With more than 10,000 beaches around its shores, Australia leads the way when it comes to incredible sand and surf. Some beaches are playgrounds for marine and other wildlife, and the most beautiful beaches are so expansive or remote that you don't have to fight for towel space. Here's an at-a-glance - but by no means exhaustive - list of some of Australia's top beaches, exceptional for their surfing, swimming, wildlife and beauty.
Surfing and swimming
Many of Australia's surfing beaches are great for both professional surfers and beginners.
- Bells Beach (Victoria) is the spiritual centre of surfing and renowned for its epic swells. 'Bells' is the top surfing beach for experienced surfers. However, it's dangerous to swim here; for safer swimming conditions, head to the nearby surf beach at Torquay. Torquay itself is the longstanding capital of Australia's surfing scene, original home to Rip Curl and it's where you'll find many outlets of top surf brands.
- Byron Bay (New South Wales) used to be known for its beach hippy culture. These days, the town and surrounds are on the upmarket side, but you'll still see plenty of dreadlocks, communal drumming collectives and waxheads (surfers). Byron's beaches, including Tallow Beach, Watego’s and Main Beach, are great for swimming, surfing and windsurfing.
- Noosa (Queensland) is a favourite, if popular spot. While surfers hit the The Point - where longboards are particularly popular - swimmers can catch their share of decent waves on the main beach. After that, you can join the glitterati in one of the town's chi-chi cafes. (Hot tip: for those who love getting their gear off for the all-over tan, Alexandria Bay in Noosa National Park is the area's nudie spot. You won't hear about it much; it's the local 'secret' and a short trek away. The surf's pretty hot here, too.)
Many Aussie beaches feature backdrops of bush and forest. This means wildlife is an added bonus to a sunbathing experience - eucalypts, koalas, kookaburras and other fauna and flora. Beaches in Northern and Western Australia in particular often feature their own fauna - think saltwater crocs and jellyfish - in which case, visits here may be seasonal; always check!
- Rockingham Beach (Western Australia). An hour from Perth, the region hosts a group of around 150-plus bottlenose dolphins in its clear waters. Organised swimming tours depart from the Rockingham jetty (note: not all naturalists agree with this practice).
- Bremer Bay (Western Australia), about 180km east of Albany, is a favourite spot for Southern right whales to calve (July to October). You can watch mothers and babies lolling in calm waters metres from the shore.
- Clarkes Beach (Byron Bay, New South Wales). North-facing Clarkes (read sun aplenty) not only has a fabulous surfing break at The Pass nearby, but sea kayaking trips leave from here to paddle with dolphins. Whales sometimes make an appearance, too. Grab a surfer breakfast or lunch at the fabulous Byron Beach Café that's wedged into the dunes behind.
Beauty and remoteness
When it comes to soft sand, bush backdrops or isolated hideaways, Australian beaches come up trumps.
- Whitehaven Beach (Queensland). This pearl of remote - yet accessible - beaches hugs one of the deserted islands of the Whitsundays. Whitehaven is renowned for its squeaky, clean white sand. Boat, luxury yacht or ferry tours depart from the mainland at Airlie Beach.
- Hyams Beach (New South Wales) holds the honour in the Guinness Book of Records for comprising the whitest sand in the world. Located south of Sydney in the Jervis Bay area, it is by no means remote (it's a popular destination for cashed-up Sydneysiders), but is one of the most stunning stretches around.
- Squeaky Beach (Wilson's Promontory, Victoria) is named for obvious reasons. And - you guessed it - it's the type of place you can't resist but do a 'squeaky' run or dance. To get here, you head along a track through stunning bushland. Massive granite boulders frame the beach.
- Cape Tribulation (Queensland) is surrounded by tropical rainforest and is the beach Paradise with a capital P, at least for the scenery. Beware: saltwater crocodiles also love this place, so check the season before you visit.
- Sawyers Beach (Flinders Island, Tasmania). Located near the main village of Whitemark, this lesser-known favourite is as postcard-perfect as you can get: white sand, gin-clear water, pretty boulders to snorkel around, zero people... you get the picture.
- Cable Beach (Broome, Western Australia) is world renowned for its looooong stretch of sand and bathwater tub-style ocean temperatures. Sheer bliss.
Yes, the beaches are world class, but there's a lot more to it - get the full story with Lonely Planet's Australia guide book.