This is a comment I have heard from my travel companions several times over the years. Who can blame us though? When you grow up around the wild waves of the south coast, or the pristine beaches of the central coast, even the long white beaches of Queensland and its many paradise islands – and let’s not forget the sparkling spectacular bays of the West Coast. Is it really any wonder that every time an Australian walks onto a beach anywhere else in the world we smile secretly to ourselves (or not so secretly but rather obnoxiously) and remark that we have seen better back home.
So what makes our beaches so much better than those elsewhere? What is the X-Factor? Are the Whit Sundays really more beautiful than Langkawi or Bali (they have monkey’s), is Bondi better than Santa Monica (there is a giant pier with a Ferris wheel), is Surfers Paradise better than the French Rivera (Yep!)? The patriot in me wants to scoff and say of course they are – and yet I can’t find a definitive reason why.
The obvious thing to talk about would be the startling beauty of each and every one of our beaches, but aren’t all beaches beautiful (even the rock covered ones in England have a strange picturesque romance about them) – just as all puppies are cute. I could mention how breathtaking Pebbly Beach (south coast, near Batemans Bay) is, when you see the forest go right up to sands edge and you can hear the kookaburras cackling away in the trees while the waves roll gently up the beach, on a great day you can also see dolphins and whales while you sit and eat your BBQ sandwich next to a mob of kangaroos who have decided to hang-out with you for the day (no joke).
An American colleague said that it was the “raw beauty with the amazing rock formations that jut out into water that is just more blue”. I had to agree (of course) there is something prehistoric and untamed about the way the rocks contrast with the bush and the surf. In more remote parts (so basically anywhere that isn’t Sydney or Melbourne) these cliffs have created thousands of inlets or secret beaches. You could be walking along the headland only to look down and find a completely deserted gorgeous private beach for the day, of course locals always know the best spots, but you can often find a great spot to loll about without seeing another soul.
Then there are the rock formations themselves, in Kiama there is the rock formation known as the Blow Hole – where every third wave on high-tide rushes up the rocks and spouts out like a whale surfacing. The Twelve Apostles (now only eight) on the Great Ocean Road which run alongside the giant limestone cliffs are so spectacular that every year thousands of tourists leave the comfort of the beach just to see them. However, my favourite types of rock formations are the ones which we have made and impact on – go to most beaches in Sydney and you will find sea pools that have been shaped out of the original rocks that had fallen into the sea (with a little concrete added as well) – suddenly you have a private calm ocean within the ocean. These pools make it look as though we have begun to domesticize the raw beauty – until a storm breaks and reminds us that the cliff face is still at the mercy of the waves.
There are always dissidents to the cause though – the most common compliant is CANCER. No matter how beautiful an Australian beach is, you can’t prostrate yourself on it for the whole day without risking serious burn or the dreaded C word, thanks to the giant hole in the ozone layer. Every tourist who comes to Australia learns this the hard way – they sit on the beach all day with either no sunscreen on or the pathetic factor eight – it’s a mistake they only make once! The sun burn is often so severe that thought of sunshine is enough to make you shudder. The only way to enjoy the beach is to limit your time in the sun, and to quote the age-old slogan “Slip, Slop, Slap”. With two in three Australians developing skin cancer in their life time, is this a deterrent for the beach? Can you still enjoy the beach while sitting under a constant layer of grease and floppy hats?
It is a common thought that one should be able to sit on a beach with palm trees all day sipping on a cocktail that has been bought to you by a scantily clad girl…
Which brings me onto my next point of difference – how untouched the beaches actually are. There are no sun beds on an Australian beach – the first time I saw this in Spain I was mystified… why wouldn’t you sit on your towel (because there is no sand on a sun bed). This has both positive and negative aspects, the positives are that there are no divides on the beach, hotels aren’t hogging the best swimming spots for their guests, you aren’t getting hassled to buy a watermelon or hat or have your nails done. Everybody is lumped in together – the beach is the great social equaliser! But then there are the negatives, where is that guy with the ice cream or watermelon when you want one, and sun beds do come in handy when you get sick of the sand getting into places it doesn’t belong.
Of course there is the big negative of all the dangerous creatures – sharks, octopus’s, box jelly fish and worst of all blue bottles (worse because the everyday beach experience is more likely to be ruined by a blue-bottle than a shark)… to that I say – shme, what’s life without a little bit of risk!
The final big positive is how clean they are. Years of advertising campaigns of choking dolphins and strangled turtles has certainly been ingrained in my psyche, there is no way I would litter on the beach, and I am not the only one who shares this attitude. I have seen a whole crowd of beach goers stare down a man and his family when they looked like they were going to leave some chip wrappers on the beach – he folded under the pressure of our steely glances and sheepishly grabbed the packets. When I see beaches clogged with waste it ruins the whole aesthetic of the experience.
Still I am less convinced than I was at the start that we have the best beaches in the world, are not the Maldives stunning, how about Hawaii for surf, then there is Mexico!
I think the X-Factor is more to do with the way Australians think about the beach – the culture that we have built up around the sun and the surf. Life Savers are always considered national heroes and have a stature of importance in the community, we almost revere them. Every Australian can tell you about their favourite beach and why it’s amazing even if they live nowhere near the beach (I grew up in Canberra where the closest thing to a beach is Pine Island… which is a muddy river). Learning to swim in the surf a is a rite of passage – getting dumped by a wave as a child will teach you more than any swim class. Ultimately it’s the obnoxious pride we have in our beaches that make all others pale in comparison… that and the fact that they are so darned beautiful…. Patriotic beach rant over – bring on summer!