There’s still a bit of time before it’s wetsuits on for ocean-goers and all weekends become about merino and mulled wine. Make the most of this last blissful offering of warm weather with salty swims, best paired with a bit of wildlife spotting, or walking on some of Victoria’s wildest coastal trails.
Here are eight of the best Victorian beaches where you can do more than just swim.
Cape Liptrap Coastal Park
Arguably the best jumping off point for exploring our state’s eastward coastal ventricle is Venus Bay in South Gippsland. Swimmers and surfers make a beeline for No. 1 Beach, which is patrolled in summer. Long stretches of sand mean there’s plenty of space for fishers to cast a line, or you can just find a quiet patch to take in the sweeping skyline at sunset. If you’re feeling energetic, the seven-hour Cape Liptrap Coastal Walk traverses just over 20 kilometres of beach as you meander past wave-cut limestone pinnacles, rock pools and banksia woodland. Bird lovers can roll up their conservation sleeves and help document the threatened eastern ground parrot. And if you set up camp at Bear Gully you might even spot a koala or two.
Ninety Mile Beach Marine National Park
The aptly named Ninety Mile Beach is the second-longest uninterrupted beach in the world, after Praia do Cassino in Brazil. So if you’re looking for ocean-tethered peace and seclusion, this untamed sandy expanse, flanked by the turquoise waters and frothy easterly waves of the Bass Strait on one side and Gippsland Lakes on the other, might be the perfect place. Swim, surf, eyeball whales and dolphins during migration, uncover shipwreck remnants, or take a long walk along the sand. Ninety Mile Beach has among the highest species diversity on our planet, so don your goggles and with an Attenborough-level of inquisitiveness you can spot octopuses, brittle stars, crabs and fish, along with Pseudogorgia godeffroyi, a rare soft coral that can only be found here, between McGaurans and Delray beaches.
Cape Conran Coastal Park
This stunning coastal reserve is near the tranquil village of Marlo in East Gippsland. Step straight off the white sandy shore into the ocean for a swim or a snorkel, where you can spot anemone among the plentiful rock pools, or elephant seals frolicking in the shallows. The Cape Conran Nature Trail stretches from East Cape Beach to Salmon Rocks, just over three kilometres one way. Signage along the boardwalk explains how traditional custodians of the land, the Bidawal, Gunaikurnai and Nindi-Ngudjam Ngarigu Monero peoples, have made use of the many resources around the Cape for tens of thousands of years. Stay at Banksia Bluff campground, where the surrounding heathland is brimming with parrots and rosellas, and the waves will lull you to sleep.
Croajingolong National Park
Already hiked Wilsons Prom? Try the epic Wilderness Coast Walk next. Starting at Sydenham Inlet and extending all the way to Wonboyn over the New South Wales border, this 100-kilometre beach trek is for serious walkers. Keep your eyes peeled for a passing whale as you hike along this sandy stretch, dotted with secluded spots to swim, sea kayak, snorkel and camp. Make sure to be extra mindful when traversing this precious environment, as threatened species including the ground parrot, eastern bristlebird, smoky mouse, grey-headed flying fox and Australian fur seal reside here. Croajingolong National Park takes its name from the Krauatungalung dialect of the Gunaikurnai nation, and it means “belonging to the east”. The 218,330-acre park melds eucalyptus forest, rainforest, heathland, granite outcrops, pristine lakes and beaches and was declared a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 1977. Don’t miss a scramble up the towering sand dunes of Thurra River.
Great Otway National Park
This idyllic south-western pocket has all the trappings of a nature-dowsed day out. Beaches, coves and rock pools abound. Dive under the soothing salty surf at Torquay, Jan Juc, Point Addis or Anglesea, then head inland to uncover towering redwoods, dense rainforest and cascading waterfalls. Eager walkers can take in the entire 100-kilometre trail between Apollo Bay and the iconic Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Walk, traversing both coastline and heathland and sleeping at campsites along the way. Or you can drive, enjoy one of the short walks along the way, and ramble down beach access paths for swims.
Bay of Islands Coastal Park
There’s the Twelve Apostles, and then there’s this relatively off-the-beaten-track quiet-achiever coastal park. It’s as stunning as its famous neighbour, abundant in rock stacks, sheer cliffs and wave-pounded archways, and is delightfully less crowded. From the sleepy seaside town of Peterborough, explore Halladale Point, Bay of Martyrs and Bay of Islands before continuing on to the serene splendour of Murnanes Bay and Childers Cove for a swim.
Belfast Coastal Reserve
From Warrnambool, the next 16-kilometres to Port Fairy (or Pyipgil gundidj in the local Dhauwurd wurrung language) encompasses Belfast Coastal Reserve. This raw westward artery is where grassy dunes meet crisp translucent salty waters. Make sure to tread lightly here, as the reserve is a vital nesting ground for many native coastal and wetland birds like the hooded plover, latham’s snipe and orange-bellied parrot, and retains strong cultural heritage values for the Gunditjmara people. Killarney Beach’s calm waters are protected by a reef, so it’s ideal for swimming and snorkelling, and you can go starfish-spotting in the nearby rock pools. There’s a caravan park next to the beach too.
Discovery Bay Coastal Park
Right before greeting the South Australian border, you’ll arrive at this 55-kilometre fringe of beach that backs onto coastal flora and estuaries. The wild ocean along here makes for admittedly problematic swimming, so if you’d like to get submerged head to the popular crescent of Bridgewater Bay, which is protected, and patrolled until Easter. This once volcanic cape is home to Australia’s only mainland seal colony, and on a good day you can ogle up to 1200 of these flippered friends from the viewing platforms during a 2.5-kilometre (one hour, one way) walk. From here, continue around the rugged headland to the petrified forest and basalt blowholes. Save some time to explore the nearby Tarragal Caves, a network of large limestone caverns and rock shelters. These were once an important Gunditjmara camping place, with excavation in the 1970s revealing shell middens and earth ovens that date back more than 11,000 years.
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on March 22, 2019. Some details may have changed since publication.