East Coast Beaches, Australia

aerial photo of east coast beaches, Australia

Some of the many east coast beaches north of Sydney, SE Australia

Where are the best east coast beaches near Sydney?

These can be found all the way up Australia’s east coast – which is why Australia is so coast-oriented, so we have limited ourselves to some of the more outstanding or popular locations.

Coastal beaches up as far as Brisbane without protective bays almost all see considerable surf so gentle floating or paddling is not usually an option, though they usually shelve gently so toddlers can still have fun while serious swimmers often head out beyond the wave line to get in their exercise.
The water of Sydney area beaches is not particularly warm, even in midsummer, but reaches a fine temperature towards the Gold Coast.

This page starts in the south – Sydney area – and heads north to Cairns.

On a separate page are Great Barrier Reef islands (Fraser, Whitsundays etc. )

Sydney’s SE coast, both south and north, is loaded with excellent beaches. These are best November – April, but December and January are busy with school holidays and often visited by bluebottles (Portuguese men-of-war jellyfish), though locals don’t pay much attention to the odd sting.


Bondi beach, Sydney, australia beaches

Bondi Beach photo by Athena Lao.

Half hour train/bus ride from the city gets you to Sydney’s long cherished Bondi, one of the best east coast beaches, a wide strip of soft sand backed by promenade, food and drink establishments and stroked by moderate surf. It’s eternally fashionable and can get crowded, naturally. On the cliffs at either end are two excellent clubs that accept foreigners, North Bondi RSL and Icebergs.
If you feel like a stroll there is a beautiful, breezy coast path going south to three more beaches – Tamarana, Bronte and Clovelly, but beware the rips.


Further south of Bondi and not dissimilar, this is another superb strand of sand with surf, crowds, eateries galore and a certain elegance.


Manly beach, Sydney, australia beaches

Manly beach, a short ferry ride or drive across Sydney bridge.

Manly city beach differs from the previous two. It has the same sand, promenade and lifesavers, but access from Sydney will be via a pleasant ferry ride across the harbour, at which point visitors have to choose between a busy, large, attractive surf beach or a quiet, calm harbour beach, favoured by families.
Diving trips also leave from Manly and there are various pretty coastal walks from here. We got stung here by bluebottles for the first time, so that was a surprise. There’s plenty of backpacker accommodation around here  on the southerly tip of east coast beaches.

No-surf swimming

Difficult to find quiet waters on east coast beaches!

Harbour beaches are the main option, with attractive spots such as Camp Cove, Nielsen Park, Balmoral, Chinaman’s Beach.

Best east coast beaches not near Sydney?

Durras to Broulee

Up to four hours drive south of Sydney are a series of fine, picturesque beaches offering good fishing, kayaking, jet skiing (Long beach), diving and bush walks as well as the usual swimming and surfing.

Coffs Harbour

6 hours north of Sydney and 4 hours south of Brisbane, the hitherto attractive coastline now grows more bungalows and resort hotels than bananas, but still has good beaches. The town’s raison d’être however, is action sports, with white-water rafting (November-February), kayaking, abseiling, mountain biking, horse riding, parasailing, skydiving, jet skiing, fishing, whale watching (June, July, September, November) in addition to all the usual suspects.

Byron Bay

Tallow beach, Byron Bay, australia beaches

Tallow beach, Byron Bay, 8 hours drive from Sydney, near Brisbane. Photo by Mike Lehmann

6 hours north of Sydney and 4 hours south of Brisbane, the hitherto attractive coastline now grows more bungalows and resort hotels than bananas, but still has good beaches. The town’s raison d’être however, is action sports, with white-water rafting (November-February), kayaking, abseiling, mountain biking, horse riding, parasailing, skydiving, jet skiing, fishing, whale watching (June, July, September, November) in addition to all the usual suspects.

Biggest east coast beaches: Gold Coast

Gold coast, Surfers Paradise looking north, australia beaches

Gold coast, Surfers Paradise looking north. Photo greg miller

An hour from Brisbane the endless sand, terrific climate and entertainment 24/7 have made the Gold Coast a prime east coast beaches destination.

Surfer’s Paradise is at the core of this area, Australia’s answer to Miami – a long, skinny strip of glitz packed with bronzed buildings, theme parks in excess and a wild night life, but still sporting spectacular, soft sand beaches. Arguably the best beach is Main, soft, wide and backed by dunes, with perma-surf a short stagger away.
Surf at Main Beach is usually excellent for beginners and hosts a couple of good schools; surf freaks head south for the relative quiet and superb point breaks at Coolangatta/Tweed Heads. Needless to say rental boards are available all over.

