Lee Atkinson laces up her hiking shoes and takes to the trail on five of her favourite coastal walking tracks around the country.
You don't have to get yourself wet to enjoy a day beside the sea. Australia's coastline has some of the best coastal walking trails in the world, ranging from epic long-distance hikes to easy two-hour strolls. There's something to be said for spending a day at the beach without getting a cossie full of sand.
The Miners Beach Walking Track
This pretty nine-kilometre walk from Town beach to Lighthouse beach at Port Macquarie, NSW, is only a short drive from where I live, so it's one I try to do every chance I get. Five beaches are linked by timber walkways over the rocky headlands, which include whale watching platforms. The walk, which takes about three hours if you don't stop for a swim or dawdle over a coffee at one of the beachside cafes, has a short rainforest section but for the most sticks to the water's edge.
Known simply as The Prom to most Victorians, Wilsons Promontory is a rugged knob of land at the southern-most tip of mainland Australia, 200 kilometres south-east of Melbourne. Its granite headlands, undeveloped beaches, rivers, walking trails and wildlife make it one of Victoria's most well-loved national parks. The 19-kilometre one-way walk out to the remote lighthouse, where you can stay overnight, is a highlight but takes some effort as you need to carry all your food and gear on the long hike in and carry all your rubbish out. An easier walk is the two-hour trek across three of the park's best beaches: Squeaky beach, Whisky beach, and Picnic beach. It's best done at low tide.
Cape Le Grand
The Southern Ocean ranks pretty low on my list of top swimming spots (the water's cold and it's a bit too popular with sharks for my liking) but the wild and lonely coastline has some great bay-to-bay walking trails along the clifftops, where sea eagles soar above carpets of brightly coloured banksias and other wildflowers in full bloom during late winter and early spring. The Coastal Trail in Cape Le Grand National Park, just east of Esperance in Western Australia, is a 15-kilometre (one-way) walk from Le Grand beach to Rossiter Bay. It can be broken up into shorter sections of between two and three hours each. There are two beachside campsites, both of which feature solar-powered hot showers and good camp kitchens - all the ingredients for a perfect beach camping holiday, if you ask me.
Heysen Trail, Victor Harbor
If you want to really explore the southern coastline there is a long-distance walking track along the coastal edge that stretches from Goolwa to Cape Jervis, via Victor Harbor on the Fleurieu Peninsula south of Adelaide. It's part of the 1200-kilometre-long Heysen Trail that continues up to Parachilna Gorge in the Flinders Ranges, but if you don't have the time, or energy, then you can pick up parts of the trail at Parsons beach or Waitpinga beach in Newland Head Conservation Park, or at the Bluff on the outskirts of Victor Harbor, and simply wander along the cliffs for as long and far as you please.
Noosa National Park
At the eastern end of Noosa's main street, this Queensland national park is within a short stroll of the cafes and boutiques and includes the headland at Noosa Heads, where there are more than 15 kilometres of walking tracks. They're all good but a favourite is the Coastal Track, which skirts the shoreline around the headland and provides access to several pretty beaches. Lookouts along the way provide great views and the track ends on a high bluff at Hell's Gates. If I'm feeling keen, I'll head down to lonely Alexandria Bay on the eastern side of the headland for a swim but most of the time I retrace my steps back to town and use the exercise as the perfect excuse to linger over a long lunch on the Hastings Street cafe strip.