Travel

14 Beaches That Cement Australia As a World-Class Beach Capital

The prime spots to snorkel, surf, and sunbathe.

Bondi Icebergs
Bondi Icebergs on the southern end of Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia | Simon Rae/Unsplash
Bondi Icebergs on the southern end of Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia | Simon Rae/Unsplash

Sure, the waters surrounding Australia host hungry sharks, saltwater crocs, and deadly jellyfish, but if you think that the country’s shores are just some sort of underwater Outback, you’re sorely mistaken. Marked by some of the planet’s softest sands and most hypnotic waters, the continent’s 30,000 miles of coastline offers up more than 10,000 beaches, making a strong case for Australia as the place to beat for continental beach perfection.

Whether you’re a surfer or a sunbather, a deep-sea diver or a beach bum, the beaches of Australia are unlike any other. And in an effort to help you figure out exactly which cove of pure bliss is perfect for you we’ve compiled a list of our favorites. Consider them a starter kid to find your own ideal shore.

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsundays, Australia
Whitehaven Beach is tucked away in the Whitsunday islands | Zhimai Zhang/Unsplash

Whitehaven Beach

Whitsunday Island, Queensland
Located on the largest of the 74 islands that make up the Whitsunday archipelago, Whitehaven can only be reached by boat, seaplane, or helicopter, lending an extra layer of excitement to your journey. Once at there, stroll more than 4 miles of the purest white silica sand -- 98% pure, to be precise -- then dive into the turquoise waters, which are so full of jellyfish that you have to wear a spandex "stinger" suit to keep safe. Once you're done, head to the north end for a captivating panoramic view of the coral-filled waters atop the iconic cove known as Hill Inlet. Whitsunday Island is also home to a national park, meaning you can camp overnight and relive the same perfect day again, minus the voyage. 

Brighton's famous beach boxes look like a neighborhood of tiny houses | Kieran Stone/Getty Images

Brighton Beach

Brighton, Victoria
The 82 colorful bathing boxes that line this beloved Melbourne beach like a colony of tiny houses might be a gimmick, but they're an effective one. Painted with images like the Australian flag, boxing kangaroos, and surfing koalas, they've helped Brighton gain status as the most photographed beach in Melbourne, one where ice cream trucks are as omnipresent as the stunning city views and showstopping sunsets. As a bonus, it's located in one of Melbourne's most exciting neighborhoods, home to boutique shops and rowdy outdoor pubs, a personal favorite being Half Moon Pub, where local beer, live music, and great food are a constant. 

Freycinet National Park
You can see Wineglass Bay from summit of Mt. Amos in Freycinet National Park | Nigel Killeen/Moment/Getty

Wineglass Bay

Freycinet National Park, Tasmania
Reaching Wineglass Bay requires a steep, long hike through the Hazards mountain range in Tasmania’s Freycinet National Park -- but it's worth every bit of effort when the trails give way to the blindingly white shores. Though continuously voted one of the world’s most beautiful beaches, the effort to get there deters enough people from actually visiting that you’ll find plenty of space to spread out. The lookout point most people come for is jaw-dropping, the green-blue waters and fire-red rocks exuding a multi-dimensional beauty that rewards the effort handsomely. And since you're at the source of some of Australia's freshest seafood, stop by the nearby Freycinet Marine Farm for a variety of fresh-caught favorites on your way back to civilization.

Byron Bay
Byron Bay is Australia’s East Coast surf capital | Vicki Smith/Moment/Getty

Byron Bay

Byron Bay, New South Wales
With its open-armed hippie vibes, soft sands, and utterly transparent waters, Byron Bay has become the surf-capital of Australia’s East Coast. Here, dolphins, sea turtles, rays, and even the occasional migrating whale family happily play among surfers and swimmers in the bay’s warm waters, while nightly drum circles and a clothes-optional stretch of white sand add to the chill vibe of Byron’s stress-free lifestyle. Those who stay overnight -- or just pull an all-nighter -- get the added bonus of the continent's first sunrise: As the easternmost point in the country, dawn here is a daily work of art. 

