Byron Bay, NSW
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The wave-rich North Coast is the Yin to the Gold Coast’s Yang. Less developed, it’s a nostalgic throwback to simple “soul surfing” on retro equipment for fun rather than career advancement. Byron Bay is where the first generation of counter-culture surfers fled from the city in the late ’60s and early ’70s, renting old farmhouses for a pittance and shaping boards in semi-derelict dairy sheds. These days it’s a stop on the backpacker circuit where salty old surfing legends mix with surf-school learners and supermodels at Byron’s packed point breaks.
Booderee National Park, NSW
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Home to white-sand beaches and Australia’s only Aboriginal-owned botanic garden, Booderee National Park on the South Coast of NSW was handed back to its traditional custodians in 1995. And plenty of the local crew have found sport at the region’s spectacular surf breaks, including the suitably named Aussie Pipe (aka Black Rock). Short, hollow, abrupt left-hand waves have helped hone the prodigious skills of surfing champions such as Terry Richardson and Mark Occhilupo, while comfortable camping makes it an easy place to get back to nature.
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Coolangatta’s triumvirate of point breaks – Kirra, Snapper Rocks, Greenmount – has produced more world champions and world-class surfboard shapers than anywhere else on Earth. It’s not hard to see why: warm, crystal-clear water, perfect waves and wide, golden beaches make it the real surfers’ paradise. You can spot local surf stars such as Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson and Stephanie Gilmore out in the busy breaks – just don’t expect to get too many waves to yourself.
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Angourie Point is a surf break so perfectly sculpted, you’d swear the Almighty was a surfer. Waves wrap around a picture-perfect headland like spokes in a wheel, bending towards the surfer as if inviting play. Spared from overdevelopment by national-park surrounds, the wave and its environs have barely changed from their intoxicating appearance in seminal 1970s surf movie Morning of the Earth. Swim in the freshwater Angourie Blue Pool, or venture into nearby Yamba for shopping, fresh seafood and more beautiful beaches.
Great Ocean Road, VIC
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Not one surf spot but dozens, from carefully guarded secrets with ominous names, such as Massacres, to world- famous icons like Johanna. This coastline was made accessible by the vast public works program designed to employ returned World War I veterans to carve a winding coastal road from the towering southern cliffs. Raw elements are on wild display here, sculpting the endlessly photographed 12 Apostles, delivering some of the country’s biggest rideable surf and shaping countless nooks and bays for the intrepid.
Noosa Heads, QLD
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Surfing the long, peeling waves of Noosa Heads was likened to “having a cup of tea with God” by surfing pioneer Bob McTavish in the late ’60s. Back then, Noosa was the perfect test track for the development of shorter, faster, lighter, more manoeuvrable boards. Skip the bustle of Hastings Street and head the track around Noosa National Park. The further you walk, past the adjacent points of First Point, Boiling Pot, Tea Tree Bay and Granite Bay, the less crowded the surf gets and the easier it is to squint and conjure that magical vibe of the ’60s.
Margaret River, WA
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Once a conservative fishing and farming community, Margaret River has seen waves of migration from surfers and winemakers over the past several decades. Now, world-class wineries outnumber the world-class waves in the region. The stretch from Cape Naturaliste in the north to Cape Leeuwin in the south is studded with great surf and beaches and can be traversed on the celebrated 135-kilometre Cape to Cape walking trail over several days.
Cactus Beach, SA
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At the beginning of the Nullarbor Plain just out of Ceduna, at a nondescript crossroads with a pub and a roadhouse, a long, rutted gravel road snakes its way through the salt plains to the coast. There’s little to indicate you are en route to one of the country’s best surf spots and that’s just the way the locals like it. A small wooden sign and an unobtrusive gate announce your arrival at the rustic beachfront campground that’s been presided over by Ron, its Zen caretaker, for close to 30 years.
Red Bluff and Gnaraloo, WA
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For the serious off-road adventurer, the desert coastal campgrounds of Red Bluff and Gnaraloo are roughly 14 hours north of Perth. Turn off the sealed road towards the coast just north of Carnarvon but, be warned, the long dirt road is often impassable after heavy rain. Once there, though, it’s a Shangri-la for surfers and fishermen at the southern tip of Ningaloo Reef. Both Gnaraloo and Red Bluff are on pastoral leases where the owners have created tourism enterprises to supplement their declining incomes from livestock.
Bells Beach, VIC
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Birthplace of the billion-dollar Australian surfing industry and home to the world’s longest-running professional surf contest, the Rip Curl Pro, Bells Beach is steeped in surfing history. Those weathered cliffs afford spectacular views over the Southern Ocean and the surfing action below. Bells and neighbouring Winki Pop have long, fast right-hand waves but to escape the crowds, there are myriad other breaks – Bird Rock, Southside and 13th Beach, to name a few.
Up Next: The World’s 21 Most Iconic Beaches
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Most Australians can pick Bondi Beach out of a line-up – how many of these other iconic beaches can you recognise?