The ancient land Downunder.  The driest island-continent on earth yet surrounded by water and wave lashed by three vast oceans.  And it has beaches.  So many beaches.  Even deep inland you’ll find sandy banks along immense river systems. 

It’s a claim yet to be challenged, that Australia has the world’s best beaches.

The beach, perhaps more than any other modern nation, defines Australia’s cultural identity and our signature egalitarianism.  Australians have become over time a nation of coastal dwellers.  We have made the coast Australia, by choosing to live on it.   No Australian beach, so far, is privately owned and they are open and free to everyone, the wealthy and battlers – and they are a wonderful physical and social equalizer.  The beach allows for a real democracy of the body, in all its shapes and shades.

From First Nations to modern urban coastal Australians, this thin strip of sand where land meets sea has fascinated us for thousands of years.  The beach is where life first crawled out of the oceans, where people have hunted, feasted and played, and where many different cultures have encountered one another, peacefully or otherwise.  We know that Indigenous experiences were deeply connected spiritually to our beaches through Dreamtime stories, as also evidenced by middens and rock carvings and their cultural connections are still strong today.

Australia is the foremost beach going nation in the world, where we chase the sun to the sands year-round – to gather, to share and recreate, to refresh and unleash ourselves onto our seemingly endless and welcoming coastline of beaches.  

The Romans may have invented the beach holiday but it’s we Aussie’s who perfected it.  Australia, it’s just one big beach with so much to do – or do simply nothing at all.

It’s our greatest generator of pleasure that’s for sure.  It’s also (just behind mining) our greatest generator of sustainable income and will be if cared for, long after the last extraction of mineral resources.   The greatest driver of international visitor demand specifically to Australia, are our coastal and aquatic resources – our beaches.

Some years ago in 1985, Brad Farmer set out to document our best beaches, specifically our many surfing beaches, from east to west coast, some 1200 or so were published.  A decade later, a coastal geomorphologist from the University of Sydney was undertaking, for the first time, an epic project to document every Australian beach.  It took him around 14 years.  Between Brad and his co-author of Australia’s Best Beaches, now Professor Andrew Short OAM, they hold the title together of having visited every beach – which happens to also be the greatest number of any country.  

At that count in 2012, which totalled 11,761 coastal beaches, Brad has gone on to examine and include inland river and lake beaches, as is the norm in many landlocked regions, such as Europe, Canada and the USA.  Beaches are, by definition, ‘a pebbly or sandy shore’.  And so, with apologies to our salty oceanside purists, we now connect with our many inland communities across regional and rural Australia on a common, shared aquatic theme.

From childhood holidays, to honeymoons, to a beachside mortgage and eventually onto a salt air retirement, the beach has been the first choice to be close to, in our celebratory cycle of life as Aussies.  

The Nature of the Australian Coast:

Australia’s shorelines are dramatic, ever-changing places.  Washed clean twice a day, beaches are also constantly being reshaped by the forces of wind and water.  Australians are great travellers.  The sense of discovery through exploration is always well rewarded.

Broadly, our coastline can be classified into four zones. 

  1. The Muddy North, which is highly tidal and cyclone influenced. It faces north to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.  Many First Nations settlements  stretch from east to west and is of course, crocodile territory.  It usually attracts Grey Nomads and 4WD’ers and other intrepid long haulers seeking coastal experiences which may be fairly described as raw and remote.  
  2. The Limestone South and West, with their smaller tides, carbonate rocks and high wave and wind energy. This zone requires covering great distances to reach a vast range of secluded, less populated beaches, many with perfect surfing waves.
  3. The Eastern Headlands, with small tides, moderate wave energy and many bays. This zone is the most urbanised and popular, containing a smorgasbord of beautiful, gentle beaches.
  4. The Great Barrier Reef, featuring strings of offshore islands and low-lying mainland coasts. Tasmania and Bass Strait island share many characteristics of zones 2 and 3. 

Each has a distinctive ecosystem and each is more or less vulnerable to extreme weather and the  impacts of climate change.   Australia’s beaches are as varied as those who choose to live on or travel to them. 

Snapshot of Australian Beaches:

  • No other country has such a varied, ecologically diverse shoreline – Australia is unique
  • Australia’s First Nations peoples have the longest continual connection to beaches
  • Australian beaches have some of the best and cleanest sand in the world
  • 10,654 mainland beaches, 11,761 in total (including 30 large islands of a total of 8,222 Australian various islands/cays and isles)
  • There are thousands of inland ‘beaches’ yet to be fully documented
  • Australia’s beaches are priceless, yet free and open, with, so far, no commercial activity on the shoreline unlike many other developed tourism orientated nations
  • Beaches are on the whole well-managed, but a national protective framework is needed
  • Many Australian beaches are unnamed and empty
  • 27% of the coast is located in a State or National Park
  • 18% on First Nations land, all of which should remain in a natural state
  • There are 59,700kms of coast including estuaries
  • No other country* has thoroughly documented all their beaches (*with the single exception of New Zealand at 5,227 and Brazil ~4,000+)
  • Sydney, NSW has 52 beaches in its harbour, east of the Bridge
  • Only 16% of Australian beaches are accessible by conventional road, a further 12% are accessible via unsealed roads, 29% by 4WD and 43% are inaccessible (Source: Prof. A. D. Short OAM).
  • Australia has the third largest marine zone in the world.
  • Australia has ~315 Surf Lifesaving Clubs with seasonably patrolled beaches, which covers only 4% of the total number of beaches
  • The entire southern half of the island continent has world class surfing beaches
  • Beaches are a major economic driver for the Australian economy, second only to mining.
  • Australians began legally ‘sea bathing’ in 1906 at Manly but 1880 at Brighton Beach (VIC)
  • For international and domestic travellers alike, world class coastlines, beaches and marine wildlife rank within the top five emotive factors when choosing a destination.