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Why Australians are beach snobs

TIME : 2016/2/26 15:58:28

This January, I had a bit of a staycation and lived my beach holiday vicariously through Instagram.

And what holidays my friends had! There were dozens of boastful photos of beautiful beaches all around Australia, from Tallows Beach near Byron Bay to Portsea Back Beach and beyond. It seems everyone I knew had rolled up the beach towel, slipped into their cossies, and were photographing their toenails on a golden stretch of sand by a sparkling blue sea.

I love beaches, especially the optimism I feel when I look out to sea and think about sailing across it to somewhere wonderful. According to Chinese feng shui, it's lucky to face water and I don't disagree. But I'm a bit unusual in that I like beaches best in romantic winter, when I can get away from the sun.

Australians have a serious case of beach addiction. It's just so easy to get to a beach, at least for the 85 per cent of us who live near the coast. Even vacationing at home in inner-suburban Sydney, I can take a 30-minute stroll to the end of my street and find myself in Sydney Harbour.

I have friends who live on a little cove with a jetty only 20 minutes' drive from Sydney's CBD. Some days you'd swear it was the Mediterranean. Better than the Mediterranean, actually, which has some dismal beaches along with the good.

I'm sure the other cities get tired of Sydneysiders boasting about their harbour. The truth is, pretty much all the coastal Australian cities and towns have beaches within reach that are beautiful, clean and free. (If you know somewhere that hasn't one, do tell me.)

Not all of these beaches are as celebrated as Bondi, the Gold Coast, the Whitsundays or the beaches along Victoria's Great Ocean Road, but many of them are gorgeous nevertheless.

Industrial and hip Newcastle has a city beach as spectacular as any I've seen, and the historic ocean baths are beautiful. Kingston Beach in Hobart is a lovely, quiet curve of sand where, in the days after Christmas, you have a box seat for watching the Sydney-Hobart contenders sail by. I love the red and ochre coloured rocks scattered over Darwin's beaches. Melbourne's Port Phillip Bay may not be the Seychelles, but it looks lovely on the right day from the balcony of the Carrum Bowling Club.

You want a real beach? Well, there's roughly 90 miles of sand and dunes around Lakes Entrance, near my childhood holiday spot Lake Tyers.

Forgive me if I haven't mentioned your favourite beach. But you'd rather keep it secret, wouldn't you?

Surf or harbour, bayside or riverbank, what Australia's beaches have in their favour is that they're free. Even my friends' little Sydney Harbour cove in a posh enclave is accessible to those not so fortunate to live on it. They don't make the pathway obvious, mind you, but it's there. You don't have to have a yacht to sail into it either – any tinny will do.

I suspect most travelling Australians have experienced a sense of outrage the first time they've found access to an international beach blocked by a resort or a mansion that has exclusive rights to it. And it always seems like daylight robbery when we're asked to pay a hefty fee to rent a deck chair on certain (inferior) European beaches. I just can't bring myself to do it. Besides, in my opinion, European "beach clubs", supposedly a way to screen out the riff-raff, effectively screen them in.

We're spoiled. We may not have the world's most beautiful beach (TripAdvisortells me it's Brazil's Baia do Sancho) but our island continent is fringed with so many of them, we're all connoisseurs. Do you like Maldivian white sand? Then Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays is for you. Thudding good surf? Try Melbourne's Gunnamatta. A beach that's also a good hike? Freycinet's Wineglass Bay.

Want to share it with sea creatures? Monkey Mia in Western Australia's Shark's Bay. Or kangaroos? NSW's Pebbly Beach. Enjoy taking a tram? Try Glenelg or St Kilda. Want to fly in on a helicopter? Lizard Island. Like lighthouses? Airey's Inlet. Like your seawater nippy? Tasmania's superb Bay of Fires. Or as warm as a bath? Far North Queensland's Mission Beach. You can even have a rock festival on it: the annual Falls Festival at Lorne, Byron or Marion Bay.

We've got the lot. No wonder we're such beach snobs.