Destin-Nation Australia: Beach Bonza Bummin' Down Under

Nothing like chilling on an Australian beach. The island continent is ringed by a shoreline that is in turns sheltering and forbidding, bordered by both desert and forest. There is something for everyone, but few people around. The sheer size of Australia, along with its low population density, allows this sunburnt country to be a mecca for beach bums without losing its off the edge of the map appeal.

Nothing like chilling on an Australian beach. The island continent is ringed by a shoreline that is in turns sheltering and forbidding, bordered by both desert and forest. There is something for everyone, but few people around.

The sheer size of Australia, along with its low population density, allows this sunburnt country to be a mecca for beach bums without losing its off the edge of the map appeal. If that wasn't impetus enough, the coldest months always provide Americans with incentive to cross the equator in search of summer sunshine.

Australia is far away, but travelers have numerous options. Flights from San Francisco, Los Angeles and Dallas all fly into Sydney, the country's biggest travel hub.

Cathay Pacific offers comfortable seats and the sorts of amenities that make the 7,500 mile flight over the Pacific less taxing. Another option is to fly into the north of the country through hubs in Asia, including Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. The country's roads are well-maintained and often scenic, making car rentals an attractive (if occasionally harrowing) option.

Nearly all of Australia's population centers are on its coasts, so visitors are rarely far from the shore. What every beach in Australia will have in common: Friendly locals and that feeling of being both far from from home and far from foreign.

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Destin-Nation Australia: Beach Bonza Bummin' Down Under

At roughly 710 square miles, Fraser Island may be the largest sandbox in the world—it's status as the world's largest sand island has already led to it being named a World Heritage Site. The island is big enough that it has not only miles and miles of coastal beaches, but stretches of perfect sand along its translucent inland freshwater lakes. Many tour groups, including Fraser Explorer Tours, offer guided wildlife expeditions through the island's forest, which are dense with possums, bandicoots and dingoes. 

Non-divers eager to explore a shipwreck can head to the S.S. Maheno, an English passenger liner that sits in the sand on the rather self-explanatory 75 Mile Beach.

Where to Stay: The Kingfisher Bay Resort is a large and much-lauded hotel that offers  eco-tours around the island. There are hotels like the Eurong Beach further out on the island, but the rooms can be somewhat spare or charmless. Both hotels offer rooms from roughly $150.

Getting There: Fraser Island is a four hour drive from Brisbane, but flights to the island town of Hervey Bay operate from Sydney.

The verdant wilderness north of Cairns and just west of the Great Barrier Reef is very wet, very wild (watch out for giant birds that kick intruders) and fringed by a series of beaches that are so postcard perfect that they seem both cliched and impossible. Many of the beaches are secluded and so flat that the edges of waves mirror the sky without adding so much as a ripple. Travelers adventurous to make the hike to Coconut or Thornton beach find themselves standing alone between two skies.

Where to Stay: The Cape Tribulation Resort (closed but set to reopen in early 2012) offers visitors a bit of Swiss Family Robinson-inflected glamor with spacious wooden rooms while the Voyages Silky Oaks Lodge Hotel, located a few miles further inland, offers luxurious rooms with views of a rainforest river from $500.

Getting There: Taxis aren't hard to find at the Cairns Airport, but a rental car is a better way to enjoy the area or go search nearby lakes and streams for the ever elusive (and adorable) Platypus.

Australia's most famous stretch of sand is barely a half-mile long, but so packed with surfboards, bikinis and boozy locals that it has come to occupy a singular place in the Australian public consciousness. Think of it as Baywatch 3D. Swimmers should be careful to avoid the rip current on the southern part of the cove: Less-than-careful swimmers might wind up getting dragged to shore by the beach's famed lifeguards only to sputter and spit in front of the rolling cameras of Bondi Rescue, a TV show that makes minor stars of bare-chested watermen.

