How to get to Airlie Beach, party town, gateway to the Whitsundays and the Great Barrier Reef.
Given the travel distances in Australia, the quickest and easiest (but sometimes most expensive) method is to fly, if you can find a flight. At the most attractive times of the year, there are far fewer seats than needed. Out of season, there were more seats than needed, and some flights are cancelled.
Closest major airport is well outside Proserpine and much confusion is caused by airport and other names. The Whitsunday Shire Council has its headquarters in Proserpine, and was formerly called Proserpine Shire Council. They have renamed Proserpine Airport, about 20 kms inland, and 30 kms from Airlie Beach, to Whitsunday Coast Airport, despite being nowhere near the coast. The Whitsundays are really the 70 odd islands off the coast here. Now there is already an airport actually in the Whitsunday Islands, namely Hamilton Island Airport. There is also a very busy, light plane airport on the coast five kilometers from Airlie Beach, and that owns and uses the name Whitsunday Airport.
Laguna Quays is even weirder. This is a totally isolated golfing resort on the coast at Midge Point (although they don't call it Midge Point in the advertising, so be warned). It was built when there was an expectation of fleets of golf mad Japanese executives visiting, which didn't happen. The owner keeps claiming he will put in an international airport there, and claims he will move Proserpine airport there. This would be totally stupid, as it would make the airport even less convenient to the rest of the infrastructure. It isn't even with our local government area, which seems to me to make any local council support for it even weirder.
This whole thing causes no end of confusion for travel agents unfamiliar with the area. See my critical Airlie Beach Bum page about Airlie Beach and Whitsunday airport problems.
Flight numbers have been increasing, and the number of seats now exceeds the peak from the mid 1980's. In 2004 it was reported there were 2500 seats into Whitsunday Coast (Proserpine) Airport. 135,068 passengers used the airport in the year through June 2004, the most since 1982. Over 220,000 are expected by the end of June 2005 (figures not officially released).
Anyway a bus (about $14) meets each flight, or for enough people, a taxi can be as cheap (about A$50). Parking at the airport is basically always full. I've never been able to park in the parking lot, but only in surrounding bushland. Car rental companies have been complaining about their spots being used by others. New parking areas were being built in December 2005.
There are no longer daily flights, only four Qantas flights a week using larger aircraft. Most flights arrive too late for tours, so if you want to do anything in the area, plan on staying a few days. There are connections (usually via Brisbane) from most capitol cities and some other tourist areas. Contact Qantas or your travel agent for details. Qantas have flights connecting via Brisbane or Cairns, but some flights will be under their JetStar brand, which has three flights a week from Sydney.
Virgin Blue have a direct flight Sydney to Proserpine, once a week, on Saturday from April 2003. Prices can be attractive, and in my experience in May 2003 the Virgin Blue flight is a decent, comfortable way to get here. Virgin Blue also have daily flights from Brisbane from September 2003, and these have been pretty popular (this means that sometimes we haven't been able to get a flight when we wanted).
Coastal Air Service and Elite Airways plan a puddle hopper flight from Proserpine to coastal destinations including Mackay, Rockhampton, Gladstone, Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. This is scheduled to commence in June 2003. I don't have further details as yet.
Another airport is Hamilton Island, which does offer daily direct Qantas flights from Cairns, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, via Sydney. From the airport, you can get a FantaSea Blue Ferry to Shute Harbour and bus or taxi to Airlie Beach. They depart from the resort side of the island, so you have a considerable distance to move your luggage (look for electric golf carts). Another possibility is a light plane trip or helicopter to Whitsunday Airport, a light plane grass strip about four kilometres from Airlie Beach.
The airport at Mackay, population over 100,000, has much more frequent flights, but it is 150 k away. As well as Qantas, Virgin Blue have a daily service to Mackay, so expect competitive airfares, but possibly only via the Internet.
While Virgin Blue fly to Townsville (300 km north) you can often get very good fares to Townsville. The bus south is around $50 and takes about four hours.
Contact Traveltrain on +61 132 232 for reservations, or see your travel agent.
The northbound trains from the state capitol Brisbane to Cairns are the Sunlander on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings. It arrives at Proserpine late afternoon the next day. On Sunday there is the Queenslander, much the same schedule. The Spirit of the Tropics leaves Brisbane for Townsville in the evening Wednesday and Sunday, arriving at Proserpine early afternoon the next day.
Southbound trains from Cairns are the Sunlander, on Monday, Thursday and Saturday morning, and the Queenslander.
First class passengers can book roomettes (single) and twinettes, some trains have economy slepers (not the Quuenslander). Most have a dining car and a club car. All are air conditioned. The Quenslander can transport your car between Brisbane, Townsville and Cairns. Some trains have showers, especially in sleeping cars.
Improvements to the line have allowed the higher speed Brisbane to Cairns Tilt Train to continue to Cairns. This 25 hour service through to Proserpine commenced 9 June 2003, and costs around $350 to Proserpine. Three days a week.
Northbound from Brisbane, and southbound from Cairns, McCafferty's have several services through Airlie Beach. Phone McCafferty's on +61 131499 for the latest schedule.
Greyhound has several daily services northbound from Brisbane and stopping at Airlie Beach, and southbound from Cairns. Phone Greyhound on +61 132030 or check their web site on www.greyhound.com.au
Greyhound were taken over by McCafferty in late 2000, and schedules are probably different. There are still four or five buses a day.
Premier Motor Service (said to be cheaper) have a Brisbane run north arriving in Airlie in the morning. South from Cairns arriving Airlie late afternoon. Phone Premier on +61 133410
There is an excellent and frequent local bus service by Whitsunday Transit, covering the port at Shute Harbour, the railway in Proserpine, the town, and Proserpine airport. Phone +61 7 4946 1800. Timetables are available at most resorts and around the town. Local buses meet all flight and all trains.
There is a 24 hour local taxi service of 13 taxis, with a taxi rank in the centre of Airlie, and at the Cannonvale shopping centre. Phone +61 131008
There are a dozen car rental places in Airlie Beach, however Proserpine Airport isn't large enough to have a full time car hire place there. If you want to pick up a car at the airport, you need to make a booking several days before you arrive. SHR means Shute Harbour Road, the main street.
If you happen to be travelling along the Bruce Highway between Brisbane and Cairns, you turn off towards the coast about a kilometer north of Proserpine (150 km north of Mackay, 300 km south of Townsville). The road in is about 20 km. I would not suggest setting out to drive this distance unless long distance car travel is a passion of yours, but lots of people do it.I hope you have enjoyed www.ericlindsay.com. Webmaster