There's surely never been a better time to beat the maddening crowds and find your own little stretch of sunny, sandy paradise. With COVID-19 tension still high and warm weather upon us, now is the moment to put in some hours on a secluded, secret beach: just warm sand, lapping waters, and minimal crowds. Perfect.
And the good news is you don't always have to travel a long way to find these gorgeous stretches of paradise. Some lurk just near the city. Others will take a little more time to access. The common thread, however, is seclusion, privacy, and a summery good time.
MILK BEACH, SYDNEY
Sydney has somewhere in the region of about 100 beaches – both harbour and ocean, north and south – so it shouldn't come as a surprise to find there are still stretches of sand here untrodden by a million feet. Milk Beach is one of those locations, an inlet in a spectacular location in you-can't-afford-it Vaucluse, with views over the harbour to the bridge and the city skyline on one side, and a whole heap of fantasy mansions on the other.
There's only about 50 metres of sand here, so it's good thing Milk Beach is tricky to access: with no carpark or direct road link-up, you'll have to join the Hermitage Foreshore walking track from either Rose Bay or Watsons Bay. To find yourself a spot here for a swim and a sunbake is, however, well worth the effort.
CURRAWONG BEACH, SYDNEY
Not to be confused with Currarong Beach, an ever-popular stretch of sand near Jervis Bay, Currawong is similarly beautiful, though harder to access. To make it to this historic site you'll need watercraft, something to get you across Pittwater from Palm Beach (there's a ferry, for those who can't BYO). Sort that out and you will discover a private patch of paradise, a small beach in Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park with a fascinating back story.
Currawong Beach, just south of Great Mackarel Beach, was first settled in 1823, and changed hands a few times before being purchased in 1942 by the Port Jackson & Manly Steamship Company, which built a series of holiday cabins at the beach for use by its staff. Those cabins are now heritage listed, and available for rent to the general public, making this an ideal place to decamp with the family for a proper no-frills, nature-soaked getaway.
STORE BEACH, SYDNEY
This is the hidden beach that everyone knows about, and yet few people visit. The reason Store Beach, a lovely stretch of sand surprisingly close to busy Manly, remains for the most part untrodden is that it's difficult to get to: with no access by road or on foot, you'll need to get here by water. That means either being lucky enough to own your own boat, or hiring a kayak in Manly and going for a little paddle.
Your reward for that effort, however, will be one gorgeous place to while away a day in the sun, to take in the views of Manly and Fairlight, to lie on the golden sand, to paddle in the warm, shallow waters, and – if you're really fortunate – to see Store Beach's resident fairy penguins arriving home for the night.
CASTLE ROCK, SYDNEY
Just across the water, you'll see a few of Sydney's most famous beaches: Balmoral, oozing class and charm; Edwards, with the Bathers Pavilion hugging the sand. And yet few people in those locations cast their eye across to Castle Rock, a tiny wedge of paradise in Clontarf, near Dobroyd Head. Castle Rock sits along the Spit to Manly walk, accessible via a short detour than includes several flights of quite steep steps. There's little in the way of car parking nearby – if you're lucky you'll be able to grab a spot on Ogilvy or Cutler Road.
The attraction of Castle Rock is its seclusion, its views over to Balmoral, its family-friendly swimming opportunities, and its small waterfall. This is the ideal spot to rest and recuperate if you're doing a longer walk, or to simply enjoy Sydney's natural beauty if you're not.
CONGWONG BEACH, KAMAY BOTANY NATIONAL PARK
Photo: Hamilton Lund/Destination NSW
This is, again, a beach that makes you work a little for your slice of paradise. You're not just going to stumble upon beautiful Congwong Beach, at the mouth of Botany Bay. What you're going to have to do is drive through La Perouse all the way to the end of Anzac Parade, find yourself a park and then wander 100 metres or so to your destination.
That destination is a sheltered, sandy beach that's perfect for families, with calm waters and plenty of space. There's the opportunity for hiking via the Henry Head and Cape Banks tracks, as well as snorkelling and scuba-diving at nearby Bare Island. And speaking of bare, for yet more seclusion you could try nearby Little Congwong Beach, though be aware your fellow sunbathers will be baring all.
