Road Trip Diaries # 6 - Entering the Gateway to Paradise
The trip from Cape Hillsborough to Airlie Beach was the longest drive so far – about two hours. After a quick stopover at the beautiful village of Haliday Bay to visit Charles’ relative, we speeded North on the Bruce Highway towards the bustling and touristy town of Airlie Beach. The town is situated in a picturesque peninsula that reaches out to the Whitsunday Islands, which was the main reason for our visit here. The cosmopolitan town offers wide-array of accommodation and all sorts of tours to the Whitsundays, Great Barrier Reef and even Crocodile Safaris. With so much on offer we decided to camp here for two nights.
It was late in the afternoon when we finally reached Airlie Beach and it was the scenic palm fringed beach peppered with sunbathers and the charming Pioneer Bay dotted with yachts that caught our attention first. The town was surrounded by the usual tourist and souvenir shops, fancy hotels and backpackers’ accommodation, and lots of holidaymakers. It wasn’t our ideal place to hang out but it’s the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands where you can find one of the Top 5 Best Beaches in the world according to National Geographic – this was our next destination.
Part of the Parkland
After finding a free parking spot, we wandered along the beach and around its shady parkland until we had reached its vast lagoon. I was surprised to learn that man-made pools and lagoons like this were open for public and free of charge. Charles says it’s common in many towns in North Queensland because it provides alternative place for the locals to swim in during the stinger season when deadly jellyfish drift close in to the shores of the mainland.
We wandered further around the village streets before finding a caravan park to camp for the night. We ended staying at Flametree Tourist Village, which was a bit further from the town but cheaper compared to the one in town.
Airlie Beach Saturday Market
Loading up on veggies
Stalls of clothes and local art and Handicraft
Busker at the market (I should try this one day!)
It was perfect timing for us to be at Airlie Beach the next day. The town’s foreshore parkland turns into a festive and bustling market every Saturday morning. There were stalls selling local arts and crafts, fresh produce from the locals’ farms, and all manner of goods near the beach and under the shade of coconut trees. We stocked up on more veggies, bought some souvenirs and feasted on the street food. But one thing that amused me the most was the caravan of camels that offered rides along the beach for kids and young at heart. I never thought I would see my first camels in Australia, let alone on a beach.
Later in the afternoon, we scouted for a tour to the Whitsundays that would include White Haven Beach and Hill Inlet in it. There were just so many choices and different modes of transport to the islands on offer. We ended choosing the Ocean Rafting tour, which is not recommended for speed-phobic tourists. We had a lazy day in town checking out the souvenir shops and catching up with our books at the park. We capped the night with an early dinner at The Beach, one of the popular backpacker’s bar and restaurant. But to our disappointment, we could not get into any bars, after dinner because I didn’t have my ID with me. (Me thinks, I don’t look 17 though). Well, at least we were able to get a good night’s sleep because the next day had a lot of wonderful things in store for us.
(This is part of our 6-week North Queensland Road Trip Series, which took place July- August 2010)