MORE:Make Byron Bay a stop on an epic East Coast Aussie road trip

Mindil beach
Sunset at Mindil Beach in Darwin, Australia | kenbrown05/500Px Plus/Getty

Mindil Beach

The Gardens, Northern Territory
The tropical climate and ever-looming looming humidity work in tandem here to smash colors against Mindil Beach’s golden sand dunes, lush landscape, and sparkling water. Drawing a crowd each night, Mindil Beach is known for having the Northern Territory’s most spectacular sunsets. Treated more as a celebration than simply day’s end, don’t be surprised if an applause begins when the giant glowing ball finally sinks into the sparkling horizon. Ruled by the Northern Territory’s wet and dry season, which brings saltwater crocks to the area, it’s best to visit between May and October so you can actually take a dip in in the warm waters before hitting up the night markets in The Gardens for a delicious music-filled post-sunset nightcap. 

Fraser Island
Fraser Island 's iconic beach really is 75 miles long | Matthew Micah Wright/The Image Bank/Getty

75 Mile Beach

Fraser Island, Queensland
Naturally formed jacuzzi rocks referred to as the Champagne pools… Do I really need to say more?  Located on Fraser Island -- the world’s largest sand island, known as K’Gari (paradise) locally -- this forever-stretching white sand beach really is 75 miles long. Unfortunately, the nearby shark population makes for hazardous swim conditions, leaving the beach to be used for more practical Aussie things like landing planes, 4-wheel racing, and dingo spotting. Luckily, that's offset by the wealth of natural rock pools, where you can wade in shark free. After soaking, hike to Indian Head lookout for a sweeping view of the whole beach, then explore the Maheno Shipwreck or visit the color-changing, Cathedrals rock formations. 

Hamelin Bay Beach
Stingray spotted on Hamelin Bay Beach | James R.D. Scott/Moment Open/Getty

Hamelin Bay Beach

Hamelin Bay, Western Australia
Nearby Surfers Point is home to some of the world's gnarliest surf waves, attracting -- and conquering -- some of Earth's most elite surfers. But for those who don't wish to reenact the end of Point Break, nearby Hamelin Bay Beach offers up a pinch-yourself dreamland of pristine dunes and neon-blue waters. For my money, it's the most traditionally striking beach in all of Australia, and its beauty is almost enough to distract you from the giant stingray population that call the waters home, and who are actually as curious to meet you as you are them. Bring your snorkel for an added level of exploration and excitement in the nearby caves and shipwrecks. 

Coral Bay

Coral Bay, Western Australia
Coral Bay reigns in most conversations about the world's best beaches, but not just for its sky-to-water blue. Located a swimmable distance from the marine-life paradise that is Ningaloo reef, the beach offers an entrypoint to frolicing among dolphins, sting rays, baby sharks, and -- from March-July -- migrating whale sharks. Protected from the wide-open Indian Ocean by the reef, the bay’s gentle, shallow waters are swarming with tropical fish darting from one direction to the next among the eponymous 200+ brightly colored coral species that call the waters home. Explore it all while snorkeling, cruising in a glass-bottom boat, or just splashing it around. 

Cable Beach
The famous camel train on Cable Beach | photography by Ulrich Hollmann/Moment/Getty

Cable Beach

Broome, Western Australia
Why ride a horse into the sunset when you can go by camel? Broome, a small but mighty hub Abiroginal culture and the pearling industry, has come to be known for just that. The have-to-do-it-to-understand excitement of riding a camel through such vivid beauty -- silhouetted against a burnt-orange horizon -- is enough to cement Cale Beach in anyone's most cherished memories. Meanwhile, nearby Gantheaume Point provides a scenic view of Cable Beach and is a good lookout during the whale migration season. Casually, it is also the location of several 130-million-year-old dinosaur footprints. Australia.

