The magic of Aussie beaches

By Peter Chapman

New Zealand has lots going for it but no one can beat the Aussies when it comes to marvellous beaches, boasts Peter Chapman.

Hervey Bay is acclaimed as the whale-watching capital of the world and has a moderate climate.
Hervey Bay is acclaimed as the whale-watching capital of the world and has a moderate climate.

We may like to shout and boast about our beautiful beaches and spectacular foreshores, but the honest truth is that for the most part we Australians live in a desolate, wide, brown land.

Strap yourself into a hire car and take the 4000km-plus, week-long drive from Sydney to Perth and you will soon see that sweeping plains and small rural townships are true Australiana. There is a rugged beauty to these vast landscapes of Australia, but a day of driving across the Nullabor Plains can soon wash away such romantic thoughts.

It's little wonder that the big growth centres and tourist hotspots over the past 20 years have been centred on places that include northern NSW and southeast Queensland.

While the heartland of our country will burn and blister at 44C or more, those living on our coastal fringes enjoy balmy weather with cooling sea breezes.

A perfect example is Hervey Bay on the southeast Queensland coast, just four hours drive north from Brisbane.

In summer its average is in the low 30s and on the coldest day the temperature rarely drops below 10C. Cooling sea breezes off the bay, which is acclaimed as the whale-watching capital of the world, even provide a natural fan on the hottest of days.

Understandably, Hervey Bay's population has more than doubled over the past decade as thousands of retired people escape the unpredictable and sometimes harsh weather of other parts of Australia.

Like all our coastal centres the main attraction for southeast Queensland is its beaches and that leads me to boasting proudly of our prize possessions. Crystal-clear waters, white sands and rolling surf is a winning trifecta which not only attracts us Aussies, but also thousands of visitors from around the world.

Years ago I went on a holiday from the western suburbs of Sydney to the Queensland coast and fell in love with the area. Before my holidays had finished I had resigned from my journalist's position in Sydney and had found a place to rent in a small seaside township. It would be eight years before I would move again and in the years that followed - other than a two-year stint in Auckland - I have remained faithful to the coastal regions of Australia. While many young Aussies fall in love with their surfboards and spend hours chasing the elusive perfect waves, I simply enjoyed the sound of the surf, fishing from the beach and a weekly swim.

Hervey Bay is acclaimed as the whale-watching capital of the world and has a moderate climate.
Hervey Bay is acclaimed as the whale-watching capital of the world and has a moderate climate.

I had many memorable moments enjoying the beach, but there is one that I can close my eyes and still see vividly in action replay. It was late afternoon and I was fishing on a remote beach. As I gazed out to the surf, I reflected on the strange occurrence every few years that sees muttonbirds sit in the water behind the surf break waiting to be washed up on the beach. It's as if they had been handed a death sentence and were ready for the fateful moment when they are tumbled into a rolling wave and deposited on the shoreline where they will take their last breath.

The muttonbirds migrate 10,000km from the Bering Sea, between Alaska and Japan, to Australian shores in late-September to nest. Those that have eaten little on their journey and are exhausted by the flight basically drop into the ocean on the Australian shoreline.

As the sun was slowly disappearing a sea eagle flew straight above my beach rod on this afternoon making a beeline for one of the distressed birds.

Dropping into the ocean like a rock it grabbed the muttonbird in its talons, swung in a giant arc and flew back above my head. Drops of water rained down on me and I gasped in awe. This was nature; this was the tragic beauty that plays out on our shores.

Our beaches may be beautiful, but they can also be dangerous. "Swim between the flags" is the warning sign you will see at all our beaches and the message is: don't go in if the beach is closed.

Despite these warnings many still roll the dice and some, unfortunately, pay the price. Lifesavers shake their heads and wonder why.

Surveys talking about our best beaches invariably promote great debate.

We are passionate about our local townships and no one can mount an argument that will convince a resident of say Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast that their beach if not as good as Noosa on the Sunshine Coast.

We are blessed that in every turn and twist of the coastline from Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast to Trinity Beach in Far North Queensland is a beach to enjoy and marvel at.

Whether you are a fisherman, a walker, a budding surfer or even a painter you will lose yourself in your thoughts and the tranquillity as the waves slowly wash up on to the shoreline in a never-ending surge and release. Diving beneath the waves, you are instantly invigorated as the salt water washes across you with the briskness of a cold morning shower.

The beaches of Eastern Australia and our rugged coastline are gems that will continue to attract more and more visitors and residents alike.

We don't have the lush rolling green hills of New Zealand, we don't have your crystal-clear lakes - but for sheer beauty, nothing compares to our surf, sun and white sandy beaches.

Here's my bucket list of the beaches you must visit next time you're in Queensland ...

1. Seventy-Five Mile Beach on Fraser Island

It may seem strange that I have nominated a beach that isn't recommended for surfing, but for sheer beauty nothing compares with this strip, which runs along the entire east coast of Fraser Island. You can swim anywhere but it doesn't come with lifesavers and is popular with tiger sharks. My suggestion: just dip your toe in.

You can hire a 4WD at nearby Hervey Bay and drive for hours along the beach, stopping to catch a glimpse of dolphins chasing schools of fish, a pack of dingoes walking along the beach or just to take a swim at one of the cool streams that filter from the world's largest sand island into the ocean. Better still, drive across one of the many sand tracks that cross the island and take a dip at Lake McKenzie, a magnificent crystal-clear freshwater oasis on Fraser.

2. Burleigh Beach, Gold Coast

If cracking a wave and enjoying a swim is your motive then nothing beats this great beach on the popular Gold Coast of Queensland.

The great thing about Burleigh is that it is surrounded by great restaurants and quality accommodation. Burleigh Heads is renowned for its surf break, and is an alternative to the more tourist-ridden towns of the Gold Coast. The headland of Burleigh, known as The Point, is a favourite for weekend picnics.

On a Sunday afternoon the local musicians and fire-twirlers come out for a jam and dance session.

3. Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island

CNN named Whitehaven Beach the world's top eco-friendly beach. Dogs are not permitted on the beach and cigarette smoking is prohibited. Whitehaven Beach is known for its white sands. It is 98 per cent silica which gives it a bright white colour. Unlike regular sand, the silica does not retain heat, making it comfortable to walk barefoot on a hot day.

4. Noosa Main Beach, Sunshine Coast

Noosa Main Beach is one of the few north-facing beaches on Australia's east coast, providing safe sheltered waters for young families and novice surfers. Once again, a great place to stay, with quality restaurants and places to stay.

5. Trinity Beach, Cairns

It is Cairns' favourite beach - just ask any local, or a tourist in the know, and they'll back me up.

Its relaxed tropical setting gives Trinity beach an ambience rarely found elsewhere.

Just 15 minutes north from Cairns International Airport, you'll find Trinity Beach conveniently nestled between two headlands - providing an ideal bay area in which to enjoy the popular activities on offer.

Visiting Cairns also gives you the opportunity to hop a fast catamaran and take a trip to snorkel, dive or just enjoy God's aquarium - the Great Barrier Reef.

As we say here in Aussie, come on over because the "surf's up".

- NZ Herald

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