The Whitsundays is lucky to have two regional airports that can service Airlie Beach and the Whitsunday Islands. The Whitsunday Coast Airport is located in Proserpine and is a 30-minute drive from Airlie Beach. Jetstar, Virgin Australia and Tiger Airlines from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
There is also another airport which is located on Hamilton Island, in the Whitsundays. This is very convenient if you are staying on the island or nearby as there are ferry transfers available to other islands from here.
You may visit the Great Barrier Reef and the Whitsunday Islands on a cruise ship around the Australian waters. P & O Cruises, Princess Cruises, Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean Cruises are among some of the cruise companies that visit the region. Most of cruise liners will stop offshore and ferry you to surrounding islands and reefs on day trips. The stop is generally a day visit so if you prefer a longer stay and more freedom to explore as you please then a cruise ship to the Great Barrier Reef may not be the best option for you.
The nearest railway station to the Whitsunday Islands is Proserpine station. Passengers will need to then transfer for a coach connection to Airlie Beach. If you have booked accommodation on the island, you will then need to transfer to a ferry onto one of the islands. This travel option is great if you are doing independent travel as part of wider itinerary as it allows you to visit towns in between Brisbane and Cairns in comfort. I would not recommend this option if The Whitsundays is the sole destination of your holiday unless you really enjoy railway travel. The journey takes approximately 13 hours from Brisbane and the arrival time is very early morning or late in the evening from Cairns. It can often be cheaper and certainly quicker to fly into the region and spend more of your time enjoying being in such a stunning location.
Many coach companies travel directly into Airlie Beach and can be a more convenient way to travel to smaller regional centres to experience the Great Barrier Reef. There also tends to be more than one service a day which can be convenient if you wish to have an overnight service and save on a nights accommodation as many travellers tend to do. It is quite a slow way to travel and not always scenic. If you are short on time I would recommend getting a cheap flight back to Brisbane or whichever destination you need to return to.
The beauty of having access to your own vehicle is the fact that you can make the journey part of the holiday. There are many great coastal and regional towns, national parks, heritage museums and farm stays that you could take advantage and include in your itinerary on the way to the Whitsundays. Once you are in Airlie Beach you will find that having a car is a great convenience to get you to and from the cruise terminals or the venture further afield.
There are some beautiful short drives from Airlie Beach to the Conway National Park, Hydeaway Bay, Cedar Creek Falls or Bowen.