SURFS UP: The top Australian beaches you don't know about
FROM the tranquil, squeaky, white coves of the Whitsundays, to Margaret River's rocky, rugged headlands - Australia has an enviable 30,000-kilometres-plus of spectacular coastline, and more than 10,000 recorded beaches.
Some well-known, some decidedly off-the-beaten path, and each offering something different, be it great swell for surfers, sprawling sand for families, amazing aquatic life for snorkellers, or calm, sheltered waters for swimmers.
But which, out of this staggering volume of surf and sand, qualifies as the best? It's a debate that invokes passion in every True Blue Aussie - after all, we all have our favourites.
So, rather than tackling the controversial subject ourselves, we've deferred to the experts; state and territory tourism board execs, pro surfers, swimwear designers, beach and ocean professional photographers, surf life savers, and even sand sculptors.
These beach aficionados know a good stretch of sand when then see one and their hot picks are guaranteed to satisfy even the most discerning of beach bums.
WHERE: NALGALBADMARAK, NT
WHY: A beach so off the trail that it hasn't even been bestowed with an English name yet, Nalgalbadmarak in the Garig Gunak Barlu National Park is one of the state's best kept secrets, according to Northern Territory Department of Tourism & Culture CEO, Alastair Shields.
"It sounds a bit cliched, but if you had a tick list for everything you want in a perfect beach, this place would deliver them," he says. "It's rugged, pristine and only accessible by four-wheel-drive. There's also some of the most breathtaking scenery and bird watching in all of Arnhem Land."
TOP TIP: Its remoteness and ample aquatic life mean that it's a fishing Mecca says Alastair: "If like me, you're a mad keen fisho, you can even ring the Black Point Ranger Station for advice on conditions and the best tackle to bring.
I have the fondest memories of eating fresh oysters off the rocks, of snapper jumping onto my line … it's pretty close to heaven on earth."
WHERE: WHITEHAVEN BEACH, QLD
WHY: Australian professional sand sculptor, Peter Redmond, has worked on countless beaches in Oz, but his all-time favourite just happens to be the same stretch of sand that topped the best Aussie beach list in this year's Tripadvisor's Travellers' Choice Awards.
"From a work and location point of view it has to be Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays," he says. "The sand is so pure that it squeaks when you walk on it. Access to the beach is only through either seaplane or boat, so parking is not an issue and it's very safe for swimming as tides don't change much."
TOP TIP: Head to the southern end of the beach for great snorkelling, but whatever you do, remember to slip, slop and slap, advises Peter: "There's limited shade, so bring your own and always remember sunscreen and a hat even on overcast days."
WHERE: ALEXANDRA HEADLAND BEACH, QLD
WHY: Near Mooloolaba on the Sunshine Coast, Alexandra Headland (or 'Alex' as it's known locally) is actually a whopping eight beaches in one.
"Alex just feels like home," says surf lifesaver - and son of Grant Kenny and Lisa Curry - Jett Kenny. "It's laid-back, friendly, unpretentious, and there's plenty of things to do. The water is warm year-round and you'll often find dolphins swimming close to the shore."
TOP TIP: Positioned right on the beach, The Kiosk at Alex Surf Club is Jett's breakfast and lunch go-to. "It's the best way to start the day," he says. "When the tide is high, you're almost able to enjoy brekkie with your toes in the water!"
WHERE: SUNSHINE BEACH, QLD
WHY: Flanked by the lush nature reserve of Noosa National Park, Sunshine Beach (previously known as 'Golden Beach' due to its shimmering sand) is both renowned for its beauty, but also its proximity to chic boutiques and hip cafes.
"I've been going for over 20 years so there's a sentimental connection," says Tourism Australia's managing director, John O'Sullivan. "It's the type of beach that as soon as the sand hits your toes you relax.
"The swell is rugged and consistent and there's a great onshore sea breeze. For me the best bit of the beach is from the patrolled area heading north, which feels secluded and private."
TOP TIP: "My tip here is to use the bus," says John. "During holiday periods the traffic in Noosa is a killer, so public transport helps takes the stress out of it. Or the more adventurous can try walking to Noosa through the National Park."
WHERE: CABARITA BEACH, NSW
WHY: The NSW coastline may stretch over 2,000-kilometres, but for NSW Minister for Tourism and Major Events, Adam Marshall, the standout is Cabarita Beach on the Tweed Coast.
"The beach epitomises the casual, easy going style of the area," he says. "Throughout the year it also plays host to numerous surfing carnivals, so it's a great spot to watch some A-class surfing surrounded by beautiful nature reserves."
The sleepy seaside town has also become a blip on the international radar tanks to the launch of beachside hip hotel, Halcyon House. One of the hottest hangouts in the country, it was even featured in last year's "Conde Nast Traveller" 'Hot List.'
TOP TIP: Post-beach Adam advises retreating to local favourite the Cabarita Beach Hotel "for fantastic food, wine and scenery."
WHERE: DIGGER BEACH, NSW
WHY: Handily located right across the road from Coffs Harbour's famous Big Banana, the wide and sheltered Digger Beach ticks boxes for both locals and visitors.
"This was my local beach growing up," says founder and designer of Sluggers swimwear, Adam Butler. "The headland has been built up a little over the years, but the beach itself is stunning with golden sand and smooth ocean pebbles, and the southern end has beautiful, relaxing waves."
