Airlie Beach - Travel Article
Travel Article: Airlie Beach

Travel Article: Airlie Beach

While still proud of its success as a backpacker icon, Airlie Beach, the capital of the Whitsundays, has come of age. It is an evolution that is turning this tropical town into a coveted all-round visitor destination with a healthy economic base.

Driving from nearby Proserpine Airport into town along Shute Harbour Road, Airlie Beach looks much the same as I remember it. A mecca for backpackers of all ages on their pilgrimage north. But once you sight brilliant blue as the road sweeps past the new-look Abel Point Marina, you sense that there is something different, something fresh. I liked it. While some visitors choose to fly directly to the offshore islands, others prefer a mainland base like Airlie where they can enjoy some of the hundreds of day tours, sailing vacations, and reef and island experiences on offer in this aquatic playground.

The Whitsundays is home to 74 tropical islands dotted in the warm waters of the Coral Sea. Seven of these islands have resorts which cater for family to romantic holidays, and many others are available for camping through Queensland National Parks.

Airlie Beach has a "buzz" about it. It does not take long to realise the vibe is the hum of economic activity. People who have visited Airlie Beach over the years say it is taking off, finally, and the locals are ecstatic.

Up on the hill above the town, there are all shapes and colours. Side by side, in Golden Orchid Drive, are the Mediterranean Resort and Toscana Village. These upmarket, themed villas, with swimming pools and outstretching views, are 300m up the hill from the action. As the owners say, it is a quick walk down, and a cheap cab fare home.

On a terrace overlooking the Coral Sea and Whitsunday Passage is the new Toscana Restaurant, which serves a blend of tropical and new Australian cuisine. Diners are in-house, or flock from surrounding properties.

One property with unimpeded blue water frontage is the Coral Sea Resort, located in the appropriately-named Ocean View Avenue.

Airlie Beach is rapidly becoming the sort of place that suits any visitor. As you come into town, the Adventure Whitsunday Resort Caravan Park is just one property aimed at the drive market that has invested greatly in the area and the results are paying off. A large portion of the travelers coming through the caravan park are "upmarket" backpackers who are free and independent travelers wanting to stay in accommodation above hostel standard.

From anecdotal evidence, the tourism industry reports that backpackers who visited years before are now returning as professional people, travelling with their spouse and family. And, with more disposable income, they are trying experiences different to their previous trip.

In the centre of town is a new development of an integrated retail and commercial site. It is an investment that is taking the town's hub to a new level of visitor facilities.

The food and dining scene in Airlie Beach is big, very big. No fewer than 40 restaurants line Shute Harbour Road which has become an "eat street" in its own right. There's Italian, steak houses, Asian cuisine and no shortage of coffee shops. Visitors say it's like Hastings Street, Noosa, or Surfers Paradise Avenue, the Gold Coast, 20 years ago.

Promoters of Airlie Beach tourism agree that the biggest mistake that people make on their motoring holidays is to ignore the signs on the Bruce Highway which signal the turn off to Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays. They keep on plowing through the sugar cane and miss one of the best vacations they could ever have.