Australians are understandably protective of their beaches. Still, Max Veenhuyzen convinced his network of sun-loving informants to reveal their favourite hidden stretches of coast – and an outback waterhole. (Just don’t all rush there at once.)
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NEW SOUTH WALES
Literally down the road from Yamba, Angourie offers many of the attractions of its better-known neighbour but with fewer tourists and added rainforest (more on that in a moment). Angourie Point, the area’s famous exposed point break, has been enticing surfers to this part of the Clarence Valley since the 1960s.
For a less adrenalin-charged outing, set sail for Spooky Beach, where bodyboarding and leisurely swims make splendid ways to pass the time. Or, for a change of scenery and salinity, visit the Angourie Blue Pool – a deep, freshwater swimming hole fed by a spring (algal blooms can occur during the warmer months so look for council signage advising on swimming conditions).
Now, about that rainforest. Named after the area’s Indigenous people, Yuraygir National Park is the largest coastal park in NSW and abundant in isolated beaches and campsites. The catch? They’re accessible only by walking tracks, with many requiring an overnight or multi-night journey. Enlist the help of an expert and join a Wayfarer Expeditions guided walk or photography workshop to really get to know this untamed part of the country.
Not up for finding your inner Dr Livingstone? Make camp at an Angourie Rainforest Resort suite or villa. If you can resist the lure of the in-house day spa, the resort is well positioned for exploring Flat Rock Beach.
One address, many beaches: this tiny seaside community at the foot of Yorke Peninsula is perfect for exploring Innes National Park. The park’s 90-plus square kilometres of shrub, stone and shoreline has every day-at-the-beach scenario covered. Scuba divers, for instance, can frolic among rays and southern rock lobsters at Chinamans Hat Island and the exposed reef break at Pondalowie Bay makes it a go-to for surfers. Swimmers and sunbathers, meanwhile, are spoiled for choice, starting with the technicolour blues and golden sands of Dolphin Bay.
For all its beauty, Innes also harbours a darker past as evinced by shipwrecks scattered around the cape. The boardwalk at Ethel Wreck Beach is an ideal viewing point for the remains of the Ethel, a British-built iron barque stranded here in 1920. The wild, crashing, ripping water, however, makes the beach itself a look-but-don’t-swim prospect.
Proximity to Innes National Park might be Marion Bay’s claim to fame but the town has its own appeal. Its beaches are great for surfing, fishing and swimming, while Marion Bay Tavern hits the spot with wood-fired pizza and a parochial wine list. A pit stop in the Clare Valley is a fine way to break up the four-hour drive here from Adelaide.
Sunshine Coast by name and by nature, yet an abundance of vitamin D is just one of the things this seaside hamlet has going for it. Peregian Beach, like many of its neighbours (including Noosa Heads), has been blessed with a spectacular coast, and forward-thinking town planning has helped preserve this beauty (even if preservation comes at the expense of development). But, as conducive as the beach is to surfing, swimming and fishing, Peregian’s greatest asset could well be its townsfolk and the strong sense of community that connects them.
Life here revolves around the aptly named Village Square, a communal alfresco living room where residents and visitors gather to talk, laugh and break locally baked bread such as the rolls served with ham and jam as part of the frühstück platter at Baked Poetry Café.
The local summer calendar is full of opportunities for people to come together. The fortnightly Peregian Beach Markets are held at the surf club on the first and third Sunday of each month. The second Sunday is reserved for Peregian Originals, a series of free concerts where musicians are allowed to perform only their own material. It’s inspiring stuff.
How do Margaret River locals love Gnarabup Beach? Let us count the ways. The shimmering turquoise waters. The reassuring give of that soft, white sand underfoot. A natural harbour offering protection from the forces of nature. Most of all, Margaret River loves Gnarabup because it’s a 10-minute drive from the township, making it ideal for morning, lunchtime and after-work dips.
