Which stretch of sand inspires your summer-travel imagination: Sydney's dazzling show-off or Melbourne's unpretentious playground? Our duelling experts make the case for both.
By Amy Cooper
It's a little unfair to pit any other stretch of sand against a national treasure so fundamentally and famously Aussie that it has a heritage listing for being "the archetypal Australian beach". The Australian Heritage Council quaintly but correctly credits Bondi with being "strongly associated with the Bronzed Aussie (their capitals) myth of easy going hedonism and endeavour balanced with relaxation".
Roughly translated: Bondi is a party. Bondi is hot. And Bondi is Aussie as.
Not just a beach but a brand bigger than koalas, kangaroos and Kylie, this sexy swathe of Sydney's Pacific coastline embodies our best imagined selves: sun-kissed and carefree. The name even fits perfectly across the backside of a well-filled pair of budgie smugglers.
Not just a beach but a brand bigger than koalas, kangaroos and Kylie, Bondi embodies our best imagined selves: sun-kissed and carefree.
And although our vitamin-D deprived southern cousins may scoff, what do they know? St Kilda's poster boy for fun is the anguished face-entrance of Melbourne Luna Park, doing its best impersonation of Munch's The Scream. There should be a St Kilda Rescue TV show, in which the supermen from Bondi Rescue fly a chopper down there and airlift the southerners up here to a beach blanket with a direct view of Hugh Jackman frolicking in the shallows.
Bondi radiates reliable summer sun for months, while in Melbourne that season happens between 12.23pm and 1.37pm on one Tuesday in January, followed the same afternoon by autumn, winter and spring - in no specific order.
Sure, Bondi loves a nip and tuck. That's part of the charm - the dazzle never dulls. Earlier this year, the historic 1911 Bondi Pavilion burst into new life with a $48 million restoration across its sprawling 900sqm footprint. It's home to one of Australia's largest beachside restaurant, Promenade Bondi Beach, perfect for kicking back by the big blue with a Neoprene Dream cocktail.
Not to be outdone, Icebergs Dining Room and Bar unveiled its own renovation after 20 years of dazzling dishes and postcard panoramas attracting stars from Mick Jagger and Oprah to Nigella Lawson, who's named it as her favourite restaurant in the world. Beneath, there's 95-year-old Bondi Icebergs swimming club, where membership requires five years' worth of chilly winter laps at least three Sundays a month. Glamour and gourmet upstairs, goosebumps and grit below - that's Bondi in a clamshell.
With boutiques, bars, the cool QT hotel, hotspot restos like Totti's and Sean's Panaroma, and now Sydney's first dedicated sashimi bar, Get Sashimi, Bondi is Sydney's fabulous essence distilled, shaken over ice and garnished with a salty rim. Mostly, though, it's a true-blue Aussie egalitarian. In Porsches or on pushbikes, from backpackers to bankers - everyone's the same in their bathers. Except for those visitors from St Kilda. They're the ones head-to-toe green with envy.
ST KILDA BEACH
By Mal Chenu
No doubt there are many people - and maybe even some columnists - who can rock a bathing suit down at Bondi among the surgically enhanced influencers and buff Brazilian beach volleyballers. But as someone whose speedos' last public appearance was on Antiques Roadshow, I prefer unpretentious, unprocessed, unruffled St Kilda Beach.
Bondi is an Instagram mecca and there are too many stomach-in, chest-out requirements as impossibly gorgeous types wander past, filming themselves slurping kale, kimchi and dandelion seed power juice with protein ball sprinkles. St Kilda Beach, on the other hand, is simple, relaxing and stress-free. Melbourne's playground sur-mer is an ecumenical 700-metre expanse of sand and grass with a lovely spacious boardwalk, along with a walking track and a bicycle track.
The tranquil waters offers every water sport except surfing. Kiteboarding, stand-up paddle boarding, windsurfing, sailing, snorkelling, beach volleyball, jet skiing, waterskiing - or just splashing around with the kids - can all be undertaken without worrying about some pimply, zinc-faced grommet doing a cut-back on your throat.
And when you've finished splashing around, venerable old Luna Park and the botanical gardens are right there to continue the grommet-free fun.
This is also a place of culturally significant buildings. The St Kilda Sea Baths building houses restaurants, a courtyard between its Moorish domes, a health club and Australia's only heated indoor sea-water pool. Wandering along St Kilda Pier is a highlight. At the end of the pier, you'll find the picturesque Edwardian heritage-listed St Kilda Pavilion, as well as a colony of 1200 little penguins.
Rollo's Kiosk and Beachcomber Cafe are fabulous pitstops, while West Beach Bathers Pavilion offers fine food with a view. And the swish restaurants, bars, bakeries and cafes of Acland, Carlisle and Barkley streets are just a stroll away.
St Kilda Beach is but one of the oceanfront attractions around Port Phillip Bay, most of which can be found along the Bay Trail, which follows the coast for 50 kilometres.
Bondi is supposed to be the sun creme de la sun creme of Australian beaches, and has always been touted as a must-see for tourists. But this has more to do with marketing than reality, even if the infamous Bondi cigars have now been butted out, as it were.
Firstly, if you're not staying in Sydney's eastern 'burbs, getting to Bondi is a major punish and there is nowhere to park if you arrive after 3am. Secondly, it's packed on any day above 22C and there is barely enough space to lay a towel, let alone to hoist your CoolCabana. And thirdly, it's expensive - as anyone who has recently bought a kale, kimchi and dandelion seed power juice with protein ball sprinkles will attest.
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