Frenchman’s beach, North Stradbroke Island, Queensland
Picking a favourite beach, and telling the world, is a risky proposition. No one wants their secret spot overrun by an army of gawkers wielding Lonely Planet guides and taking pictures with tablets. You know the sort. They’ve already ruined some of the country’s best swimming holes – Florence Falls in the Top End is a beautiful remote waterhole where you can swim underneath the waterfall and hear the serene sounds of drunk backpackers blasting crap music.
There’s no such risk opening up about Straddie. First, because it’s the worst-kept secret in south-east Queensland. It’s beloved by Brisbanites, and for more reasons than because we don’t really have a proper beach to call our own.
But more important, there’s no risk of North Stradbroke Island being overrun. At popular times there’s barely any room on the ferry; barely a spare bedroom on the island, but it still has parts that seem an ocean away from the city.
Growing up near Newcastle, I loved Birubi beach at the end of Stockton bight; it was a great surf spot, opening into miles of dunes and national parks. Over on Straddie, Frenchman’s beach is the only other place on earth that pulls off the same vibe. The surf can be stunning. But the place mostly feels untamed; wild waves and wildlife, on a strip of sand bordered by bushland and rocky bluffs. – Ben Smee
Greenfield beach, Jervis Bay, NSW
My favourite beach used to be Hyams at Jervis Bay.
The white sand and azure water are so bright it looks like a touched up postcard from the Caribbean, almost too perfect to be true. But it’s backed by Australian bushland, with noisy crickets and birdsong.
The view across Jervis Bay to the lighthouse on Point Perpendicular is mesmerising and, being inside the bay, the waves are soothing rather than challenging, big enough for children’s boogie-boarding, but small enough to remove the anxiety from parental supervision.
I’ve seen dolphins on almost every visit, and on a few occasions, breaching whales.
The beach is so beautiful it must have made it into tourist guides in many languages, because now it is also quite crowded, with parking lot traffic jams and queues for the toilets.
I know the whole point of Australian beaches is that they are free to be enjoyed by all. I hate the way Europeans have to pay for a brolly and a beach chair, or the idea that my enjoyment should be contingent on wishing that others would stay away. But the Hyams Christmas crowds weren’t great for relaxing, so my new favourite beach is Greenfield.
As the crow flies, it’s just around the corner. But it is accessed through nearby Vincentia rather than from the township of Hyams.
Same colours, same bushland backdrop with ferns and scribbly gums, same vista across the the lighthouse, better barbecues and picnic tables, more shade and … fewer people. For now. – Lenore Taylor
Mosman-Leighton dog beach, Perth, WA
Is there any happier sight than dozens of dogs bounding along the sand and plunging dopily into the sea?
Mosman and north Leighton dog beach is a 2km stretch in Fremantle between Port and Cottesloe beaches. While Cottesloe will always be popular, with its grassy knolls, white sand, and nearby fish and chips shop and pub, Mosman-Leighton dog beach has equally beautiful sea and sand but is more laid-back, despite also being busy with a less touristy crowd of pooches and their owners.
Other major cities don’t seem to have worked out the balance between sharing beaches between people and their four-legged friends. In Sydney, dogs may run on the grass near some beaches, and swim in a few reserves or coves. But they are banned from almost all beaches and owners have to go for a bit of a drive to find a dog-friendly one. In Perth and Fremantle, it’s no big deal, with a variety of dog beach options close to the cities. Dogs frolic up and down the sand off-leash, stealing each other’s tennis balls and bounding into the large mounds of seaweed often found on the sand at Mosman-Leighton. People pick up after them, and plenty of swimmers, kite surfers and children enjoy the dog beach too.
Mosman-Leighton is special because of its combination of crystal blue sea, white sand, well-behaved dogs and owners, and closeness to the bustle of Fremantle. The waves at Port beach, a little further south, can be rough, but Mosman-Leighton has long, shallow stretches of water ideal for just getting feet wet while walking, or paws wet for those dogs afraid of the deeper seas. It’s also a pristine walk – the water and the sky on a summer day are always beautiful, the blue seeming to stretch on forever. On a classic Perth scorcher it’s always worth heading there early in the morning, when the water will already be warm but the sun less intense.
If you don’t have a dog, there’s no shortage of people willing to offer theirs up for a pat. After seeing dogs of all shapes and sizes goofing around in their beach bliss, it’s impossible to leave Mosman-Leighton without feeling a bit of joy. – Melissa Davey
Nightcliff beach, Darwin, NT
Picking a favourite beach is a thankless act which will please almost no one and invite only scorn, so I might as well go for broke and choose one I can’t even swim at.
