Courtesy of Marie Elena Martinez
Got the winter blues? Make like the birds and head south. Basking in the joys of Indian summer, the Southern Hemisphere is enjoying that perfect time of year when the day still glows from a strong sun and night turns brisk under the watch of the moon. Down Under, surf aficionados are logging some last-minute waves, and Australia’s coastlines, known for soft sand, buzzing shorefront paradises, and good vibes, are experiencing their usual flurry of end-of-season action. With trans-Pacific deals and packages to places like New South Wales and Queensland popping up online, now is the time to finally commit to that surf trip of your dreams. To help you make the most of Australia’s many surfing beaches, here are some suggestions for where to go, what to do, and, of course, where to eat after a long day wrestling an Aussie tide.
Quite possibly the world’s most iconic surf beach, the horseshoe-shaped Bondi Beach is one of Sydney’s treasures. Its south end is littered with beautiful people; hard, tan bodies; itsy-bitsy bikini-clad babes; a talented pool of surfers; and a rainbow of boarders that ebb and flow as they await swells that uncurl unpredictably. New surfers should stick close to Bondi’s north end, which is ideal for beginners. Bondi’s glam factor is at a premium, and boutiques selling everything from boards to bathing suits line its side streets. It’s all about Bikini Island for sexy swimwear, while the flagship Camilla Franks store will polish off any beach look with a luxe caftan or sarong.
It’s easy to work up an appetite here. And quaint restaurants lure foodies looking to pass the time watching lithe surfers do their thing while chowing down on some wonderful plates. A must-visit on the Bondi food trail is Icebergs Dining Room and Bar, located atop one of Australia’s most venerable swim clubs that dates back to 1929 and overlooks the entire beach. Newer to the scene, and also owned by the Icebergs crew, is North Bondi Italian (pictured), the universal choice of Sydney insiders for antipasti and decadent pastas like the arrabbiata with crab and chile. On the other side of the beach, don’t miss tiny Sean’s Panorama, a joint that focuses on fresh ingredients and daily blackboard specials. If you have the time, settle in for the five-course tasting menu for $145 paired with some fine Australian wine. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/黒忍者)
Need a bite before you ride? Nothing tops Trio for a great "brekky," as the locals call it. Fuel up for the day on Mediterranean-inspired egg dishes and heaping platters of fruit and pancakes, then grab your board and hit the water.
Next to Bondi, Manly Beach serves up some of Sydney’s most famous strips of sand. As seen in local artist Joel Coleman’s photography on display at Saltmotion Gallery, Manly by day is a haven for Rollerbladers gliding down the esplanade, scuba divers scouring the underwater scene, and music lovers grooving to some of the country’s best acts performing live at the many local bars. Named for the "manly behavior" of the area’s Aborigine, this short ferry ride from Sydney’s Circular Quay is an oasis for those with an affinity for a good wave. Host of the recent inaugural Australian Open of Surfing, which took place Feb. 11-19 (and gives Manly Beach some serious New South Wales bragging rights), Manly is also the place for those in need of surf instruction. Hopefuls can book a lesson at Manly Surf School, voted the number one surf school in New South Wales by Surfing Australia, to perfect their form.
After a long day beating the waves, you can refuel at a host of great eateries and pubs. If you’re looking for some swank Italian, head to Manly Pavilion, one of 2011’s Best Restaurants according to the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide. Dining with friends? Share plates and vino at Manly Wine or Hugo’s breezy outdoor deck for a round of oysters and thin crust pies with plenty of scene. Just drinking? 4 Pines Brewery has a great selection of microbrews, while Hemingway, inspired by the legend, keeps it real with an emphasis on rum. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/Frants)
Though it might not have the best point breaks in the region, Byron Bay draws crowds to its expansive shores for more than just waves. In this bohemian enclave in northern New South Wales, painted vans, dreadlocks, handmade clothing, hemp, and beaded jewelry share real estate with barefoot hippies that spontaneously collect in drum circles and participate in hacky sackshowdowns. In Byron, live music erupts on a whim and a relaxed feeling permeates the air. Here, residents live by a pretty simple credo: Life is good.
Main Beach is where beginners flock to balance on their red and blue boards. If you want to learn from one of the greats, Rusty Miller Surf is your nirvana. Miller, 1965’s USA surfing champion and one of the area’s best known instructors, set up shop in Byron Bay in the 1970s. If you’re looking to witness some of Byron Bay’s action, adept boarders can usually be found waiting for the right break at The Pass, while long-boarders prefer Wategos Beach, which is protected from the big swells. Cruising the area surrounding Wategos Beach paints a different picture than seen in town — gorgeous (and expensive) residential homes are in abundance. Curious about the art of making surfboards? At Byron Bay Arts and Industry Estate,a hodgepodge of craft workshops, you can watch board-shapers hard at work on fin and tail designs of all shapes and sizes. Make sure to look for work by the area’s most beloved board artist, Ed Sinnott.
Byron is a chill place, so it follows that the food scene is equally laid-back. Tiny Thai food shops, burrito bars, and takeaway kiosks dot the center of town, but if you’re looking for something more substantial with killer views, make your way to the unfussy Byron Beach Café, which is always full of hungry folks craving sunrise breakfasts or sunset dinners. The Pass Café on the Cape Byron Walking Track is another standby spot for grub if you’re of the land-based sporting variety, while The Beach Hotel, with its beer garden, leafy salads, burgers, and daily curries, will take you from cocktail hour through sunset. When you’ve tired of the music and community in town, hit the hay at swanky tropical eco-paradise Byron at Byron or book into one of Tallow’s funky beach houses. (Photo courtesy of Marie Elena Martinez)
The Gold Coast
In Queensland, The Gold Coast is an area full of beach highlights with one suburb aptly called Surfers Paradise. Miles of uninterrupted sand host a gorgeous rotation of Aussie babes and the surfers that love them. The vibe in "Surfers" is laid-back and friendly, and whether you’re cruising down one of Main Beach’s boutique and café-lined streets, or drifting out to sea waiting for a rip curl, you’re bound to be enjoying yourself. To drink in the view of this spectacular coast, head to the top of Q1, the tallest building in Australia and the second-tallest residential building in the world. If you’re enamored, you can even book a room for the night. Feeling a little fancier? The Gold Coast is where Donatella Versace built her first hotel, Palazzo Versace, an exercise in excessive marble and gold. (Photo courtesy of Marie Elena Martinez)
When it’s time for some eats, locals swear by Peter’s Fish Market in Main Beach. Here, fresh catch is made to order, so if you’re craving some fish and chips (for a mere $9), this is your ultimate spot. Because of its large Asian population, The Gold Coast is all about amazing Thai food. Small joints tucked down Main Beach’s many side streets send delicious aromas onto the breeze, and if you’re wondering which spot is serving the best daily specials, just look for the longest line. Across the board, however, locals recommend Chiang Mai Thai.
Another great Gold Coast perk? The area’s beach clubs give free access to visitors. With its pretty views and seafood specials, Currumbin Beach Vikings Surf Club is worth checking out. Try the Rock Seafood Platter, which includes prawns, oysters, and "bugs," (aka crabs). For more upscale dining, head over to Tedder Avenue in Main Beach, Australia’s version of Rodeo Drive. Duck into Shuck for oysters or Blu Grotto for anything from tapas to pizza to stuffed rack of lamb. Then, tuck in for a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow’s waves beckon.