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Airlie Beach: 640 km (397 miles) S of Cairns; 1,146 km (711 miles) N of Brisbane. A day’s cruise or a 1-hour flight south of Cairns brings you to the dazzling collection of 74 islands known as the Whitsundays. No more than 3 nautical miles (3.4 km/2 miles) separate most of the islands, and altogether they represent countless bays, beaches, dazzling coral reefs, and fishing spots that make up one fabulous Great Barrier Reef playground. Sharing the same latitude as Rio de Janeiro and Hawaii, the water is at least 72F  / 22C year-round, the sun shines most of the year, and in winter you’ll require only a light jacket at night.
 
Most of the islands consist of densely rainforested national park land. The surrounding waters belong to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. But don’t expect palm trees and coconuts—these islands are covered with dry-looking pine and eucalyptus forests full of dense undergrowth, and rocky coral coves far outnumber the few sandy beaches. Only eight islands have resorts, but all offer just about every activity you could ever want—snorkeling, scuba diving, sailing, reef fishing, water-skiing, jet-skiing, parasailing, sea kayaking, hiking, rides over the coral in semisubmersibles, fish feeding, putt-putting around in dinghies to secluded beaches, tennis, and more! Accommodations range from small, low-key wilderness retreats to midrange family havens to one of Australia’s most luxurious resorts, Hayman.
 
The village of Airlie Beach is the center of the action on the mainland. But the islands themselves are just as good a stepping stone to the outer Great Barrier Reef as Cairns, and some people consider them better, because you don’t have to make the 90-minute trip to the Reef before you hit coral. Just about any Whitsunday island has fringing reef around its shores, and there are good snorkeling reefs between the islands, a quick boat ride away from your island or mainland accommodations.
 
The reef here is just as good as off Cairns, with many drop-offs and drift dives, a dazzling range of corals, and a rich array of marine life, including whales, mantas, shark, reef fish, morays, turtles, and pelagics. Visibility is usually around 15 to 23 m (49–75 ft.).
 
A popular reef for both snorkeling and diving is Blue Pearl Bay off Hayman Island, which has loads of corals and some gorgonian fans in its gullies, and heaps of reef fish, including Maori wrasse and sometimes manta rays. It’s a good place to make an introductory dive, walking right in off the beach. A little island commonly called Bali Hai Island, between Hayman and Hook islands, is a great place to be left to your own devices. You’ll see soft-shelf and wall coral, tame Maori wrasse, octopus, turtles, reef shark, various kinds of rays including mantas, eagles and cow-tails, plus loads of fish.
 
Exploring the Whitsundays
The little town of Airlie Beach, perched on the edge of the Coral Sea with views across Pioneer Bay and the Whitsunday Passage, is the focal point of activity on the Whitsunday mainland. Cruises and yachts depart from Shute Harbour, a 10-minute drive south on Shute Harbour Road, and Abell Point Marina, a 10-minute walk west along the foreshore or a quick drive over the hill on Shute Harbour Road. For a bird’s-eye view of it all, head to the Lions Lookout.

Watch out: Your safety in the water deadly marine stingers may frequent the shorelines of the Whitsundays from October through April. The best place to swim is in the beachfront Airlie Beach lagoon.The rivers in these parts are home to dangerous saltwater crocodiles (which mostly live in fresh water, contrary to their name), so don't swim in streams, rivers, and water holes. The season for box jelly-fish and stingers generally starts with the onset of the wet across the top of Northern Australia, usually around October and lasts until April.

Where You are Docked
Most cruises ship anchors at Pioneer Point and a regular tender and/or catamaran service operates to Abel Point Marina in Airlie Beach.
A taxi rank is located in Shute Harbour Road, an approximate two kilometre walk from the pier. A relaxed, beachside town Airlie is easy to explore on foot. Airlie Beach Ambassadors will be situated at the pier throughout the day to hand out maps and other handy tourist information
 
To make your day ashore as enjoyable as possible, wear comfortable, flat soled shoes, lightweight clothes and a hat, and bring along some sunscreen, insect repellent and bottled water. It’s also a good idea to bring an umbrella and weatherproof jacket. Don’t forget your swimming gear! Snorkelling equipment is available for hire or purchase onboard the ship. 
 
