Escape the holiday hordes in these off-the-radar coastal towns.
By Lee Atkinson
In Australia, a holiday by the sea doesn’t have to mean crowded beaches, jam-packed bars and hotel strips lined with "no vacancy" signs. With more than 50,000 kilometres (31,000 miles) of coastline and some of the world’s best beaches, Australia has more friendly beachside towns than just about anywhere else on the planet. Here’s our list of nine of the best places to go when you want to escape the summer crowds, but keep it quiet, we don’t want the secret to get out.
Australia's best beach towns
YAMBA, NEW SOUTH WALES
With six beaches all within walking distance of the town centre, Blue Pool – a huge quarry which filled with fresh water when an underground spring was disturbed last century – and an enticing rock pool on Main Beach, Yamba, situated at the mouth of the Clarence River 63 kilometres (39 miles) northeast of Grafton, is one of Australia's most underrated beach towns. Angourie Point is famous for its right hand break and became the first dedicated surfing reserve in New South Wales in January 2007. Take a surfing lesson with Yamba Surf School, where former Australian champion Jeremy Walters will teach you the rules of the surf and get you on your feet in no time. The Sands Resort, which has a range of apartments and villas, is the place to stay if you want to be right on the beach.
SOUTH WEST ROCKS, NEW SOUTH WALES
A sleepy village on Horseshoe Bay, where the foreshore caravan park has million-dollar beach views, South West Rocks is one of New South Wales' mid north coast’s hidden gems. If you don’t fancy camping or the rustic cabins in the caravan park, book into rooms five or six (both open to an elegant balcony) of the Heritage Guesthouse in the town's main street opposite the beach. Spend your days exploring the picturesque sandstone ruins of historic Trial Bay Gaol on the headland at Arakoon State Conservation Area. It’s now a museum and you can walk through the old cells and enjoy lunch at the Trial Bay Kiosk. Take a stroll up to Smoky Cape Lighthouse – you might spot whales between May and November and you can stay in the keepers' cottages – or go on a longer walk around the headland of Hat Head for sensational seascapes and views.
It’s no secret that the towns along the Great Ocean Road are some of the most popular in Victoria but the fishing town of Nelson, 90 minutes drive beyond Port Fairy, is one of those places that seems to have slipped off the radar. Explore the wild and lonely coastline between Nelson and Portland which is almost entirely national park, cruise the Glenelg River and visit the Princess Margaret Rose Cave to marvel at the limestone formations. At Cape Bridgewater walk to the edge of the highest sea cliffs in Victoria to peer down at a large colony of fur seals. You won’t find any fancy resorts here, but there are plenty of charming holiday houses for rent, many with river views.
BEACHPORT, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
Beachport on the Limestone Coast south of Mt Gambier has a gorgeous and all-but-deserted beach, one of the longest jetties in South Australia and is surrounded by national parks and nature reserves laced with cliff-top walking trails. Drive along Bowman Scenic Drive, a short but stunning coastal road that sweeps around the beaches and dunes south of the town and enjoy a float in the Pool of Siloam, a salt lake seven times saltier than the sea. This part of the world is famous for its rock lobster so it's an ideal spot to try a crayfish roll at the Waterfront Café. Stay at Bompas where the rooms have ocean views and sensational seafood is also available.
TUMBY BAY, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
If you like your beaches crowd free, you’ll love South Australia's Eyre Peninsula. One of the prettiest towns on the peninsula, Tumby Bay’s main street follows the curve of the bay. Try your luck fishing with the locals on the wooden jetty but if you fail to catch anything, don't despair because the two pubs serve great local seafood. Try the whiting, which is an Eyre Peninsula specialty and the local oysters are world famous. Top notch fish and chips is also available at the town's popular seafood café. Tumby Bay is one of the best places to see the leafy seadragon, which is only found in southern Australia. You can hire diving equipment from Port Lincoln Diving Services. When it's time to rest, stay in one of the historic rooms above the Tumby Bay Hotel or one of the hotel’s Seafront Apartments.
Surrounded on three sides by the Coral Sea, the town of 1770 – so named because British explorer Captain James Cook came ashore here in May 1770 – is one of the few places on the east coast of mainland Australia where you can see both the sun rise and set over water. The best place to watch it go down, and the spot to grab a bite to eat, is from the deck of the Tree Bar at 1770 Beach Hotel. The town also has Queensland’s most northern surf beach. Explore the waterways by kayak with 1770 Liquid Adventures or the pink LARC (Lighter Amphibious Resupply Cargo) vessel, which is a cross between a boat and a 4WD. Pavillions on 1770 has a range of one, two and three bedroom luxury apartments opposite the beach.
PALM COVE, QUEENSLAND
Escape the hustle and bustle of Cairns in Palm Cove. It’s only 27 kilometres (17 miles) north of Cairns (catch the 110 bus from Cairns Central) but feels a world away with its relaxed, sophisticated vibe and beautiful tree-lined beachfront esplanade. There are dozens of good places to eat: try the acclaimed Nu Nu for fine dining at the edge of the sand, the Apres Beach Bar & Grill for cocktails with a view and the The Surf Club for good value hearty fare. The Reef House & Spa feels more like a beach house than a hotel. Its open-air restaurant and award-winning spa are excellent reasons to stay.
Tasmania’s northern coastline is one of its best kept secrets, a place of untamed beauty where fertile farmlands spill into the wild waters of Bass Strait and penguins nest on beaches. One penguin you can’t miss is at Penguin – you’ll know you’re there when you see the three metre (10 foot) fibreglass bird overlooking the beach and the quirky collection of penguin-shaped rubbish bins on the main street. Spot the real thing by night at Penguin Point. The little creatures waddle up the beach to their nests between September and March. Bag a bargain at Tasmania’s largest undercover market every Sunday, and drive the scenic 42 kilometre (26 mile) coastal road between Ulverstone and Wynyard. The Letterbox is the spot to go for coffee and cakes, and El Perro tapas and pizza bar is opposite the beach, or whip up a dinner of local seafood while admiring the view in one of Penguin Waterfront Escape’s beachfront apartments.
MARGARET RIVER, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
The Margaret River area, around a three hour drive southwest of Perth, is famous for its wine but it's also got some of the world’s best surf breaks, beaches, caves, karri forests, whales and coastal walking trails. The Margaret River Gourmet Escape, held in November each year, is a four-day wine and food festival showcasing the talents of international and Australian food and wine celebrities with events taking place across the region. If you miss that, dine at the boutique hotel and restaurant Cape Lodge. The Eagle Bay Brewery Co is a top spot for lunch as is Providore. Stay at Margarets Beach Resort located on the beach and only 10 kilometres (6 miles) from town. Good food, fine wine and deserted beaches: sounds like the perfect mix to us.
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