On weekends, the cove next to the boat ramp is a popular spot for families from nearby Prevelly but don’t let that deter you. A quick walk north along the footpath reveals more than a kilometre of quiet shoreline. Like most of the region’s beaches, Gnarabup is unpatrolled but offshore reefs do a fine job of taming the conditions.
Once you’ve shaken out your towel, head back to the car park and on to White Elephant Beach Café. Up-market dishes – potted prawns and sweet-corn relish on sourdough, for example – are tough to resist; ditto the café’s waterside views. After dark it’s all about The Common. Come for the adventurous drink selection and relaxed setting and stay for Tony Howell’s assured cooking (his beef ribs for two are superb), or bring something home from the takeaway menu.
Maximising your visit to Forrest Caves, on Phillip Island, is all about timing. Arrive while the swell is up and the only souls here will be surfers. Drop in at low tide, though, and Forrest Caves reveals, literally, a hidden side.
Formed by millions of years of wave erosion, the beach’s eponymous sea caves are a memento of the island’s volcanic birth and are accessible only when the tide is out. But even if you don’t make it down to the caves – they’re about a 45-minute round trip from the dunes near the Surf Beach estate – the beach’s lookout has unbeatable views of the surrounding coast.
Birdwatchers will be pleased to hear the area is home to a number of species, including colonies of mutton-birds that migrate to the island from Alaska over the summer months. Phillip Island’s little penguins, however, are a year-round attraction at sunset.
Holiday homes are available in nearby Newhaven and Surf Beach but Clifftop is one of the island’s finer beds for the night. Book early to secure one of the eight rooms and lap up the views of Bass Strait and Pyramid Rock. Thirsty? Souvenirs of the 750ml persuasion can be found at Phillip Island Wines.
Take a deep breath. Legend has it that Stanley, in Tasmania’s north-west, is blessed with some of the planet’s cleanest air. But as pure as the oxygen might be in these parts, Stanley and its surrounds are just as capable of taking your breath away.
Perfectly preserved colonial buildings and charming B&Bs aside, this sleepy village’s best natural feature is The Nut (above), an imposing volcanic plug that juts insouciantly over the water. It’s an impressive slab of stone, especially for visitors who tackle the steep 20-minute ascent (a chairlift, mercifully, is available for those unable to climb it). When you get to the top, primo 360-degree views await.
Then there’s Godfreys, Stanley’s kilometre-long stretch of coast and another of the region’s drawcards. Being an east-facing beach, it’s cosseted from the howling weather that regularly batters Tassie’s West Coast but it’s still important to keep your wits about you. Stay clear of the headlands and rocks, and watch for rips in the low tidal zones. Beware the gusty westerlies, too. Strong winds have been known to blow people on flotation devices out to sea.
Thankfully, there are no such worries about the saltwater lap pool at Beachside Retreat West Inlet. A slick combination of luxury and eco-smart design makes this hideaway perfect for exploring the area.
N’Dhala Gorge Nature Park
While the crowded wave lagoon by Darwin’s waterfront is a fun way for locals and visitors to cool off, the territory’s more tranquil waterholes tend to be way, way past city limits (and not to mention the croc-filled rivers, estuaries and beaches of the Top End).
N’Dhala Gorge, like most of the East MacDonnell Ranges, isn’t the easiest place to travel to. But for those in the market for serenity and solitude, the reward well and truly repays the effort it takes to get here.
Once you’ve travelled 90 kilometres east of Alice Springs, the gorge is another 11 kilometres by 4WD, with the track crossing the Ross River several times. After heavy rain, the track is pretty much impassable and, once you’ve arrived at the site, the shady gorge itself is another half hour by foot. Although the gorge photographs nicely, it’s the peripherals that really make N’Dhala a destination worth visiting.
The site has approximately 6000 ancient rock carvings as well as other sites of cultural importance to the Eastern Arrernte people. Camping facilities include barbecues and toilets, although visitors need to carry everything in and out with them (namely water and rubbish). Alternatively, the nearby Ross River Resort and its outback hospitality await.
Image: Tourism Victoria
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