Getting Around
By Boat
 
Cruise Whitsundays (  tel. 07/4946 4662; www.cruisewhitsundays.com.au) operates Resort Connections, providing transfer services between Hamilton Island Airport and Whitsunday Coast Airport at Proserpine and Daydream Island and Long Island, as well as all Airlie Beach properties.
 
Island ferries and Great Barrier Reef cruises leave from Shute Harbour, a 10-minute drive south of Airlie Beach on Shute Harbour Road. Most other tour-boat operators and bareboat charters anchor at Abell Point Marina, a 15-minute walk west from Airlie Beach. A new marina, Port of Airlie, is under development and is expected to be open by 2015. Most tour-boat operators pick up guests free from Airlie Beach hotels and at some or all island resorts.
 
By Bus
Whitsunday Transit (  tel. 07/4946 1800; www.whitsundaytransit.com.au) meets all flights and trains at Proserpine and provides door-to-door transfers to Airlie Beach hotels or to Shute Harbour. The fare from the airport is A$15 adults and A$9 children to Airlie Beach or Shute Harbour. From the train station, it is A$8.20 for adults and A$4.20 for children to Airlie Beach or A$11 for adults and A$5.50 for children to Shute Harbour. Bookings are essential and should be made 48 hours in advance if possible. It also runs buses every half-hour between Airlie Beach and Shute Harbour.
 
By Car
Avis (  tel. 07/4967 7188), Europcar (  tel. 07/4946 4133), and Hertz (  tel. 07/4946 4687) have outlets in Airlie Beach and Proserpine Airport (telephone numbers serve both locations). Budget (  tel. 07/4945 1024) has an office at Proserpine Airport.
Island Hopping
 
Day-trippers to the resorts on Hamilton, Daydream, Long Island, and Hook Island can rent the hotels’watersports equipment, laze by the beaches and pools, scuba dive, join the resorts’activities programs, hike their trails, and eat at some or all of their restaurants. Cruise Whitsundays (  tel. 07/4946 4662; www.cruisewhitsundays.com) has an Island Hopper day pass that allows you to hop-on, hop-off at the islands, A$120 for adults or A$59 for children 5 to 15. They also offer day-trip packages (including lunch) to each of the islands.
 
Things To See and Do
 
Airlie Beach
The flat, scenic boardwalk around Airlie Beach makes it a pleasant walking area. To get farther afield, Whitsunday Transit's daily bus service connects Airlie Beach to Proserpine, Cannonvale and Shute Harbour from designated bus stops every 30 to 60 minutes.

Airlie Beach has a massive beachfront artificial lagoon, with sandy beaches and landscaped parkland, which solves the problem of where to swim in stinger season. The lagoon is the size of about six full-size Olympic swimming pools, set in 4 hectares (10 acres) of botanic gardens, with a children’s pool, plenty of shade, barbecues, picnic shelters, toilets, showers, and parking. Getting out on the water is the most important thing here. Countless opportunities are offered, with the focus firmly on sailing, snorkeling and diving.
 
Car rental options at Airlie Beach include Avis, Hertz and Thrifty car rentals, all of which have outlets there. Alternately, local rental companies include Fun Rentals. Whitsunday Taxis (book through Tourism Whitsundays, +61 7 4948 5900) are available 24 hours a day.
Hamilton Island: Golf buggies are the main form of transport on Hamilton Island. Covered two- or four-seaters are easy to drive and can be rented by the hour, for two or three hours, or for the day. Prebook with rentabug1@bigpond.com.
 
Great Barrier Reef - Outer Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the world's stunning wonders. Half the size of Texas, it can be seen from outer space, and boasts 2,900 individual reefs, 600 continental islands and 300 coral keys.

Whitsunday Island - Cruises 
The Whitsunday Passage is home to many pretty islands. Cruise past secluded beaches and coves, discovering magnificent marine life and corals, as you explore either Black Island or Hook Island.

Proserpine River & Crocodile
The Proserpine River is a unique eco-system boasting wetlands and mangroves, which are home to many species of birds, mammals and over 150 estuarine crocodiles, known locally as 'salties'.
 
