Ultimate Whitsundays Itinerary: 4 Days in Airlie Beach (2024)

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A visit to the remarkable Whitsunday Islands, nestled off the coast of central Queensland, has long been on my Australia travel bucket list. When a last-minute opportunity arose to assist a friend with a photography assignment in the Whitsundays came up, I couldn’t believe my luck! 

My flights were booked on Monday, and by Thursday night I was already mid-air, en route from Perth to the Whitsundays for what was going to be an unforgettable week filled with adventures. I spent three exhilarating days sailing the Whitsundays on a yacht, before spending the rest of the week in Airlie Beach. 

Based on this, I’ve crafted the ultimate Whitsundays itinerary. This itinerary provides a perfect mix of adventuring and relaxing, whilst exploring the wonders of the Whitsunday Islands. Let’s get into it!

Airlie Beach or Hamilton Island?

This itinerary has you based in Airlie Beach on the mainland. Airlie Beach is the main hub and gateway to explore the Whitsunday Islands with most tours and sailing charters departing from the Airlie Beach port.

However, airlines also fly directly to Hamilton Island. Hamilton Island is a smaller island in the Whitsundays, located a 60-minute ferry ride from Airlie Beach.

Airlie Beach has more accommodation options and nightlife. It does attract more of a backpacker crowd than Hamilton Island, but don’t let this deter you.

I stayed in Airlie Beach as a solo female traveller in my 30s and met a wide mix of people – from other solo travellers to couples and families on holiday. 

Airlie Beach has more things to do and offers more day trip options as most tours leave from the mainland, making it a better option for those like me wanting to explore more of the Whitsunday Island region. It can also be cheaper than Hamilton Island.

If you’re wanting a slower-paced holiday, with more “island vibes,” on-island exploring and lazing by the pool, Hamilton Island might be a better fit for you.

If you’ve got more time up your sleeve, you could consider staying in Airlie Beach for three nights and then catching the ferry to Hamilton Island and spending a couple of nights there to experience both. 

The popular Whitehaven beach in Airlie Beach.

How to Get to Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays?

There are two airports in the Whitsundays; Hamilton Island Airport and Whitsunday Coast Airport (also known as Proserpine Airport). If you stay in Airlie Beach, you’ll want to book flights to Whitsunday Coast Airport.

Jetstar, Qantas, Virgin Australia, Bonza and Skytrans Airlines fly into Whitsunday Coast Airport. You can fly directly from Melbourne and Sydney, otherwise a connection is required in Brisbane. 

Flying from Perth to the Whitsundays took a flight from Perth to Brisbane (4 hours), followed by a connecting flight from Brisbane to Whitsunday Coast Airport (1.5 hours).

Whitsunday Coast Airport to Airlie Beach is a 30-minute drive.

You’ll find the usual car hire companies (like Europcar, Budget and Avis) have service desks at the airport near the baggage collection area. For the best prices on car rentals, compare rental companies on Discover Cars.

Read my guide on whether you need to hire a car to get around Airlie Beach and its surrounds, and options for public transport.

There are numerous companies offering shuttle services to Airlie Beach. These air-conditioned minivans offer stress-free transits from door to door for $25 one-way or $42 round-trip. 

Click here to book your transfer now

Whitsundays 4 Day Itinerary 

Day 1: Explore Airlie Beach & Hike to Honeyeater Lookout

Welcome to the Whitsundays! Spend your first day settling into and getting familiar with Airlie Beach. 

Explore Airlie Beach

Wander down the main street of Airlie Beach… which is actually called Main St! This busy hub is the heart of Airlie Beach, with lots of accommodation, dining options, boutiques and tour businesses lining the street. 

You’ll also find a Woolworths supermarket if you need to grab any essentials. 

The busy Airlie Beach Main St.

Airlie Beach Lagoon

The main drawcard of Airlie Beach is the man-made lagoon.

