I grew up on England’s South Coast, frequenting the beaches between Brighton to Chichester, and occasionally stretching as far as Portsmouth for trips to the Isle of Wight. School summer holidays blur into a haze of ice creams, sandcastles, learning to surf and staggering down the shingle in my baggy jeans whilst clutching an alcopop. It’s not surprising that I feel happiest when by the sea, so perhaps this is why London always lacked something for me. Whenever summer hit in the oppressive way it does in London, I avoided itchy parks and stifling beer gardens; instead you’d find me rushing through Victoria Station to catch the unreliable 6pm Southern train. I would roll into our local station late on a Friday and see my dad, leathery, tanned and fresh from a swim waiting for me on the platform. Falling into his arms and breathing in the clear sea breeze was how I knew I was back home.
Sydney felt familiar and comfortable to me almost immediately; it is city that draws its life and aesthetics from the ocean. The beaches of my childhood, whilst always familiar and special, are sadly surpassed by the countless beautiful, isolated, diverse and pristine beaches all within the state of New South Wales alone. It’s been difficult but I’ve narrowed down my top 10 best beaches in New South Wales, listed from North to South.
1. Seven Mile Beach, Forster
We came across this beach during a winter road trip up the North Coast, whilst staying at an Airbnb by Wallis Lake. Probably due to the season, we were completely alone. I was blown away by the utter isolation and sheer size of this stretch of sand. It’s sprawling nature really puts into perspective how big Australia is! There are two busier points, Janie’s corner which is good for fishing at the Northern end, and Bulls Paddock, a favourite spot for surfers at the Southern end. In between this, even in summer, it’s incredibly remote. However this beach is not patrolled, so do be aware when swimming. For more information about the Seven Mile Beach and Great Lakes region take a look here.
2. Boat Beach, Seal Rocks
We visited Seal Rocks on our way back to Sydney during our winter road trip and stopped off at the popular Boat Beach. Seal Rocks is a highly popular destination for surfing and all the beaches are incredibly picturesque, but our favourite was Boat Beach occupying the north-facing Sugarloaf Bay. The bay curves dramatically, with the sea spray clinging to the edge of the headland in the distance – see the featured image to see what I mean. This beach reminded me of a warmer Polzeath Beach in Cornwall, UK. I remember getting caught out crossing over the rocks, and having to trek back to the car with squelching trainers. There’s plenty to do at Seal Rocks including surfing and scuba diving, so I’d love to return to this beach in better weather.
If you’re looking further up Australia’s East Coast, check out this post on Top 10 must-visit beaches in Queensland
3. Maitland Bay, Gosford
Similarly to Steamer’s Beach, you access Maitland Bay on the Central Coast through a challenging but satisfying bush walk through the Bouddi National Park. It’s one of the most popular walks in the National Park, named the Bouddi and takes approximately 15-20 minutes to access. However, you should be prepared for a difficult hike back up the hill taking between 30-40 minutes. The bay was so appealing that Will stripped off to his underwear and dove straight in, not realising that there were beached Portuguese man o’war jellies everywhere! We arrived at high tide, but if you visit at low tide you can see the remains of the wrecked PS Maitland at the eastern end of the bay.
4. Palm Beach, Sydney
This beach at the northernmost seaside point of Sydney has been immortalised in the famous Aussie soap, Home and Away, known as ‘Summer Bay’. It’s home to sprawling golden sands, beautiful blue waters with safe swimming areas which are patrolled, and unbeatable vistas from Barrenjoey Lighthouse coastal walk. It’s also got some serious property #goals to aspire to! From Barrenjoey Lighthouse at Barrenjoey Head, you can see Broken Bay to the north at the mouth of the Hawkesbury River, as well as views across the Pittwater and Ku-Ring-Gai National Park to the West. Start with brunch at the Boathouse, or the “Bait Shop”. It’s supposedly 90 minutes by public transport from Sydney city transport but better accessed with your own car. Find out more here.
