Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays

Sail away with me
To another world
And we rely on each other, ah ha
‘Cause we love one another, ah ha

Islands in the Stream – written by Maurice, Robin and Barry Gibb

Who knew that this lovely song was written by the Gibb brothers. And beautifully performed by Kenny and Dolly. Just been watching them sing the song on You Tube. I don’t know why but for some reason listening to their version gives me goosebumps. Interestingly “Islands in the Stream” is the title of Ernest Hemingway’s novel published in 1970 nine years after his death. The Gibbs based the song title on the book name. Sadly Kenny Rogers passed away in March last year. I remember going to see him at the Opera House in Palmie North in the early seventies. Great show. And again sadly we have seen the passing of a number of musical icons recently. Charlie Watts, Don Everly and a month or so back Dusty Hill (yes I do listen to ZZ Top). Shouldn’t forget NZ music and entertainment icon Max Cryer either. R.I.P.

When Captain Cook sailed north through the group of islands now known as The Whitsundays it was in fact Whit Monday – some seven weeks after Easter. Thinking it was a Sunday Cook named the passage between the islands as Whitsunday Passage (still known as this today). The island group name obviously followed. The 74 islands in the group sit between the mid Queensland coast off Airlie Beach and the Great Barrier Reef and have become a popular tourist holiday and sailing destination. We are settled in the Seabreeze Motor Camp in Cannonvale some 2.5 kms from Airlie Beach town centre. There is a lovely park on the beach opposite the camp and a well appointed bike path and boardwalk directly into the town. It takes us 15 leisurely minutes to bike and 30 minutes to walk. The problem of course is that along this route are cafes and bars overlooking the marina and the islands beyond so the journey inevitably takes a while longer.

The flotilla off Airlie Beach at dusk

Not that we care. Airlie Beach is a bit of a misnomer as the beaches are really mudflats with some mangrove swamps but the view east over the islands is spectacular. Perhaps to compensate for the lack of swimming beaches (also summer is stinger season) the council have developed a large and very pleasant swimming and beach pool facility on land which runs along the sea side of the town centre. It really is well thought through and is full each day with tourists and locals enjoying a reprieve from the warm weather.

Airlie Beach has been a bit of a backpacker haven for many years and there are several large backpacker accommodations on the main street. Now it is a desert and while there are reasonable numbers of people wandering about in town they are almost exclusively Queenslanders or from the caravan parks. Almost every young worker you meet (both Australian and foreign – and there are a lot of European, Spanish and South Americans around) arrived several years ago for a holiday visit and found they couldn’t leave. The main street is effectively a boulevard of large beer gardens, restaurants and travel and tour shops. The attraction is the Whitsundays, sailing and the reef. The two marinas are full of catamarans and sailing vessels.

Vincent “Bushy” Parker

We arrived at Airlie Beach in two bites from Port Douglas. After a night at the free camp called Vincent”Bushy” Parker (we have stopped there before) we followed the coast to Airlie the next day. Bushy Parker is a council run park and non-powered campsite at Rollingstone just south of Townsville and it was full for the night. Maybe 20 caravans and motorhomes were overnighting (it is a 20 hour restricted camp) and it was fascinating to watch latecomers trying to wedge their caravans into the small spaces left under the gum trees. This is the beauty of a motorhome. We can just back easily into a space no matter what shape as long as the trees are high enough to get under.

The attraction of Airlie Beach is the boating, the fishing and the beautiful beaches on the islands. Check out Whitehaven Beach. Year after year voted the most beautiful white sand beach in the world. There are coral reefs an hours sailing offshore and of course the internationally renowned resorts of Hamilton and Day Dream Islands. We took the ferry to Hamilton with a short stop at Day Dream. Both resorts were extensively rebuilt after Cyclone Debbie hit in 2016. We caught the tail of it on the Sunshine Coast. That was bad enough so one can only imagine the chaos and destruction for those in its direct path. Day Dream is small being one km by 400 metres with mainly two to three story apartment blocks facing the beach. The resort is really it. Hamilton Island is something else. An hours ferry ride from Airlie (and a bloody rough one at that) it has its own airstrip with commercial flights arriving daily from Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane via Quantas and Virgin. The marina alongside the airport is full with yachts, catamarans and huge cruisers. They presumably wait there until their owners fly or possibly helicopter in for a few weeks cruising the Whitsundays. What was surprising is the high rise apartment accommodation which vies for trade with the beach cottages and duplexes which dot the coast. There are plenty of what would appear spectacular private homes as well but for some reason we couldn’t get access to these! Surprisingly there are 1,500 permanent residents and a school. The resort itself is placed on the west side of the island facing the coast and is a continuum of apartments facing onto the beach and elongated blue water pools and bars.

The obligatory pool bar is there with its halfsubmerged poolside bar stools. Ok if you like that sort of thing. One patron when asked what you do after a few beers and a full bladder just blushed and mumbled something while looking away. This is a resort for couples and families and we were impressed at its presentation and facilites including beach activities – jet skis, small cats and snorkelling trips. A top spot if that is your holiday thing. Not cheap of course (the ferry trip is $60 per person each way) and the many bars and restaurants are top class. We settled for the Marina Tavern and a cheap hamburger and chips. A great day visit though.

4 thoughts on “Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays

  1. Hi Mike, Islands in the stream was originally the title of the last novel written by Ernest Hemingway and published posthumously.It contains one of the most extinguished accounts of a shark attack ever written. The B Gs borrowed the title.


    1. Thanks Brian
      I particularly enjoy Hemingways writing. Though haven’t read that one. The shark sequances in The Old Man and the Sea were good as well. Will add that little snippet into the blog. With your concurrence


  2. I am enjoying your travel blog Mike, a very welcome relief form our lockdown. I remember Airlie beach From our visit on the QM2 in 2018, the tender ride from the ship took about 25 minutes and we were hanging out for our coffee. I also recall how warm in was in those thar parts!
    Cheers Randal


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