With views of the sparkling ocean, lifeguards watching the pool, shaded areas and lots of spaces to chill out, it’s no wonder that the Airlie Beach lagoon is a popular spot… plus it’s free! 

Airlie Beach Lagoon

I’d also recommend going for a stroll along the waterfront.

I walked from the Lagoon along Airlie Esplanade, passing by the popular and busy “The Pub” underneath Airlie Beach Hotel.

Wander along the path lined with palm trees, where there are lots of shaded tables and rest spots. The large grassed area here is the home of the regular Whitsunday Saturday Markets

Make sure to check out these local markets held from 7am – 1pm on Saturdays if you’re in town. The markets also occasionally pop-up at other times during the week, when a cruise ship is in town. 

If you continue walking past the Sailing Club for another 5 minutes, you’ll come across Boathaven Beach.

Boathaven Beach is a quiet, sandy beach fringed with palm trees. There is a stinger net here, making it a safer option for an ocean dip. 

Honeyeater Lookout

The Honeyeater Lookout Trail is one of the best hikes near Airlie Beach. Starting from Kara Crescent in the suburbs behind the main street, prepare for a short but steep uphill climb. Allow 3 hours, return trip.

The highlight of this 8km return trail is the lookout which gives a panoramic view across Airlie Beach and the sparkling blue ocean.

Honeyeater Lookout and Trail is part of Conway National Park, which we’ll be exploring more on another day of your Whitsundays adventure! 

Day 2: Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet Lookout

This was the day I was most excited for during my week-long Whitsundays trip… laying eyes on the remarkably white sand of Whitehaven Beach and the shifting tidal patterns as seen at Hill Inlet Lookout.

The photos you see online aren’t edited – the colours really are that vivid! 

Unless you are on a private yacht or charter, the best way to visit these two iconic Whitsunday locations is on a tour. Many companies offer day tours that will take you to both of these spots. 

Ocean Rafting Tour

I booked my tour with Ocean Rafting as they had great reviews and offered a full-day tour that included a visit to Hill Inlet Lookout, Whitehaven Beach and a snorkelling spot. 

I also liked that they had two Whitehaven tour options; one offering more time on Whitehaven Beach (which I chose) and one that offered two snorkelling spots with less time on Whitehaven Beach. 

One of the exciting tours you can do in Whitsunday is Ocean Rafting Tour.

This tour was a brilliant day out – the two crew members were lots of fun and made sure we had a great day out. Ocean Rafting have semi rigid inflatable vessels that offer one of the fastest options to get across to the Whitsunday Islands, and they can also pull up onto the beach directly.

At Hill Inlet and Whitehaven Beach, the people on larger cruise boats had to come across in a small tender in small groups, whereas we could pull our boat right up to the beach. 

I chose the option without lunch, taking my own packed picnic lunch and snacks for the day. You can add a packed lunch onto your tour that the Ocean Rafting team provides, and you can buy soft drinks on board the boat.

Each boat has a maximum of 32 passengers, so you’re in a smaller group environment for these tours than the larger cruise companies. 

In summary, reasons why I went with and loved this tour:

  • Fastest travel time from Airlie Beach to the Whitsunday Islands
  • Vessels can pull up directly onto the beach
  • Smaller group numbers
  • Option for provided lunch, or bring your own
  • Fun and adventurous day tour
  • Two tour options; one with more time on Whitehaven Beach (Southern Lights option), one with more snorkelling time (Northern Exposure option)

Click here to check availability

Read my other tips to make the most of your day exploring Whitehaven Beach

Other Tour Recommendations

For a less adventurous option with a more comfortable cruising experience, I’d recommend the Full-Day Eco Cruise with Red Cat Adventures. 

This was my second choice of tour on a custom-built catamaran. This tour offers two different snorkelling spots on the outer fringes of the Great Barrier Reef plus visits to Hill Inlet Lookout and Whitehaven Beach. Lunch, morning and afternoon tea are provided. 