MUNGO BEACH, MID-NORTH COAST
Only in Australia could you have a 20-kilometre stretch of pristine sand within striking distance of a major capital city and find the place essentially deserted. Mungo Beach, 235km north of Sydney in the Myall Lakes National Park, is in the middle of nowhere in some respects, north of Nelson Bay and south of Seal Rocks.
It's a rugged ocean beach that's open to 4WDs, who come to cruise past the high dunes and enjoy access to the campsite at lakeside Mungo Brush. This is more a beach for relaxing and adventuring rather than swimming, as it's unpatrolled, with frequent strong rips. If you fancy a dip, head on over to the lake.
MAITLAND BAY, CENTRAL COAST
Here's a thing to remember when you're visiting Maitland Bay, a lovely, secluded beach in Bouddi National Park, south-east of Gosford: it's about a 20-minute walk to get in there, but that's all downhill, so you're looking at a much longer trek to get out. Plan accordingly.
Take that simple step, however, and you're in heaven, because Maitland Bay is the beach you have been looking for. It's close enough to civilisation to be accessible, and yet far enough away to turn many visitors off. It's also a beautiful, crescent-shaped beach with rugged cliffs and forest on one side, and clear, snorkeller-friendly waters on the other (look for the shipwreck of the PS Maitland at low tide). Have a swim, eat a picnic, and conserve a little energy for the steep, uphill hike out.
DREAMTIME BEACH, TWEED HEADS
Photo: David Kirkland/Destination NSW
As the Tweed River meanders its way towards its meeting with the Pacific Ocean at Tweed Heads in northern NSW, it carves a long slice of land around Fingal Head, and on the oceanside of that slice you will find Dreamtime Beach. Dreamtime is accessible via a walking track from either Fingal Headland Reserve or the Kingscliff SLSC; it's a white-sand beach hugged by spectacular volcanic black cliffs and lush forest, with a good stretch of ocean lapping at its shores.
Be warned, however, about that ocean: this is actually one of NSW's more dangerous beaches, with strong currents and a steep drop-off. For those who are not strong swimmers, it's better to use this for isolation, relaxation and beach cricket – interspersed with the odd cooling, knee-deep plunge.
BETKA BEACH, EASTERN GIPPSLAND
Photo: Gavin Hansford/Visit Victoria
Mallacoota enjoys access to several secluded and perfectly lovely stretches of sand, including Quarry Beach and the aptly named Secret Beach, but the best of the triumvirate is probably Betka. Set at the mouth of the Wallagaraugh River, Betka has something for everyone, from grassy picnic areas and barbecues for those keen for a bite to eat, to sheltered pools for kids to play in, rugged rock formations perfect for endless exploration, and of course a nice long stretch of sand to lay a towel on and just relax.
Betka is accessible by road, as all of the Mallacoota beaches are, with several campsites and caravan parks nearby. That doesn't, however, mean the beach is anywhere near what you might call busy, even in peak season.
REFUGE COVE, WILSON'S PROMONTORY
Lace up your hiking boots and prepare to stride your way to paradise: Refuge Cove, a truly stunning and sheltered inlet on the eastern side of Wilson's Prom. This is a popular anchorage for boaties, given its protected location, though it still remains relatively quiet given land access is only on foot, on the track from either Sealers Cove or Little Waterloo Bay.
Make the effort and you will discover a special little spot, where the sand is white and the water is clear, the ideal place to swim or snorkel, to clamber over rocks and jump into the sea, or to enjoy a little warmth in the sunshine. There's a basic campsite at the cove, though you'll have to lug all of your gear in and out; boaties can anchor for up to two nights without a permit.
POINT ADDIS, SURF COAST
Everyone knows Bells Beach in the heart of Victoria's Surf Coast: it's one of the world's most famous thanks to the surfing comp held there each year. But how many people take the time to explore a little further south and discover Point Addis Beach, in the heart of the Point Addis Marine National Park?
Here the attraction is as much what's in the water as what is next to it. Plenty of rockpools and shallow reefs here support a huge range of marine life, including colourful sponge gardens, while seals and dolphins play offshore. For those who prefer to stay on land, there's hiking either side of the Point Addis lookout, and of course a vast stretch of sand to either lie upon or explore. Head to nearby South Side if you prefer your beachgoing sans apparel.
