When I was a lad growing up in Wollongong, south of Sydney, I spent a lot of time on North Beach, especially during the summer school holidays. I have many fond memories of those halcyon days — catching a tan on the baking hot sand (long before the ‘Slip, Slop, Slap’ campaign), hot chips from the local kiosk, The Mamas & The Papas blaring out of the tranny and bodysurfing creamy rollers from dawn ‘til dusk. Since then, I’ve travelled widely in Australia and visited many of the 10,000 or so beautiful beaches that grace our coastline. Some are internationally renowned icons, emblematic of Aussie beach culture, like Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island, Wineglass Bay in Tasmania’s Freycinet National Park, 80 Mile Beach on the Pilbara Coast and of course the tourist-favourite Bondi Beach in eastern Sydney. But here is a short compilation of some lesser-known gems that I’ve discovered off the beaten track. You may not read about some of them in the Qantas in-flight magazine or Australian Geographic, but they are all unique in their own special way and make fantastic summer escape locations for your next road trip or Big Lap itinerary.
Green Patch, Jervis Bay
New South Wales
The idyllic Green Patch Beach is one of many beaches fringing the shore of Jervis Bay, a vast inlet 200km south of Sydney. Green Patch is located in the southern end of the bay on the edge of the Booderee National Park. In the language of the local Aboriginal people Booderee means 'bay of plenty' and this little beach lives up to the name, with superb sugar-white sand (among the whitest in Australia) lapped by crystal-clear wavelets teeming with marine life.
Although it’s not patrolled by lifesavers, the beach’s sheltered location, calm emerald waters and natural beauty make it a popular destination for holidaymakers with young families, paddleboarders and snorkelers. Scuba diving enthusiasts will enjoy the underwater scenery of rocky outcrops, while anglers will find a boat ramp and wharf at nearby Murrays Beach for ready access to the bay.
Booderee is an easy place to explore on foot with many walking trails ranging from short strolls to full-day hikes. One of the best short walks connects Murrays Beach to the lookout at Governor Head, with fantastic views to Bowen Island and over Jervis Bay.
Nestled behind the beach in natural bushland, the popular Green Patch camping area offers discrete, unpowered sites suitable for caravans, camper trailers and tents, with amenities that include potable water, toilets, hot-water showers and sheltered barbecues. Demand for sites in peak periods (December–January, Easter and school holidays) far exceeds availability and they are allocated according to a ballot, with applicants notified by 1 September.
Jan Juc Beach
The coastal township of Jan Juc overlooks Bass Strait, immediately southwest of Torquay, the self-styled Surf Capital of Australia. Jan Juc Beach stretches 1.2km from Rocky Point in the east to the 20m limestone cliffs of Bird Rock in the west. The golden-sand beach is backed along its length by low bluffs and scrub-covered sand dunes, separated in the middle by ephemeral Spring Creek, which collects in a lagoon and seldom crosses the beach.
Facing almost due south, the beach is a surfers paradise and receives quality surf breaks averaging 1.5m generated by swells rolling in from the Southern Ocean. (These are the same swells that power world-famous Bells Beach a few kilometres to the west.) Bird Rock can provide excellent right-hand barrels with a moderate swell on a mid to high tide.
Jan Juc gets a hazard rating of 7/10 by Surf Life Saving Australia owing to the high waves, persistent rips, shallow sandbars and sharks (as in all southern beaches). The conditions are better suited to experienced swimmers and surfers. Since 1963, the beach has been patrolled during summer months by the Jan Juc Surf Life Saving Club, which rescues an average of 30 people annually — a good reason why you should always swim between the flags.
An extensive foreshore reserve has recreation facilities, a sealed 100-car parking area, toilets, showers and mobile phone reception at the beach. The nearby Torquay Foreshore Caravan Park offers glamping tents and pods, cabins, powered and unpowered sites with excellent facilities that include covered barbecues, a children’s playground, laundry and a large camp kitchen. It's a great place to set up your basecamp before heading out to explore the surrounding natural wonders.
Adventure Bay, South Bruny Island
Adventure Bay was named by Tobias Furneaux in honour of his ship HMS Adventure, which he anchored here for five days in March 1773. Furneaux was one of many early mariners to visit the bay, including James Cook (1777), William Bligh (1788, 1791) and the French explorers, Antoine Bruny (Bruni) d'Entrecasteaux (1792) — after whom the island and adjacent channel are named — and Nicolas Baudin (1802).
The township of Adventure Bay is strung out along a curved northeast-facing beach that is sheltered by the densely forested slopes of the South Bruny Range to the west and the towering eastern headland of Fluted Cape. The delightful 2.5km beach is generally calm, particularly at the southern end, and the water is warm enough for swimming during summer and early autumn (although you might need a wetsuit at other times). It’s an ideal location for relaxing beach walks, kayaking, paddleboarding and families with young children learning to swim. A boat ramp provides easy access to the bay for fishing and Bruny Island Cruises operates a three-hour powerboat excursion around the cape to enjoy better views of the stunning sea cliffs and marine wildlife.
The town is the largest community on the island, boasting a general store that sells fuel, a cafe and an excellent museum showcasing the bay's rich seafaring history.
A stone’s throw from the beach and all local attractions, the Captain Cook Holiday Park offers powered and unpowered sites, on-site caravans and cabins, making it a great base for exploring the island.
Memory Cove, Lincoln National Park
In February 1802, explorer Matthew Flinders reached the Jussieu Peninsula (south of present-day Port Lincoln) on his circumnavigation of Australia in HMS Investigator. As the ship’s water supply was very low, he dispatched eight crew members in a boat to search for fresh water. They never returned. The boat was later recovered but there was no sign of the missing crew. Flinders landed in a small inlet on the southeast tip of the peninsula, naming it Memory Cove and erected a copper plaque in honour of the crewmen who lost their lives. He also named several nearby islands after each of them.