Bondi Beach
Bondi Beach's waves attract many surfers | Drazen_/ E+/Getty

Bondi Beach

Sydney, New South Wales
Australia's most famous beach is an electric combination of churning surf waves, golden sand, and tanned bodies. Lifeguard-protected year round, the choppy sea is a wave-jumper’s dream, but it's also a place to let the adrenaline take a break: surrounded by cafes and surf shops, it's one of the most fun places to people-watch in all of Oz. Kick it up a notch by visiting the iconic Icebergs Pool on the beach’s southern tip for the ultimate cocktail or swim experience. Or go ahead and beach hop: Sydney's shore is one stretch of paradisiacal sand after another, from iconic Congee to the hidden treasures of Little Bay.

MORE: Plan your Sydney beach-hopping day here

Turquoise Bay
Do you even have to ask why it's named Turquoise Bay? | christian_b/Shutterstock

Turquoise Bay

Western Australia 
This is the turquoise beach that makes all other similarly named beaches look like worn-down Crayola markers, a place whose gleamingly white sands and hypnotic colors are the reason post cards were invented. Like Coral Bay, it's within swimmable distance to the Ningaloo, allowing you to drift-snorkel among 700 species of fish as the ocean current takes you on a personal tour of the shallow waters. Nearby you'll find the Jurabi Turtle Center, a natural outdoor turtle-nesting site: Come during the right time and you may see the adorable little guys making their way to the sea. Come when they’re not ready yet and you’ll still learn a heck of a lot about turtles and how to spot them in the future, so it's a win-win. 

Elephant Cove is decorated with huge granite rocks that look like, well... elephants | Aurélie Galtier/EyeEm/Getty

Elephant Cove

Located in William Bay National Park, Western Australia
Lest you think Australia's all white sands, Western Australia kindly asks you to hold its Fosters: At Elephant Cove, giant granite rocks rest in the ocean waters like a herd of glimmering pachyderms. Located in William Bay National Park, climbing around these huge rocks gives awesome perspective and beautiful views of Elephant Cove below. Distinctive and sheltered, the cove’s emerald-green waters and multi-colored rocks play off one another in a vibrant display of natural beauty. Just around the corner with a matching emerald hue and perfectly sloping shallow waters, the Greens Pool beach is even more of what you already love, minus the allusions to giant land mammals.

Noosa National Park
One of the stars of the Sunshine Coast is Noosa Main Beach | Peter Unger/Stone/Getty

Noosa Main Beach

Noosa Heads, Queensland
A paragon of the Sunshine Coast's allure, Noosa's swaying palms, golden sands, and iconic boardwalk give it a timeless, all-inclusive quality. A rare north-facing beach, its calm waters make it ideal for beginner-level swimmers, paddleboarders, kayakers, and surfers (the omnipresent lifeguards are there to ease minds, too). Its relaxed vibes and air of safety can draw crowds, but if you find yourself wanting a little more isolation, follow the beaches boardwalk to the less populated west end.  Or head heast to the Fairy Pools, Hell’s Gate, lookout, and Devil’s Kitchen, then get a little higher at the Laguna Lookout for an unbeatable view of the whole shoreline. 

Hyams Beach
Experience the beauty of Hyams Beach on a weekday to avoid crowds | Charlene Nunn/EyeEm/Getty

Hyams Beach

Hyams Beach, New South Wales
For as long as people have been making lists, Hyams has been a top-ranked beach. Locals have long been debunking the "false claim" that it's Guinness-certified as the world's whitest beach, but you can't blame them for wanting to keep it to themselves. The beach is ethereally, blindingly white, contrasted starkly by the deep aqua of the waves that wash onto its shores and seem to gently push the horizon away. Aim for a weekday to avoid crowds, and maybe pack extra sunglasses. After, head north to the town of Huskisson and take the Husky Ferry for a trip of questionable stories and awesome marine-life sightings. While there, be sure to check out the Husky Pub and its outdoor deck.  

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Julie McNamara is a contributor for Thrillist.