The backpacker mecca of Airlie Beach is the main hop-on point for the famous Whitsunday sailing tours that seem to be on everyone’s list.
It’s also a renowned party spot, with a permanent holiday feel where the good times never stop rolling.
But there’s also a lot more to Airlie Beach as I discovered recently when I stopped there as part of my epic roadtrip around Australia on a shoestring.
With hundred dollar sailing trips being way out of my budget and all night party days being way back in the past, it was good to see a different side to this growing coastal resort.
So, with budget in mind and with healthy, happy travel at the heart of BWSP, here are the 10 best free things to do in Airlie Beach I loved.
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#1 Cane Toad Racing
Taking place every Thursday night (toad population allowing of course) the cane toad racing held at Magnums is a must-see, if only as a cultural insight.
This slightly weird Queensland tradition is as old as the hills and basically a good excuse for everyone to go down the pub, sink a few cold ones and put on a few bets.
It’s amazing how it still draws the crowds in and the atmosphere is definitely amusing if nothing else!
If you’re considering what to do in Airlie Beach, don’t miss this one!
#2 Stroll to Cannonvale
The wonderful suburb of Cannonvale is just next to Airlie Beach and is where many of the locals in the area actually live.
Stretched out along the coast, you can take the fabulous 3.6 km Bicentennial Walkway from Airlie to Cannonvale passing Shingley Beach and Abell Point Marina on your way.
In addition to the great views and sea air, the walkway also boasts an outdoor gym series and some lovely botanic gardens.
Once in Cannonvale, enjoy the low key atmosphere and mingle with locals at the fabulous Fat Frog Beach Café.
I enjoyed a great breakfast there so it comes recommended!
#3 Visit the Airlie Beach Markets
Held every Saturday morning, this small local market is the beating heart of this community and nearly everyone tips up to say hello!
Enjoy a lively atmosphere accompanied by stalls selling locals crafts, fruit, vegetables, flowers and gifts.
Held right on the Airlie Beach Esplanade, it’s hard to miss this bubbling hub of weekly activity.
#4 Relax at the Lagoon
Everyone’s favourite, the Airlie Beach Lagoon is the backpacker epicentre during the day before the bars get going.
Join the crew by spreading out your towel on the manmade beach and enjoy the wonderful croc-free swimming facilities as you gaze out over the ocean and the beautiful Whitsunday Islands beyond.
There’s lifeguards on duty every day at the Lagoon and during the summer months, when dangerous stingrays are a real issue in these parts, the lagoon is a welcome blessing.
#5 Hike in Conway National Park
Just 26km from Airlie along the Shute Harbour Road, Conway National Park is a shiny gem in the Whitsunday area.
With a number of different walks, this is a great way to experience the diverse range of vegetation in the area and to realise the forest here can be just as beautiful as the beaches.
Take the track into Swamp Bay if you’re interested in some secluded bush camping for the night, or turn off at the sign to Mount Rooper to enjoy spectacular views of the Molle islands as you ascend through the rainforest.
#6 Discover Hydeaway Beach
If you’re looking to get away from the crowds then Hydeaway Bay, which certainly lives up its name, is the place to head!
A short drive from Airlie Beach, this gorgeous stretch of sand is accompanied by a tiny township, but you’re still likely to have the place to yourself.
Snorkel in the crystal waters or just relax and enjoy the peace and quiet.
With no shops or traffic, this is the place to truly unwind.
Stay at the wonderful Hydeaway Bay Caravan Park for a night if you can’t tear yourself away.
#7 Take the Airlie Creek Track
Starting from the back of the Airlie township, this gorgeous path is only short, but leads to some striking views of the Whitsunday Islands as you past gorgeous fig trees and stumble upon some super natural rock pools.
From the Airlie Creek Track you can also pick up some other trails including the Honeyeater walk – an 8km amble that boasts some wicked rainforest experiences.
#8 BBQ on the Foreshore
After the heat of the day has passed, there’s nothing better than getting outside during the evening at Airlie Beach and enjoying the wonderful temperatures and climate.
Dining al-fresco is one of the best ways to do this and for those on a budget, the free BBQs along the Airlie foreshore are the perfect solution.
Enjoy the picnic tables and some good tucker as you look back on a day in what many people call paradise.
#9 Swim at Cedar Creek Falls
Halfway between Airlie Beach and Proserpine on Saltwater Creek Road, this gorgeous set of waterfalls is well worth the short detour.
With water running almost all year road, this is the place to spot some great wildlife and enjoy a picnic in nature.
Hike to the top of falls for some stellar views, before returning to the bottom for a swim and to cool off.
I saw tons of turtles when I was here, as well as some great goannas and beautiful butterflies, so this really is a great destination for the wildlife seekers among you.
#10 Snap Dingo Beach
And coming in at number one is the formidable Dingo Beach.
Just 45km from Airlie, this place feels like a world away with its peaceful, quiet local ambience.
As one of my top off-the-beaten track places to visit in Queensland, this one-street, one-horse town boasts a pub where you can enjoy a cold drink and, well that’s about it.
However, you don’t need much more as Dingo Beach is like paradise.
Now, I’ve seen some good beaches in my time, but even I was speechless when I turned the corner and saw the beauty of Dingo Beach spread out before me.
The stunning weather helped a lot, but regardless this place is a must on anybody’s Whitsunday itinerary.
Best Budget Accommodation in Airlie Beach
If you’re looking for somewhere cheap to stay in Airlie Beach (not always easy!) I strongly recommend Nomads Airlie Beach.
These guys are one of the only places to offer camping in the heart of town, making them the best bargain by far!
Otherwise, Whitsunday on the Beach with their free wifi and self-contained ensuites with kitchenettes make the perfect Airlie Beach treat!
Want a Cheap Trip to the Whitsundays?
If you’re looking for a great budget tour to the Whitsunday Islands, then check out this top option, which includes a 6 hour cruise and free time on the famous Whitehaven Beach.
5 Essential Packing Items for Airlie Beach
#1 Good Camera – You will be pretty much snapping non-stop in Australia and will need a good camera to do this gorgeous country justice. I highly recommend the Sony A6000, which I use for all my travels and love, not least because it’s light, compact and robust!
#2 Good Walking Shoes – There will be a lot of walking in Australia – from cities to national park! Make sure your feet are comfortable therefore with a pair of New Balance Trainers. Perfect for stylish strollling, I love mine
#3 Good Guidebook – I’m still a massive fan of the Lonely Planet Guidebooks and do think their Australia edition is well put together
#4 Good Water Bottle – Travelling in hot old Australia can be thirsty work, so make sure you have a metal water bottle that you can refill as you go, because tap water is drinkable… and free!
#5 Good Sun Hat – And there’s no denying you’ll need a good sun hat for protection in Australia too. In my opinion you can’t go past this Hello Sunshine one, which is both gorgeous and ideal for keeping the rays off your face.
Travel Insurance for Airlie Beach & The Whitsundays
World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance. Buy at home or while travelling and claim online from anywhere in the world.
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So that’s it folks, my list of the 10 best free things to do in Airlie Beach.
Have you been to this classic Aussie spot?
What was your favourite thing to do there?