The main beach of Memory Cove is a secluded 220m white-sand arc in the southern end, cradled between densely vegetated granite headlands and surrounded by a wilderness of coastal mallee. Only low waves disturb the turquoise tranquillity of the cove, and its sheltered location makes for relatively safe swimming and a calm anchorage for boats.
Set back from the beach is a shady camping area of five sites suitable for tents and camper trailers (no caravans permitted), with toilets the only facilities. Camping is limited to a maximum of three nights. Four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended for the access road.
The cove is 50km from Port Lincoln within a wilderness protection area, to which access is limited to 15 vehicles a day through a locked gate. A key is provided with a special entry permit and bookings are essential. Fees apply. More information about the entry permits and bookings can be found on the Parks SA website or at the Port Lincoln Visitor Information Centre.
Shell Beach, Shark Bay
Shell Beach, 45km southeast of Denham, is one of the many outstanding natural attractions of the Shark Bay World Heritage Area. As its name implies, the beach is composed entirely of shells ... trillions of them. They are the tiny snow-white remnants of a single species known as the Shark Bay cockle (Fragum erugatum). It is the only beach of its kind in Australia and one of only two places in the world where shells replace sand in such a dramatic and picturesque way.
The beach stretches for about 70km around the shore of the shallow L'Haridon Bight. A combination of restricted tidal flow and high evaporation makes the Bight’s clear, aqua-blue waters twice as salty as the sea. This high salt concentration is harmful to nearly all creatures in it, except the cockle, which has adapted and flourished here for more than 4000 years. Through natural attrition, vast numbers of cockles have died, and their shells have been washed ashore to accumulate in banks up to 10m deep extending 200m into the bay in a series of low ridges. Over time, the older, deeper layers have been compacted and cemented into a soft, lightweight form of limestone called ‘coquina’. In the early 1900s, the coquina was cut into blocks and used to construct a number of buildings in the nearby town of Denham, some of which can still be seen today, such as The Old Pearler Restaurant.
The old coquina quarry can be visited at Hamelin Pool, near the historic Old Telegraph Station. The beach is easily accessed from the Denham Road and is a popular stop for a walk and a swim (float) in the Bight’s crystal clear waters.
Mindil Beach, Darwin
Mindil Beach is Darwin’s most famous and popular beach, located in the suburb of The Gardens near the city centre. Set between two low headlands, the kilometre-long beach faces west into Fannie Bay. At high tide it has a moderately steep entry, but low tide reveals a 200m sand flat running out into the bay. Conditions are usually calm, with prevailing offshore trade winds, and the beach is patrolled by the Mindil Beach Surf Life Saving Club on Sunday afternoons during winter. However, swimming is not recommended due to the presence of dangerous marine stingers and, and if you believe the locals, the occasional crocodile.
Fortunately, Mindil Beach is much more than just a place to swim. During the dry season (April–October), the Mindil Beach Sunset Market operates in the reserve behind the beach on Thursday and Sunday evenings (4–9pm). From humble beginnings in 1987, the Market has grown into a multicultural extravaganza with around 200 stalls offering international cuisine, creative arts and Indigenous crafts. Adding to the heady mix of exotic food, buzzing crowds and tropical ambience, local and travelling musicians, street performers, dance groups and buskers from all walks of life perform in a grassy arena under a canopy of coconut palms. As the sun dips towards the horizon, many people wander down to the sand to watch the spectacular sunset over the Timor Sea.
Mon Repos, Bundaberg
Mon Repos is the longest beach on the Woongarra Coast, 14km east of Bundaberg, and is one of the best places for nature lovers to visit. It lies within a conservation park which protects the largest nesting site of marine turtles on Australia’s eastern seaboard. Facing the Coral Sea near the Southern Great Barrier Reef, this golden-sand beach extends nearly 2km between low basalt headlands with boulder fields to either side. Waves are usually low but there may be surf during occasional periods of higher swell.
The beach is backed for its entire length by a 150m-wide vegetated foredune, which is where the sea turtles nest. Behind the foredune, sugarcane grows on rich red-soil plains. The beach is open all year round and, during the day, it is a perfect place for walking, fossicking in tidal rock pools and swimming in the warm subtropical turquoise water.
However, during turtle season (mid-October to late-March) access to the park is controlled and the beach is closed to visitors between 6pm and 6am. Under cover of darkness, up to 450 female turtles of several species, mainly loggerheads, come ashore to lay their eggs in holes they excavate in the sandy foredune. To witness this ancient ritual is unquestionably one of the most unique and memorable experiences of the animal kingdom, although it can only be done through an official Turtle Encounter guided tour. About eight weeks later, the young hatchlings emerge from the nests and scramble down to the open sea. During January and February, you might be lucky enough to see both events in the one night. A ranger-guided ‘Turtle Encounter’ must be booked in advance and fees apply.
Booderee Visitor Centre
Village Road, Jervis Bay, NSW
P: 02 4443 0977
Captain Cook Holiday Park
786 Adventure Bay Road, Adventure Bay, Tas
P: 03 6293 1128
Mindil Beach Sunset Market
Maria Liveris Drive, Darwin, NT
P: 08 8981 3454
Mons Repos Turtle Centre
141 Mon Repos Road, Mon Repos, Qld
P: 07 4159 1652
Port Lincoln Visitor Information Centre
60 Tasman Terrace, Port Lincoln, SA
P: 1300 788 378
Torquay Foreshore Caravan Park
35 Bell Street, Torquay, Vic
P: 03 5261 2496 / 1300 736 533
WA Parks and Wildlife Service: Shark Bay Office
61–63 Knight Terrace, Denham, WA
P: 08 9948 2226
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