The last leg of our Australian trip was Airlie beach. It was a 10-hour overnight bus drive from Cairns for us. But the ride suited us as we left Cairns at midnight and reached Airlie at brunch time. While Airlie beach itself is quite beautiful, we were here to visit the world-famous White haven beach.
A little bit about Whitehaven – a 5-star rated place on Trip Advisor, a consistently featuring in Top 5 beaches of the world, Australia’s cleanest beach (it is a beach on an uninhabited island). Wikipedia quotes “Whitehaven Beach is known for its bright white sands, which consist of 98% pure silica. Local rocks do not contain silica, so it has been suggested that the sands were brought to the beach by prevailing sea currents over millions of years. Unlike regular sand, the sand on Whitehaven Beach does not retain heat making it comfortable to walk barefoot on a sweltering day”.
Moreover you would see array of color as the sea water keeps changing its shades of blue with the sun. You can see the same in pics below.
Whitehaven (and Whitsunday Islands) are a day trip from Airlie Beach. Boats or Seaplanes are the only way to get there from Airlie, and it normally is a 2.5hr boat ride one way – with 2 quick pit stops on the way. Barring a 15 min stretch when the water is turbulent due to swells, the boat ride is quite peaceful, and one can enjoy all the food and wine that is generously provided by your all-inclusive ticket. Most boats leave from Airlie by 7:30am, dock there by 10:15am or so. The one we took gave us 6 hours at the beach (with an awesome lunch on the beach) to explore and started the return by 4:00pm. More on logistics later, lets return to Whitehaven.
Once there, the entire 7km stretch of pristine white beach sand is yours. Perhaps not more than 50-60 visitors for the day, and even lesser on a weekday. Water is shallow, turquoise blue and calm. Most trips deposit you at the beach, and then after some time take you in a smaller motorboat to the other end of the beach (which is heavenly) and take you thru amazing lookouts. You can walk along the beach at this end and it is out of this world. Spend 2 hours here, get back to the earlier end of the beach, have your picnic lunch, swim, soak up the sun, take a walk, run on the beach…do whatever you like because Heaven is not what you visit every day.
Time flies at the beach because it is such a marvelous place. So, there are a variety of options for tourists to visit Whitehaven. Half day trips, mornings as well as afternoons are plenty. So are the options of speedboats, normal boats, small boats and sail boats. These options are available from Airlie beach (2.5hrs) and Hamilton Island (1hr). All options from Airlie do make a mandatory stop over at Hamilton Island port. Our whole-hearted recommendation is to do the full day tour and do all that the tour guide tells you. They are the best and they know all the awesome viewpoints (like the Hill Inlet) one needs to be at for this unforgettable trip.
One more tip: Airlie beach is at the center of the arc that is the Great Barrier Reef. In fact, the little heart shaped Coral so famous in many pictures is closest to Airlie beach, and not Cairns. So, if you want to go visit the Reef, then perhaps Airlie makes a better destination than Cairns.
When to go to Whitehaven / Airlie Beach:
The Whitsundays Region is lucky enough to have suitable weather all year round for exploring the reef, however most experts cite September (early spring) as the ideal time of year to visit the Whitsundays. September provides sunny days and the least expected rainfall, with temperatures around a maximum of 26°C.
Please note – October to May is largely recognized as the peak season for stingers. Although this does effect diving and snorkeling to some degree, it can still be done safely so guests can enjoy the underwater experience. Where sufficient safety gear and appropriate precaution are taken, risks are minimalised.
How to reach Whitehaven / Airlie Beach:
Proserpine Airport (38km from Airlie beach) and Great Barrier Reef Airport (on the Hamilton Island) are the 2 airports that get you to Airlie beach. From then on, boats are the only option to get to Whitehaven.
Most flights into Airlie are from Brisbane, with 1 or 2 flights from Sydney at best. These are very small airports so do not expect flexibility (if not this flight then the other) and book in advance basis your schedule.
Driving into Airlie beach (from Cairns up north, or Brisbane down below) is another awesome way to get in. Highways are devoid of traffic, neat and have some stunning imagery as you get closer to Airlie. However, these are long drives, so pack up on food and drink as you start.
Where to Stay in Whitehaven / Airlie Beach:
There are plenty of options in Airlie – hotels as well as Airbnb. Lesser options in Hamilton Island. Get online and take your pick. Again, there is a wide range of options to choose from – budget to luxurious – for everyone. We suggest that you stay in Airlie as it makes sense if you also want to drive around the place, or like more options to eat and move around, as well as a night life.
Airlie is a one street town in my opinion so as long as the Airlie Beach Lagoon area is in your vicinity, you have pretty much everything that you need. For Indians, there is even an Indian restaurant that serves just dinner. There is also a Woolworth located quite centrally for those who want to get stuff and cook their own food.
We stayed in an Airbnb that was quite awesome. However, it was 10 min walk from the town and was uphill too. If we had known, we would have switched for a place in town. Most Airbnb would advertise “killing views of Airlie”, but that’s true for every place in there, so I would suggest go for location as the primary factor in picking up an Airbnb, and obviously the comfort unless you plan to take a car on rent there.
Do’s and Don’ts while on Whitehaven / Airlie Beach:
- First thing first, the beaches around Whitehaven and Hamilton Island do have Manta Rays / Sting Rays. So don’t venture far out from the shore, swim together as a group and do swim preferably in those full length body suits so that you are away from any harm.
- Secondly, there is no Uber in Airlie beach, only normal taxis. Most of Airlie is walkable though.
- The Proserpine Airport (if you are flying in from there) is a good 38-40km away and costs min. 60 AUD one way. So, it might be good to book rideshares / airport shuttles online and save. They have fixed time slots which is the drawback. We calculated that the cost of rideshares was as same as taxis for a family of 3-4 members. So, if you are a family of that size, taxis give you more flexibility on your time. Most taxi drivers will be happy to negotiate to a price and time of your choice once they know you are airport bound.