After spending just three days at the increasingly popular holiday destination of Airlie beach, it became abundantly clear that the area has a terrific range of activities, cafés and restaurants on offer. From the incredible live music being played across a range of venues for the Airlie Beach Music Festival, to the spectacular experience of heading out to the Great Barrier Reef for snorkelling and diving – this is anything but a sleepy beach town.
Stop 1: Anchor Bar
Heading straight to Anchor Bar after checking into my accommodation at Club Croc Hotel Airlie Beach, this was well and truly the best way to start out our time in the area. First of all, it needs to be noted that Anchor Bar provides patrons with a stunning panoramic view down onto the aqua water and has a fabulous pool that is open to all guests.
On top of this, the meals and drinks are of the highest quality as we were able to sample the salt and pepper calamari (served with chips and house made tartare), the grilled coral trout, and – my favourite – the pork belly. The servings were generous and fresh, with the calamari incredibly tender and the pork belly standing out for its presentation and the way in which it was drizzled with a spiced coca cola reduction and served with pumpkin and sweet potato mash and pan charred vegetables. Anchor Bar was also one of the live music venues for Airlie Beach Music Festival, giving the bar an even more upbeat and buzzy feel.
Stop 2: Airlie Beach Music Festival
As the only waterfront music festival in tropical Australia offering three main concerts, 74 bands and a party atmosphere for a whole long weekend, Airlie Beach Festival certainly stands as a fantastic event through which to enjoy the area.
With musicians playing at venues across Airlie Beach, the festival encouraged punters to not only soak up the music on offer, but also the general vibe, food and views of the stunning beaches. Mostly consisting of blues, country and folk acts both up and coming and established, the festival attracts an audience of all ages.
Stop 3: The Markets
Just off Airlie Beach and easily located along the esplanade, are the vibrant Airlie Beach Markets. Filled with impressive works of local art, jewellery, clothing, food and souvenirs, the products are all of a high quality and easily match their beach setting. All of the stores are run by friendly locals who are more than happy to have a chat, and wandering along the many stalls serves as a great way to get a feel for the local arts culture.
Stop 4: Fat Frog Beach Café
Just across the road from Cannonvale Beach and not far out of the main strip of Airlie Beach, Fat Frog Beach Café is a trendy beach café that is a great local favourite. With its relaxed vibe, friendly staff, fast service, spectacular view onto the water, impressive Campos coffee and menu, this is an excellent spot to start off the day. We had the toasted house made muesli and for a more wholesome meal, also ordered the fresh spinach topped with a lamb cutlet, garlic roasted mushrooms, pinenuts, pickled beetroot puree and roasted pumpkin. Delicious!
Stop 5: Whitsunday Sailing Club
Being the host of the main stage of the Airlie Beach Music Festival right on the shores of Pioneer Bay and very clearly a local treasure, the Whitsunday Sailing Club was constantly filled with a great crowd. Right on the foreshore, the Sailing Club also boasts an exceptional view and a upbeat vibe with yet again truly friendly and fast service (a common theme in Airlie beach).
Seated out on the balcony to soak up the music coming from the stage below, we were lucky enough to sample the natural oysters, the crusted calamari salad and the chilli mussels. The oysters were some of the best that I have tasted, the salad was light and refreshing with scrumptious, tender calamari and the mussels were perfectly matched to rich Napoli sauce in which they were served. For the true Airlie Beach experience, dining at the Whitsunday Sailing Club is an absolute must.
Stop 6: Great Barrier Reef Adventure with Cruise Whitsundays
What could be better than setting out on a luxury vessel through the Whitsundays to spend a day snorkelling and scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef? The trip in itself out to the reef was spectacular, allowing us to look out onto the secluded islands and beaches that we passed, even stopping off at Hamilton Island to pick up more passengers. After a three hour trip we were well and truly rewarded by then having four hours moored to a pontoon, from which we could snorkel, go scuba diving, check out the views from the underwater viewing chamber and even go out in a semi-submersible to see the marine life deeper down into the water. It didn’t feel too crowded snorkelling with other people and the reefs that we could explore were well indicated, while also being patrolled for our safety. It was impressive to see the level of service from the crew members, with one member walking my nervous friend and I through the whole process of getting prepared for snorkelling – from picking out the wetsuit to anti-fogging our goggles, even advising her on the less intimidating areas to venture out to.
In addition to this, we were treated to morning tea, a huge buffet lunch and afternoon tea on the way back to Airlie Beach. The morning and afternoon teas were simple yet tasty (fruit and biscuits in the morning, muffins in the afternoon), and the buffet was hearty and well put together. Offering a range of salads, breads, pasta and cold meats I noticed many passengers going back for more.