Christmas in Australia means prawns, cricket, sunscreen and cold beers. Here’s our pick of the best beach destinations to make you merry this silly season.
1. Cape Le Grand National Park, WA
Located 59km southeast of Esperance in WA, Cape Le Grand seduces visitors with its snowy white beaches and powder blue bays. With towering granite peaks and sandy plains dotted with freshwater lakes, it’s one of the West Coast’s most idyllic national parks and offers a huge diversity of experiences for travellers.
Launch a boat at Lucky Bay, surf the break at Le Grand Beach and tackle the 30-minute climb to the top of Frenchman Peak, the highest in an impressive chain of Precambrian domes. The park’s two excellent waterfront campgrounds provide hot showers, camp kitchens and barbecues, and when it’s time to resupply, Esperance is only a short drive away. This is family camping made easy.
The best bushwalking is along the Coastal Trail that traverses the park via Whistling Rock where dolphins surf the breakers at dawn, eventually finishing up at the bird haven of Rossiter Bay. With easy access to beautiful, calm bays teeming with Australian salmon, sand whiting, silver trevally and more, anglers get pretty excited about a visit to Cape Le Grand, too.
2. Cairns, QLD
Although it’s officially the off-season, Christmas is an ideal time to visit Cairns for crowd-free island stays, rainforest walks and waterholes, not to mention thrilling wildlife encounters with saltwater crocodiles, cassowaries and fish.
Don’t let the presence of marine stingers spoil your fun, simply slip on a protective swimming suit to explore the kaleidoscopic patchwork of coral that lies within easy reach of Cairns. Cruise boats run from Cairns to the Reef year-round, and a daytrip to reef-fringed Fitzroy Island comes highly recommended. It’s just 45 minutes by fast catamaran and offers great walking trails, off-the-beach snorkelling and picturesque camping.
Away from the sea, Barron Falls plunges 265m off the Kuranda Range an easy 15-minute drive from Cairns, or you can journey there aboard the Kuranda Scenic Railway or dangle above the treetops on the thrilling Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. A popular option is to get the train there and the cableway back.
While you’re in that neck of the woods, you’d be mad to miss Queensland’s most scenic coastal drive from Cairns to Port Douglas. Stop off for a swim at palm-fringed Ellis Beach where campsites come with unbeatable ocean views. Closer to Cairns, Palm Cove boasts a budget-friendly holiday park on a long, sweeping arc of golden beach.
3. Canunda National Park, SA
Stretching for 40km along South Australia’s wild Limestone Coast west of Mount Gambier, Canunda National Park protects a breathtaking sweep of cliffs, coves and giant shifting sand dunes carved by the sea. The park offers pioneering historical sites, lofty lookouts and six campgrounds providing secluded sites and good facilities.
Anglers can launch a tinny and – if armed with a South Australian registered cray pot – snare a southern rock lobster to be cooked simply in garlic butter over a camp stove. Now that’s Christmas lunch done right! And for the 4WD addicts, a sandy, 65km-long 4WD track links one end of the park with the other, traversing dunes, beaches and lakes. Drop your tyre pressure down to around 15PSI and let the good times roll.
Seaview Hike leads walkers into Abyssinia Bay and onto Cullen Bay Lookout where undercut limestone cliffs are sculpted with caves and blowholes, framing teetering sea stacks and a beautiful white sand cove. There is good beach fishing, remote reef and beach surf breaks and, on calm days, fabulous snorkelling.
4. Myall Lakes National Park, NSW
With 40km of stunning coastline and NSW’s largest brackish lake system to explore, Myall Lakes is a haven for boaties, kayakers, surfers and families alike. Located 90km north of Newcastle on the Mid-North Coast, the park’s 10,000 hectares of wetlands harbour a third of all coastal plants and animals recorded in NSW, including one of the state’s tallest individual trees, the Grandis. This 400-year-old ancient flooded gumtree pierces the canopy on the western edge of the park and its dimensions are simply awesome: 76m high with an enormous 11.5m girth.
On the coast you can whale watch from Sugarloaf Point lighthouse, which was built in 1875 to warn mariners off Seal Rocks, 3km offshore. As it turned out, the lighthouse was not very successfully in keeping mariners off the rocks and one of NSW’s worst maritime disasters, the sinking of the Catterthun, occurred here in 1895 with 55 lives lost. Myall Lakes offers visitors a huge choice of camping options but facilities are basic so bring plenty of drinking water.
5. Portland, VIC
With bat caves, blowholes, rare wildlife colonies, surf beaches and freshwater lakes perfect for paddling and waterskiing, Portland, some 460-odd kilometres west of Melbourne, is one of the more surprising places to celebrate Christmas.
This lively region in the state’s far west is home to a thriving colony of Australian fur seals, which you can observe from the edge of Victoria’s highest sea cliff. There is great swimming, surfing and fishing, and some unusual sights to enjoy at Cape Duquesne where turbulent seas exploding against volcanic cliffs fill dramatic blowholes. Take a walk along the clifftop here to discover Indigenous shell middens, rock pools fed by freshwater springs and the misnamed “Petrified Forest” where crumbling stone columns resembling fossilised tree trunks stand guard atop the cliffs.
Nearby Discovery Bay Coastal Park protects a pristine coastal wilderness where you can camp, fish for trout and 4WD across vast dunes to the reach the sea. Don’t miss a trip to Tarragal Caves, or sign up for surf lessons at Bridgewater Bay where water-savvy teens can paddle their kayaks out to meet the seals.
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