For six months of the year you can’t swim at Darwin’s Nightcliff beach at all – there are box jellyfish and probably crocs in the water. During the other six, only the jellyfish disappear, while the crocs remain. A quick dip or jump off the jetty has an extra thrill.
There are personal reasons behind my choice. Nightcliff is where I sat and first realised I could make the town my home, where I ran to for a comforting horizon on one of my worst days, and where I sheltered under a tree during a monsoonal storm giggling with an old friend.
But there are universal ones too.
For one, it’s stunning. The red cliffs, pale sand, turquoise tropical water and bright green pandanus blind you with oversaturated colour. Sunsets over the Timor Sea can be so heartbreakingly beautiful that people will talk about them the next day with an enthusiasm usually reserved for an exceptional game of footy.
In the wet season, cyclones kick up a wild and muddy chop, drawing in starved surfers, whose loved ones line the cliff’s edge on croc watch. Once, as we watched the surf pack take on the rubbish waves, a dark shape appeared behind them. But rather than something to fear, it was a solitary dolphin, which spent the afternoon swimming laps behind the break, like a bodyguard for the nervous boardriders, at a beach we’re not supposed to swim in but can’t stay away from. – Helen Davidson
St Kilda beach, Melbourne, Victoria
A disclosure: I don’t like the beach. I prefer to maintain a respectful distance from both the ocean and the creatures in it that want to kill me and, like Anakin Skywalker, I don’t like sand. Sitting at the beach is a thoroughly boring way to spend the day.
But none of these concerns apply at St Kilda beach because you do not go there when you want to go to the beach. You go to walk along the esplanade or have a coffee or look at the little penguins (penguins! In a city!) or to stand in protest to a neo-Nazi rally.
It does not matter that I am terrified of the water or that the water here feels considerably more oily than regular water because, based on the not-infrequent warnings from the Environmental Protection Authority, I probably shouldn’t swim there anyway.
Instead it is a perfect place to stroll along, look at all the families and tourists unaccountably enjoying the sand, and witness the many shades of terracotta a British backpacker can turn when let outside without SPF50. Plus, Paul Kelly (kind of) wrote a song about it. – Calla Wahlquist
Emu Bay, Kangaroo Island, South Australia
Why did no one ever tell me, a New South Wales native, that the best beaches were in South Australia? After years of hearing people sing the praises of Bondi, Manly, Whale beach, Jervis Bay, Byron and the rest, I had come to assume that barring a couple of notable Queensland and Western Australian exceptions, NSW beaches were the cream of the crop. Then I went to Adelaide, the Fleurieu peninsula and Kangaroo Island and realised my beach horizons were woefully narrow.
Beach taste is an individual matter, and what I am looking for is plenty of pearly sand, shallow, rolling waves and an absence of crowds. This makes plenty of South Australia’s coast my idea of beach nirvana, but the closest match is Emu Bay, Kangaroo Island.
Located 13km from Kingscote, the biggest town on the island, Emu Bay sits next to the small community of the same name. Locals are well aware, and visitors soon learn, of its charms, but even on a hot summer day it is far from crowded. You can drive vehicles onto the fine white sand, which sounds like a terrible, beach-wrecking idea, but in practice allows visitors to easily spread out right along the lengthy azure bay. The water is warm and laps gently across sandbars that extend for a good 70 metres or more at low tide.
You can keep your packed Sydney surf spots – give me South Australia’s soothing sands every time. – Merran Hitchick
Maroubra, Sydney, NSW
The one criticism of Tony Abbott I never bought into was disgust or ridicule aimed at his beachwear. The only solid rule of the beach should be that you can wear whatever the hell you like, whether that is a barely decent scrap of cloth or a burqa, a stylish pair of sunnies or a shabby pair of shorts.
Of all Sydney’s beaches, Maroubra has always seemed to me to embody that egalitarian spirit the best, where people care less about who you are or what you look like than they do at some of its more internationally famous rivals. The magnificently ugly slab known as the Maroubra Seals club, which dominates the backdrop, sets the tone for the level of glamour that is expected, announcing immediately that this is Sydney’s least up-itself beach suburb.
The beach itself has all the beachy attributes you could want – dramatic to gentle surf, great views, a lovely walk around the south head. The queues for fish and chips or gelato are short, even the parking is not maddening. Public transport is less impressive, but that also keeps the crowd more local. The suburb of Maroubra may be slowly gentrifying, but its glorious beach still reflects a less frenetic, less obviously Instagrammable Sydney. – Mike Ticher
Tell us about your favourite beach below in the comments. We’ll publish a selection of the best responses in the coming days.