With summer just around the corner, Ute Junker leaves no grain of sand unturned in her guide to the best beach towns on Australia's east coast.
It's the great Australian summer ritual: packing up and heading for the beach. But not all beach towns are created equal – some are fab for families, or places that party all night long; others are low on action and big on relaxation. Find the one that fits you with our handy guide to the 10 best beach towns along the east coast of the country just in time for summer 2013-14.
Best for: families
Vibe: Victoria's surf capital is a hit with families, who make the most of the water sports on offer, from swimming at the sheltered Front Beach to snorkelling at Point Danger (never fear – it's far less scary than the name suggests).
Attractions: After hanging 10 at the world-famous Bells Beach, surfers will want to check out the world's largest surf museum, Surfworld. Wannabes can get started at Go Ride a Wave surf school. Prefer to stay on dry land? Get some earthbound exercise on one of the area's many golf courses.
Dining: Best meals in town can be found at Scorched, a modern bistro with a beach view.
Don't miss: The Surf Coast Walk, 44 kilometres of picturesque coastal tracks linking Torquay with Anglesea and Aireys Inlet.
Where to stay: The Wyndham Resort has ocean views, indoor and outdoor pools and a tennis court. The Torquay Foreshore Caravan Park offers campsites and cabins.
Getting there: Take the Princes Freeway from Melbourne. Torquay is about a 90-kilometre drive south west on the Bellarine Peninsula, just past Geelong.
More info: visitgreatoceanroad.org.au.
Best for: do-it-yourselfers
Port Macquarie, NSW
Vibe: if you'd rather catch your own dinner than dine out, Port Macquarie is your kind of place. Try your hand at catching mud-crabs, or go fishing on a barbecue boat.
Attractions: See how many of the 165 species of birds and wildlife you can spot at Kooloonbung Creek Nature Park, admire the native flowers at Kattang Nature Reserve's Flower Bowl Circuit, or kayak through the mangroves.
Dining: The freshest seafood is washed down with a quality selection of wine at The Stunned Mullet. Fancy something simple? Milkbar Town Beach offers organic light bites.
Don't miss: Australia's only koala hospital offers daily tours.
Where to stay: Holiday apartments range from the five-star to budget-friendly. The two treehouses at Diamond Waters Treehouse Retreat each sleep up to four people, and are set in a five-hectare tropical garden. At Flynn's Beach Resort, families will enjoy the swimming pools, tennis court and barbecue.
Getting there: Port Macquarie has its own airport.
More info: portmacquarieinfo.com.au.
Best for: foodies
Vibe: Norfolk pines flank the long strip of beach covered with crunchy sand, but there's plenty to tempt you away from the water.
Attractions: Action fans love the Sunshine Coast Kite Surfing Academy, kids love Australia Zoo and food fans will want to sign up for one of the area's excellent cooking classes. Try The Long Apron at Spicers Clovelly or How to Cook Kitchen at Cotton Tree.
Dining: Discover how good vegan food can be at It's Rawsome!, or head out of town to the superb Spirit House at Eumundi.
Don't miss: Great coffee and people-watching at The Velo Project on the esplanade. Their avocado toast with pistachio dukkah is a great way to start the day.
Where to stay: The sleek serviced apartments at Oceans Mooloolaba all have stunning water views. On a budget? Ocean views at a fraction of the price can be enjoyed at the Mooloolaba Beach Holiday Park.
Getting there: Sunshine Coast airport is 20 minutes from Mooloolaba.
More info: mooloolabatourism.com.au.
Best for: nature lovers
Vibe: Golden beaches flanked by hinterland rainforest mean there's always something new to explore.
Attractions: The walking track to Protestors Falls meanders past bangalow palms, buttress-rooted figs, maiden's blush, elkhorns and staghorns. Serious hikers will want to tackle the 4.4-kilometre climb up Mount Warning, while the Casuarina Sculpture Walk offers a pretty foreshore trail.
Dining: Settle in to enjoy some superb seafood at Fins, or for a quick bite, try the Choux Box cafe.
Don't miss: Snorkelling or diving the spectacular Cook Island Marine Sanctuary.
Where to stay: Peppers Salt Resort & Spa offers luxury by the beach. Kingscliff Beach Holiday Park is a more affordable option, with cabins and luxury tents for those who don't love life under canvas.
Getting there: Coolangatta Airport is 20 kilometres from Kingscliff, goldcoastairport.com.au.
More info: visitnsw.com.
Best for: retro fans
Vibe: The beach holiday you remember from your childhood. No high rises, no fancy restaurants, just endless days enjoying the sun and sea.
Attractions: Explore the area on an electric bike, or sign up for a motorbike or sand boarding tour.
Dining: Burgers with a view are on offer at The Tree, while on Friday nights the action is at Pizza at Kahunas.
Don't miss: A snorkelling day trip to the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef.
Where to stay: The luxury chalets at Agnes Water Beach Caravan Park have proper beds and bathrooms, private balconies, ocean views, gas barbecues, flat screen TVs and airconditioning. No-frills options are also available.
Fly: The nearest airport is Bundaberg, 1½ hours' drive away. Head north out of town and follow the signs to Agnes Water.
More info: townof1770agneswater.com.au.
Best for: twentysomethings
Vibe: Don't be fooled by the heritage buildings: Sorrento offers a beach holiday with a buzz.
