For a cheap flight to Airlie Beach, considering flying into Mackay and then grabbing a shuttle service for the 90-minute trip north to Airlie Beach. The more direct option will land in Proserpine which is 42km away from Airlie Beach, so a bus trip into town is still needed. They same company offers shuttle services from both Mackay and Proserpine to Airlie Beach for $69 and $15, respectively. A public bus service also runs from Proserpine every 20-30minutes. Airlie Beach is the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands, of which Hamilton Island is one of the main attractions. Direct flights are available to Hamilton Island for less than the cost of a ticket to Proserpine.
There is a regular bus route running in Airlie Beach from Proserpine and extending through to Shute Harbour, from where all boats to the islands leave. Bus stops are conveniently dotted throughout the towns so getting anywhere on public transport is quite easy and cheap. Tickets for the transit service are paid for on the bus and some discounts can apply. The town itself is quite small and it is very easy to get around on foot.
Airlie Beach is a town of less than 3000 people and is the gateway to the natural beauty of the Whitsunday Island groups. A cruise out to Whitehaven Beach is a must, as is a trip on the Fantasea Catamaran to a permanent diving platform where you can snorkel on the reef. It is a lengthy trip out, about 2 hours, and those not used to open water are advised to take sea sickness medication. However, it is worth the effort and the possibility of losing your tea and bikkies. The marine life is abundant and two resident gropers will keep you entertained over lunch. When back in Airlie Beach a cheap way to relax is at the town’s lagoon, which is right behind the main street. For the more energetic you can take a leisurely walk along the foreshore, or challenge yourself on the Whitsunday Great Walk. The Great Walk is a 30km trek which runs from Airlie Beach to Brandy Creek, through the Conway National Park and is popular with mountain bikers.
Although a small town, Airlie Beach attracts a large number of tourists and backpackers who want to visit the islands and surrounding reefs, but don’t want to pay the expensive accommodation prices on the islands. The budget-conscious tourists opt for cheap accommodation in Airlie Beach and they provide the crowd for a vibrant pub scene. The town has a number of cheap restaurants and tourists shops for those who want to pick up their Great Barrier Reef souvenir.