Australians call Queensland the “Sunshine State”, but the rainy season in summer could sometimes make you wonder why. If you happen to be in Airlie Beach when it rains, I understand your disappointment. I went to the Whitsundays three times and had rain during every trip. But I still found things to do in Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays despite the rainy weather.
The first thing to do in Airlie Beach when it rains is to get information about how bad the weather is going to be.
Most of the time, it will just be “normal rain”. But don’t forget that Airlie Beach is in a region that can get hit by cyclones, so you don’t want to take any risks if awful weather is coming. The Bureau of Meteorology’s website is an excellent place to check if any warnings were issued for Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays region. But hotel staff will also know about it and be able to give you advice. In 2017, we visited Airlie Beach just after Cyclone Debbie and were speechless imagining the strength of the wind when we were in front of the damage. If you are planning your visit during the cyclone season, it is recommended to purchase travel insurance.
In 2018, we were in Airlie Beach when the Tropical Cyclone Iris wasn’t too far away. Although it didn’t hit land, it was close enough to bring flash flooding on the roads and strong winds and waves that required all boats to be well tied up in the marina. In this situation, you don’t want to be wandering outside. If you see the warnings early enough, you may want to change your plans. The best idea is to drive or catch a ride to a region that isn’t at risk and try to get away from the rainy days that will follow. In our case, we were flying out of Proserpine Airport the next day. As the expected cyclone path wasn’t impacting these plans, we had to stay in Airlie Beach. We chose to book a nicer accommodation than usual, so we would be comfortable and entertained inside!
Most activities in Airlie Beach will go ahead if it’s just regular rain.
The rain is just part of being in the tropics, especially during the wet season. Normal rain won’t stop the boats from going out. The wind is more of a problem as the swell can make boat trips a lot less enjoyable. When unsafe, the trips are cancelled. I am glad I still went out to tour the Whitsunday Islands on rainy days. It was still fun, and we got very excited at every sunray that showed up. But I understand that not everybody will want to get wet. So I included in my list both outdoors and indoors activities.
The perfect accommodation when it rains in Airlie Beach
When we planned our road trip from Townsville to Airlie Beach, we focused on outdoor activities. With only carry-on luggage, we didn’t bring much to entertain ourselves on a rainy day.
As we were planning to stay indoor most of our time in Airlie Beach because of the cyclone warning, we wanted more than just a bed. We booked a deluxe suite at the Waterfront Whitsunday Retreat*. The room was totally over our usual budget for accommodation (just under $300 for a couple) but we compensated by not eating nor drinking out and not doing any activities. We had a private kitchen to prepare our meals, a table for dinner, a sofa, a balcony with marina views and a large spa bath, and a TV with a Wii game console. It was perfect to relax and have fun while still enjoying the views between heavy rainfalls.
Outdoor things to do when it rains in Airlie Beach
If the rain isn’t too heavy, then you should totally check out some outdoor activities in Airlie Beach. You’ll get wet even when it’s not raining for most of them anyway!
Snorkel and tour the Whitsunday Islands
Of course, a tour in the Whitsundays is a lot better when the sun is shining. But you can still have fun despite the rain! If your time in Airlie Beach is limited and there’s no better weather forecasted while you’re around, it would be a shame to miss the Whitsundays. And when you are looking underwater, you don’t mind being wet. When snorkelling in the Whitsundays, you can see corals, colourful fish and turtles when snorkelling.
Many tours are leaving from Airlie Beach to the Whitsundays. During a rainy day, I believe the boat trip isn’t as much of a pleasure. So you may be interested in this Rafting Tour*: it will take you quickly to where you want to be, it will be fun, and you’ll get wet whatever the weather (so who cares if it’s raining?!). Plus, they have a tour focusing more on snorkelling. However, if you have a sore back or neck, or if you don’t like speed and fun rides, it won’t be the best cruise for you.
Explore the river and see wild crocodiles
Unfortunately, it was fully booked when we planned our trip, so I didn’t get a chance to try it. The Crocodile Safari* takes you along the Proserpine River in a boat with a roof, so you’ll be protected from light rain. And it’s still an activity you can safely do in bad weather as you are cruising on a calm river. Seeing crocodiles in the wild is always a thrill!
