How to Get Around Airlie Beach: All Options Compared (2024)

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Many travellers to the Whitsunday Islands, off the coast of Queensland, base themselves in Airlie Beach. When visiting, a common question for travellers is whether a rental car is required to get around Airlie Beach.

After spending a week exploring the Whitsundays and Airlie Beach, I’m sharing all you need to know about getting around Airlie Beach, plus help you decide whether you need to rent a car for your trip.

Transport Options in Airlie Beach

Car

Hiring a car in Airlie Beach is easy. When you get off the plane, there are many rental car company counters at Whitsunday Coast Airport opposite baggage collection.

Hiring a car at the airport is recommended, as Whitsunday Coast Airport (the main airport for Airlie Beach) is a 30-minute drive from town.

Hiring a car from the Airport saves you from needing to book a transfer. Transfers start from $25 per person (one-way). 

I always recommend using a car rental aggregator like DiscoverCars to compare prices between companies and ensure you are getting the best deal

Compare prices on rental cars from Whitsunday airport here

Car Parking in Airlie Beach

Most of the car parking in the main hub of Airlie Beach is paid ticket parking

There is some free street parking for stays under one hour, and if you are happy to walk for 5-10 minutes, free parking is possible (such as along Waterson Way). 

Otherwise, overnight parking (12-24 hours) at most of the public car parks costs $10 if your hotel doesn’t offer affordable parking.  

Read on below to read my thoughts on whether hiring a car is necessary when visiting Airlie Beach. 

Plan your Airlie Beach trip with my Ultimate Whitsundays Itinerary guide

Taxi

Uber is not available in Airlie Beach, but taxis are plentiful. 

You’ll see the distinctive orange 13cabs in abundance along the main street of Airlie Beach.

There are two taxi ranks along Main Street, you can download and book using the 13cabs app or call 13cabs on 13 22 27. 

Taxi is one of the easy ways to get around Airlie Beach

Bus

Airlie Beach and the surrounding suburbs are well connected by the Whitsunday Transit public bus.

The buses are air-conditioned, comfortable and run regularly, however, a downside is that tickets can only be purchased on the bus, with cash. 

The bus fares work on a zone system. For most travellers, trips will most likely take place in Zone 1, which costs $2.40 for a single adult fare or $4.80 for a day fare (2023 prices). 

Buses run from 6 am to around 10 pm each day, however, services are reduced on weekends compared to weekdays. 

During my trip in October 2023, I used Zone 1 fares to get between Airlie Beach main street and my accommodation in Cannonvale.

I purchased a Zone 2 fare on the day I caught the bus to Shute Harbor to do the Coral Beach hiking trail (30 minutes from Airlie Beach). 

You can view the latest bus timetables here, or grab a physical copy on the bus. 

Please note that for transfers to/from the airport, there is a separate service. Read more about it below. 

You can also get around Airlie Beach and the surrounding suburbs using the public bus

E-Scooter

When walking along Main Street in Airlie Beach, or near the Airlie Beach Lagoon, you’ll likely see people zooming around on e-scooters, and tour shops with e-scooters lined up out the front for hire. 

These e-scooters can make for a fun way to explore central Airlie Beach. They need to be returned from the shop in which you hired them.

With rates starting from around $35 for 2 hours or $70 per day (2023 prices), it’s more a suitable option for those wanting to explore around town for a few hours.

Airlie Beach E-scooter booking office

Walk

Airlie Beach is a walkable town, particularly with the boardwalk and Bicentennial Walkway connecting Coral Sea Marina to Airlie Beach Lagoon.

However, if you are staying in nearby suburbs like Cannonvale, a 5-minute drive to get to Airlie Beach takes at least 30 minutes to walk! 

I walked from my accommodation (Bush Village Holiday Cabins in Cannonvale) to Airlie Beach town one early morning, which took me 45 minutes.

In the heat of the day, this would be a lot tougher of a walk, and I would recommend getting the bus instead. 

Airlie Beach main street

Do You Need to Hire a Car in Airlie Beach?

After spending a week in Airlie Beach, I think that hiring a car is not strictly necessary to get around Airlie Beach.

Even though I was staying in Cannonvale, the neighbouring suburb next to Airlie Beach, I found I was able to get around easily enough. I did so by using a combination of public buses, walking and booking tours that included transfers. 

The majority of tours will provide transfers from local accommodation in Airlie Beach and the surrounding suburbs.

I went on a day trip to Whitehaven Beach and then a Great Barrier Reef scenic flight, both of which included transfers to and from my accommodation in the booking price. 

Pick up from my hotel was included in my day trip to Whitehaven Beach

Some local restaurants also provide a courtesy shuttle, such as Northerlies Beach Bar & Grill, and the Pub at Airlie Beach Hotel. 

I caught the public bus several times, including a 30-minute trip to Shute Harbor to explore Conway National Park. I also booked a transfer to and from my accommodation to the airport.

As a solo traveller, this was a much more cost-effective option than hiring a car – just make sure to have cash for the bus fare!

Coral Beach in Conway National Park

When You Will Need A Car

If your accommodation is not on the public bus route, or further than 15 minutes from Airlie Beach, hiring a car likely will be required to get around. 

I would recommend hiring a car for families, or groups that want to explore more of the surrounding area outside of Airlie Beach, such as Conway National Park.

Hiring a car is more convenient than getting the bus, plus it’s more cost-effective for a group than a solo traveller like me.  

If you want to visit Cedar Creek Falls, you’ll need to hire a car as the public bus doesn’t service this area of the national park. 

If you hire a car, you can also take an easy day trip up the coast to explore the town of Bowen. Bowen is home to the iconic Big Mango and idyllic and secluded Horseshoe Bay Beach (1-hour drive). 

Compare prices on rental cars from the airport here

However, if you are staying in central Airlie Beach, and plan to spend your time in Airlie Beach exploring the town and taking day tours to the Whitsunday Islands, similar to my 4-Day Itinerary here, then hiring a car isn’t strictly necessary

Getting to Airlie Beach from the Airport

You cannot get the public bus from Whitsunday Coast Airport to Airlie Beach. Instead, you’ll need to hire a car from one of the many rental agencies at the airport or book a transfer

Transfers cost $25 one-way from Whitsunday Coast Airport (PPP Airport) to Airlie Beach, or $42 for a round-trip transfer.

They drop you directly at your accommodation in Airlie Beach and surrounding suburbs. This includes Cannonvale, Shute Harbor, Jubilee Pocket and Flametree. Transfers are timed to meet the daily flight arrivals and departures. 

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Final Thoughts – Getting Around Airlie Beach

Airlie Beach offers a variety of convenient transportation options that make it possible to explore this stunning destination without the need for a rental car.

From shuttle services and public buses to walking paths and e-scooter rentals, you can easily navigate the town and its surroundings.

If you’re a family group, have young children or want to explore more of the surrounding natural wonders, like Conway National Park or Bowen, a car hire might be the best choice for you.

Whether you’re planning a relaxing getaway or an adventure-filled holiday, you’ll find getting around Airlie Beach is easy and hassle-free. Happy adventuring!

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