Sure, it’s great to visit our big-ticket, iconic stretches of sand – along with every other beach-goer and their dog. But for some truly magical memories, it’s worth wandering off the beaten path and staking a claim on your own perfect little pocket of paradise. You know – the kind of beach your kids will take their kids to when they grow up.
Of course, there’s no better place to do this than Australia. With over 30,000 kilometres of coastline and more than 11,760 beaches (and that’s just the mainland!) you’re spoiled for choice.
We’ve asked the nation’s foremost ‘beach gurus’ and authors of the book 101 Best Australian Beaches to nominate their top family-friendly spots around the coastline. Between them, Brad Farmer and Professor Andrew (Andy) Short have visited every one of Australia’s beaches – yes, really. Brad is Australia’s leading coastal conservationist and the founder of the Surfrider Foundation; and Andy (or ‘Professor Coast’, as he’s sometimes called) is regarded as the world’s foremost authority on beaches, thanks to a career studying coastal geomorphology. Who better to point you in the right direction of a glorious family-friendly beach?
Our experts favourite beaches for families
Brad: The Basin (Rottnest Island) – A half-hour ferry ride from Perth, ‘Rotto’ and its most beautiful family-friendly beach The Basin (pictured), is a place memories are made of. The best way to see the island of 63 beaches and 20 bays is by hire bike – with no private cars, the roads are all yours! The Basin is quite near the ferry terminal and the island’s only settlement of Thompsons Bay. Like most beaches on the island, it is only 200 metres long but, with its sunny northern aspect, calm clear waters and shallow rock reefs dotted with deeper pools, it offers wonderful swimming and snorkelling. Anchoring a cruiser just offshore is a great option for a day trip.
Andy: Meelup Beach – Meelup Beach is safe, protected, shady and spacious, and patrolled by lifeguards during the summer holidays. Set in the Meelup Regional Park and located between sloping granite points, this sheltered 400 metre beach faces north-east into the broad Geographe Bay, with the prevailing southwesterlies blowing offshore. Trees grow right down to the shore, providing a shady canopy to the large grassy picnic area that backs the beach.
Andy: The Strand, Townsville – The Strand is a world-class recreational space, with four rocky promontories dividing Townsville’s city beach into five sections with space for the surf lifesaving club, restaurants, amenities and great views. The wide foreshore reserve is studded with tropical palms and giant fig trees and is a great place to relax, picnic, barbecue, exercise or just soak up the views. The calm beach has permanent stinger enclosures, a northern rockpool, a kids’ water park, extended viewing platforms, wide walkways and bike paths and a number of artistic and historic installations.
Brad: Tangalooma (Moreton Island) – Right on Brisbane’s doorstep, Tangalooma, on the sheltered western side of Moreton Island, is a delight for a day trip or weekend for families. It has scattered shipwrecks in the shallows to safely snorkel, shady picnic spots and the world’s highest sand dune, Mt Tempest, at 280 metres. This national park was once home to a busy whaling station and thankfully now it’s the departure point for whale watching boats. The beaches on the eastern side are great for anglers, but unpatrolled for swimmers.
Andy: Nielsen Park, Sydney Harbour – Beach lovers come to Nielsen Park, as they have for 100 years, to enjoy the lush green sloping lawns and open areas, the views across Sydney Harbour – always full of yachts, boats and activity – and to swim in the clean, clear water of the harbour. The beach is netted and usually calm, with just the occasional boat wake disturbing the ambience. A stepped seawall leads to the extensive park, which has a range of facilities including a café, kiosk and changing rooms. For those arriving by boat, there is a drop-off area at the eastern end of the beach.
Brad: Catherine Hill Bay – Just a leisurely 90-minute drive north of Sydney, ‘Catho’ is a very special spot – just ask the locals. There’s nothing pretentious about this long golden sanded beach with not much more than a picturesque jetty, one very old hilltop pub, a general store and lifesaving club – but this quaint coal mining hamlet, first settled in 1865, is a unique place to experience for a day. It gets some good waves to surf, has some natural headlands to explore and a chance for the kids to learn about Australian history.
