10 Best Day Trips from Airlie Beach (Whitsundays), Queensland

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Airlie is located on the eastern coastline of Queensland and is close to spectacular beaches, national parks and a highly rated UNESCO area. Ideally, it’s an escape from everyday life, but can you believe there are plenty of amazing day trips from Airlie Beach as well?

Whether you’re looking for an action-packed adventure or relaxing sightseeing excursions, we have some incredible ideas for you to explore. This includes hiking, island adventures, visiting the Great Barrier Reef, or exploring the nearby towns. 

So what are you waiting for? Read on to discover some of the best Airlie Beach days and extend that tropical vacation. 

Best Day Trips from Airlie Beach

Firstly, Airlie Beach doesn’t have its own domestic airport, but you can start by flying into nearby Proserpine.

However, several other ways exist to access Airlie Beach from the train, bus, shuttle, or a good old-fashioned road trip along the coast. 

There are some great things to do in Airlie Beach for families, but the perfect visit definitely means exploring beyond Airlie itself!

While it’s only a small town of 4 thousand people, it is equipped to service over half a million tourists annually.

Why, you ask? When you read the options below, I’m sure you’ll understand. 

So, let’s get to it!

1. Snorkelling in the Outer Great Barrier Reef

snorkeling from the outer great barrier reef from airlie beach.
Snorkelling in the outer Great Barrier Reef

One of the more popular day trips from Airlie Beach is snorkelling in the outer Great Barrier Reef.

This thrilling adventure will take a few hours to get to the purpose-built platform, but you’re rewarded with an underwater paradise.

The UNESCO Great Barrier Reef boasts over 1,400 species of fish, including giant Humphead Wrasse, Turtles, Clams, and Reef sharks. You might even find a Nemo or two swimming around some of the anemones. 

Diving or Snorkelling, you can discover the diverse marine life and vibrant coral gardens. Although out of the water, the pontoon is where you’ll be able to relax and refuel with delicious meals.

Additionally, there is a semi-submarine ride and a walk-through underwater chamber, and you can even take a scenic helicopter ride over the endless expanse of vibrant coral.

RECOMMENDED
underwater photo of coral and fish in great barrier reef

Outer Reef ReefWorld Pontoon Experience

  • Full-day snorkelling experience
  • Food & drink provided

Note: We have also done a similar day tour from Cairns and the whole experience was fantastic!


2. Hamilton Island

hamilton island beachfront on a clear day.
Beachfront at Hamilton Island

There are advantages to staying in Airlie Beach, as opposed to one of the Islands, primarily being more cost-effective.

But you can still see places like Hamilton Island within an hour by taking a day trip ferry. Services will run a few times daily, and you can pick and choose what suits you the best. 

Hamilton is a tropical escape that’s easily accessible and offers a ton of activities.

Surprisingly, the Island has a unique charm that can only be explored at a leisurely pace, and that’s where the golf buggy comes to the rescue. Hire one and get ready to embark on a journey of discovery around the Island. 

Remember to make a stop at Catseye Beach for a refreshing swim, soaking up the sun, or try paddle boarding or snorkelling in the calm bay.

Another must-visit spot is One Tree Hill, which offers stunning views across the Whitsunday Islands.


3. Conway National Park

cedar creek falls from airlie beach.
Cedar Creek Falls

The Conway National Park is close to Airlie Beach, but since it’s over 200 square kilometres in size, a whole day is needed to see just a small portion.

Also, there are many different access points between the waterfall swimming and hiking. 

One of the best places to visit there is Cedar Creek Falls, especially in the summer rainy season. It’s not only a gorgeous waterfall but also a refreshing swimming spot perfect for those hot summer days.

Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that such a stunning attraction is completely free and only a short 20-minute drive from the town centre. 

For those after a bit of a challenge, Honeyeater Lookout is definitely the best hike near Airlie Beach!

Sure, the 2-hour one-way ascent may leave you a bit breathless, but trust me, the stunning views from the top are well worth it.

On a clear day, you’ll be blown away by the incredible beauty of the bushland, an aerial glimpse of the town centre, and the incredible wildlife you’ll spot along the way. 

RECOMMENDED TOUR: If you don’t have your own transport, this Cedar Creek Falls day trip takes you to see the waterfalls, with the chance to swim and hike, then lunch at Notherlies Beach Bar (included).


4. Whitehaven Beach & Hill Inlet

view of hill inlet from the lookout in the whitsundays.
Hill Inlet

No visit to Airlie Beach would be complete without a day trip to Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet.

