The ongoing battle for consensus on Australia’s best beaches is a debate without end and highlights Australia’s overabundance of sandy riches. With nearly 12,000 different stretches of beach to choose from, we have come up with a “debate starting” list of 19 of the best beaches in Australia.
Asking an Australian to pick their favourite beach is a bit like asking an Italian to choose their favourite pasta dish – they will name their regional classic but in reality, they love them all, and almost equally.
When Australians passionately argue about the exact location of our best beaches, we somewhat smugly know that of the nearly 12,000 beaches in Australia, 6,000 would be tourism icons in any other country – such is our luck.
Australian Traveller’s Quentin Long has compiled his ultimate list of the “three best beaches” per state – plus one for the NT – to reignite Australia’s best beaches debate.
NSW’s best beaches
1. Parsley Bay Beach, Sydney
The magnificent beaches of Sydney Harbour are often overshadowed by the bigger names of Bondi and Manly (although lifeguards at Bondi probably wish a few more backpackers would take to the calm waters of the harbour).
Vaucluse’s Parsley Bay Beach is spoken about in hushed tones by those in the know; a vain attempt to stop the word from getting out. The park, bushwalk and small protected beach are a hit with families. The cherry on top? The picturesque pedestrian suspension bridge, built in 1910, that connects both sides of the narrow inlet.
2. Seven Mile Beach, Gerroa
Seven Mile beach is everything most of us want from a beach. At the northern end, under the dozey watch of Gerroa, you will find long languid gentle waves, the mouth of the Crooked River and a flat stretch of squeaky sand. For something different, grab a lilo and mosey down the river to the gentle beach break.
As you head south towards Shoalhaven Heads 12 kilometres away, the waves increase in size and the bush pushes all signs of humans into the hinterland.
Seven Mile also has some history. Sir Kingsford Smith’s record-breaking trans-Tasman flight in 1933. The long relatively flat beach gave Smith’s heavily laden Southern Cross enough runway to lift off.
3. Zenith Beach, Port Stephens
The beaches of Port Stephens are probably the single biggest victims of our embarrassment of riches. In any other country, Port Stephens would be the eighth Wonder of the World.
So it is fitting the pick of them is called Zenith… stroll with a coffee bought from the Shoal Bay cafes in hand through a short stretch of Aussie bush to be greeted by a gently curving crescent beach protected by two peaks standing guard at either end of the beach. Tomaree Headland, great for a stroll and magnificent views, at the northern tip and Stephens Peak at the southern end create a sense of sheltered oasis. Just remember this is an unpatrolled beach so only experienced strong beach swimmers should have a dip.
Zenith Beach is one of the many incredible beaches in Port Stephens. (Image: Destination NSW)
Vic’s best beaches
4. Smiths Beach, Phillip Island
It’s Southern Ocean facing sure, but the variety of waves on this idyllic slice of the penguin-peppered island is deceiving (we have our own guide to just the beaches of Phillip Island). Salted surfers and green novices all find a great wave while the non-board riders can frolic on the shoreline or in rock holes.
To sum it all up, Phillip Island is a sublime slice of Victoria filled with sweet holiday homes and luxury villas, emerging producers and foodie outlets and of course those penguins (and a surprising military museum).
Smiths Beach is perfect for all types of beachgoers.
5. Fairhaven Beach, Aireys Inlet, Great Ocean Road
Between Anglesea and Lorne on the Great Ocean Road, Fairhaven is known for having the best waves on the Great Ocean Road after Bells Beach. Don’t think this is a wax head zone only – Fairhaven is six kilometres long and the best waves are on the eastern end.
The other drawcard is at the height of summer, Fairhaven remains relatively crowd-free.
Fairhaven is known for having some of the best waves on the Great Ocean Road.
6. Norman Bay Beach / Tidal River, Wilsons Promontory
Ask any Victorian for the best beaches in the state and Norman’s would be mentioned first or second for a reason – when anyone says how beautiful Wilsons Prom is they visualise Norman Bay, its beach and the mouth of Tidal River.
The shallow aquamarine water with gentle waves, and the meandering flow of the Tidal River all based on endless stretches of fine sand make for the perfect family beach. Kids will spend hours and days snorkelling, beach cricket, body surfing, and building sand castles in what is the magic pudding of beaches; every time someone lays down a towel, an identical-sized stretch of beach seems to appear making it impossible to crowd.