Proserpine Museum 
The Proserpine Historical Museum chronicles the history of the sugar and cattle industries in the Whitsundays. View an authentic steam locomotive that worked the sugar cane fields in the 1920's.
Whitsunday Gold Coffee Plantation 
The coffee industry in the Whitsunday Islands flourished in the late 1880's and remains the number one drink. The Whitsunday Gold Coffee Plantation now farms 35 hectares of premium Arabica coffee.
Hamilton Island also offers a free shuttle covering three routes around the island, with several services per hour, from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Pickup points include the Marina Village, Catseye Beach and One Tree Hill. The island is just 3.5 kilometers by 5 kilometers, so walking between attractions is also an option.
 
Fishing
Reef fishing is superb throughout the islands; red emperor, coral trout, sweetlip, and snapper are common catches. One of the most popular charter vessels is the 16m (52-ft.) timber cruiser Moruya (tel. 07/4948 1029 or 0400/450 111 mobile phone). Day trips depart Shute Harbour daily at around 8am. They include lunch, bait, and fishing rods. The crew will even clean your catch for you. Adults pay A$150, students and children 4 to 14 pay A$90, and families of four pay A$330.
 
If you want to undertake your own fishing expedition, Harbourside Boat Hire, in Shute Harbour (tel. 07/4946 9330), rents motorized dinghies for A$60 for a half-day or A$90 for a full day. Half-cabin cruisers cost A$90 for a half-day, A$150 for a full day. They also rent fishing rods and sell tackle, bait, ice, and anything else you might need for angling.
 
Ecotours
Visitors to the Whitsundays can get up close and personal with crocodiles in their natural habitat with Proserpine River Eco Tours (tel. 07/4948 3310; www.crocodilesafari.com.au), which combines an open-air wagon ride through the pristine Goorganga wetlands and a boat trip on the river to learn more about one of Queensland's major crocodile-breeding grounds. This is the only place to see crocs in safety in the wild south of the Daintree. Bus pickups operate from Airlie Beach, Cannonvale, and Proserpine for the tours, which run about 4 hours, depending on tides, and cost A$110 for adults, A$55 for kids 1 to 14. Back on land, you'll enjoy billy tea, the best damper I've ever tasted (and they'll even give you the recipe), and a talk on native wildlife over a barbecue lunch.
 
Great Whitsunday Walking
The Whitsundays Great Walk -- one of six Great Walks of Queensland -- covers 36km (22 miles) in Conway State Forest and Conway National Park, behind Airlie Beach. The trail starts at the end of Brandy Creek Road, a short drive from Cannonvale, and winds in three stages from Brandy Creek to Airlie Beach, with two campsites at 12km (7 1/2-mile) intervals. The hills here are rich in giant strangler figs, ferns, and palms, and if you're lucky, you'll spot a giant blue Ulysses butterfly. Walkers should carry drinking water, because the water in natural systems is not good for drinking.
 
A permit is required for overnight walks and must be booked in advance (tel. 13 74 68 in Australia). The cost is A$5.15 per person or A$21 for a family of two adults and up to six children ages 5 to 17. More information on this and other walks, including the new Ngaro Sea Trail, which links sea routes with walks on Hook, Whitsunday, and South Molle islands, can be obtained from the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service information center, Shute Harbour Road at Mandalay Road (tel. 07/4967 7355) 2.5km (1 1/2 miles) northeast of Airlie Beach. It's open Monday through Friday from 9am to 4:30pm.
For more details on all Great Walks, go to www.derm.qld.gov.au/parks_and_forests/great_walks.
 
Golfing
Queensland's Hamilton Island Golf Club (tel. 07/4948 9760; www.hamiltonislandgolfclub.com.au) has opened as Australia's only 18-hole championship golf course on its own island. The 6,120m (6,690 yard), par-71 course sits on Dent Island, just a 5-minute ferry ride from Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays. Green fees are A$125 for 9 holes or A$185 for 18 holes, including golf cart and return Hamilton Island transfers, or you can pay A$15 for 50 balls on the driving range.
 
Beaches
Best for couples: As one of the most naturally beautiful spots on the earth, Whitsundays is the place to go for gorgeous beaches. Most famous is the multiple-award-winning Whitehaven Beach, a renowned must-see for romantics and nature-lovers. Its 7 kilometers of pristine silica sand and crystal-clear waters are perfect for a few hours of blissful relaxation. Set on Whitsunday Island, the largest of the 74 islands in Whitsundays, it can easily be reached by ferry, powerboat or yacht. However, in peak times, it's advisable to pre-book to guarantee availability on the day you're planning to visit.
 