Attractions: Swim with the fur seals at Chinamans Hat and the dolphins out in the bay. Feeling less energetic? Stroll the Sorrento-Portsea Artists Trail, go gallery hopping or cruise the shops along Ocean Beach Road. After dinner, catch a band at the Sorrento Pub.
Dining: The local wineries have some impressive restaurants, including Ten Minutes by Tractor. For something casual, try Smokehouse, a family-friendly Italian.
Don't miss: Drinks in the Portsea Pub's sunny beer garden is an afternoon ritual.
Where to stay: It's worth heading out of town for the sleek designed Quarters at the Flinders Hotel. For a more central location, try the Sorrento Beach Motel.
Getting there: Take the Nepean Highway southeast from Melbourne to the Mornington Peninsula. Sorrento is a 1½-hour drive on the new Peninsula Link Freeway.
More info: visitvictoria.com.
Best for: couples
Vibe: Away from the bustle, this forest-fringed retreat is a great place to indulge in fine food, a spot of shopping and some quality time.
Attractions: Take it slow on the walking trails through the Bouddi Peninsula national park, laze on the seven pretty beaches (which include Pretty Beach) or browse the fashion, art and homewares on display in stores such as Moochinside.
Dining: L'Anxaneta, a cafe and tapas bar in the heritage-listed Old Killcare Store, offers fabulous Mediterranean cuisine.
Don't miss: Acclaimed chef Stefano Manfredi's delicious Italian food at Manfredi at Bells – or learn to do it yourself at one of their cooking classes.
Where to stay: For chic forest-fringed accommodation, you can't go past the adults-only Bells at Killcare. Or rent one of the self-contained apartments available. Our pick: Bouddi Farm Studio, built as a painting studio by artist Russell Drysdale.
Getting there: Killcare is 90 minutes north of Sydney, following the F3 north.
More info: visitnsw.com.au.
Best for: action fans
Phillip Island, Victoria
Vibe: Looking for a more revved up holiday? Philip Island offers action aplenty for those who get bored on the beach.
Attractions: Be a speed demon on a go-kart race track, or let a professional take you from zero to 100km/h in just 3.8 seconds. Explore hidden caves around Cape Woolamai on a kayaking adventure, or check out the penguin parade.
Dining: Catch your own lunch at Rhyll Trout and Bush Tucker Farm, or go with tradition at White Salt Fish and Chippery.
Don't miss: A tasty brew at the Rusty Water Brewery Restaurant and Bar.
Where to stay: Silverwater Resort is perched high on the hills above San Remo and offers guest rooms and apartments. The Ramada Resort is set on 26 hectares and has pools, tennis courts, barbecue areas and a playground.
Getting there: Head south-east out of Melbourne on the Monash Freeway. The drive takes about two hours.
More info: visitphillipisland.com.
Best for: party people
Airlie Beach, Queensland
Vibe: This long-time backpacker haven is growing up, with fine food and elegant accommodation. It's still a great place to make new friends, however, with a party every night.
Attractions: In the Whitsundays, it's all about the water. Snorkelling and diving feels old hat? Take a seaplane to the stunning Heart Reef, or charter a yacht and go island hopping.
Dining: Treat yourself to the degustation menu at Peppers' Tides Restaurant, showcasing the best local produce.
Don't miss: The Singapore chilli crab at Fish D'vine.
Where to stay: Splurge on a luxury waterfront apartment at Marina Shores, or opt for a cabin, caravan or camping spot at the Big 4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort.
Getting there: The nearest airport is at Proserpine, 25 minutes from Airlie Beach, proserpineairport.com.
More info: airliebeach.com.
Best for: fashionistas
Vibe: Glamour a go-go. Hastings Street is the ultimate beach-chic destination, lined with designer boutiques and upmarket restaurants.
Attractions: Yes Virginia, there is more to do in Noosa than shopping. Pick up some local produce at the farmers' markets, invigorate yourself with a horse ride along the shore, then soothe those muscles with a massage at one of Noosa's many spas.
Dining: Noosa's best restaurants serve up their meals with a side of fabulous views. Leave the dining choices up to the chef at Wasabi, one of the best Japanese restaurants in Queensland, or go Mediterranean at Ricky's River Bar & Restaurant.
Don't miss: A moonlit cruise on the river ramps up the romance factor.
Where to stay: Take the seriously luxe option at the Sheraton Resort & Spa, known for its spacious rooms and, for a real splash-out option, the two-storey pool villas. For a more laidback waterfront option, hire a houseboat on the Noosa River and go exploring without leaving home.
Fly: Sunshine Coast airport is 30 minutes from Noosa, see sunshinecoastairport.com.au.
More info: visitnoosa.com.au.
Five more bucket list beaches
BYRON BAY, NSW
Beautiful beaches, fab coffee, pub right on the sand ... no wonder everyone comes here at least once.
PORT DOUGLAS, QLD
Enough luxury lodgings, spas and fine diners to keep you going for weeks.
An old-fashioned cinema and seaside markets draw crowds at this central coast family favourite.
Even if the sun's not shining, arts festivals and the Great Otway National Park leave visitors spoiled for choice.
Friday night markets, upmarket eateries plus those Gold Coast theme parks and an instant holidays vibe - yep, still one of Australia's most popular holiday spots.
About the writer
She travels the world for work, but when Ute Junker is looking to relax, she always heads straight for the beach.