Airlie Beach is bouncing back from Cyclone Debbie and is a wonderful destination for a long weekend.

There's something in the Airlie

YOU do not have to jump aboard a catamaran to enjoy the Whitsunday Coast. The turquoise waters of Airlie Beach, dotted by those white sails, are the perfect backdrop for a long weekend escape full of land-based activities.

For many Airlie Beach is the jumping off point for the Whitsunday Islands. It certainly was for me during my two visits to sail and scuba dive the islands.

But Airlie is a destination in and of itself - and the region is bouncing back from the damage caused by Cyclone Debbie.

Airlie was the perfect place for me, flying from Brisbane, to meet up with a good friend from Townsville, just a few hours' drive to the north. The purpose of our two-day catch-up was simple: hang out, chill out and recharge.

Driving in from Proserpine, you feel as though you're on holiday as soon as you see that water.

There is a number of accommodation options along Golden Orchid Dr on the hill just behind Airlie's main strip.

Rooms have generous balconies to take in the stunning views, just be prepared for some feathered visitors.

After a quick trip to the nearby shops to stock up on snacks and wine, we were enjoying a beautiful sunset when a loud squawk heralded the arrival of a curious, or perhaps hungry, sulphur-crested cockatoo. Of course, there was no way he was getting a taste of my camembert - or my rose.


A sunset over Airlie Beach.
A sunset over Airlie Beach. Seanna Cronin

By skipping a more expensive stay on Hamilton Island we were able to fit in more luxuries like a trip to the spa, a bit of shopping and an amazing five-course dinner.

Waking up to the sun sparkling on the water, we grabbed breakfast along the Esplanade before browsing the Saturday markets and hitting the Bicentennial Boardwalk for some exercise.

During our walk we scouted dinner locations along the way. There was the uber-cool Hemmingway's, but as the locals informed us you needed to book weeks in advance for a table.

We finally settled on The Clipper Restaurant and Bar at Coral Sea Resort. It boasted waterfront views and the restaurant's five-course tasting menu looked too good to pass up. On our walk back into town we stumbled upon Airllywood, where I found the perfect boho dress and earrings to wear to dinner. From jewellery made in Israel to handbags from Morocco and domestic fashions from Byron Bay and the Sunshine Coast, this friendly shop is chock full of everything a woman needs to look fabulous for the tropical climate.


Water views from the Bicentennial Walkway in Airlie Beach.
Water views from the Bicentennial Walkway in Airlie Beach. Seanna Cronin

Our indulgent dinner at Clipper started with a refreshing tuna sashimi and avocado tartare, followed by pressed ham hock with poached golden raisins, and perfectly cooked snapper with potato, crab and jalapenos salad.

The final savoury course was a gourmet version of a comforting beef roast, featuring slow-roasted beef blade and Angus sirloin with potato and celeriac terrine, more golden raisins and a flavour-packed porcini jus.

Dessert was a twist on an Aussie favourite, sticky date pudding. Instead of vanilla ice cream, the chefs made a sticky date ice cream and contrasted its smooth texture with a crunchy brandy snap.

The next day we took advantage of our car to explore a little further afield.


Eat and drink with your feet in the sand at Montes Reef Resort at Hideaway Bay near Airlie Beach.
Eat and drink with your feet in the sand at Montes Reef Resort at Hideaway Bay near Airlie Beach. Seanna Cronin

As its name suggests, Hideaway Bay is a hidden paradise directly opposite Gloucester Island. The secluded Montes Reef Resort and Cape Gloucester Resort are both great lunch options where you can dine with your feet in the sand.

Then it was back to Proserpine for my flight home, but not before one final stop in the town's best-kept secret.

Brightly coloured but tucked away on a side street, Colour Me Crazy is a treasure trove of gifts, homewares and fashions.

There was already a queue when we arrived just before the shop opened. Based on the shop's exterior you would think it was home to bric-a-brac and incense but instead we found high-end candles, stylish lampshades, elegant fascinators and hip pot hangers. There was plenty of kitsch too, sourced from all over Australia by the owners who moved up from Brisbane more than 40 years ago.

The tropical lifestyle and natural beauty that lured them north are just as tempting for visitors today.


Colour Me Crazy in Proserpine is a treasure trove for shoppers.
Colour Me Crazy in Proserpine is a treasure trove for shoppers. Seanna Cronin