Where to Stay: Bondi Beach is close enough to Sydney that there is no excuse not to stay in the beautiful capital and commute by bus or rail. Sydney is hardly lacking in nice places to stay, but savvy travelers can find great rooms for $180 or more at the Harbour Rocks Hotel in a hip neighborhood defined by the shadow of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and the famous Opera House.

Getting There: Sydney International Airport is Australia's largest travel hub.

This broad 13-mile desert of a beach is very popular with Australian tourists willing to head to the back of beyond. What Broome lacks in convenience it more than makes up for in scenery. The desert cliffs near the beach would make a perfect training ground for the next Mars Rover and the beach is wide enough that Camel trains schlep tourists seaward.

Where to Stay: Broome is more of a jumping off point for travelers than an attraction in and of itself, but it does have some decent options for comfortable stays including the Cable Beachside Villa, which offer all the ultimate amenity, beach access, for $240. Another good bet is the Oaks Hotel Resort ($250), which has a bit of a business-travel feel—not necessarily a negative when the business at hand is getting dirty and tan.

Getting There: Broome's Airport welcomes a slew of daily domestic flights from Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Darwin, the Northern Territory's rough and tumble capital.

Australia is at its best when it's at its wildest and on this seemingly endless stretch of beach near the Western Australian frontier town of Exmouth, Kangaroos and Emus outnumber tourists by a wide margin. Squeezed between Ningaloo Reef, a SCUBA mecca and Whale Shark hot spot, and Cape Range National Park, this strand of sun-bleached sand is lonely in all the right ways. The water here is warm and full of life. The Exmouth Diving Centre rents snorkeling gear for would-be Cousteaus eager to look for the improbably named Wobbegong, a delicately tasseled and harmless shark that lazes listlessly on the smooth ocean floor. The town can be quiet in the evenings, a perfect excuse to linger over some oysters or a Roo loin at Whaler's Restaurant, a real outback steakhouse.

Where to Stay: The Novotel Ningaloo offers the most refined rooms in town for $280 as well as a views east and north, towards East Timor and Indonesia. For a homier option, head to the Potshot Hotel Resort, which offers apartment style accommodation for $200. (It should be noted that hotel was named for a WWII operation involving American submarines, not for its trigger-happy neighbors.)

Getting There: The best way to reach remote Exmouth is to fly into Learmonth Airport not too far south. A rental car makes getting to and from the beach significantly easier.

At first the beach just looks perfect, a sweep of white cut in the shape of a waning moon. But this cove is not merely postcard perfect. Like a pointillist's canvas, the beach falls apart up close, revealing its component parts, billions of tiny, bleached cockle shells. The shells, which thrive in the bay's hypersalinated water, are smooth and warm to the touch.  Visitors almost invariably find themselves rolling down the gentle slope that leads into shallow waters. 

Where to Stay: Visitors to Shark Bay often stay at the $250-a-night Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort, a small hotel and research station frequented not only by tourists, but also by a school of friendly Bottlenose dolphins that swim along the shore.

Getting There: Like many places in Western Australia, Shark Bay is quite remote and almost only reachable by car. The closest major airport and car rental hub is in Perth

Going to see Devils and visit the Bay of Fires might sound like an infernal dream, but Australia's offshore state is far from harrowing. This government-protect white sand crescent on the island's northeastern shore is kneaded by colder waters and bigger waves than its mainland cousins, but still welcoming enough for strong swimmers. The nearby fishing hamlet is a little over 150 miles from Hobart, which has an up and coming arts scene and a young, energetic vibe. Though it has yet to become a mob scene, this area was voted Lonely Planet's Best Travel Destination in 2009 so go soon before it gets crowded.

Where to Stay: The Bay of Fires Lodge offers beautiful views of the coastline through the wide glass windows of its modernist wooden huts ($300 per person), but paying for this kind of privilege can be difficult. A different option is to rent out of The Cottages (from $190), which combine the advantages of a hotel with beachside privacy.

Getting There: Flights from Melbourne and Sydney arrive nearly constantly in Hobart, where smart travelers pick up there rental cars—better to explore the "natural state." 


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