Best east coast beaches near Brisbane (central east coast)

Best October – April, but December – February is busy:
North Stradbroke Island: Brisbane is an hour’s drive from the coast and has no beaches but does offer a fantastic artificial lagoon on the South Bank.
Moreton Bay is Brisbane’s coastal area and after a bus or train from the centre a ferry will take you the 20km (12m) to the bay’s biggest and best island, North Stradbroke, with its miles of pretty, surf smashed sand. It’s quiet in all but school holidays and has lovely swimmable blue inland freshwater lakes and many miles of green wildlife walks.
There’s no shortage of accommodation and other facilities, including scuba dive trips and kayaking.
32km Main Beach offers mainline surfers serious action, particularly around November.
Whale watchers will enjoy the Gorge Walk June-September, while Point Lookout has a collection of the island’s best beaches with plenty of marine life visible.

Sunshine Coast

Noosa Heads beach, east coast Australia

Noosa Heads beach

The same endless sand and surf as Gold Coast, but with a bit more sunshine (300 days a year) and a lot less glamour, tourists, high rise and action.

Noosa Heads is an especially calm, affluent, low-profile resort, mixing superb strands of sand with lots of tropical greenery, trendy shops, flower entangled houses and slightly high prices. Noosa National Park is the most visited park in the country with well marked tracks and lots of wildlife around, including koalas.
The best beaches are east of the park on bare-ass naked Alexandria Bay, but Noosa’s Main Beach, beside their funkiest street, Hastings, is big, soft, pretty and family friendly.
Little Cove is where neo-surfers practise with some of the area’s famous surf schools while National Park and Tea Tree have the best waves and the biggest crowds.
Just north of Noosa is huge and pretty Rainbow Beach, where 4WD drives roam free.

North East Coast beaches

Best April – November, but OK (hot) all year round. Best scuba diving September-December

North east coast beaches

Backpacker central, the town is small, as is the beach, but the adverts are huge, for Airlie is the main route to the Whitsunday Islands.
Airlie is another lucky town with a free, fantastic and beautifully landscaped salt-water lagoon on the shore. All sorts of dive/snorkel/fish/wildlife walk packages are available and nightlife is lively.

Whitsunday Islands

whitehaven beach, whitsunday islands, australia

Whitehaven Beach.

Airlie Beach is take-off point for extremely popular Whitsunday Islands cruises – whether by sailing yacht or motor vessel.

The Whitsundays offer reasonably sheltered boating among pine-clad islands with, azure seas, good coral viewing via snorkel or regulator and some magnificent white powder beaches.

Whitehaven Beach is the best known and possibly Australia’s best beach. We do not recommend day trips out to Whitehaven from Airlie, they involve too much cost and excessive boat-time, but a several-day boat trip or staying out at one of the islands e. g. Hamilton hotels or Whitehaven camping would be excellent.

Mission Beach

Miles of gorgeous sand backed by cassowary (a large, colourful, flightless bird) infested rainforest. This beautiful, little developed area is popular with backpackers and has various islands (including Dunk, see GBR page) and excellent coral reef diving not far off shore. Other activities include riding horses on the beach, hiking the rainforest, white-water rafting and kayaking.

Cairns Lagoon, east coast beaches, australia

Cairns’ critter-free and cost-free saltwater lagoon. Nice.

This is not a beach resort but a wide-ranging activity centre –  lively, action packed and very touristy, with loads of watering holes, shops and eateries but short of useable east coast beaches due to dangerous marine creatures for much of the year. The Cairns and Airlie alternative is salt-water lagoons.

Thanks to expensive and considerate redevelopment, Cairns foreshore now offers an attractive tree-lined esplanade, a terrific kids playground and an exceptional salt-water lagoon (swimming pool) in place of the dangerous and muddy ‘beach’.

Trips from Cairns go north to the rainforest, west to cool uplands and east to the Great Barrier Reef. Action could mean skydiving, ballooning, mountain biking, white-water rafting, jet boating or a scuba course – starting in Cairns, finishing on the Barrier Reef.

If you really need proper east coast beaches then a short bus ride will get you to the white sands and coves of Trinity Beach or go to Port Douglas. Beware saltwater crocodiles in mangroves and rivers near the sea.

Port Douglas

An hour or so north of Cairns is this cute little town fronted by lovely Four Mile Beach. Port Douglas has less accommodation and entertainment than Cairns but more or less the same daytime activity offerings, including dive trips to much better sections of the Great Barrier Reef. The town is a lot less frenetic and the beach is a lot more pleasant.

Lagoons instead of east coast beaches

The popular tourist towns of Brisbane, Airlie Beach (Whitsundays jumping-off point) and Cairns all have large, free, attractive and critter-free salt-water lagoons to swim in rather than beaches.


Some of the best spots on Australia’s east coast beaches are occupied by clubs. These offer great value food and drinks as well as superb views andare usable by foreign visitors, so take proof of foreign residence(more than a passport, papers with your name and address are needed) and you will be hosted by the best place in the area.