Best for families: The Airlie Beach Lagoon is in the center of Airlie Beach, with natural and manmade features for all types of visitors. However, with its central location, children's pool and stinger-free sandy beach area for little ones to play in the shallows, it's perfect for families. Parents can relax on the grassy knolls between the lagoon and landscaped gardens. There is no admission fee.
 
Best for water sports: Head for Hamilton Island's main beach, Catseye, for a more active day at the beach. Hamilton Island Beach Sports is on the beach, so renting catamarans, paddle skis, paddleboards, windsurfing gear and snorkeling equipment couldn't be easier.
 
Whitehaven Beach
The 6 km (3 3/4-mile) stretch of pure-white silica sand on Whitehaven Beach will leave you in rapture. The beach, on uninhabited Whitsunday Island, does not boast a lot of coral, but the swimming is good and the forested shore is beautiful. Take a book and chill out. Some sailboat day trips visit it, as do some motorized vessels. A half-day trip with Cruise Whitsundays (tel. 07/4946 4662; www.cruisewhitsundays.com) costs A$99 for adults and A$49 for children ages 5 to 15, and gives you around 2 hours on the beach. You can travel in the morning (leaving Airlie Beach at 7am) or in the afternoon (departing at 1:15pm). It offers full day trips too, and combines Whitehaven Beach with other islands on some tours.
 
Sea Kayaking
If you have strong arms, sea kayaking is a wonderful way to enjoy the islands. Daydream Island and the beaches and bays of the North, Mid, and South Molle group of islands are all within paddling distance of the mainland. It's common to see dolphins, turtles, and sharks along the way. One long-established operator is Salty Dog Sea Kayaking (tel. 07/4946 1388;www.saltydog.com.au), which takes escorted trips through the islands. Half-day trips run on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday, and full-day trips on Monday, Thursday, and Friday, departing Airlie Beach at 8:30am. A half-day trip is A$70 per person and a day trip is A$125 per person. Two- and 6-day trips, during which you camp out, are A$365 and A$1,490. All rates include snorkel gear, meals, pickup, and, on overnight trips, camping gear. The company also delivers sea kayaks anywhere in the Whitsundays. Rental prices start at A$50 for a single kayak, A$80 for a double for a half-day, including delivery, pickup, and safety equipment. A deposit of A$200 is required for rentals.
 
Boating
Bareboating in the Whitsundays. If "bareboating" is a mystery to you, take heart -- you're not alone. It simply means you are sailing the boat yourself. And if that seems daunting, rest assured that thousands of people do it safely every year. Most of the many yacht-charter companies in the islands will want one person on the boat to have a little experience at the helm of a vessel, but don't worry if you're a total novice. You do not need a license, and sailing is surprisingly easy in these uncrowded waters, where the channels are deep and hazard-free and the seas are protected from big swells by the Great Barrier Reef. The 74 islands are so close to each other that one is always in sight, and safe anchorages are everywhere.
 
If you have no boating experience, or if you think you know what you're doing but just want extra reassurance, the company may require you to take a skipper along at an extra cost of around A$40 per hour or A$350 overnight. Most companies mail you a preparation kit before you leave home. Before departure, they give you a thorough 2- to 3-hour briefing and easy-to-read maps marking channels, anchorage points, and the very few dangerous reefs. Your charter company will radio in once or twice a day to check that you're still afloat, and you can contact the staff anytime for advice.

Most yachts are fitted for two to eight passengers. Try to get a boat with two berths more than you need if your budget will bear it, because space is always tight. The boats usually have a galley kitchen, a barbecue mounted to the stern, hot showers, a toilet, linens, a radio or stereo (or both), a motorized dinghy, and snorkeling equipment. Sleeping quarters usually include a mix of single galley berths and one or two very compact private cabins. You can buy your own provisions or have the charter company stock the boat at an extra cost of about A$50 per person per day. Most operators will load a windsurfer, fishing tackle, and scuba-diving equipment on request, for an extra fee if they are not standard.
 
In peak season, you may have to charter the boat for a week. At other times, most companies impose a minimum of 5 days, but many will rent for 3 nights if you ask, rather than let a vessel sit idle. Five nights is a good length; it allows you to get familiar enough with the boat to relax and enjoy yourself.
 