KILLARNEY BEACH, PORT FAIRY
Photo: Rob Blackburn/Visit Victoria
At the far end of the Great Ocean Road (or the beginning, if you're coming from SA), Killarney Beach is paradise for families, a sheltered, secluded spot where all will feel right with the world. There's a fringing reef here that protects the beach from any big surf, while also creating a lagoon perfect for swimming and snorkelling.
Though Killarney Beach is easily accessible from Port Fairy, there's also a campsite right beside the beach, with vast grassy areas and great facilities, and it's understandably popular with families. It's worth spending a few nights to explore nearby attractions such as Tower Hill State Game Reserve, an inactive volcano, and the historic township of Koroit.
POINT KING, PORTSEA
The jealousy is real. As you stroll down Millionaire's Walk in lovely Portsea, checking out the homes of the rich and the extremely lucky that hug the waterfront in this beautiful part of the world, you will find yourself wishing that you, too, shared this exclusive postcode. However, there's good news: the best of Point King is open to the public, and it costs nothing to get in.
That's Point King Beach, a small and perfectly lovely stretch of sand that has everything you could ever want in a Victoria beach, from the wooden jetty to the old bathing boxes to the cool, clear waters. Wiggle your toes in the sand, catch some rays if the sun is out, enjoy the seclusion from the outside world, and then re-join Millionaire's Walk – and prepare to be jealous again.
IN THE REST OF AUSTRALIA
MEMORY COVE, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
Photo: Carly Kruger/Tourism SA
Forgive the pun, but you will always remember Memory Cove: the beauty, the isolation. Set in Lincoln National Park, about 650km south-west of Adelaide, access to Memory Cove is via 4WD only, and you're looking at an overnight stay to make the trip worthwhile, which means there will be few people with which to share this slice of paradise. Memory Cove is all windswept and interesting, with white sand and clear water, hemmed in by pristine forest. You will need a permit to stay over.
NUDEY BEACH, QUEENSLAND
Photo: TEQ Queensland
As with most great beaches, it takes effort to get to Nudey. To begin with: a ferry ride, heading out from Cairns for a 45-minute trip to Welcome Bay on Fitzroy Island. From there, lace up your boots and set out on the 15-minute walk through rainforest and coastal woodlands to reach Nudey, a spectacular stretch of white sand that abuts coral reef on the island's north-western tip. There's the chance to snorkel here, to go bird-watching, to try to spot lizards and goannas, or to throw a towel down and just relax. BTW, the name is misleading: bring your swimmers.
FRIENDLY BEACHES, TASMANIA
Photo: Stu Gibson/Tourism Tasmania
Friendly Beaches should be more popular. It's set just near Freycinet National Park, a major drawcard for both locals and visitors in Tasmania, close to Hobart and yet seemingly cut off from the world. It's not that hard to access. It's beautiful. And yet, it's often all but deserted. Discover this for yourself by taking the dirt road from Coles Bay Road and then walking in from the carpark. Here you will be rewarded with sweet, sweet isolation, with barely another person to share this pristine stretch of white sand, with gently lapping waves and beautiful views all around.
BAILEY BEACH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
You want beaches? WA has beaches. Endless gorgeous beaches as far as the eye can see and the mind can wander. Take your pick: you will always find somewhere deserted and lovely. Even in Perth, the big smoke, it's possible to locate a little slice of relatively quiet wonder. Try, for example, Bailey Beach, nestled against the cliffs in Perth's northern suburbs. A set of stairs leads down to this secluded spot, where the warm waters of the Indian Ocean lap against flawless white sand. Go for a snorkel, take a swim, dry off in the sun. Perfection.
ORMISTON GORGE, NORTHERN TERRITORY
Photo: Jess Caldwell & Luke Riddle/Tourism NT
Here's a beach experience with a difference. Instead of the usual crashing waves and circling seagulls, you have soaring red cliffs and dense eucalypt forests. Welcome to Ormiston Gorge, in the West MacDonnell National Park in the Northern Territory. This may not seem like the obvious place to find a beach, but wait until you see the arc of golden sand surrounding a perfect waterhole. The ideal place to go for a swim under blue skies and appreciate just how beautiful inland Australia can be.