Pack Your Bucket and Spade for Australia’s Best Beach Getaways

Heart - Add to profile
Book Flights

Oct 31, 2016

Summer holidays are all about lazy days and long swims. Sally Webb finds the best beach getaways in Australia.

Buckets and spades, sand in your bathers, barbecues for every second meal – the family beach holiday is a quintessential part of growing up in Australia. And every family has its own version, whether it’s staying in a timeworn fibro shack or renting a glamorous beach house you can only dream of owning. 

Returning year after year to the same place gives you family benchmarks: your daughter catching her first fish or your son learning to surf. Exploring new destinations gives you time to experience more of our country’s extraordinary environments.

SEE ALSO: The World’s 21 Most Iconic Beaches

Regardless of where you go or how you do it, the true beauty of this kind of getaway is that you don’t need to do much. It just happens. Here are four places to inspire your next beach holiday.

For a resort holiday…

Pinetrees Lodge, Lord Howe Island

UNESCO World Heritage-listed Lord Howe Island, about 600 kilometres east of the NSW coast, has wildlife to rival the Galápagos and mountains with their own unique ecosystems. Holidays in this paradise are relaxed and unhurried and everyone gets around by bike or on foot – shoes entirely optional. Except when climbing mountains... 

The final part of our climb up Mount Lidgbird to Goat House Cave – 400 metres above sea level – is the most challenging. The moss-covered boulders underfoot are slippery and we’re thankful for the strategically placed ropes to haul ourselves up the steep, rocky inclines. Our ascent is far from stylish but the family’s sense of achievement is huge. And the view of the island from the top, where rare providence petrels swoop past, is breathtaking.

The four-hour return hike is tough-going, which makes the picnic awaiting us upon our descent – set up for our party at Cobby’s Corner by Pinetrees Lodge – even more welcome.

It doesn’t take long to get the fire started and the snags on; Archie, 11, has appointed himself tong-master for the week so he cooks while the rest of us wash off the sweat with a swim. Our daily barbecues at some of the island’s most picturesque locations are among the highlights of our stay.

Archie and his nine-year-old sister, Lulu, embrace all that Lord Howe has to offer: riding around the island on bikes and the freedom to explore on their own; hand-feeding mullet and kingfish in the shallows at Ned’s Beach; snorkelling over Galapagos sharks, manta rays, vibrantly coloured fish and coral reefs; indulgent afternoon teas on the Pinetrees resort verandah; sundowners at the Pinetrees boatshed, where we watch shearwaters darting out over the lagoon then circling back to their nests; and delicious dinners, especially the famous fish (and chip) fry.

Archie turns pro angler, hauling in a huge catch of garfish from the island’s sole jetty that the kitchen cleans and packs for our barbecue lunch the next day. We eat them in sandwiches of white bread, squeezed with lemon, the butter dripping down our arms. Does beach life get better than this?

Pros: No mobile phones and very dodgy internet. Incredibly safe for kids.
Cons: No mobile phones and very dodgy internet. 

SEE ALSO: How to Make the Most of Your Time on Lord Howe Island

For a chic beach-house holiday…

Mornington Peninsula, Victoria 

Jumping off Portsea Pier is a rite of passage. Depending on the tides, it can be a very long drop and I’ve watched with delight over the years as my children and assorted nieces and nephews muster up the courage and risk an epic wedgie to take the plunge – just as I did at the same age.

Portsea and neighbouring Sorrento, at the tip of Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, are places that get into your collective family soul. In a state blessed with scenic beaches, few are more exquisite than the north-facing sandy coves of Port Phillip Bay. The hardest decision to make is which beach to go to each day: the long white stretch of Shelley, accessed by a steep and winding dirt track, or Fishermans, lined with historic and colourful bathing boxes?

At London Bridge, an arched sandstone rock formation weathered and hewn by the wild Bass Strait weather, we go snorkelling in rock pools that you can see only at low tide. A couple of hundred metres offshore, the breakers are pounding but on this windless, 40-degree day, the rock pools are ripple-free. We spot timid fish and crabs and stick hands into sea anemones to feel the tickle as they suck our fingers.

On another occasion, when the northerly is blowing, the back beach is the prime spot for phenomenal surf. We’re all dumped repeatedly but that’s part of the fun.