In peak season, expect to pay A$550 to A$800 per night for a standard four- to six-berth yacht, more if you want something luxurious. Rates in the off season, and even in the Whitsundays' busiest time, June through August, will be anywhere from A$100 to A$200 less. If you are prepared to book within 14 days of when you want to sail, the deals can be even better; you should be able to find a boat that late in the off season. You may be asked to post a credit card bond of around A$2,000. Fuel and park fees are extra, and mooring fees apply if you want to stop at one of the island resorts overnight. A number of bareboat-charter companies offer "sail-'n'-stay" packages that combine a few days of sailing with a few days at an island resort.
 
Most bareboat charter companies will make complete holiday arrangements for you in the islands, including accommodations, transfers, tours, and sporting activities. Most companies operate out of Airlie Beach, Hamilton Island, or both. Well-known operators include Whitsunday Rent-A-Yacht (tel. 1800/075 000 in Australia, or 07/4946 9232;www.rentayacht.com.au); Queensland Yacht Charters (tel. 1800/075 013 in Australia, or 07/4946 7400;www.yachtcharters.com.au); and Sunsail (tel. 1800/803 988 in Australia or 07/4948 9509; www.sunsail.com.au). Tourism Whitsundays can furnish you with a complete list of operators. If you don't want to sail yourself, countless skippered sailing trips go through the islands.
 
Sailing & Snorkeling
Put on your mask and get up close and personal with Northern Australia's diverse sea life, including giant graceful stingrays, familiar-looking orange and white clownfish and unusual sea cucumbers.
A cheaper alternative to skippering your own yacht -- also called "bareboating" -- around the Whitsundays is a journey on one of the many yachts offering 3-day, 2-night sailing adventures around the islands. You can learn to sail or get involved with sailing the boat as much or as little as you want, snorkel to your heart's content over one dazzling reef after another, beach comb, explore national park trails, stop at secluded bays, swim, sunbathe, and generally have a laid-back good time. A few companies offer introductory and qualified scuba diving for an extra cost per dive. Most boats carry a maximum of 12 passengers, so the atmosphere is always friendly and fun. The food is generally good, the showers are usually hot, and you sleep in comfortable but small berths off the galley. Some have small private twin or double cabins.
 
Prices usually include all meals, Marine Park entrance fees, snorkel gear, and transfers to the departure point (Abel Point Marina or Shute Harbour). In the off season, the boats compete fiercely for passengers; you'll see signboards on the main street in Airlie Beach advertising standby deals.
 
Among the better known boats are the Ragamuffin (tel. 1800/454 777 in Australia or 07/4946 7777;www.maxiaction.com.au), a 17m (56-ft.) oceangoing yacht which runs two 2-hour sailing trips, to Blue Pearl Bay and Whitehaven Beach. Each costs A$156 adults, A$60 kids 5 to 15, or A$365 for a family of four. Prosail (tel. 1800/810 116 in Australia or 07/4946 7533; www.prosail.com.au) runs sailing trips through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. All trips include sailing, snorkeling, scuba diving, and bushwalking, and you can sail on megayachts such as the Condor, Broomstick, and Hammer. A 2-day, 2-night trip costs A$409 per person. Contact Tourism Whitsundays for details on other charters.
 
Heart Reef
The iconic image of the Great Barrier Reef is the stunning heart-shaped reef called—yes, Heart Reef. But Heart Reef is not a place you can visit; it is protected by law, and you cannot swim or snorkel here. In any case, the best way to see this tiny reef’s perfect shape is from the air. There are many helicopter or seaplane options available for that perfect photographic opportunity (or, of course, if you are planning a mid-air proposal). A 1-hour seaplaner flight over the Great Barrier Reef costs A$290 per person with Air Whitsunday (  tel. 07/4946 9111; www.airwhitsunday.com.au), which offers a large range of tours, including seaplane flights to a Reef pontoon to snorkel for a couple of hours.
 