You can also go on a Whitehaven beach tour for a less adventurous tour option in Whitsundays.

For a different kind of cruise, consider this Full-Day Camira Sailing Adventure. Lounge in the sun on the nets of the catamaran, and enjoy a gourmet lunch, beer and wine on this all-inclusive cruise. 

For all other Whitehaven Beach tours, browse all tours on offer here

Note that not all of these will include a visit to Hill Inlet Lookout, but the specific ones I have linked above do.

Day 3: Conway National Park & Cedar Creek Falls

Only a short drive from the hustle and bustle of Airlie Beach you’ll find nature paradise at the sprawling Conway National Park.

The park spans almost 75 km of coastline, covering the entire Cape Conway peninsula. The vegetation is largely tropical rainforest, with patches of mangroves. 

Coral Beach Hike and Beak Lookout

There are many hiking options, including multi-day hikes, but I decided to head out on an adventure on the Coral Beach hiking trail. As the name suggests, the beach isn’t sandy but instead is made up of thousands of pieces of washed-up coral.

For more information on the hike itself and what to expect, read my dedicated guide here.

The hike itself wasn’t too challenging, the hardest part was tackling the midday heat on my way back to the starting point after spending a morning enjoying the beach almost to myself. 

Head out to the Coral beach for a leisurely hike along its  hiking trails.

Once you come out of the rainforest onto Coral Beach, head right down the beach to find another 10-15 minute trail that takes you to Beak Lookout. 

At Beak Lookout, you’ll get a panoramic view of the coastline and surrounding islands. 

The hike, beach and lookout were all very quiet and was an unexpected highlight of my visit to Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays. 

One of the many hiking options in Airlie Beach is the Coral Beach hiking trail.

Shute Harbour 

After the hike, you can head down the road to Shute Harbour where many of the inter-island ferry transfers depart from. 

Lion’s Lookout above the harbour offers views across the harbour and surrounding islands. Down at the harbour, Explore 74 cafe provides a spot to escape the heat and enjoy a coffee or light meal.  

Cedar Creek Falls

Another highlight of Conway National Park is Cedar Creek Falls. You’ll find these falls on the other side of the National Park, halfway between Airlie Beach and Prosperine. 

It’s a 30-minute drive from Airlie Beach, but you can park directly at the falls with only a short, easy walk required before you reach the pool at the base of the falls. 

Unless you join a tour, a car is required to reach Cedar Creek Falls. 

The best time to visit the falls is during the wet season, usually around November to March.

I spoke to the ladies at the Visitor Centre in Airlie Beach the day before I was planning on heading out to the falls, and I’m glad I did. They didn’t recommend visiting as there was no flowing water, and the pool at the base was more of a stagnant pond than the tropical swimming hole that I had envisioned. 

In summary: Cedar Creek Falls is worth visiting, but only during the wet season months between November and March. 

If you don’t have a car, you can join this tour that departs from Airlie Beach, which also includes lunch at Northerlies Beach Bar and a swim at their beautiful beach. 

Day 4: Scenic Flight, Bicentennial Walkway & Cannonvale Beach

Whitsundays Scenic Flight

Kick off your last day in the Whitsundays with a bucket list item and hop aboard a scenic flight to see the Great Barrier Reef from above. This includes the iconic heart-shaped reef that you’ve likely seen on tourism posters for the Whitsundays all over Airlie Beach! 

I went on this scenic flight with Ocean Rafting and had an incredible experience.

My favourite thing about this scenic flight (other than the insane views of course!) is that every passenger gets a window seat – so everyone gets an incredible view.

The flight passes over the Great Barrier Reef, including the famous Heart Reef, before heading to fly directly over Hill Inlet and Whitehaven Beach. 

You can see a short highlights video from my flight on Instagram here.

While it isn’t a cheap experience (my flight cost me around $300), I think it was worth every dollar…it really is the best way to appreciate the incredible Great Barrier Reef, and is a bucket list experience that I’ll remember and treasure forever. 