Norman bay Beach is next level.
Qld’s best beaches
7. Noosa Main Beach, Noosa
Noosa Main beach is a magnificent spot for both aquatic sandy leisure and people-watching.
The soundtrack of the rhythmic lapping of gentle waves on Queensland‘s only northerly facing beach is rather soothing for the exhausted elites who are drawn to this beachside destination that delivers probably the single greatest holiday mix of sun, surf, food, wine and all-round “counting your blessings” relaxation.
Sure the Noosa Main Beach boardwalk is rammed with more activewear than Lorna Jane’s attic and there is a steady stream of the influencer class (as you bob in the water you can see their felt hats bob along Hastings St). But that is part of the allure of the destination.
The perfect Noosa day is to combine a run, walk or stroll through Noosa Headland National Park with a swim, snorkel or paddle board on the beach followed by a lunch and shop on Hasting St, snooze swim and dinner back on Hastings St or Noosaville or Sunshine Beach if one can be inspired to leave the indulgent milieu.
You won’t regret a trip to Noosa Main Beach. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
8. Lake Mackenzie, K’gari (Fraser Island)
Surprise! A beach that is not on the coast.
A perched lake (so it sits above sea level on the sands of K’gari) it is fed only by rainwater. Lake Mackenzie is pinch-yourself beautiful. Not even the millions of over-saturated Instagram shots do it justice.
Ringed by talcum-soft white sand, you dive right into cool iridescent green water that becomes coffee stained as you move deeper.
And for an extra touch, at the shoreline rub your valuables in the wet white silica for a free jewellery clean.
Lake Mackenzie is pinch-yourself beautiful. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
9. Whitehaven Beach, Whitsundays, Qld
It is no wonder that any self-respecting list of the best Australian beaches must have Whitehaven on it. It is a non-negotiable for a reason.
In the dictionary under perfect beach, just stick in a photo of Whitehaven: turquoise water and blinding white fine sand that stretches for more than six kilometres. The sand is in fact 98 per cent silica giving its pure whiteness. And forget the hot sand jig, the pure white colour reflects the heat so it never gets too hot for your feet.
And as if that was not enough, Whitehaven is protected by the Whitsundays Islands National Park making it not just an incredible wilderness area, but one of the cleanest beaches in Queensland (for example smoking is banned to avoid stray butts ending in the sand or water).
Whitehaven is the ultimate non-negotiable. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
Tassie’s best beaches
10. Wineglass Bay, Freycinet Peninsula
Tasmania’s most famous beach makes global lists of top 10s with such regularity that we can become a little blasé about its beauty and let’s be honest, perfection. Until of course, you walk to the top of The Hazards, the spectacular mountain range that climbs steeply from the water to form the northern edge of Wineglass Bay, to peer down on this ridiculously exquisite beach.
If the relatively easy walk to the lookout is not floating your boat, then join a cruise to explore the entire remarkable Freycinet Peninsula.
And, hate to break it to you, but the name Wineglass Bay comes from the water being stained by whale blood at the beginning of the 19th century when it was a major whale processing beach.
Wineglass Bay is Tassie’s most famous beach. (Image: Lauren Bath)
11. Boat Harbour Beach
Ask locals (particularly if they are from the northern section of Tasmania) their favourite beach and without hesitation, they will respond Boat Harbour Beach.
The north-easterly facing beach is protected from the wind by rocky headlands on both edges of the beach. A gentle slope and north facing provide a gentle wave. And some serious rock-hole exploring is an option in the remarkable geology of the headland.
Boat Harbour Beach is protected from the wind by rocky headlands. (Image: S. Group)
12. Cosy Corner, Bay of Fires
Picking the best Bay of Fires beach is the greatest exercise in futility, no one usually tries. When international lists of best beaches in the world are released they don’t even bother and collectively name Bay of Fires which in fact covers more than 15 different beaches.
Collectively the beaches of the Bay of Fires have the mandatory remarkable white sand and aquamarine water but these Tassie gems like to up the ante with a big dollop of dazzling orange thanks to the lichen that is found over the boulders in the area.
We went with Cosy Corner as the top pick for purely pragmatic reasons; it is the stunning selection of beaches (like a Babushka doll, even Cosy Corner has three different sections) most accessible from the Binnalong Bay township.
