The temperate climes of northern Queensland are a departure lounge for so many of Australia’s beach glories, and where palm trees and mangroves introduce a tropical flavour to proceedings.
Up here, in towns such as Mission Beach, you’ll find a cheerful surf and tourist culture where the beach is the raison d’etre, and is fringed by rainforest.
On the sand you’ll find bits of skeletal coral that remind you that the Great Barrier Reef is close; the queen of the whole Australian coast and the most famous (and best-kept) coral reef in the world.
Understandably, there’s an abundance of Reef-bound trips. But there’s always space enough to find peace and many different ways to experience it, from remote and luxurious through to eco-friendly and idyllic on Lizard Island and Green Island.
You can even take a helicopter out to the stunning sands of Vlasoff Cay, a drop (off) in the ocean that is the very definition of remote desert island luxury.
I’d recommend spending a couple of days around the Reef. Whether you opt for sailing, snorkelling, swimming or sunbathing, it’s unlikely to be bettered anywhere in the world.
Moving towards the north-eastern tip of the country you reach the relaxed town of Port Douglas. The famous Four Mile Beach, a great stream of sand, offers masses of adventure. Pack flips-flops and plenty of sun cream, and all this can all be yours.
If Four Mile Beach is famous, then consider how many beaches are truly world famous. Bondi Beach at Sydney most definitely is. As I walked around the headland by the beach, I thought of how symbolic this place was to British settlers, how emblematic of the ‘lucky country’, and how envious I felt as a youngster when I heard that Christmas dinner could be taken on the sand itself.
Well, Bondi’s still got it. The beach is a wide track beloved by a pageant of fit Australians and tourists blading, boarding and jogging. After a walk around that headland to see its more remote rivals, Tamarama, Bronte and Coogee, I returned to Bondi’s Campbell Parade to sit and enjoy Sydney’s gift to the world of coffee: the flat white.
There are many other beaches in Sydney, of course, and they all have their own adherents. Manly beach is a great Sydney day trip, particularly pleasing in that you take a ferry across Sydney Harbour, which is a journey well worth taking in its own right. There are multifarious water sports at Manly, with crashing surf on the Pacific side and a harbour beach on the other, which is great for children.
On the other side of Sydney, there’s the more exclusive Palm Beach, beloved of the smart set and something like New York’s Hamptons.
Best NSW beaches
To seek out New South Wales’ other beaches you’ll have to leave Sydney. There are an astonishing 892 of them, and you’ll find that great Australian pastime of surfing at many of them. Going north reveals hotspots like Angourie, Crescent Head and Lennox Head, which surfies revere for its Lennox Point break.
Then there’s Byron Bay, one of the most celebrated, and the most easterly place in Australia. A wonderful place (if you’re up early enough) to greet the sunrise with yoga.
There’s a group of surfy beaches here, and your fellow beach denizens will (along with their dogs, mobile homes and friends) often be full-timers. It’s one of the best places to learn to surf, and after a long day’s wobbling you’ll probably find yourself asked to ‘top a cold one’ at sundown with your new mates.
Lizard Island, on the Great Barrier Reef, has 24 white sand beaches and The Cod Hole, one of the Reef’s most famous dive sites.
Mission Beach is a laidback beachfront town with more than ten miles of golden sands. It’s the closest part of the mainland to the Great Barrier Reef and a good muster point.
Four Mile Beach is a beautiful and beloved stretch of sand at Port Douglas, an hour north of Cairns.
Hyams Beach, in New South Wales’ Jervis Bay, holds the Guinness world record for the world’s whitest sands, so pack your sunnies.
Byron Bay, the most easterly part of the Australian mainland, is a surfing honeypot with family beach activity as well as plentiful free spirits enjoying the vibe.