Chase waterfalls in the rainforest
You’ll find Conway National Park (see map here) just outside Airlie Beach. On a good day, you can walk to a few lookouts to enjoy the views. It may not be worth it on a rainy day, though. However, the Conway National Park is a lovely rainforest that can be lovely to explore despite the rain. Sometimes, the vegetation above you is so dense that you almost forget it’s raining as you receive just a few drops! Check out the Kingfisher Circuit from Brandy Creek on the west of the park. It’s a two-kilometre walk, and you can pick up a self-guided brochure at the start of the hike at Forestry Road car park.
You will be a short drive away from the Cedar Creek Falls, just a bit more south towards Conway. If you’re travelling during the wet season, the falls will be spectacular with the water flowing. You can enjoy a swim in the pool at the base of the waterfall, and look for turtles.
If you don’t have a car, you can join a tour from Airlie Beach*.
Explore the Great Barrier Reef
Hardy Reef is about 70 kilometres away from Airlie Beach. If you’re lucky, the weather will be better over there. And if it’s not better, you will still be lucky to be standing on a pontoon in the middle of the sea surrounded by one of the most beautiful and fascinating things in the world!
Unfortunately, the three-hour trip to the pontoon won’t be that nice in the rain. But once you arrive, there are many activities that you can do that won’t be too much impacted by the rain. You will be wet snorkelling or scuba diving, no matter what. Or you can stay dry with the underwater observatory and the semi-submersible.
Magnetic Island is quite far away from Airlie Beach for just a day trip (3-hour drive to Townsville + boat transfer), but it could be an option if your plans are flexible and you could spend one night up there. It’s reputed for having more than 320 days of sunshine each year, so maybe the weather will be better up there?
Learn to scuba dive
If you are in Airlie Beach for a few days, learning scuba diving can be a fantastic way to spend your day during poor weather. The first part of the certification is about studying and understanding a few concepts and then practising exercises in confined water at the pool. So who cares if the weather isn’t perfect for these few days? If you’re lucky, it will get better by the time you head to the ocean.
Are you covered for scuba diving by your travel insurance? I recommend double-checking to avoid bad surprises if an incident happens. If you don’t have insurance, you may be interested in reading more about DAN and WorldNomads*.
Indoor things to do in Airlie Beach
Let’s be honest, there aren’t that many exciting indoor things to do in Airlie Beach. But I still tried to find a few.
Whitsunday Opals and Didgeridoos is a family shop on the Airlie Esplanade that will give you the opportunity to learn more about some Australian specialities. They have a great collection of Australian opals, didgeridoos and Aboriginal Art. Although it’s pricey, I believe it’s the most exciting shopping place where to wander in Airlie Beach. There’s nothing that raised my interest in the list of stores at the Whitsundays Shopping Centre.
Responsible Travel Tip: By purchasing souvenirs made by local artists, you support the local community and help to maximise the positive impacts of tourism. It’s a lot better for the local economy compared to buying souvenirs made it China, for example.
Have fun in an escape room
If you have never tried an escape room challenge, this may be the time to do it! Although there is nothing too special about the Airlie Beach Escape Room*, escape rooms are always fun! And it will keep you dry for about one hour.
Enjoy a food experience
Spending time in cafes and restaurants is always a good alternative when it rains while you’re travelling. And there are many restaurants to choose from in Airlie Beach. We always opted to cook at our accommodation so I wouldn’t be able to list the ones I preferred. But before we decided to upgrade and get our private kitchen, I made some research. If you have the budget, I liked the idea of a tasting menu at Walter’s Lounge or Clipper Restaurant. If you want more inspiration, have a look at this list!
Treat yourself at the spa
I never include a day at the spa in my travel budget, but it surely is a way to enjoy a day indoor during your holidays. There are a few spas listed in Airlie Beach such as Aroma Stone, Massage First, Airlie Day Spa or Serenity Spa…
Or book a room at the Waterfront Whitsunday Retreat* and enjoy a private spa bath on the balcony.
Did you have a rainy day in Airlie Beach? What did you do? Share your experience in the comments below!
Where is Airlie Beach?
Located on the central coast of Queensland between Brisbane and Cairns, Airlie Beach is the main town to start a trip to the famous Whitsundays Island.
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