The Bay of Fires covers 15 beaches and Cosy Corner is our fave. (Image: Kathryn Leahy)
SA’s best beaches
13. Long Beach, Robe
Such is the fabulousness of Robe’s Long Beach that it should be a national icon. There are several ramps to drive your car onto the beach and the surf break from the third ramp onwards is most loved by those with waxy hair.
The beach itself is very deep from the shoreline to land and, stretching for more than 14 kilometres, it is always easy to find a slice for yourself and to renew old rivalries in the annual family beach cricket grudge match.
Make the most of it, take the 4WD (although some 2WD handle it perfectly fine) and set up camp for a day. The fishing is pretty good as well so you can even catch a lunch of whiting and perhaps flathead or snapper.
Long Beach should be a national icon. (Image: Mark Fitzpatrick)
14. Stokes Bay Beach, Kangaroo Island
Stokes Bay beach is confusing to the uninitiated. Arriving at the car park you will be very let down; the shoreline is a craggy mix of rocks and pebbles. Follow the signs through a few rocks and caves and, like the wardrobe in the Lion the Witch and Wardrobe, you merge into a hidden paradise.
The north-facing beach is all the prerequisite white sand and turquoise water. Being northerly facing it avoids any of the big waves from the Southern Ocean and the rockpools are a winner for exploring with the kids. For more Kangaroo Island beaches – check out our guide.
Stokes Bay Beach is so worth finding its hidden location. (Image: South Australian Tourism Commission)
15. Maslin Beach, Fleurieu Peninsula
The first time you sight Maslins is a wondrous thing. It happens as you crest a hill headed for McLaren Vale and then this magnificent beach and the burnt-red striated cliffs of Blanche Point appear.
The southern end of Maslins (as locals call it) towards the cliffs is Australia’s first legal “clothed optional beach”, handy for the many wine buffs who depart Adelaide without swimmers expecting a full day of tasting who are then seduced by the beauty of the beach and emboldened by the tasting to have their first ever birthday suit dip.
Maslin Beach is a breathtaking sight. (Image: Kristy Billing)
WA’s best beaches
16. Cable Beach, Broome
Ok ok ok, this is a legend and deservedly so. The remarkable beach stretches in all directions as far as the eye can see – it is 22 kilometres long and at low tide, as the water recedes, it feels that wide.
Add the famous pindan red cliffs, camel rides and the sunset that is unrivalled around the world and you have an experience that has such an intense sense of place it is the beach equivalent of standing in front of the Eiffel Tower.
The huge expanse of the beach has plenty of space for everyone to swim, surf, fish or just loll around. Being so remote, you may not have brought all your beach accoutrements, they can be hired from the Broome Beach Hut.
Cable Beach is nothing short of iconic.
17. Little Salmon Bay, Rottnest Island
Oh Rotto, you had me at quokka. Sure we all love a selfie with the misnamed ‘rodents’ but it is the incredible beaches of Rotto that really take the cake.
And Little Salmon Bay is by far the greatest beach on Rotto. The relatively small beach is so picturesque, your lizard brain sees the quintessential paradise causing you to be almost teary at the sheer beauty of the place. Being a small beach at the end of a long narrow bay, the snorkelling area is next level big. This also explains why it never feels crowded.
Little Salmon Bay is by far the greatest beach on Rotto. (Image: Tourism Western Australia)
18. Eagle Bay, Margaret River Region
Low-key luxury homes meet that incredible luminescent WA turquoise water and fine white sand.
Almost at the tip of Cape Naturaliste, the beach in fact faces northeast and is well protected from the Indian Ocean swells, add the long gentle sandy beach and you have an oversized sea pool.
The beach is interspersed with the occasional rock outcrop that gives kids endless entertainment.
Eagle Bay mustn’t be missed. (Image: Tourism Western Australia)
NT’s best beaches
19. Mindil Beach, Darwin
Let’s be honest, the NT is full of incredible beaches that are torturous to us Aussies – so seductive yet unsafe to swim; how can they tempt us so?
Mindil is an icon of Darwin for its outrageously beautiful sunsets and of course the eclectic Mindil Beach markets. Clothing, nik naks and whip stalls mingle with food outlets serving up cuisine from more than 20 different countries to create a must-do of the NT.
Nothing beats a Mindil Beach sunset.