It’s no secret that this is one of the most popular things to do – apart from snorkelling or diving the Great Barrier Reef, of course. 

It has been named the most beautiful beach in Queensland!

With crystal-clear water and fine, white silica sand, it’s no wonder this shore is such a crowd favourite. Not only is it brilliant to look at, but the sand has lovely exfoliating properties that will leave your skin feeling younger and fresher. 

But what about Hill Inlet? Well, it’s just a short distance away and included on most tours to Whitehaven Beach.

Hill Inlet Lookout is your picture passcard location and the Instagramable spot always advertising the Whitsundays. You’ll be treated to a mesmerising display of swirling sands and ever-changing watercolours that will leave you in awe. 

RECOMMENDED
view of whitehaven beach front on a clear day.

Whitsundays Ocean Rafting Full Day Tour

  • Full-day eco-adventure tour
  • Hill Inlet, snorkelling & walks
  • Pre-paid lunch optional

Want to splurge? For the ultimate experience, add a scenic flight to your ocean rafting day tour! See the famous Heart Reef!


5. Day Dream Island

lagoon pool at day dream island in queensland.
The Lagoon Pool on Day Dream Island

Day Dream Island is the perfect spot for a day trip from Airlie Beach.

This small island, located just a stone’s throw away from the mainland, boasts crystal-clear waters that are ideal for swimming and an incredible living reef that surrounds the buildings. 

Not only that, but you can take time to explore the unique flora and fauna that make up this beautiful oasis. From the resident wildlife to the colourful plants, there is so much to discover on this island.

And if all that relaxation works up your appetite, you’ll find no shortage of delicious dining options at the resort. 


6. See the Kangaroos at Cape Hillsborough

kangaroos on the beach at sunrise at cape hillsborough national park in queensland.
Kangaroos on the beach at sunrise

When it comes to Australia, seeing kangaroos is a must for any tourist. But let’s face it, trying to find them in the wild can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

That’s where the Cape Hillsborough Kangaroo experience comes in. 

Not only will you get the chance to see these amazing creatures up close, but you’ll also get to witness their daily routine of feeding on the beach at sunrise.

Yes, it may require waking up early, but let me tell you, it’s absolutely worth it! 

Imagine meeting these friendly creatures and even getting a chance to snap some selfies with them. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you won’t forget anytime soon. 


7. Check out the Bowen Mango Centre

the big bowen mango in in bowen, queensland.
The Big Mango at the Bowen Tourist Information Centre

If you’re a fan of juicy, sweet Mangos, then you will absolutely love visiting Bowen, Queensland’s Mango Heaven.

And, if you’re looking for an added bonus, you can also get a glimpse of another “Big Thing” in Australia.

The Bowen Tourist Information Centre is only a short drive north of Airlie, and it’s the perfect place to stop and snap a photo with the big Mango. 

And what better way to cool down than with some delicious Mango ice cream or frozen fruit slices?

So, if you happen to find yourself at the centre, be sure to grab a little tub for yourself. It’s absolutely worth it! But fair warning, you’ll want to gobble it down quickly before it melts in the heat or eat it inside. 

The centre also offers souvenirs, clothing, and other local products. So, if you’re in the mood for a sweet treat and some unique shopping, this is the place for you.


8. Check out the town of Bowen.

a sunny day on horseshoe bay beach in the coastal town of bowen.
Horseshoe Bay

Take your visit to Bowen one step further and drive into town for the Beaches. This charming town on the north coast is home to not one, not two, but eight stunning beaches, each with its own unique character and charm. 

And of all the beaches in Bowen, Horseshoe Bay may take the cake when it comes to sheer natural beauty and serenity.

Whether you’re looking for a quiet place to soak up the sun or an action-packed day of swimming, you’ll find it all at Horseshoe Bay. 

From there, head on over to Flagstaff Hill for a truly stunning 360-degree view of the town and the surrounding islands. And in the winter months, keep your eyes peeled for whales breaching in the distance.

Once you’ve had your fill of panoramic views, why not grab a fresh-off-the-trawler lunch from the seafood co-op? 


9. Finch Hatton Gorge

finch hatton gorge near mackay with waterfall flowing into water.
Finch Hatton Gorge

Finch Hatton Gorge would have to be the best out of all of the freshwater swimming holes in Queensland.

The waterfall runs all year round, and during the winter months, there might be times you can access it with a standard two-wheel drive vehicle. 

Know there are two main areas you can swim in. The closer and more popular spot is called the “Arulean Cascades.”