Eating Out
There is no shortage of choice for restaurants in Airlie Beach, many of which also feature wine bars, live music and entertainment to keep you partying all night. Whether you just want a great espresso, a tasty light snack or a gourmet meal, Airlie Beach has some excellent cafes and restaurants, most of them located around the waterfront on Shute Harbour Road
 
You'll find the central dining hub on the Esplanade overlooking Airlie Beach and Pioneer Bay. Proserpine is more laid back, with cafe and pub style meals matched with country hospitality to provide a great night out. Bowen also has a good range of restaurants and pubs, with spectacular views from the cafe atop Flagstaff Hill not to be missed. All of the Whitsunday island resorts have different dining experiences, from five star total indulgence, to master class-style learning experiences to fully inclusive buffet meals.
 
If you’re not too full after dinner, the nightlife of Airlie Beach is renowned and can be enjoyed on any night of the week. Start at a restaurant’s wine (or rum) bar, move to a backpackers bar, Irish pub or dance the night away at a nightclub. The island resorts also often have live music or entertainment so you can party the night away. There are dozens of restaurants, bars & nightlife entertainment to choose from in the Whitsundays. Whether you're staying at one of the island resorts, a luxury hotel in Airlie Beach, you're in Proserpine or the surrounding area, you'll be able to find a restaurant with the style of cooking that takes your fancy, cooked to perfection.
 
Déjà Vu Restaurant with stunning views over Airlie Beach and a tropical seafood dining theme, Déjà Vu Restaurant is home to some of the best cuisine in the Whitsundays. You’ll find Déjà Vu on the famous hillside accommodation strip, affording outdoor diners a panoramic view of the sea and Whitsundays Islands. The owner / chefs take a personalised approach to service to make sure diners have an unforgettable experience. From poolside lunches to romantic dinners, the menu makes the most of some of the freshest seafood to complement innovative salads, gourmet panninis, and specialty dishes.
 
The restaurant’s long Sunday lunch has become a popular local tradition involving 8 divine courses, wine, beer, live entertainment and spectacular views. Déjà Vu also cater to functions and special events, so if you have something to celebrate on your holiday make sure you phone ahead to organise a truly memorable occasion. Waters Edge Resort, 4 Golden Orchid Dr, Airlie Beach Website: www.dejavurestaurant.com.au Phone: 07 4948 4309
 
No trip to Airlie Beach is complete without a trip to Fish D’vine and Rum Bar. The award winning seafood restaurant is famous for its relaxed atmosphere and scrumptious food, particularly the local chilli mud crab with Hemmingway Daiquiri. Both the seafood restaurant side and the rum bar could each stand on their own. But together they infuse to create marvellous creations like the “Retro banana fritters” drizzled in “house spiced Rum syrup” and “Rum and pepper painted fish”. D’vine can even bring their unique taste sensations to your events, with full catering services including weddings, special events and even boat catering. 303 Shute Harbour Road, Airlie Beach Website: fishdvine.com.au Phone: 07 4948 0088
 
The Airlie Beach Hotel has been an Airlie Beach central point for visitors and locals alike since 1968. What was once a beachside holiday pub for the residents of the surrounding cane farming districts has become a popular spot for accommodation, drinks, and most importantly – food!. The hotel has three restaurants for you to choose from. Dine on modern Australian cuisine, tuck into a wood fired pizza or go for a hearty Tex-Mex selection.
 
Capers on the Esplanade. If you’re after a relaxed dining experience for breakfast, lunch or dinner, Capers is for you. Seven days a week you can enjoy award winning food and fine wine with beachfront views. This is where modern Australian cuisine comes alive with ocean fresh seafood, delicious steaks, smooth coffee, mouth-watering deserts and a selection of first rate Australian wines. 16 The Esplanade, Airlie Beach Website: www.airliebeachhotel.com.au/capers/ Phone: 07 4964 1777
 
Cactus Jack’s Bar & Grill -- For the chilli lover, Cactus Jack’s is Airlie Beach’s best source of south-of-the-border Tex-Mex cuisine. The restaurant is immersed in memorabilia and interesting Texas / Mexican artefacts for a truly unique dining experience. Diners have the option of sitting out on the deck for optimal beach front, or inside the colourfully decorated bar & grill. Select from a wide range of full flavoured burgers, tortillas and more, all washed down with an even bigger selection of margaritas and cocktails. 16 The Esplanade, Airlie Beach Website: www.airliebeachhotel.com.au/cactus-jacks/  Phone: 07 4964 1800
 
