Around the world’s largest island, life is a beach. Actually about 12,000 beaches and not just any old beaches. Australia has some of the world’s best with fine quartz sand created from its ancient granite rocks and pulverized shells. Its clean oceans are renowned for rolling surf, the envy of board riders around the world, and its massive reef systems teem with marine life. Many beaches are protected by national parks and have scenic headlands and coastal dunes with vegetation that ranges from tropical to temperate.
Before jumping in the deep end, a word of warning. These visions of paradise can be treacherous. Always swim between the red and yellow flags (460 beaches are patrolled), which designate safe and supervised areas, and remember to use sunscreen and wear sun protection.
Sydney’s crescent-shaped Bondi Beach, bookended by two sandstone headlands, is probably Australia’s most famous strand. Derived from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘water breaking over rocks’, Bondi is home to the Bondi Surf Bathers’ Life Saving Club, the world’s oldest surf lifesaving club established in 1907.
Locals surf and jog before and after work. Toddlers splash in the shallow ocean pool. Mobs of wannabe surfers practice jumping to standing position on soft-topped learn-to-surf long boards. European gentlemen play dominoes under the Bondi Pavilion archways and skateboarders do flips at the best skate park-with-a-view in the world.
Lifeguards patrol between the red and yellow flags, while seasoned surfers rule the waves at the beach’s southern end. Pink Europeans shed their winter woollies. Japanese and Chinese tourists take photos. Orthodox Jewish couples promenade the boardwalk. Families picnic on grassy lawns and young women ignore skin cancer warnings and bronze their bikini-clad bodies under the relentless Southern Hemisphere sun.
At sunset, glamor pusses sip cocktails at the Icebergs Bar and look down on swimmers doing laps in the ocean pool as the waves roll in at the close of another day. The 6-km Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk, one of the great urban coastal walks, starts not far away.
The seven-kilometer-long Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island is regularly on the list of the world’s most beautiful beaches. Part of the Whitsunday Islands National Park and surrounded by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, this strand of fine white sand is comprised of 98% silica crystals while fine sediment particles scatter the sunlight on the water’s surface to create a deep turquoise hue. The beach ends at the swirling sands of Hill Inlet where crested terns roost, stingrays cruise, and pandanus trees line the shore. Most visitors come for the day, via boat or float plane, but there are also campsites in the vine and woodland forest behind the beach.
Wineglass Bay, Tasmania
Tasmania’s most famous beach, Wineglass Bay is located on the Freycinet Peninsula on the island’s east coast. Reached only on foot, it is a steep half-hour ascent to the Wineglass Bay Lookout then a pleasant walk down to the pure white silica beach created from the erosion of the surrounding granite boulders. Gentle waves lap against the steep beach face while deep aquamarine water is just offshore. White-bellied sea eagles glide overhead and large Australasian gannets dive for food in the bay. Just for the record, while it is indeed shaped like a wineglass, the name is derived from the ‘red wine’ color the water used to have when this was a busy whaling station.
For a luxury splurge, check out my blog post on Saffire Freycinet nearby.
Bells Beach, Victoria
Not far from the start of the Great Ocean Road, Bells Beach has crafted a reputation as the spiritual home of Australian surfing. Its world-famous Bells Beach and Winki Pop surf breaks are the venue for the Rip Curl Pro, the world’s longest-running surfing competition, held every Easter.
The scalloped bays of Bells Beach and adjoining Southside and Point Addis are framed by dramatic sandstone cliffs. At low tide it is a lovely walk along the beach but only experienced surfers should tackle the waves. There are lookouts and cliff-top walks but no lifeguard facilities. Southside is a clothes optional beach and the offshore Ingoldsby Reef offers great diving for the experienced.
Lucky Bay, Western Australia
Lucky Bay is a 3.5 kilometer-long pure white silica beach in the middle of nowhere in Southern Western Australia, more precisely in Cape Le Grand National Park, 774 kilometers southeast of Perth. It vies with Whitehaven Beach for the whitest sand beach in Australia.
Named by Matthew Flinders because he found safe anchorage here during his 1802 expedition around Australia, Lucky Bay is framed by rounded granite boulders while offshore are 100 islands of the Recherche Archipelago. It is home to a mob of kangaroos which come for the fresh water bubbling up through the sand. Whales, seals and dolphins can often be seen in the translucent waters while in spring the park is awash with wildflowers.
Wategos and Clarkes Beach, Byron Bay, NSW
Wategos Beach is Australia’s most easterly beach offering great longboard surfing. It is ringed with some of Byron Bay’s most gorgeous beach houses and a track from Little Wategos beach leads to the Cape Byron Lighthouse with fabulous views along the spectacular coastline and out to the Julian Rocks Aquatic Reserve, brimming with tropical and pelagic fish, turtles and stingray. During winter, it is a great vantage point to see the humpback whale migration. On the other side of Wategos Beach is Byron Bay’s famous surf break, The Pass, and north-facing Clarkes Beach and tucked into the dunes are the Byron Beach Café and some of Australia’s best beach cottage rentals. If you’d like to stay there, check out my blog post on the quintessential Aussie beach house holiday
I know that there are so many many beaches that qualify to be among Australia’s best and this list barely scratches the surface. I am planning to add a second list and would love your input and ideas about your favorite stretches of sand. Please tell me why you think they are among the best Down Under.
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