TOP TIP: "Like any mid north coast beach you can expect the wind to pick up in the late afternoon, so avoid the holiday crowds and go early," advises Adam. "Also, if you've got time there's a rock formation with an Aboriginal dreamtime story on the headland that's definitely worth the walk."
WHERE: MEREWETHER BEACH, NSW
WHY: Ranked as of Newcastle's most scenic beaches, Merewether's gorgeous looks are matched by serious swell. Declared a National Surfing Reserve in 2009, its unsurprising that four time world surfing champion, Mark Richards, now calls the area home.
"It has some of the most challenging waves in around," he says. "While usually always surf-able, the swell can sometimes mean that swimming can be difficult, depending on the shore break. But if that's the case there are two incredible ocean baths - both free to enter."
TOP TIP: "For me, the beach is at its best really early at sunrise," says Mark. "Nearby there are some great eating and drinking options too. The Merewether Beach Hotel has both a prime position and amazing views."
WHERE: CRONULLA BEACH, NSW
WHY: A mere 50-minutes by train from Sydney's CBD, the sandy beach and world-class surf breaks at Cronulla hit the right notes for Funky Trunks & Funkita swimwear founder and designer, Duncan McLean. "I particularly love the south end of the beach," he says.
"It's where I swam in the lead up to doing the Rottnest Channel Swim. There water here is so clear and there's plenty of sea life about to keep a long swim interesting."
TOP TIP: "The coffee and muffins at the nearby Zimzala or Barefoot cafes make the post-swim recovery much easier!" says Duncan.
WHERE: APOLLO BAY BEACH, VIC
WHY: Pristine coastal waters on which to swim, surf or kayak, and for landlubbers miles of sand, sunset beach rides on horseback and weekend foreshore markets packed with local crafts - with summer upon us, Peter Bingeman, CEO at Visit Victoria has his sights set on the Great Ocean Road surf beach of Apollo Bay.
"There are few more idyllic places to visit," he says. "Apollo Bay beach offers a laid-back vibe, fantastic seafood, and the perfect base for exploring the spectacular rainforest of the Otways Ranges."
TOP TIP: "Book early during peak summer season," advises Peter. "Better yet go during the cooler months when you can get the place to yourself.
And if you're a wine or beer-lover then visit the nearby Tastes of the Region to sample local wines and more than 100 craft beers."
WHERE: PORT NOARLUNGA BEACH, SA
WHY: Safe for swimming - due to its usually low waves and lack rips - this former sea port turned aquatic reserve is also great for snorkelling.
"Port Noarlunga is one of my favourite childhood beaches," says nature and ocean photographer, Ryan McGrath. "It's an environment for everyone - the river is great for fishing and canoeing, and the waves offer surfing in the shallows right off the beach. Plus, there's a huge amount of sand area, which is perfect for families."
TOP TIP: If you're bringing you car, Ryan advises to plan ahead: "Decide which side of the beach you want to be on before parking, because if you park on the wrong side, you'll have to walk through the river to get back."
WHERE: LUCKY BAY, WA
WHY: For great swimming, relaxing and fishing without the crowds it's hard to beat Lucky Bay in WA's Cape Le Grand National Park, says Tourism Western Australia's executive director strategy, brand and marketing services, Louise Scott.
"Lucky Bay, in is one of the most stunning beaches in WA," she enthuses. "It's rated one of the country's best beaches because of its pure white sand, clear turquoise water and perfect swimming conditions. And the ability to easily interact with the local population of kangaroos on the beach makes it an even more memorable experience."
TOP TIP: To get the most out of the surf and sand, Louise advises setting up camp nearby. "The caravan and camp ground offers such a unique and picture-perfect location overlooking the bay," she says.
As an added bonus migrating whales can be seen here between July and October.
WHERE: CORAL BAY, WA
WHY: Located on the World Heritage Listed Ningaloo Reef where the desert meets the reef, Coral Bay's astonishing diversity of marine life lures both amateur and professional photographers alike, including beach and ocean snapper, Alex Kydd.
"I love it because of the incredible variety of photo opportunities," he says. "Every time I'm there l see something different. In a single day there might be turtles, dolphins, sharks, manta rays, dugong and even whales. There aren't many places in the world that offer all of these amazing creatures."
TOP TIP: "Only a 10-minute walk north from the main beach and you'll get to the tiny Skeleton Bay. The shallow water there has a congregation of black-tip reef sharks. At times you'll see up to 50 of them basking in the shallow water."
WHERE: SMITH'S BEACH, WA
WHY: "What I love about Smith's Beach - and the beaches in the Margaret River region in general - is its turquoise, crystal clear waters," says Tourism Australia managing director, John O'Sullivan. "And the fact that the rugged landscapes seem to simply roll on down into the surf.
"The beach is best in the late afternoons after a day of wine tasting or caving in the region. The rocks seem to change colour, the water glistens and the beach feels like it's yours for miles and miles."
TOP TIP: "Nearby Lamont's delicatessen is one of the best in the country," says John. "Great coffee, a great wine collection and amazing takeaway food." John also recommends timing your visit to Smith's with the annual Margaret River Gourmet Escape in November. "It's one of Australia's best food and wine events," he says.