Book your bucket list scenic flight experience

Tip: your booking includes a transfer from your Airlie Beach accommodation to the small airport, located 10 minutes from town. At the airport, you’ll find the Hangar Café and Bar serving meals and coffee. 

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Bicentennial Walkway

After your scenic flight, spend your last afternoon around Airlie Beach. 

Take a stroll along the Bicentennial Walkway, which connects Airlie Beach Lagoon to Cannonvale, the neighbouring suburb to Airlie Beach.

This 4km long boardwalk and trail hugs the coastline, taking you past Coral Sea Marina along the waterfront. 

If you’re in need of refreshment, stop by My Rainbow Cafe or continue to Cannonvale Beach where you’ll find Fat Frog Beach Cafe, a popular spot with locals.

At Cannonvale Beach you can go for a swim as there is a section of the beach protected by stinger nets. 

Enjoy the rest of your day relaxing around Airlie Beach, whether by taking a dip in the lagoon again, browsing the local boutiques or dining at the many restaurants scattered around the main street. 

Northerlies Beach Bar and Grill

Located on the water’s edge, Northerlies Beach Bar and Grill is an underrated gem tucked away 15 minutes north of Airlie Beach.

There is a free shuttle service that departs from Airlie Beach regularly, offering return transfers from the restaurants. 

Highly recommend visiting if you have time for lunch or dinner, and enjoy a dip or stroll along the beach during your visit. 

Sunset Cruise

Alternatively, for a final send-off and one last chance to soak in the view of the Whitsunday Islands, join this 2-hour sunset cruise with sparkling wine

You’ll get to watch Airlie Beach illuminate with the setting sun from the comfort of the purpose-built catamaran while watching out for turtles – a memorable way to cap off an all round amazing few days in the beautiful Whitsundays. 

That wraps up this 4 Days Whitsundays Itinerary.

Keep reading on for 5 and 7 day itinerary options.

5 Day Whitsundays Itinerary

If you have an extra day up your sleeve, I would recommend heading on a day trip to one of the surrounding islands. 

Day Trip to Hamilton Island

My pick would be a Hamilton Island day trip. You can get a ferry from Airlie Beach, which takes 60 minutes and has several morning departure options (check the latest timetable here). 

Don’t forget to check the departure times to get back to Airlie Beach! It costs around $120 for a return ferry ticket to Hamilton Island.

Spend the day exploring the small island.

Hike one of the island’s most popular trails, the Passage Peak trail. Or spend the day at the main beach on Hamilton Island, Catseye Beach, where you can rent paddle boards and kayaks.

Alternatively, spend the day lazing by the Main Pool, which includes a swim-up island bar. Tropical bliss! 

You can book a Hamilton Island Freestyle package. With this package, for a small additional cost on top of what return ferry tickets would cost anyway you get a pub-style lunch included. 

Alternatively, consider spending a couple of nights on Hamilton Island for a change of pace from Airlie Beach. A range of accommodation is available, although prices are higher than you’ll likely find in Airlie Beach. 

Browse all accommodation offerings here

7 Day Whitsunday Itinerary

Sailing Tour

For a week in the Whitsundays, consider an overnight trip.

This 2 night Whitsunday Islands Sailing Tour will have you soaking up the highlights of the Whitsundays with daily snorkelling stops and visits to bays and beaches that the regular day trips don’t make it to. 

Another awesome tour to include in your Whitsunday itinerary is a sailing tour.

Also on offer is a 2-day Whitsunday Sailing and Camping trip. Camp on the beach and wake up in paradise! 

Alternatively, spend a night or two on one of the other islands. Hamilton Island or Daydream Island are popular choices, but for something different consider staying on Long Island. 

Long Island

We spent an afternoon at Palm Bay Resort, paddling along the shore on Stand Up Paddle Boards and sipping cocktails by the ocean. 

