy lunch – what else? Airlie itself isn’t particularly large but it has a lively esplanade with plenty of shops and restaurants and an onshore beach and swimming pool. But we weren’t in Airlie to enjoy its beach, we were here because it’s an ideal jumping off point to experience the Whitsundays, discovered by Captain Cook on Whit Sunday (the seventh Sunday after Easter) in 1770, the 74 Whitsunday Islands lie between the mainland and the Great Barrier Reef and offer a sailing paradise. Yes, Airlie Beach is also just one of many departure points for the Great Barrier Reef.
It’s highly likely that the town was named after the parish of the same name in Scotland. Throughout our drive from Sydney, there were many Scottish place names showing the influence of Scottish immigrants.
We planned our three full days in Airlie Beach with the assistance of the resort manager and opted for a flight over the Whitsundays and Great Barrier Reef on the Sunday with a day-long boat trip to the Whitsundays, specifically Whitehaven Beach, and snorkeling on the reef, on Tuesday. This left us with Monday to thoroughly explore the area, particularly its lovely boardwalk to Coral Beach. I’m now going to let my photos do the talking!
The flight takes just over an hour and everyone spent that time with their noses (and cameras) pressed to the nearest window while our (female) pilot explained what we were viewing.
Some of the islands had only recently re-opened, after being laid waste in a cyclone two years ago. A large number are uninhabited, others have wonderful luxury resorts and holiday homes.
It was a truly magical experience and one I’d happily recommend.
Monday’s Meander along the Boardwalk
Tuesday’s Boat Trip
There are lots of companies with different types of boats which offer this trip. We chose a sturdy boat with facilities manned by locals which left promptly from Coral Beach with the supplies for our lunchtime BBQ, including my veggie burger! We had a short cruise out to Whitsunday island and an easy stroll up to the infamous Hill Inlet lookout to see the signature swirling sandbars of Whitehaven Beach from above (header photo).
Back in the boat it was refreshment time before we then disembarked on Whitehaven Beach using the small inflatable motor boat. This was where I famously had to dip my toes into the water to wade ashore. We had several hours here to explore, soak up the sun or swim before a very generous BBQ lunch which attracted the interest of a few locals, clearly after my veggie burger!
The sand was the softest and whitest I’ve ever walked on. It’s 98 per cent pure silica and has a texture similar to flour. It’s so fine you could polish your jewellery with it – I didn’t try – and it squeaks as you walk on it.
Finally and reluctantly we climbed back on board for a short trip out to Mantaray Bay to snorkel the clear waters and come face to face with colourful fish. My husband much enjoyed this but, without a wetsuit, you could really only spend 30 minutes in the water. You’ll be unsurprised to learn I remained on board. After we’d met all the local underwater residents, it was time to head back bouyed by further refreshments. We’d enjoyed another fabulous day out.
As the sun set on our short stay in Airlie Beach, we reflected that it had been truly magical.