How to get to Airlie Beach from Cairns

Updated Fri 12 Aug 2022

Person making a peace sign, Jucy Car Rental travelling through Cairns

Vibrant coastal hubs along Australia’s East Coast, Airlie Beach and Cairns are renowned worldwide for their magical waters located within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, buzzing backpacker scenes, and laid-back atmospheres. Whether travelling from Cairns to Airlie Beach or vice versa, you can easily fly, bus, drive or train from one major destination on Australia’s eastern coastline to the next!

The Whitsundays region is located 619 kilometres from Cairns, in Australia’s sunny state of Queensland. For those travelling along the northern coastline, it takes approximately seven and a half hours to drive between the two tropical destinations. We recommend leaving plenty of time to reach the sandy shorelines of Airlie Beach from Cairns - and considering a cheeky stop at the palm-fringed Magnetic Island!

Every backpacker, van nomad, or holidaymaker to Airlie Beach has a different itinerary, perhaps you’re road-tripping south, eager for a weekend away with friends, or planning a family school holiday getaway. Depending on your budget and time frame there are a variety of ways to get to Airlie Beach from Cairns - let us fill you in!

Travelling by air

Entrance to the Whitsunday Coast Airport

The Whitsunday Coast Airport is serviced by domestic airlines Qantas, Jetstar, Virgin, and Skytrans. In the past flights from Cairns to Airlie Beach included a stopover in Brisbane or Sydney, as direct flights between the two airports were not offered. Skytrans has recently announced that they will be flying direct between the Cairns Airport and the Whitsunday Coast Airport. Prices start from as low as $199 for a one-way trip and are currently offered three days a week on Sunday, Thursday, and Friday.

As the Whitsunday Coast Airport is located in Proserpine, 26 kilometres southwest of Airlie Beach, travellers will need to book a seat on an airport transfer service to reach their accommodation. Shuttle buses and taxis meet every flight to transfer guests to various drop-off points in Airlie Beach.

Alternatively, Hamilton Island Airport (HTI) is located a 50-minute ferry ride to the mainland of Airlie Beach. At this time there are no direct flights between Cairns and Hamilton Island, and a stopover in Brisbane will be required. Be sure to remember that in addition to flight costs, you will need to book and pay for a passenger ferry transfer to reach Airlie Beach.

Although flying between Cairns and Airlie Beach is a convenient option, keep in mind that buses between the two often only take eleven hours if you’re on a budget.

Travelling by car

Jucy Car Rental driving through the Cairns region.

The northern coastline between Cairns and Airlie Beach is home to fertile red earth, remote rocky outcrops, jewel-coloured waters, and vast stretches of rich farmland that create the perfect road trip backdrop!

The 619-kilometre drive from Cairns to Airlie Beach takes approximately seven and a half hours to complete. Although you can finish the distance within one day of driving, we recommend enjoying the journey by taking an overnight pit stop along the way.

The Bruce Highway (Highway 1) runs along the complete eastern coastline of Australia, from Brisbane in the south to Cairns in the north, resulting in a fairly easy drive between crowd-favourite East Coast destinations. Once Proserpine is reached, travellers simply have to take the turn-off to Airlie Beach and follow Shute Harbour Road until entering the hub of Airlie. For those East Coast travellers seeking the best in car rental prices, live chat with our friendly staff today.

Once you’ve arrived in Airlie Beach, be sure to check out our teeming list of places to park your campervan!

Travelling by bus

Person checking their phone whilst travelling on a Greyhound Bus to Airlie Beach.

Bus travel between Cairns and Airlie Beach is by far one of the most popular modes of transport - cheap, convenient, and an excellent way to meet fellow East Coast travellers and backpackers. In addition, buses have the smallest carbon footprint of all transport options from Cairns to Airlie Beach, helping everyone play their part in protecting the reef.

A typical coach ride from Cairns departs in the early hours of the morning and arrives in Airlie Beach by nightfall, generally taking ten and a half hours*. Leading interstate coach companies, Greyhound and Premier, offer affordable, comfortable, and extremely reliable direct regular coaches between Cairns and Airlie Beach and vice versa. We recommend booking your tickets as early as possible to secure the lowest prices, which generally range from $100 to $130* for a one-way ticket!

A huge advantage to bus transport, particularly the Cairns to Airlie Beach route as it travels throughout the day, is that travellers get to experience the diverse changing landscape of North Queensland - and enjoy a day of rest and respite in between an adventure-loving itinerary!

Travelling by train

Women jumping into the air in front of the 'Welcome to Airlie Beach' sign.

If you’re seeking a leisurely, slow-paced, charming way to travel between Cairns and Airlie Beach, the Spirit of Queensland’s long-distance rail travel is calling your name! The Spirit of Queensland travels from Cairns to Brisbane, making multiple stops along the way (including Proserpine), four times a week. A semi-luxury train, passengers have the option to book an economy seat or Railbed for their spirited journey through Queensland.

The Spirit of Queensland departs from Cairns Railway Station, located in the Cairns CBD, at 8:35 am Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday*. Travelling through Queensland’s major towns, the Spirit of Queensland reaches Proserpine Station by 6: 00 pm that same night. A Railbus Coach connection leaves shortly after, stopping at Cannnonvale, Coral Sea Marina, Airlie Main Street, Port of Airlie, Jubilee Pocket, and Shute Harbour. In total, the train trip from Cairns to Airlie Beach takes approximately ten hours in total. 

Tickets generally range from $105 to $175* for a one-way trip aboard the Spirit of Queensland from Cairns to Airlie Beach, depending on the type of seat you desire. For those travelling from Airlie Beach to Cairns, a similar train timetable and price ranges apply. We recommend you visit the Spirit of Queensland timetable for more info.

* prices and timetable information are subject to change

Person riding their bike along the Bicentennial Walkway, Airlie Beach.

Now it’s time to get planning your Airlie Beach and Whitsunday itinerary! From island-hopping adventures, the silica sands of Whitehaven Beach, and a vibrant nightlife scene there is something for everybody in Airlie Beach! Be sure to check out our Official Guide to the Whitsundays and Airlie Beach for the best of locals' favourites and advice.

For travel-hungry, experience-loving East Coast backpackers our team has prepared the Ultimate East Coast Itinerary: Cairns, Whitsundays and K’gari (Fraser Island). Whether you’re on a budget, seeking luxury, or ready for an adventure these top destinations cannot be missed!

We can't wait for you to explore our Whitsundays backyard!

Live chat with a team member or call us on +61 7 4914 2425 for expert local advice and deals!

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