Caroline Clements and Dillon Seitchik-Reardon travelled around Australia in search of the country’s most distinctive, remarkable swimming spots. It’s all documented in a book that’s part travel guide, part photo essay, and part cultural study called Places We Swim.
The north coast of New South Wales near Byron Bay is so highly travelled that it’s hard to imagine there being any secret beaches left. Whites Beach might be about as close as you come to some seclusion in this area, particularly in the heart of summer. This protected bay, just out of Broken Head, has a real sense of discovery about it, taking you down through subtropical rainforest surrounds to an idyllic sheltered beach of white sand and crisp, clear water.
This beach is surrounded on three sides by palm-covered cliffs, giving visitors a big reveal walk-in down a rocky staircase overlooking the water. A trail-head at the car park tells you the walk is 30 minutes return; this must account for a swim, because it’s less than 800 metres to the sand. But just before you do that, take in the ultimate beach panorama, which comes at a steep turn on the stairs as you cut back past pandanus trees that fringe the beach – get your camera out here. At the base of the path a channel of water has created a warm, shallow pool to wash your feet in.
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Visiting Whites early in January, we see young kids with their parents arriving with pristine boogie boards tucked under their arms, fresh from Christmas. With only a little bit of swell getting in, this beach seems like the perfect place to bodysurf. On a big swell, though, we’re sure it can get pretty wild on this unpatrolled strip. Soon enough, some surfers come out for a wave here too.
At the south side of the beach there are some caves and rock pools to explore. Nearby, fresh water creeps over rocks from a spring, creating a sandy stream down into the ocean. At the north side, you can see a neighbouring sheltered cove, where people fish from the rocks or with spears in the shallows.
At high tide, the beach is almost completely covered with white water and beachgoers move towards the rocky backdrop to keep their towels dry. At low tide, you can wade around to the next bay, which may mean a Jane Fonda-like workout to contend with on your return through the channel against the current.
Though our secret-beach fantasies fade quickly when holidaying sun-seekers begin filling up the sand, the atmosphere is high. It’s the first time we see tanning oil (rather than sunscreen) pulled out of beach bags, but with it come colourful beach umbrellas, watermelons and frisbees. People are settling in for the day here because this is what summer holiday dreams are made of.
Best time to visit
Summer during low to mid-tide. At high tide the water washes right up over the beach, so there’s nowhere to sit.
How to get there
Head towards Broken Head Beach (it’s a 10-minute drive from Byron Bay) and turn off at Seven Mile Beach Road. Continue curving around the narrow forest stretch through Broken Head Nature Reserve to the third carpark. Signs read “Whites Beach”. Follow the steep path down to the beach.
Easy. The narrow, hilly, well-maintained unsealed road will take you to the trail-head. It’s a short walk from there.
Get here early during summer as there are only about 10 car-park spots.
Shade: there isn’t much around.
Please note the beach is not patrolled. Proceed with caution and take a buddy for safety. For more information, refer to beachsafe.org.au before visiting.
This is an extract from Places We Swim by Caroline Clements and Dillon Seitchik-Reardon, Hardie Grant Travel, $39.99. Available in stores nationally and online, where they also sell prints of their favourite Places We Swim photos from around Australia. For more, follow Caroline and Dillon on Instagram via @placesweswim.
This article was originally published on 9 January 2020. It has been updated to remove out-of-date details.