Airlie's main street is packed with cafés, bars, tour agencies, and hotels, with homes and higher-end accommodations extending up the steep hills behind it. The waterfront Esplanade, with its boardwalk, landscaped gardens, swimming lagoon, and weekend markets, is generally lively.
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Conway National ParkShute Harbour Rd. at Mandalay Rd. 07-4945–3711-(Whitsunday Visitor Information), 1800-801–252, -13–7468-ParksQ hotline/camping permits Website
Australian Butterfly Sanctuary
For divers and snorkelers, the usually crystal-clear waters off Lizard Island are a dream. Cod Hole, 20 km (12 miles) from Lizard Island, ranks among the best dive sites on Earth. Massive potato cod swim up to divers like hungry puppies; it's an awesome experience, considering that these fish can weigh 300 pounds and reach around two meters (6 feet) in length. The island lures big-game anglers from all over the world from September to December, when black marlin are running.
Conway National Park
Ten minutes' drive southeast of Airlie, Conway National Park is a 54,000-acre expanse of mangroves, woodlands, rocky cliffs, and tropical lowland rain forest that shelters the endangered Proserpine rock wallaby and other rare species, as well as plenty of sulphur-crested cockatoos, emerald doves, Australian brush-turkeys, and orange-footed scrubfowl. Most walking trails start at the park's picnic area off Shute Harbour Road, 6 km (3½ mile) from Airlie. Mount Rooper Walking Track, a 5.4-km (3-mile) circuit, meanders uphill through bushland to a lookout with breathtaking Whitsundays views. The 30-km (18.5-mile), three-day Whitsunday Great Walk starts at the Brandy Creek carpark and ends in Airlie Beach. Swamp Bay track follows the creek to a coral-strewn beach with a bush camping area.
Australian Butterfly Sanctuary
More than 1,500 tropical butterflies—including dozens of the electric-blue Ulysses species and Australia's largest butterfly, the green-and-gold Cairns Birdwing—flutter within a compact rain-forest aviary, alighting on foliage, interpretative signage, and feeding stations. About 24,000 pupae are released into the aviary each year, ensuring the colorful spectacle continues. Free half-hour guided tours of the aviary and caterpillar breeding area are full of fascinating tidbits.
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