Mangrove Jacks Café / Bar -- Named after the delicious local fish, Mangrove Jacks is casual North Queensland dining. Kick back and watch the hustle and bustle of the main street go by as you peruse a delicious menu that includes classic wood fired pizza and great tasting locally caught fish. There’s an extensive wine bar with 35 different wines by the glass, freshly ground coffee, and some incredibly delectable deserts. 16 The Esplanade, Airlie Beach Website:www.airliebeachhotel.com.au/mangrove-jacks/ Phone: 07 4964 1888
 
Sidewalk Café is where you’ll discover good food and a team that’s all about quality and value. Enjoy a cosmopolitan, footpath dining experience with fantastic views, food, wine and friendly service. A local staple, Sidewalk has been Airlie’s favourite café for more than 20 years. Come for the high speed WiFi, try a great cup of coffee or sink your teeth into a delicious risotto, seafood pasta, a range of burgers, or the café’s world famous breakfast. You can even top it all off with one of their international mixologist’s amazing cocktails. 1a/293 Shute Harbour Rd, Airlie Beach Website:www.sidewalkcafe.net.au Phone: 07 4946 6425
 
Right in the heart of the Whitsundays is the Village Café Restaurant & Bar, home to a unique all day dining experience. The Village offers an excellent selection of freshly prepared food, a variety of drinks and alcoholic beverages.
 
One of the restaurant’s specialties is the Hot Rock dining experience. Volcanic stones are subjected to extreme heat in a special oven for 10 hours before being placed in specially designed stoneware plates and delivered to you with your chosen hot rock meal. The stone locks in the nutrients, natural juices and flavours. You can choose to cook the meal yourself on the stone, or the chefs can do the cooking before presenting your meal on the hot rock. For delectable deserts, the Village also offers a range of boutique ice cream flavours with decadent sides, all served on Icy Rocks. So stop on in to try something different while you’re on holiday. Main Street, Airlie Beach Website: www.villagecafe.com.au Phone: 07 4946 5745
 
Romanos Restaurant Ideally situated on Hamilton Island, facing straight out onto the marina, Romanos Restaurant is a perfect part of this island paradise. Come in for the relaxed atmosphere and delicious meals made with love and a flare for fine food. Known for fantastic risottos, Romanos serves a wonderful array of fresh seafood including Moreton Bay Bugs, scallops, spanner crab and many more tastes of the sea. Polish it all off with authentic gelato, tiramisu or panna cotta. Front St (Marina Side), Hamilton Island. Website: hamiltonisland.com.au/romanos-restaurant/ Phone: 07 4948 8212
 
Shopping
You may have come for the beautiful scenery, but the Whitsundays shopping, dining and nightlife may just lure you away for longer than you’d expected. Airlie Beach has a range of stores and boutiques selling everything from tropical and outback clothing and high-end fashions to souvenirs, opal jewellery and designer goods.
 
Airlie Beach is the hub for shopping, dining and nightlife, and the main street is the central focus for such activities.  You can buy anything from swimwear and casual beachwear to party frocks and Whitsundays branded souvenirs. Every Saturday morning the foreshore plays host to the local markets where you can sample local produce and purchase local arts, crafts and fashions. A little further out of town, there are fashion and homewares boutiques and two major shopping centres in suburban Cannonvale.
 
Proserpine is becoming a boutique shopping destination in itself, with unforgettable stores such as Colour Me Crazy, Cherrie Baby Boutique, Tropical Beach Hut, Sirene Sea Pearls and Epicure Homewares amongst others.
 
The Whitsundays has all the conveniences you might need while on holidays. If you need to stock up on supplies for a boat trip, there are Coles and Woolworths supermarkets, as well as several independent supermarkets conveniently located close to accommodation where you can buy everything you’ll need for your trip. If someone in your travelling group happens to fall ill, there are several major pharmacies in the major townships (and hospitals in Proserpine and Bowen). These pharmacies also offer a wide range of sunscreens, hats, sunglasses and other items you may need while on holidays.
 
You may have forgotten to pack swimwear (oops!), or can’t resist some beautiful new beachwear and there are plenty of boutiques to cater to every fashion need. Airlie Beach has a wide range of boutiques and the two major shopping centres in Cannonvale (just one minute out of Airlie Beach) are home to several fashion retailers. Colour Me Crazy is an amazing eclectic Aladdins cave. There are jewels and home wares from all parts of the world, beautiful unusual clothing that you will not find anywhere else.


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