Andy: Lorne – Lorne is one of a number of small communities located along the famous Great Ocean Road, wedged between the Otway Ranges and Bass Strait. The popular town has a wide, gently sloping beach and an extensive foreshore reserve that provides parking and grassy picnic areas, as well as the surf club and a resort. The reserve also extends along the sheltering headland, with a shady walking track leading to more parking and picnic areas. This is a usually quieter patrolled beach with great facilities for all the family.
Brad: Kitty Miller Bay (Phillip Island) – Everyone loves islands and this one, like them all, is fringed by many beaches, some surfable and some quiet retreats. With a range of accommodation choices and only 90 minutes from Melbourne, the calm waters of Kitty Miller Bay on ‘PI’ are a star attraction for families. The rich marine life that thrives in this rocky bay also finds its way to the shore, providing a treasure trove of flotsam at this almost circular sheltered cove. Kitty Miller Bay is also just around the corner from the famous penguin parade at Summerland Bay.
Andy: Bridport – Bridport is a small farming, tourism and commercial fishing community located on the western side of the wide open Anderson Bay, and the only community of any size in this lightly populated north-east corner of Tasmania. Between the town and the shore is a two kilometre-long shady foreshore reserve with a caravan park, camping and picnic areas, and a boat ramp – all fronted by a series of five sheltered pocket beaches, most less than 100 metres long and bordered by beautiful round granite boulders. The beaches have quaint names like Old Pier, Mattingley, Croquet Lawn, Eastmans and Goftons. A great place for a walk, picnic or quiet swim.
Brad: Adventure Bay (Bruny Island) – This gorgeous family-friendly spot really lives up to its name. Just south of Hobart, this quiet nature-rich island is best accessed by the 15-minute sweep across D’Entrecasteaux Channel on the car ferry from Kettering. The size of Singapore, the island only has 700 residents who are fortunate to have 94 varied beaches to enjoy. Adventure Bay is the largest community on the island, strung out along a curved north-facing beach and offers a range of nature-based activities the whole family will love, including adrenalin-charged eco boat tours. A ‘must do’ is to climb the long staircase at The Neck lookout, where you’ll find a monument to indigenous icon Truganini.
Andy: Port Noarlunga – Port Noarlunga provides two beach experiences. The northern half is sheltered by a shore parallel reef, which also protects an aquatic reserve and a fishing pier. It is patrolled by the Port Noarlunga surf club, which sits on the bluffs overlooking the popular beach, and has a large car park and a wide range of facilities. The usually calm attractive beach is ideal for families. As you walk down the beach, the waves start to pick up as the more exposed southern half receives low swell travelling up the gulf. If you’re after a surf, head to this part of the beach.
Brad: Second Valley, Fleurieu Peninsula – I just adore this spot, as will you. It’s a charming small historic farming and fishing hamlet not too far from Adelaide on the road to Kangaroo Island. Second Valley, 90 minutes south of the capital near Yankalilla, has a ‘lost in time’ feel, which makes it an ideal escape for a relaxing day trip. Bring a picnic basket, fishing rod, kayak or snorkel and immerse yourselves in one of the most delightful semi-secret beaches in Australia. If you’re lucky, you may spot the gentle leafy sea dragon, South Australia’s official marine emblem.
Andy: Casuarina Beach – Casuarina Beach is Darwin’s coastal playground. The long, wide sandy beach is an ideal place to stretch your legs with enough open space for everyone. With a seven metre tide range, it widens from 50 metres at high tide to more than 200 metres at low tide, revealing undulating intertidal ridges and runnels. It usually has low-wave-to-calm conditions, particularly during the winter months when it’s patrolled by the Darwin surf club. There are also walking and cycling tracks, picnic areas, a dog exercise and horse riding area in the park, and a ‘clothing optional’ beach section.
Brad: Mindil Beach – Mindil is best known for its exotic markets and tropical sunsets. The kilometre-long beach is set between two long headlands. Swimming is best at mid-to-high tide but the locals will warn you of stingers and even curious crocodiles. Mindil, just five minutes from downtown Darwin, is famous for its markets, sprawled under a canopy of coconut palms, with arts, crafts and multicultural food on offer. So grab a bundle of epicurean delights and soak up an unforgettable sunset over the Timor Sea with the family – and maybe some new friends.
*To find a patrolled beach near you, visit beachsafe.org.au.