Vagabonding Field Report: Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays, in the heart of a cyclone

Airlie Beach is a small town but quite competitive from business to business. All camping pitches we tried were no more than $25 which is very affordable compared with other campsites around Australia, but all vary in quality. The same competition goes for the bars and taverns that run the main beach street. Every bar on this strip seems to offer some sort of happy hour and in typical Australian style alcohol is cheap and abundant all day on Sundays. Expect to pay about $5-$10 for a pitcher of beer and some include a free BBQ. The most costly element is the tours that run around the Whitsundays. You could pay upwards of $60 but anything worth seeing would be $110 or more.

Describe a typical day

What would have been a typical day, turned into a 3 day stopover. We had hit Airlie Beach in the midst of a cyclone warning so it was batton down the hatches. All boats were land locked or stranded on the Islands. We did what any good traveller would do and snuggled up at a bar and drank!

The atmosphere was high at the local sports bar where we sheltered from the storm. A local band played an array of music from Johnny Cash to Guns and Roses. It seemed every disappointed and stranded traveller had made their way here bringing with them the booming atmosphere, so we danced sang and drank beer until our hearts content. The night is a vague memory but from what I gather it involved building 6 foot beer pitcher towers, at least one table dance and singing Bon Jovi as loud as my vocals would allow! I would happily recollect the end of this night if ever I remember!

After a lot of high winds and torrential downpour, two days later the boats were back on the water and after a long wait we finally boarded a ferry trip around the Whitsundays. Despite the cyclone, the weather had become clear and sunny.

We had researched several trips that ran from Airlie, each of them with their own unique take on a Whitsundays tour. We chose the calm Cruise Whitsunday ferries for half a day on Hamilton Island and half a day on Whitehaven Beach. The tours can also be done over two to three days, again they are competitive so each come at varying prices and qualities.

So we set sail! It is about 45 minutes from Airlie to Hamilton Island. The captain engaged us with several stories about the islands and pointed out any great photo opportunities. However, hold on to your hats when on the top deck the wind and waters can be a bit choppy!

Soon we were docking on the beautiful Hamilton Island. To describe my first emotion, it was like stepping into the pages of an Ian Fleming 007 novel. The Island set the perfect James Bond scene – palm trees, exotic villas, yachts I could never afford, alongside bars and restaurants that line the Island front. As the hills stretch up from the bay, various hotel and holiday homes were set amongst the luscious greenery.

We wanted to explore the Island as best we could so we utilised the local transport. Other than the buses, no cars are allowed on the Island; all residents and tourists alike have the use of golf carts. This gave a quirky character to this holiday island. Rental was tempting but not worth the $80 a day rental we would have spent for only a couple of hours use. We opted for the free bus service that tours the island. This is ideal if you don’t mind a 5 minute wait here and there. All three routes will drop you off at all relevant spots each taking a different course around the Island. As Hamilton is relatively small it doesn’t take long to get to any particular area you desire.

We stopped at various look out points to enjoy the beauty of our surroundings, taking in the vibrant greens and blues that radiate from the Island and the surrounding waters. All of this beauty is illuminated by the beautiful golden sunlight of the cloudless skies above.

After many selfies and 101 scenic photos later we jumped back on the bus to stop at the Island’ s hotel! Here we found a beautiful family friendly pool. It was busy but calm. A pool bar served us a couple of beers and we relaxed poolside taking in the sun and enjoying relaxation time. It all felt very tropical, the palm trees hang over offering some much needed shade. However, do bare in mind you have to keep an eye on your watch as it is too easy to let time slip away and miss your ferry!

We rinsed off and jumped back on the bus to stop off at a local eatery. What you will find on the right tour is that a meal would be included in the ferry cruise. So we headed down to the local tavern. We found there is a great selection of great quality food. I do consider myself a somewhat burger connoisseur and so I opted for the double bacon burger and chips. I was not disappointed. I swigged it down with a beer and sat and watched life go by. Before long it was time to climb back aboard the ferry and onwards to Whitehaven Beach, 30 mins from Hamilton.

At this point the seas had become a bit choppy. This gave us a lot of amusement watching the unfortunate few become drenched with passing waves. This also brought about a few green faces as the boat swayed from left to right and also with great force the boat found itself rocking backwards and forwards. After enduring this roller coaster boat ride before long we had reached our beach destination.


Stinger suits were handed out, these give protection from the deadly Box Jellyfish that were in the waters for the summer season. We were dropped off at the shore by a barge and made our way onto the beautiful white sands. If we wanted to find paradise this was it. The beautiful sands stretch for over a mile without any disruptions or eyesores to spoil the view. Other than the tourists brought in from the ferries, this island was uninhabited which made it peaceful and calm. I proceeded to scream Wilson in my best Tom Hanks castaway re-enactment, something that apparently only I found funny! So swiftly moving on, it felt good to see a piece of the world that hadn’t been spoiled by a Hilton Hotel or beach condos.

In our very unforgiving stinger suits we made for the crystal clear waters. It felt good to just lie back and float, staring into the vast blue sky above. We headed back to land, peeled off our suits and led out, topping up our tans and enjoying the warmth of the beautiful sunshine.

The short amount of time on this beach shot by yet again before we soon had to climb back aboard the ferry. We enjoyed a familiar English cream tea with scones, jam and clotted cream, along with various fruits. The only fault with this is trying to devour a cream covered scone and drink a hot cup of coffee with a ship almost doing backflips off a choppy sea. This was a messy affair!

Back on terra firma and after a long day it took all of ten minutes to fall off to sleep in the comfort of our campervan.

Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local
The best conversations were with the knowledgable pilot and hosts on the ferry. We were given a detailed history of Captain Cook’s discovery of the Whitsunday’s and the reason it was named so. The trivia is this, Cook discovered the passage on the Christian day of Whitsunday. The Sunday after Whitsun, interesting. We were indulged with brilliant facts of island prices and the vast fortunes spent on developments in various areas. It seemed for a small dent in a billionaire’s fortune you could obtain a small holiday island of your own. I can but dream!

Describe a challenge you faced:
The only challenge for us was waiting and biding our time during the cyclone. We were unlucky to have reached Airlie at this time. We sat watching every detail from the weather reports and talked to locals asking what they predicted. We had our hearts set on seeing the Whitsunday’s and this was put into jeopardy. We had to make a decision as time was not on our side and our schedule was slowly becoming disjointed. Fortunately we stuck it out and despite having to sacrifice other elements of our trip we didn’t regret waiting and exploring the islands.

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?
I thoroughly enjoyed the Whitsundays, it feels like no other part of Australia. The feeling that you have escaped to a small pocket of paradise. The only dislike was the little amount of time spent on Whitehaven Beach. As we were fortunate enough to have taken the half day trip to Hamilton, we felt we had seen as much as we could have done in the time given. I felt that those who had only paid for a half day trip to Whitehaven were short changed with only 45 mins spent here.

What new lesson did you learn?
Good things come to those who wait!!!

Where next?
Jervis Bay!!!

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Category: General, Oceania

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