Australia has somewhere between 10,000 and 12,000 beaches. With the third longest coastline in the world, at roughly 55,000 km. 87% of the population living within driving distance of it, meaning there is certainly a great range of opinion over the best beaches in the country.
Culling that list of thousands down to just ten is a tricky task, but someone’s got to do it and that someone just so happens to be me.
So, to get into what won’t at all be a controversial list, our criteria here is, broadly, ‘most iconic’. These are the must-do’s, the have-to-sees, the kinds of places that no trip to Australia would be complete without.
Even if some of these beaches aren’t necessarily the most peaceful or the kind of place where you’ve got it all to yourself, there’s a reason for that and that reason is because they are legendary.
Of course, like the tides and the sand, beaches change. What was great 10 years ago may not be so now, while what was remote and isolated is now up and coming. Plus, everyone has different requirements for a truly great beach. The following are the box tickers, the timeless spots, the kinds of places that please all and are eternally returnable.
In no particular order, here we go.
Vivonne Bay, Kangaroo Island, SA
Vivonne Bay is the jewel of Kangaroo Island and it shines bright with its pristine white sand, gentle turquoise waves, and a backdrop of lush hills. The little beach has been named Australia’s best by the University of Sydney, Traveller’s Choice, and dozens of publications for its clear waters and quiet charm. Nearby, kangaroos hop through Vivonne Bay Conservation Park, while dolphins frolic in sheltered coves and sea lions bask at Seal Bay. Vivonne Bay’s magic is best experienced from October to April, when warm sunshine paints the perfect postcard scene.
Main Beach, Byron Bay, NSW
Mainland Australia’s most eastern point, the not-so-inventively titled Main Beach is what made Byron famous. Its iconic wave, generated at The Pass, runs the length of the beach and, decades ago, drew in beach bums who never left. Nowadays The Bay is somewhat different, populated by Hemsworths and other multi-millionaires, but it manages to retain its bohemian charm and was Made National Georgaphic’s best beaches in the world list last year.
Bondi Beach, Sydney, NSW
Yes, it’s crowded, yes, the parking is impossible, yes, you are not rich enough to dine alongside the overly pampered locals in the cafes, bars, and restaurants that surround it. But, goddammit, Bondi is magic. It is the most famous beach in Sydney, Australia, or perhaps the world, for its breathtaking views, excellent waves, and limitless spots to soak it all in. Love it or hate it, Bondi is an integral part of this country’s identity.
Wineglass Bay, Freycinet National Park, TAS
Arguably the most picturesque bay on one of the most picturesque islands on the planet, Wineglass Bay is surrounded by pristine national park, pink granite boulders, and is a haven for hikers and sailers alike. The beach was named one of the most beautiful in the world by Conde Nast Traveller and has made Lonely Planet’s Australian top 10.
Bells Beach, Torquay, VIC
Bells is the world-renowned surf break situated in the heart of the Great Ocean Road. It attracts professional and amateur surfers alike, as well as beach enthusiasts keen on watching the epic wipeouts. Home of the Rip Curl Pro surf competition as well as dolphins and migrating whales, Bells is a list-topping beach for all occasions. It’s so good it even brought a fugitive Patrick Swayze out of hiding just to experience it in the 1991 classic, Point Break.
Wharton Beach, Esperance, WA
This one is a hidden gem – but not for much longer. An hour north of Esperance, Wharton is a secluded paradise with power white sand, unreal turquoise waters, and epic coastal cliffs. It’s not widely recognised in major awards but has been gaining traction on social media over the last few years thanks to its abundance of marine life and untouched charm.
Whitehaven, Whitsundays, QLD
On the other side of the country is another perfect example of a shining white sand beach exeept this one everyone knows about. Whitehaven is the beach you picture when you think of the Whitsundays. Packed with coral reefs, turtles, dolphins and all sorts of marine life, this picture-perfect paradise has consistently topped ‘best beach’ lists around the world for years.
Hyams Beach, Jervis Bay
Hyams is the gem of Jervis Bay and therefore the light at the end of the tunnel for Canberrans escaping to their nearest coastal getaway. With glittering sand said to be the whitest in the world, the spot is calm and ideal for swimming, sunbathing, and chilling out. Another Lonely Planet top 10, Hyams is best visited from October to April for warm weather and calm waters.
Cable Beach, Broome, WA
This 22km stretch of white sand on the northern end of WA is famous for its resident camel population and glowing sunsets over the Indian Ocean. Its decidedly weird but beautiful scenery is idiosyncratic of Western Australia as a state and it harbours the turquoise waters typical of the region too. Winner of WA’s best beach at the 2022 Australian Tourism Industry Awards, Cable is a sight to behold and an unmissable beach.
Burleigh Heads Beach, Gold Coast, QLD
Another surfers paradise, Burleigh Heads has been named the cleanest beach in the country by Keep Australia Beautiful and the most Instagrammable by Skyscanner. While it has legendary beach breaks to keep boardriders happy, it also boasts a vibrant beachfront strip and a national park fringe with rainforest walks and panoramic views. With the excitement of the Gold Coast just a stone’s throw away, it’s easy to see why this one is a stone-cold Aussie favourite.