Check out Victoria’s stunning coastline with my Top 10 best beaches in Victoria post
5. Freshwater Beach, Sydney
Freshwater beach is my favourite beach to visit on a sunny Saturday in Sydney, affectionately known as ‘“Freshie”‘ It’s a great protected spot for surfing, especially as a beginner, and much quieter than neighbouring Manly. It’s very family-friendly, if the waves are too big for little ones, there’s a handy ocean pool. The Sardinian fine-dining restaurant and Baretto café, Pilu, looks over the sweeping vista, my go-to spot to pick up a coffee and some of the best avocado toast I’ve had in Sydney, and that’s saying something! There’s a beautiful relatively short walk that you can do around the headland to neighbouring Curl Curl. Do be aware that parking at Freshwater beach can be tricky if you don’t have a northern beaches permit and don’t want to spend a fortune.
6. Balmoral Beach, Sydney
I absolutely love Balmoral Beach. When strolling along the promenade, its easy to picture ladies and gentlemen taking a turn in the fresh air. It’s incredibly nostalgic. This beach is near to our apartment, about a 20 minute drive with traffic in nearby Mosman, and is a regular haunt for us; especially on a Sunday when we’re feeling lazy. We love to stop off at the Boathouse before either a walk or a snorkel, although snorkelling around Rocky Point Island is rumoured to be a breeding ground for bull sharks, so we might avoid that in future! This is a brilliant beach for young children, with a sheltered and safe bathing area as well as lots of rockpools to explore.
If you’re looking for something a bit more wild, check out my post on Top 8 wild swimming spots in the Northern Territory
7. Hyam’s Beach, Jervis Bay
Jervis Bay about 3 hours drive south of Sydney in Shoalhaven is known as having ‘the whitest sand in the world.’ Whilst it’s incredibly popular with tourists, and will likely appear on most people’s top 10s, there is something magical about this beach. it sounds cliché but it really is paradise. It personally reminds me of the Caribbean. The ocean is bright turquoise and incredibly clear, you can’t help but jump in immediately and dig your toes into the white sand. My mum hadn’t been in the sea for 10 years but she finally broke her record with a dip at Hyam’s Beach, before relaxing with a burger from the Hyams Beach Store and Café . Whilst in Jervis, don’t neglect the quieter beaches such as Greenfield and Chinaman’s. These beaches in Jervis Bay are all safe to swim at. You can find out more here.
If you’re looking for somewhere to stay in Jervis Bay, take a look at this list of my favourite AirBnbs in Australasia from 2018 . We stayed in Vincentia.
8. Steamer’s Beach, Jervis Bay
Steamer’s Beach is located in the Booderee national park, and at the end of a challenging bush walk, similarly to Maitland’s Bay, proving stunning panoramic views of the park’s scenery. It was a tough call between Steamer’s Beach and Murrays Beach, but the walk to this one tipped the scales. As you make your way down the steep path, you’ll be teased with glimpses of the bright blue bay and golden sands through the typical Aussie eucalyptus forest. Unfortunately, swimming at Steamers Beach is not safe due to dangerous currents and lots of sharks! However, it’s a perfect private spot to relax with a picnic before struggling back up the hill! Find out more about beach walks in the Booderee national park here.
9. Mollymook, Ulladulla
We visited Mollymook beach when staying at the luxurious and peaceful Bannisters By the Sea, on the south coast, 4 hours from Sydney. It was drizzling yet humid, and meant that we had the beach pretty much to ourselves. We saw a pod of dolphins playing close to shore in the impressive surf, so we took a seat on the slightly damp sand and watched for what felt like hours. I’d love to go back to Mollymook Beach Ulladulla in better weather; although it likely won’t be the same if I have to share the quiet view with other people! This beach is patrolled seasonally, so safer for swimming than others on this list, and is home to the Mollymook Surf Club. Find out more on Mollymook here.
10. Pebbly Beach, Murramang National Park
This isolated beach and campground is 2 hours south of Jervis Bay and an hour and a half north of Narooma and is in the Murramarang National Park. Getting here is an adventure in itself, accessing the beach via a winding, eerie road surrounded on both sides by dense forest. However, it’s once you make your way down to the beach itself, a short walk from the car park, you see the real appeal of Pebbly Beach, the Pebbly Beach kangaroos. These resident kangaroos, quite unfazed by visitors, are everywhere; napping, grazing and jumping. Whilst you’re instructed not to touch the kangaroos and you can’t feed them, you can get incredibly close to them which is absolutely amazing. Find out more, including campground rates, here.
If you’re looking for beaches outside of Australia, check out Sumit’s fantastic list of 15 beautiful beaches in India for your next vacation
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