Just around the headland from Cannonvale past Abel Point Marina, AIRLIE BEACH is nestled between the sea and a hillside covered in apartment blocks, with all services crammed into one short stretch of Shute Harbour Road and the hundred-metre-long Esplanade. Despite the name, Airlie Beach has only a couple of gritty stretches of sand, which get covered at high tide – though the view of the deep turquoise bay, dotted with yachts and cruisers, is gorgeous. To make up the shortfall, there's a free, open-air landscaped pool between Shute Harbour Road and the sea, complete with showers, changing rooms, picnic hotplates, benches and a little sand.
Airlie's main preoccupation is with organizing cruises, but you can also rent watersports gear from the kiosk on the beach. A flea market is held near the long-distance bus stop on Saturday mornings, for local produce and souvenirs (8am– noon). Otherwise, Conway National Park comprises a mostly inaccessible stretch of forested mountains and mangroves facing the islands, but there's a small picnic area on the roadside about 7km from Airlie on Shute Harbour Road, from where an easy walking track climbs Mount Rooper to an observation platform giving views of the islands' white peaks jutting out of the unbelievably blue sea.