Port Douglas vs. Airlie Beach

Old Jun 15th, 2013, 01:04 PM
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Port Douglas vs. Airlie Beach

I thought I had my itinerary all worked out for an 18 day trip to Australia. The final 6 days were to be spent in Port Douglas. Our goal was to visit Daintree National Park, scuba on the Great Barrier Reef, and enjoy 4 Mile Beach. But I recently discovered that the potentially deadly box jellyfish might already be in Port Douglas in October. Needless to say, our enthusiasm for 4 Mile Beach has dropped dramatically.

Lately, I've been investigating Airlie Beach and the Whitsunday Islands. You can take Great Barrier Reef tours out of Airlie Beach, and the Whitsunday Islands sound beautiful. But there don't seem to be any nice beaches on the mainland. We looked into the Whitsunday Island resorts and they're pretty pricey (> $500/night).

So we're not sure what to do. I get the impression that the reef tours out of Cairns are better than the ones out of Airlie Beach. And I would really like to see Daintree National Park. But the idea of not being able to swim at the beach up there is a bummer. They have barriers that are supposed to protect swimmers, but I have read that 50% of the people who get stung are INSIDE the protected areas.

Does anyone have experience in Airlie Beach? Can anyone directly compare a vacation in Airlie Beach to Port Douglas? Does anyone have any alternate suggestions for a location to enjoy the beach, the Great Barrier Reef, and local land-based activities?

Thanks in advance for any help. I'm having a tough time figuring out what to do....

Ed Fletcher
Gatorman82 is offline  
Old Jun 15th, 2013, 05:51 PM
Join Date: Oct 2009
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Hi Ed
If your only real worry is the issue of marine stingers, both Port Douglas and Airlie Beach are known have them and the general season is from November until May.
I live in Airlie Beach and the islands are beautiful but if it is a rainforest and reef combination you want, go to Port Douglas. And make use your the resort swimming pool after chilling out on the beach.
ElaineAust is offline  
Old Jun 16th, 2013, 01:14 AM
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I visit Airlie Beach every few months to see family. Airlie Beach is a base to see the islands but there is no great beach there unless you drive out to Hideaway Bay. You could consider Hamilton Island... good snorkelling, plenty of day trips to beaches like Whitehaven and also day trips to other islands.
LakesideChick is offline  
Old Jun 16th, 2013, 09:16 AM
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LakesideChick, we like your Hamilton Island idea. But this leads to a follow-up question:

We have read a number of review of the various resorts on the Whitsunday Islands. One common comment is that the resorts are not kept up well and are showing their age. We also heard that Club Med was closing their resort there. So, not knowing the area at all and not trusting the websites of the resorts themselves, we are afraid that the slowdown of tourism during the global recession has had a negative impact on the quality of the resorts in the area. We don't demand perfection, but the prices are not cheap on Hamilton Island and we don't want to have our experience diminished by staying in a run-down, understaffed resort. Do either of you have a sense of this issue? It is so hard to judge these things based upon on-line reviews. Some people just have bad luck, and some people are just too demanding. So we don't know what to make of the bad comments.

Elaine, we would be willing to sacrifice the rainforest for the ability to stay in a nice resort where we can swim in the ocean. But another concern I have is the quality of the scuba experience in the southern Great Barrier Reef. I get the general impression that diving in the northern GBR is superior to the part off Airlie Beach. I have even seen some comments about an abundance of dead coral around Bait Reef (where most trips go from Airlie Beach). Again, I don't know if I'm getting the right impression and wouldn't trust the outfitters who run the trips to be unbiased. Do either of you have any knowledge of GBR diving?

One last question: to your knowledge, have box jellyfish ever hit Airlie Beach/Whitsunday Islands in October?

Sorry I'm so wordy - this is our dream vacation. We have wanted to go to Australia for years and are finally doing it. I just want to make sure we are making plans based on good information.
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Old Jun 16th, 2013, 11:25 AM
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I've been to various places up and down the Queensland coast over the years.

Can't believe there would be an appreciable difference in stinger risk between PD and Airlie at any time of year, and would think October to be a little early for stingers anyway. And if you ask me, swimming in the ocean in north Queensland isn't all that great anyway since there is not a lot of surf (because of the protective effect of the Barrier Reef).

So if it were me, I'd pick PD over Airlie any day since there is far more to see and do up and down the coast, as well as inland (Atherton Tablelands, Undara, etc). Not that I like commercialized places like PD that much, but it is a good base for exploration.

Speaking of commercialized, that is the first word I think of when I hear of Hamilton Island, and the reason why we've never chosen to go there. We loved Heron Island, which we visited five times in the 90's and early '00s. The snorkeling was fantastic, at least as good as other places on the outer reef we've snorkeled over the years. We also liked Brampton Island (southern Whitsundays), a lot - visited there in '02. Like Heron, it has just one resort, no roads, just trails. The snorkeling on Brampton wasn't that good, but the walk around the island was truly paradise.

We last went to north Queensland in Nov 12 - you may want to look at our trip report:

RalphR is offline  
Old Jun 16th, 2013, 08:23 PM
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Personally I'd rather stay on Hamilton Island than Port Douglas. I didn't think the beaches at PD were very nice at all. I do live on the Gold Coast, so we have some pretty awesome beaches here. At least the beaches on HI are golden. Unlike PD where the sand can be grey and to my eyes, unappealing.

I think PD is still extremely commercial and possibly no less so than HI. You can still head out to the reef from HI - Fantasea Cruises have trips out there.

If you're hiring a car to head to the Daintree etc you have to be careful as a lot of companies will only let you travel on bitumen - which means you won't be able to travel into the Daintree. You might have to do a day tour.

Airlie Beach is really just a hopping off point to the Whitsundays and no beach as such.

I checked on your original itinerary thoughts and if it were me, I'd swap the days allocated for Uluru/PD and have 6 days at Uluru and 4 at PD/HI.

I think I have all my facts straight somebody please pull me up if I'm wrong but I don't recall nice, sandy, white beaches up at PD
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Old Jun 20th, 2013, 05:25 AM
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Hi again
You are absolutely correct that HI is expensive. I guess as it is an island, they can kinda charge what they want as if you want to go there you have to stay somewhere.

As I said, I have family at Airlie so I am in the area quite a bit.

I like Hamilton Island. Yes, its commercialised and caters for tourists, but I ahve always enjoyed my time there. When I go there with family we rent out a house (theres lots for rent) and it works out quite cheaply as many of the houses sleep 8. We stayed in a luxurious one last year and it was far cheaper than the hotels. There are also houses that sleep 4/6 that are reasonably priced. I ahvent been to Heron Island so I cant compare.
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Old Jun 20th, 2013, 04:05 PM
Join Date: Oct 2009
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Hi again Ed
Marine stingers do not follow a calender but October is before the suggested season for them.
If you stay on HI you are restricted to the island activities and day trips are an added cost. The day trip to Hardy Reef is with Cruise Whitsundays (who purchased Fanatasea operations in July 2012).
Lots of locals go to HI for a day trip or a few days and love it.
There are some very nice resorts and a good choice of restaurants and shops at PD and excellent day drives out from there. But please note the norther beaches are NOT Bondi style.
Day trips to the reef are available from PD and you can swim or snorkel there.
But wherever you go you will be sure to love the location.
ElaineAust is offline  
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