Australia's top 10 best beaches to visit in winter

Summer is gone, but the beach goes on. In fact, some special beaches up their cool factor in the colder months. Here is our list of best coastal winter wonders.

Rainbow Beach, Qld

Here's one thing you can't do at the height of summer: canter along a beach amid a shimmer of spray. With children running in and out of the waves, and bodies stretched across the sand every which way, it would cause carnage. Which makes winter the perfect time to take a horse ride along Rainbow Beach on the Sunshine Coast, a 23-km long sweep of beach that offers spectacular stretches of coloured sand along the way. Balmy Queensland winters mean you don't even have to rug up. If you are better on four wheels than four legs, the beach is also open to four wheel drives.

Best for: romantic strolls

Cable Beach, WA

Too cold for coastal canoodling? Not in Broome, it's not. With air temperatures around 30 degrees and water temperatures not far behind, it's perfect beach weather right through winter. Those who take their strolling seriously will be delighted to learn that Cable Beach stretches for 22km, turquoise water lapping at white sand the whole way. If you get tired, try hitching a ride on one of the camel trains that meander along the beach every morning and afternoon. Be sure to stick around for one of Broome's famous sunsets.

Best for: book lovers

Belongil Beach, NSW

An easy walk along from Byron Bay's flashier Main Beach, Belongil is a different type of beach, a hang for locals where swimsuits are occasionally optional. The beach gets its turn in the spotlight every August. That's when the Byron Bay Writers Festival kicks off just a few minutes walk from the beach. Hear your favourite writer interviewed, then stroll down to the sand and find a quiet spot to curl up with their latest work. Now that's a great way to catch up on your reading.

Best for: skywatching

Hope Beach, Tasmania

Tassie winters are distinctly chilly, but there is one really good reason to rug up and head for the beach. The lack of light pollution makes Tasmania one of the best places to watch the colourful celestial display known as the aurora australis. You don't need to strike out for the wilderness: Hope Beach, just 40 minutes south of Hobart, is a great place to take in the show. Pack some blankets and a thermos of something warm to keep the chill off.

Best for: surfing

Cape Woolamai, Victoria

The waters off Phillip Island are a trifle cool at this time of year, but when the waves are this pumping, surfers don't really care. Named as the first National Surfing Reserve in Victoria, Woolamai is one of the best spots to catch some winter waves. Have a non-surfer in tow? They can keep warm by following one of the numerous walking trails that criss-cross the cape, varying between four and eight kilometres in length. While the views of the cliffs are spectacular, keep an eye on the ground, too: the area has some ancient Aboriginal middens.

Best for: breakfast

Balmoral Beach, NSW

Don't get us wrong. On a cool winter's day, we love huddling together on the sand to scoff some piping hot fish and chips just as much as the next person. What we love even more, however, is starting the day with a delicious breakfast – perhaps a pea and fetta frittata or a smoked salmon omelette – watching the waves roll in while we lounge around in comfort. And there is no better place to do it than Sydney's Bathers' Pavilion Café, located in an elegant art deco building on Balmoral Beach.

Best for: camping

Smalleys Beach, Qld

While the southern states shiver, tropical Queensland is still warm enough for a spot of winter camping. We love the campground at Smalleys Beach, a pocket of tranquillity tucked away in Cape Hillsborough National Park near Mackay. Flanked on one side by the reef and on the other by verdant rainforest, the park is home to more than 150 species of birds. However, the most popular visitors are the kangaroos and wallabies that come down for a spot of beachcombing every morning.

Best for: indigenous insights

Bawaka, Northern Territory

Ever wanted to try out a tribal lifestyle: camping on the beach, learning about dreamtime stories and traditional art, trying your hand at spear fishing and oyster harvesting? Then it's time to head to Arnhem Land. Based on Yolngu territory, Lirrwi Tourism offers a choice of week-long itineraries during the winter months, including a women's only trip. All of them include a stay on the lovely beach at Bawaka, hosted by Djawa 'Timmy' Burarrwanga and his family.

Best for: stormwatching

Hanson Bay, Kangaroo Island

Oceanscapes don't come much more dramatic than the southern coast of Kangaroo Island. Get swept out to sea here, and you won't make landfall until Antarctica. It's not surprising, then, that amazing storms frequently sweep in, whipping up breakers that pound the cliffs with a staggering fury. Of course, for stormwatching to work, you need somewhere warm and cosy to watch it from, which makes Southern Ocean Lodge, with its panoramic views over the bay, the perfect solution. Grab a bottle of red, curl up by the fire or under a cashmere blanket, and watch the weather rage.

Best for: whale watching

Logans Beach, Victoria

At least one set of visitors doesn't mind the cooler winter waters: many species of whale that travel along large stretches of the Australian coast every winter, giving birth and waiting for their young to grow strong before they head off the open sea. The bays and coves near Warrnambool are a favoured haunt of southern right whales, who bask here with their calves. One of the best viewing spots is Logans Beach, which even has a viewing platform. Lucky visitors will spot whales as close as 100 metres away.

See also: The top five things to do in Melbourne this winterSee also: The world's best beaches where you won't find resorts