We were pumped to check out Airlie Beach. Gateway to the Whitsundays? Yes please! After seeing all the wondrous, awe-inspiring and majestic locations on the Central Queensland coast on our way up to Airlie Beach, we could not wait to see what was in-store for us at the tourism mecca.
We were sorely disappointed.
Let me preface this by saying that we know we’re the not the coolest kids getting around. I have embraced my grey hair and we we like to read our books after the sun sets, surrounded by the sounds of nature. However we are still young enough to appreciate a good party, drink cheap wine and sleep on an air bed. Airlie Beach, however, is not a relaxing place to be. It’s not even a particularity nice place to be once you have seen what else is on offer along the coast. The town is built for backpackers, and they are making the most of it. Cowboy shots for breakfast anyone? Drunk Irish staggering up and down the beach trolling for ‘babes’. Yikes…
We lasted about 2 hours in Airlie Beach then hit the road again, with no plans, just a need to escape. We are not travelling Australia to be hit on by drunk Europeans. We do not want to listen to Americans screaming about how bad their tan lines are or be harassed on the street to come to a full moon party. If you’re like us, and want to actually enjoy your surroundings and rather spend your money on experiences rather than booze, then read on. We found a little slice of the heaven that Airlie Beach is promoted as, and it’s only an hour away.
Here are our top 6 reasons you should visit Bowen, and skip Airlie Beach.
1. You can have the beach to yourself
Seriously, try doing that in Airlie Beach. Bowen has 7 beaches, and it’s not rare to on one all by yourself. Even the most stunning and popular of beaches are not crowded. There is just so much more beach and far fewer people, the ratio is golden! We visited Horseshoe Bay, which is beyond words incredible, and had enough space to stretch out, swim in the ocean in our space and not feel like we were doing ‘the same as everyone else’.
We had Rose Bay and Grays Bay literally all to ourselves. After about an hour lounging about on Rose Bay there was a family with two kids who came along and waded out into the water. Besides that – no one. The weather was warm enough to jump into the water, but it was not yet late enough in the season for marine stingers to be an issue. So basically, what we had was kilometers of unspoilt, pristine beaches, just for our own enjoyment.
2. The campsites are not at the end of the world (or next to an airport)
There are a number of campsites in Bowen, and most are an easy walk to the beach, to local shops and no more than a 5 minute drive to the main street of town. The campsite that we had booked (and ran away from) in Airlie Beach was awful. It was only 6.2kms out of Airlie Beach itself but may as well have been in another town. We could not walk anywhere from the camping grounds as the town is not made for pedestrians, only cars, and we could not relax and enjoy the campsite because it backed onto the airport. We could almost touch the planes from our assigned site, they were no more than 2 meters out of arms length. All this will cost you $36 per night for an unpowered site. The other options in Airlie Beach are the Big4 camping grounds which will set you back $42 per night. There is only one camping grounds that seem to be a decent price ($29.00 for 2 people per night) and location, at only 2.5kms from town. From what we could see there was a walkway most of the way from here into the main part of town. However staying here means staying on the main road in and out of Airlie Beach. This means waking up to the sounds of early morning tour buses and tourist groups. The caravan parks in Airlie Beach are basically just holding grounds for your caravan while you head out on the boat to the Whitsundays Island.
You cannot move in Bowen without tripping over a quality caravan park. They all average $30-$35 per night for an unpowered site, however the vast majority are in great locations with with clean amenities. We stayed at the Queens Beach Tourist Village (review coming soon) and for $35 per night we stayed walking distance to Queens Beach, in great comfort with other campers who were there just to relax.
3. Pristine natural beaches
Did you know that most of the beached in Airlie Beach are man-made? Yes, Boathaven Beach, that main beach that you see the holiday makers strolling and sunning themselves on, is man made. It was opened in 2011. The other main swimming hotspot is the lagoon pool, also man made. There is one naturally forming beach, Airlie Bay.
Bowen has these:
4. To enjoy a wine without the whine
I like to enjoy a dry white New Zealand wine as the sun sets on my day in paradise. I like to enjoy my wine surrounded by the sounds of the evening birds around me and the smells of other campers cooking dinner. What I do not enjoy is the sound of backpacking lasses complaining about their sunburn or the smell of unshowered young men. As I fall asleep I like to hear the sounds of the ocean, not the top 40 of the dance-charts keeping me awake all night. I much prefer to be able to have a chat with the service attendant in the bottle shop about the local conditions for workers and the lack of rain they have had, than to be rushed out the door because the queues behind me are getting longer.
I’m sure you get the point I’m dancing around here. I have done my fair share of time in backpacker hostels, and actually still really do like a good hostel that is set up intimately, without a reliance on alcohol and with a culture of respect for other travellers. I maybe only 30, but I like my nights on the road to generally be quiet and my sleep to be uninterrupted so these big backpacker hostels with a central bar and full-moon parties are not for me, and these are what Airlie Beach thrives on.
5. To find work
Bowen is fruit-picking mecca for backpackers, and the best times to go are September to November when there is a lot of work to be found picking melons and tomatoes. You can find out more about fruit picking in Bowen via this handy little piece of paper or at Fruit Picking Jobs or Harvest Trail. You will find most backpacker hostels in Bowen are able to help you look for farming work and some even run buses to help you get to the farms. Hostels in Airlie Beach will certainly not help you find work.
6. Because you want to mingle with and learn from the locals
Don’t expect to meet many locals at Airlie Beach. The township is made up of, and run by backpackers and tourists. Part of travelling is getting to know the local area, it’s colours, flavours and history. You will not get this experience at Airlie Beach. However the locals in Bowen are more than happy to chat to you about their hometown.
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Bonus reason: To be a big kid again
Want to play on possible the (second) best free outdoor water park in the world? Well, head to Bowen. Since being in Bowen we have found that the free water park on The Strand in Townsville is bigger and a bit more exciting, however Bowen’s is still an amazing facility and we LOVED it!