Margie Murphy admits she’s biased when she calls Airlie Beach the most beautiful town in Australia. The co-organiser of the Airlie Beach Festival of Music is as local as they come, but it’s hard to argue with her assessment. Anyone driving into Airlie Beach is immediately captivated by the sight of the Coral Sea, the Whitsunday Islands and the town’s own steep, rainforested peaks.

It’s a place that also has a proud cultural heartbeat, especially when it comes to live music. Indeed, ask Murphy for her picks on what to do around town when not attending the festival and it’s still music she reaches for first. “A lot of people don’t realise there’s live music playing in this town every night of the week,” she says.

Murphy nominates KC’s Bar & Grill as the “hub of live music” in Airlie Beach. “It’s been a part of Airlie Beach’s music culture for over 40 years. You can get your fix of original live music seven days a week, accompanied by a big steak. It’s a local institution.” The venue regularly hosts open mic nights, so you can strut your own stuff on stage. For a real taste of tropical Queensland, order the Australian game tasting platter (kangaroo, emu and crocodile); vegetarians will love the eggplant parma.

Music aside, there’s plenty to check out elsewhere in and around town.

Murphy says no visit to Airlie Beach is complete without sampling the local seafood. Fish D’vine is the waterfront restaurant where Murphy takes visiting rock stars – if you’re here for the festival you might see some famous faces.

“This region is the home of coral trout, a reef fish that is absolutely delicious, but you’ve got to try the prawns and crayfish, too,” says Murphy. If that isn’t enough to entice you, Fish D’vine has a rum bar attached. “Do not leave without trying their Mojitos. They are the best in the world.”

For a different perspective on the landscape, drive 15 minutes round the coast to Northerlies Beach Bar & Grill. This casual resort faces back across Pioneer Bay towards town and feels remote, despite its proximity to town. “The views are just mega,” Murphy says. “It’s like you’ve gone to a new world.”

Northerlies also has live music, usually with a “beachy” vibe, and the atmosphere is social and laid-back. It’s a great place to chat to the locals and mingle, maybe for a Sunday session. Order lunch from the smokehouse menu and eat it outside under sun umbrellas, with the Coral Sea practically lapping at your toes. And if you want to kick on there’s a bus service back to town.

But you didn’t come to the Great Barrier Reef just to eat and drink. You want to explore that watery wonderland, right? Murphy is happy to point you in the right direction.

“My first pick would be Whitehaven Beach,” she says. “Put it on your list.”

Located on Whitsunday Island (the largest of the 74 islands that make up the Whitsundays), Whitehaven Beach is seven kilometres of serenity. Its pristine sand is almost 99 per cent pure silica, hence its almost ethereal glow. Sealink Whitsundays offers a Big Island Day Tour, perfect for those with a day to whip round the best spots on the island.

“It stops at Hill Inlet, which is a magic spot with swirling sand,” says Murphy. “The tour also gives you a historical perspective, including learning about the traditional custodians, the Ngaro people. It is a tour of tropical paradise.”

A more adventurous way to see the Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef is on an Ocean Rafting Fly and Raft experience. “You get to see the reef from air and by sea on the same tour,” Murphy explains. “The rafting element is quite exciting, and you’ll have a chance to go snorkelling as well, which is just phenomenal.”

The trip includes a flyover of one of the reef’s most Instagrammable spots, Heart Reef, a ring of coral that forms a picture-perfect heart shape. They don’t call Airlie Beach “the heart of the Great Barrier Reef” for nothing.

The region is also flush with hiking adventures, including the three-day Conway Circuit. But if you’ve only got three hours, Murphy reckons you should consider the walk to Honeyeater Lookout, which sits high above Airlie Beach. It’s steep, so not for the faint-of-heart, but totally worth it.

For something far cruisier, the four-kilometre Bicentennial Walkway has the considerable appeal of incorporating refreshment breaks at pubs and cafes along the way. “It’s a beautiful timber boardwalk over the water’s edge, from Cannonvale Beach to Airlie Beach,” says Murphy. “You can walk down to beaches and alcoves along the way, or do a pub crawl. The views are just sensational, especially when the yachts are out.”

Whatever you choose to do, Murphy knows you’ll find it hard to leave.

“It’s such a vibrant town, with that ultra-relaxed vibe,” she says. “The people really do make it. Oh, and the sunsets. Just wait till you see those.”

This story is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Tourism and Events Queensland.

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