The accommodation offering includes beachfront Balinese-style bungalows that look incredibly idyllic, plus a swimming pool by the bar. Compared to Hamilton Island and Daydream Island, this is a relatively undeveloped island paradise. 

Just note this is an adult-only resort with only guests of over 16 allowed, ensuring a truly tranquil experience. 

Where to Stay in Airlie Beach

Budget: Bush Village Holiday Cabins

I stayed at the Bush Village Holiday Cabins, which are located in Cannonvale, a 5-minute drive from Airlie Beach. These self-contained cabins are tucked down a long driveway, away from the main road and were very comfortable for my 3-night stay in Airlie Beach. 

Bush Village Holiday Cabins is a great budget option for accommodation in Whitsunday.

The small kitchenette was basic but sufficient for me to cook dinner for two nights. A great budget option just outside of town, for those that are looking for a peaceful stay away from the hustle and bustle of the main street of Airlie Beach.

Bush Village Holiday Cabins' comfortable sleeping quarter.

Mid-Range: Airlie Beach Hotel

If you want to be right in the middle of the action, then the Airlie Beach Hotel is the spot for you. There is an outdoor swimming pool, plus you’re only a few minutes walk from the Airlie Beach Lagoon. Rooms come with a balcony – book a room with a sea view for something extra special. 

For a mid-range hotel option, you can go to Airlie Beach Hotel.

Luxury: Mirage Whitsunday Apartments

These luxury self-contained apartments come with a fully equipped kitchen and balcony or patio. There are two outdoor pools, including an adults-only pool and an on-site spa. 

Where to Eat in Airlie Beach

  • Airlie Beach Treehouse: Dine outside under the canopy of trees with views across to the lagoon – plus they do an all-day breakfast.
  • Wisdom Cafe: One of the best coffee spots in town, plus tropical smoothie bowls
  • Mika Airlie Kitchen & Bar: Funky restaurant serving the best Mexican in Airlie Beach
  • Northerlies Bar & Grill: relaxed beachfront bar and dining 15 minutes from Airlie Beach
  • Fish D’Vine: upscale seafood restaurant next to Airlie Beach Hotel
  • Fat Frog Beach Cafe: buzzing cafe popular with locals opposite Cannonvale Beach
  • Shibby’s Fish & Chippery: modern fish restaurant with an outdoor balcony, located out the front of NRMA Airlie Beach Holiday Park in Cannonvale

Best Time to Visit Whitsundays

You can visit the Whitsundays all-year round

There isn’t really a “low” season, because the wet season coincides with the Australian school holidays over December and January, with eager travellers not too deterred by the warm temperatures and tropical rains during this time. 

Temperatures in the Whitsundays and Airlie Beach are warm even in winter, thanks to the tropical climate. 

September and October are generally the most popular months to visit the Whitsundays, due to the reduced chance of rain and lighter winds which make it ideal for sailing activities. From November to May, stinger suits need to be worn when swimming due to the increased risk of stingers in the water. 

Stingers in the Whitsundays

When the water begins to warm, the chance of venomous stingers (Irukandji and box jellyfish) in the water also increases. During this time, from November to May, stinger suits need to be worn when swimming.

While the chance of stingers is present all year round, it vastly increases during this period so precautions should be taken when swimming in the open ocean. 

Stinger warning sign in Whitsundays.

Final Thoughts – Airlie Beach Itinerary

Airlie Beach is the gateway to the spectacular Whitsundays, and following this 4-day itinerary will showcase the very best this tropical paradise has to offer. From relaxing by the beach or pool, to snorkelling the vibrant reef to spectacular nature hikes, this itinerary offers something for everyone. 

Whether you’re seeking adventure, relaxation, or a perfect blend of both, the Whitsundays will not disappoint. I can guarantee you’ll create special memories that will last a lifetime in this idyllic slice of Australian paradise.

I hope this guide has been useful, let me know in the comments below if you have any questions. 

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