This region is not particularly well set up for casual tourists; renting a private beach house is a better way to go and means you can live like locals for a week or two. Well, perhaps not locals as such but more like the well-heeled Melburnians and the rich and famous who periodically call this place home. As long as you’ve got a decent kitchen, a barbecue and some outdoor space, everyone is happy; pools and tennis courts are an added bonus.

When not at the beach, we play cricket on a local oval and the kids spend hours in the pool. We also head to Point Nepean National Park, at the tip of the peninsula, which had an important role in shaping Victoria’s early settlement, quarantine and defence. The kids delight in exploring the old military forts and tunnels and, using the cracker views of Port Phillip Heads as a backdrop, the family selfie library gets plenty of new content. 

Pros: Plenty of beach houses are available and it’s a great way to immerse yourself in the area.
Cons: You might fall in love and want to buy a house of your own. 

For a beach camping holiday...

The Basin, NSW

Our arrival at The Basin on Pittwater bears more than a little resemblance to the wartime storming of the beaches on D-day. Six adults, seven kids, three tents, bedding, tables, chairs, gas burners, a huge cast-iron pan, clothing, a canoe, Eskies and food, all carted from the water-taxi barge – appropriately called Normandy – whose drop-down bow allows us to offload directly onto the sand.

More organised mortals might pack lighter – and catch the ferry from Palm Beach, which plies a scenic route via Currawong and Mackerel beaches, but we’ve worked out that the barge landing brings us closest to The Basin’s prime real estate right on the beach. 

The only camp site in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, on Sydney’s northern fringe, The Basin is a drawcard for novice campers who want to master the art of pitching a tent and cooking with a Trangia stove without straying too far from the city limits.

A trolley suffices as the single toy for the kids, acting as everything from a train to a dam wall. Electronics are eschewed in favour of Poohsticks, tree climbing, charades and toasting marshmallows. With a bath-like inland lagoon as well as the beach, the kids are in the water from dawn to dusk. At night, our tribe of juniors don headlamps for ghost stories and Spotto in the dark.

The surrounding bush is rich with wildlife, including lyrebirds, swamp wallabies and prehistoric-looking goannas, who brazenly raid any food supplies not locked away. 

One day we hike up the fire trail behind the camp site to see rock engravings, evidence of the Guringai people who originally inhabited the area.The rest of the time we do very little – and that’s the joy of it. Our focus is on the next meal, keeping the beer cold and talking about finding a new camping location, which we know we’ll never do.

Pros: Affordable, simple and timeless.
Cons: Sleeping under canvas isn’t for everyone. Lapping waves can get noisy. 

For a beach-shack holiday… 

Coningham, Tasmania 

Tasmania in summer is wonderful so a special friend’s 50th birthday celebration easily lures us south to Coningham, a half-hour drive from Hobart, for a beachside family mini break.

As far as accommodation goes, our requirements are simple: affordable, comfortable – ideally with a nice view. A few board games and good local shopping for provisions would be a plus.

We luck it in with the rustic beach shack of our dreams. While many of Coningham’s original shacks have been modernised as it becomes a dormitory suburb of Hobart, this house is a timeless gem at the very end of the road. 

Nothing much has changed since it was first built and decorated in the 1970s – flocked carpet, fish posters and all. It’s light on luxury but long on charm.

There’s a huge deck out front that’s perfect for admiring the view of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel. It’s only a few minutes’ walk along a scrubby path down to the pretty beach, which is lined with old wooden boatsheds. The gently lapping waves are great for skimming stones but wetsuits are advisable for the chilly southern water, even in summer. On one occasion, from a distance the sand appears to be vibrating. It’s only as we get closer that we realise it’s carpeted by an army of tiny, blue-tinged soldier crabs.

We use the shack as our base to explore the surrounding area, including the rolling farmland of the Huon Valley and the township of Cygnet, returning to the shack for cook-ups of our gathered provisions and games of Monopoly. The highlight, however, is taking the car ferry across to Bruny Island and climbing the Truganini steps for a spectacular panorama of the island.

Pros: Easygoing, old-fashioned appeal.
Cons: The water is cold, even in summer.

SEE ALSO: Unforgettable Outback Holidays for the Family