Friend of Australia and actor, Chris Hemsworth recalls a childhood spent surfing the waves at Phillip Island and more recent days enjoying the crystal clear waters of Byron Bay with his children.
Across Australia's expansive beaches, secluded bays, sheltered reefs and revered surf spots you will find some of the most memorable aquatic and coastal experiences in the world. Swim with the turtles and kayak with dolphins at Julian Rocks, relax on the sun-drenched sand of the Gold Coast and picnic with kangaroos on the beach in Mallacoota.
You will find a lifetime worth of coastal experiences in Australia. Start your journey with one of these five.
"[Australia’s] beaches are so pristine. We have some of the whitest sand, the bluest water. Our air is unpolluted and people feel free in Australia. It’s a place to relax. Feel the sand between your toes and get as close to nature as you can."
"One of my favourite spots to surf. I spent a lot of my childhood there and have great memories growing up with my brothers." – Chris Hemsworth
Cape Woolamai is Phillip Island’s highest point and is heralded as one the best spots to catch a wave in Victoria. Located 90 minutes out of Melbourne, Cape Woolamai is the perfect place to either start your Phillip Island adventure or simply visit for a day.
If surfing isn't your forte, there are coastal walking tracks and viewing platforms that offer amazing views of rocky pinnacles, the Cape Woolamai Lighthouse, Swan Lake and Pyramid Rock. Base yourself in Newhaven and hire a bike for a leisurely cycle from Tourist Road down to the beach, where the waters are patrolled and kid-friendly.
As an added bonus, a trip to Cape Woolamai allows you to take part in Phillip Island's many incredible experiences. A great must-do activity is the Penguin Parade. Situate yourself at Summerland Beach and you'll be able to watch the world’s smallest penguins returning ashore after a day of fishing. The island also hosts major motor racing events every year, including the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix, World Superbike Championship and the V8 Supercar Series.
While you're there, be sure to get up close and personal with koalas at the Koala Conservation Centre or experience how early Australian settlers lived with a tour around the beautiful grounds of Churchill Island Heritage Farm.
"(I love Cape Schanck) for its raw and rugged coastline, paired with some of the most incredible bush walks you'll ever experience." – Chris Hemsworth
Cape Schanck is located at the southern tip of the Mornington Peninsula, just over a one-hour drive from Melbourne. The cape fronts onto the waters of the Bass Strait, and sitting atop the rocky point is the Cape Schanck lighthouse. Tours of the lighthouse, with its rare stone spiral staircase, are conducted daily. From here, you can choose one of a variety of scenic walks, from a short loop of the lighthouse reserve to a 26-kilometre (16-mile) long trail through the Mornington Peninsula.
The Cape Schanck coastline is rugged in nature, but that won't diminish your coastal experience. Fingal Beach offers a beautiful stretch of sand right along the coast to Gunnamatta Beach, which is the nearest seasonally-patrolled surf beach to Cape Schanck.
Inland, within the rolling hills of the Mornington Peninsula, you'll find orchards, olive groves and more than 200 vineyards. It's a food and wine lover's region where roadside stalls sell organic vegetables and you can wander the orchards and pick your own berries.
While you're in the area, don't miss an afternoon relaxing in the natural thermal mineral springs of Peninsula Hot Springs. If you're feeling more active, take a scenic walk through the Mornington Peninsula National Park or play a round of golf at the National Golf Club. For something sweet to finish it off, try a few decadent chocolates from Mornington Peninsula Chocolates.
"It's a protected marine park so there's an abundance of sea life for divers to experience." – Chris Hemsworth
Julian Rocks is situated 2.5 kilometres (1.5 miles) off Byron Bay's shoreline, and is one of Australia's most unique marine reserves. Remains of a 20 million-year-old volcanic eruption offer shelter and food for more than 500 species of fish, making diving at Julian Rocks one of Byron Bay's biggest highlights.
If you book a diving experience, you can expect to see turtles, blue-lined octopi, schools of white spotted eagle rays and an array of tropical fish, as well as the grey nurse sharks and leopard sharks that often pay the rocks a visit. Perhaps most exciting is the chance to spot humpback whales that migrate past Byron Bay from May through to September. You can also rent kayaks from Cape Byron Kayaks and try to spot dolphins, turtles and whales from the water.
When you're not in the water, make the most of what Byron Bay has to offer and head into the hinterland areas. Home to beautifully lush rainforests, it's the perfect spot to take some time to be in nature – walk the trails, explore the waterfalls and interact with wildlife. One of the highlights is the breathtaking Minyon waterfalls. Head there on foot via The Minyon Loop Walking Track (it will take three to four hours return) in Nightcap National Park.
"Perfect for families, it's where a waist deep, crystal clear coastal estuary meets the ocean. This beach is kid heaven." – Chris Hemsworth
The Gold Coast is renowned for its sun-drenched surf beaches, and if you like to catch a wave, you've really hit the jackpot. Situated a little further down the coast near the New South Wales border, Coolangatta Beach is a go-to for surfers who want to ride a few powerhouse waves.
For non-surfers, the safest area for a swim is at Currumbin Creek Estuary, which flows out on the north side of the point. It offers calm conditions in the inlet and low waves out toward the point.
While you're on the Gold Coast, you're not only surrounded by some of Australia's best beaches, there are also excellent golf courses, like the RACV Royal Pines Resort, a world-class restaurant scene (try Taverna in the charming Kingscliff area or Elephant Rock Café for fresh seafood) and day walks through the Gold Coast hinterland. Of course, there are also the family-friendly theme parks located in the area.
For some up-close animal interactions, head to Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary where you can cuddle a koala, feed a kangaroo and learn about other Australian animals.
"This place is responsible for my love of the ocean. I camped here every Christmas with my family and it has everything; white sandy beaches, crystal clear water, great surf and an abundance of wildlife.” –Chris Hemsworth
Mallacoota is a pretty coastal town located six hours out of Melbourne (or seven hours out of Sydney) in the far southeastern corner of Australia. Mallacoota's secluded beaches are surrounded by the 87,500-hectare (216,217-acre) Croajingolong National Park, making it the perfect quiet escape from the city.
You'll find wildlife (especially koalas and kangaroos) in abundance. Whales and dolphins can be seen along the coast, and you can hire a boat or kayak and journey up the Genoa or Wallagaraugh rivers to Gipsy Point where you can picnic with kangaroos and feed sea eagles. Gabo Island (just offshore from Mallacoota) is also home to one of the world's largest known colonies of penguins.
If you prefer to stay on land, explore the coastline by taking the Mallacoota Coastal Walk, which will lead you through rainforest along the banks of the Davis Creek, right through to the Betka River. Or walk through the wildflowers to secluded rock pools on the Shipwreck Creek Heathland Walk.
Mallacoota is also a great stopping point if you're planning to embark on the Sydney to Melbourne coastal drive.