But if you’re up for a bit more of a hike and fewer crowds, you can also check out the “Wheel of Fire.” 

Regardless of your choice, both falls are accessible 24 hours a day, although I highly recommend experiencing them during daylight hours for safety. Plus, take advantage of the bathrooms at the car park before setting out on your adventure.


10. Mackay

view of one of the beaches in mackay on a clear day.

Mackay, often hailed as the sugar capital of Australia, is another worthwhile choice for a day trip from Airlie Beach – although a fair distance!

A 2-hour drive south will introduce you to this vibrant coastal city that has some surprising hidden gems on its doorstep.

While fish and chips at the Mackay Marina are always a must, it’s the natural beauty of the area that really shines.

Mackay is home to a number of stunning national parks, including Eungella National Park – one of Queensland’s most ecologically diverse parks.

The park is an important habitat for plant and animal species, such as the elusive platypus, echidnas, wallabies and a variety of colourful birdlife. We spent ages trying to spot platypus and were rewarded with a couple of shy peeks out of the water.

For those feeling adventurous, there are plenty of hiking trails that offer scenic views and opportunities to spot native animals in their natural habitats.

You can definitely combine this day trip with Cape Hillsborough and Finch Hatton Gorge if you set off really early. A big day but a great one!

Half of the extended Connors’ family are from Mackay so we have been a few times.

How many days do you need in Airlie Beach?

Trust me, five days is the sweet spot for an ideal itinerary in Airlie Beach.

You will have enough time to hit all the major highlights in town, like the Lagoon, or maybe a sunset cruise. And manage a couple of day trips away with the selection above. 

You’ll get to soak up the laid-back vibe and vibrant atmosphere of the Whitsundays while enjoying all the amenities this charming beach town offers.

Whether you want to lounge on the beach, hike through the rainforest, or take a boat tour to the Great Barrier Reef, you can do it all with five days in Airlie Beach. 

The best time to visit Airlie Beach

view of whitehaven beach front on a clear day.
Whitehaven Beach

If you’re someone who loves warm weather all year round, then Airlie Beach is just the perfect place to visit!

With summer temperatures prevailing throughout the year, you can always throw on some flip-flops and head out to soak up the sun. 

However, if you’re planning your trip during the winter season between June and August, don’t forget to carry a light sweater or jacket, as it might get a bit chilly in the evenings. 

For those who prefer a less crowded vacation and are willing to score some bargain prices, consider visiting during the shoulder seasons from March to May or September to November.

When is stinger season?

If you’re planning a trip to Airlie Beach during the Australian summer season, make sure you’re aware of the stinger season that runs from November to March.

The summer season is undoubtedly the busiest time to visit, but it’s also the time of year when jellyfish, or “stingers,” are more likely to be present in the waters. 

But don’t let that discourage you from taking a dip!

The locals take extreme precautions by setting up nets around swimming areas and wearing Lycra suits to minimise the risk of getting stung. If you are visiting during Airlie Beach stringer season, following your lifeguard’s lead is essential to make the most of your time on any beach in the Whitsundays. 

Best Way To Day Trip From Airlie Beach

There’s not doubt that Whitsunday’s day trips from Airlie Beach are a huge drawcard! While some of these incredible Airlie Beach day trips just require you to get to the harbour and jump on a boat, there are a few that need a car!

If you don’t have your own car, check out Discover Cars to compare rental prices.

Another great option, if you’re planning to explore more of the Queensland coastline, is to hire a campervan or motorhome. We love Jucy for budget campers or Star RV for more comfort!

Star RV Motorhomes driving along the coastline

PLANNING AN AUSSIE ROAD TRIP?

Our favourite way to road trip Australia is by motorhome! Check out Jucy Campervans for a budget option or for extra comfort try Star RV.

Conclusion – Best Day trips from Airlie Beach

When you come to any of the Day trips from Airlie Beach, I strongly recommend taking advantage of all the beautiful sites of nature and culture that are offered. This extends from the Whitsunday islands to the stunning scenery within close proximity of the city.

Whether it’s trekking through lush green rainforest, sunbathing on white sandy beaches, or hopping from island to island. The city is a true getaway with plenty of chances for adventure and discovering something new. 

Start creating those unforgettable memories today with your closest friends, family, or even by yourself. 

AUTHOR BIO: Chris Fry is the writer and photographer behind Aquarius Traveller, where she shares her journeys and provides valuable information and inspiration for your destination travels. She lives in Australia and has travelled to 36 countries and in-depth across Australia.

dont miss these best airlie beach day trips.