The gateway to the Whitsundays
After flying to Australia towards the end of the Christmas period and spending a once-in-a-lifetime New Year’s Eve in Sydney, I was waving goodbye to the group of friends I had arrived in Australia with to begin the second part of my 7-week adventure – 2 weeks travelling up the East coast of Australia from Airlie Beach to Cairns. I’d be meeting up with a friend from one of my Trek America adventures, who also just happened to be in Australia over New Year, and we’d be beginning our adventure together with 5 nights based in Airlie Beach from where we could explore the Whitsundays.
While I had never been to this part of Australia before, my friend had backpacked here as a gap year student years earlier and was keen to return, hoping to party less and appreciate it more this time around.
Despite both being in our mid-30s, we had decided to go with mainly budget accommodation for the 2 weeks in order to splash out on the excursions instead. We had opted for hostel accommodation – private rooms rather than dorms, at least -in Airlie and Cairns, breaking this up with 3 nights in a budget hotel in Townsville.
For our 6 nights at Airlie Beach, we’d be staying at Magnums Backpackers resort situated right in the town centre and within walking distance of the main marina.
We arrived into the area at Hamilton Airport on one of the Whitsunday Islands, my friend flying in from Brisbane and myself from Sydney, and then boarded a pre-booked boat, with our luggage checked on board, to the Port of Airlie. From here, we caught the local bus the short, but uphill, distance into town and quickly found Magnums not far from where we were dropped.
The resort was set out around what felt like a tropical rainforest with tall trees and tropical plants growing all around the hut-like accommodation. Our upstairs room was like a box with a bunk bed in the middle, a small TV mounted on the wall and a small fridge in the corner but for the time we were planning on spending in there, it was fine.
There was a communal shower and toilet block just along the landing so we didn’t have far to to go at least. Wifi was not available in the room but could be picked up in a nearby communal outdoor seating area in the grounds – although we found the surrounding plants and trees, along with the humidity, made the area a haven for insects so even smothered in bug repellent, we had to limit the time we spent there!
Arriving late afternoon, we settled into our room then walked down to the seafront following the path along the front and out to Airlie Lagoon, a large outdoor pool. We’d taken our towels and swimwear with us and decided to cool off with a dip but were disappointed to find the water was heated too much to cool us down. This, coupled with the onset of evening bringing out the mosquitos, meant we didn’t stay long!
After popping back to the hostel to change, we were now pretty hungry so wandered along the main street in Airlie trying to decide between the many bars and restaurants offering cheap food to backpackers and eventually settling on a filling bowl of pasta at Mangrove Jacks.
After eating – and making use of the free wifi! – we stopped off at the Woolworths store next to the hostel to pick up some snacks and supplies for the next few days before returning to our room for an early night.
Before setting off on our Australian adventure, we had booked a multi-adventure ticket including a variety of excursions for our time in Airlie Beach – a trip out to the Great Barrier Reef, a day of island hopping and a day sailing around the Whitsundays with a stop off at the famous Whitehaven Beach.
We had 4 full days in the area and had planned to keep the first day as bit of a relaxation day in and and around Airlie Beach. We’d talked about including some time at Airlie Lagoon in this but having been unimpressed on our visit the previous afternoon, we were now unsure how to fill our day.
There were plenty of excursions and activities in the area being offered by various ticket agencies along the front, including kayaking trips out to see turtles and scenic flights, but it was too short notice to book for that day.
The scenic flights over the Whitsundays sounded especially appealing, so as it was fully booked for that day, we decided to book one leaving from Hamilton Island a couple of days later when we would be visiting there.
Scenic flight booked, we headed back towards Airlie Lagoon picking up Bicentennial Walkway, the path that winds its way along the seafront. We followed the path West past Coral Sea Marina and along to Shingley Beach. Here, we found a company offering kayak and paddle board rentals so we decided this would be a fun way to spend some of the day.
Hiring a 2-man kayak, we managed to paddle out against the current to the shipwreck we could see in the distance. We kept our eyes open for sea turtles along the way but unfortunately didn’t spot any. Feeling a sense of accomplishment reaching the wreck, we circled it a few times using our old skool waterproof single-use camera to snap a few pictures before paddling back to shore.
Walking back to a cafe we’d seen along the seafront for lunch, we then returned to Shingley Beach later that afternoon to give paddle boarding a go. Neither if us had tried Stand Up Paddle boarding before and we were both convinced we’d be hopeless at it and spend most of the time falling off into the water but after a quick lesson on the beach, we were delighted to find it wasn’t anywhere near as hard as it looked to clamber to an upright position on the board and stay there!
After a couple of laps of the small bay, we were actually a bit bored and ended up handing our boards back well before our full hour was up!
We spent the rest of the day wandering around the town and shopping for souvenirs before dinner at the extremely busy Hog’s Breath Cafe that evening.
Then another early night in preparation for an early start the next day. After a fun day in Airlie, we were now very excited for 3 days of excursions and getting out on the water around the Whitsunday Islands, starting with a trip to the Great Barrier Reef tomorrow…