Victoria is not the first state that comes to mind when you think of great Aussie beaches, but these six sandy stretches hit the mark.
We've come to expect a lot from Victoria. Amazing food and wine, historical riches and contemporary culture, wellness pursuits and wilderness walks. But when it comes to beaches, Australians tend to look the other way. Western Australia, Queensland and NSW all turn our saltwater-loving heads, but it's a little-known fact that Victoria is home to some of Australia's most incredible beaches.
Whatever your sandy style - an adrenaline-pumping surf or a splash with the kids; the chance to see wildlife or to dine in award-winning style overlooking the breaks - these six unforgettable locations have you covered. Just don't forget the cossie and towel.
Best for families
Eastern Beach, Geelong: The renaissance of Victoria's second city is easy to see at its vibrant Eastern Beach. Hugged by parkland on three sides, this sandy inner-city stretch has a carnival feel on sunny days, when it seems like Geelong's entire population has descended to eat ice-cream and splash in the calm waters of Corio Bay.
Wellness warriors perform drills on the grassy hill and puff along the foreshore, but it's also a haven for families thanks to attractions like the Bollard Trail, an easy amble along the bay showcasing more than a hundred cheerful painted pylon characters chronicling the history of the city. Take a ride on the historic Ferris wheel or dive from the platforms at the Eastern Bay Reserve's enclosed sea baths - or simply take in the scene from an al fresco table at the Pavilion Geelong, a contemporary cafe housed in a historic bathers' pavilion. Staying in town? There's no need to head far with the chicly refurbished R Hotel just a five-minute walk away.
Best for wildlife
Squeaky Beach, Wilsons Promontory: The finely grained, dazzlingly white quartz sand that gives Squeaky Beach its name is a huge attraction thanks to the high-pitched sound effect accompanying each step. But this expanse of sand at Wilsons Promontory National Park, two-and-a-half hours' drive south-east of Melbourne, is also a prime spot for seeing native wildlife, whether furred, finned or feathered.
Wombats and kangaroos are regular visitors to the beach, which is bookended photogenically by dramatic granite boulders. And keep your eyes peeled on the 45-minute walk from the main Tidal River campground for shy echidnas making their way through the coastal bushland and the bright orange plumage of the flame robin flickering through the treetops.
The wild waters of the Southern Ocean have their own surprises, too. Look out for the majestic sight of humpback or southern right whales in the cooler months and playful dolphins at any time of year.
Best for surfing
Bells Beach, Torquay: The world-famous home of the Rip Curl Pro surfing competition, Bells Beach sees a huge influx of visitors hitting Torquay, at the start of the Great Ocean Road, each Easter. Mick Fanning, Kelly Slater and Stephanie Gilmore have all rung the victory bell at the hallowed stretch of sand, 100 kilometres from Melbourne and 10 minutes' drive from the centre of town, where the reliable swells are catnip for intermediate to experienced surfers.
Grommets can hone their skills at calmer beaches nearby with surf schools like Go Ride a Wave, but you don't have to be hanging 10 to appreciate the beauty of the high, rugged cliffs that make Bells Beach a natural amphitheatre with plenty of vantage points for absorbing the mesmerising views of the pounding Southern Ocean.
The modern RACV Torquay Resort is an attractive Surf Coast bolthole, complete with an indulgent day spa, while Torquay's thriving food and wine scene is exemplified by artisan pasta bar Mortadeli.
Best for food
Main Beach, Lorne: This Surf Coast beach has the lot: a sweeping crescent of yellow-golden sand with rockpools at either end and a wooded headland overlooking surfers and swimmers riding the turquoise breaks. It's always fun to pack a picnic or sizzle snags on the public barbecues on the grassy foreshore, but the thriving cafe and restaurant scene along Mountjoy Parade, overlooking the beach, has an irresistible lure.
To make the most of your stay (and that dinner booking), check into an ocean view room at the Cumberland Lorne (cumberland.com.au), right in the thick of the town's action.
Best for photos
Dendy Street Beach, Brighton: The colourful bathing boxes lining Brighton's Dendy Street Beach have become an iconic image of Melbourne. Dating from the colonial era, the 93 brightly painted, privately owned wooden huts are the perfect symbol for this affluent suburb 11 kilometres from the city (not least because they change hands for the price of a small apartment). Shutterbugs will love the way the half-kilometre stretch of golden sand curves gently into Port Phillip Bay, giving the perfect position to capture the boxes juxtaposed against the jumble of skyscrapers in the distance. Just add paragliders floating overhead and a mass of humanity enjoying the sedate bay waters and you have the perfect shot.
Hungry? A kilometre north, the Middle Brighton Baths has a beachside fish and chips kiosk as well as an indoor dining room with fantastic bay views and a memorable spaghetti marinara.
Best for fishing
Portarlington Beach, Portarlington: Serene and charming, Portarlington on the Bellarine Peninsula has the retro feel of a seaside town last century. Kids squeal in the calm blue waters of Port Phillip Bay while their parents laze on the soft sand, while a dedicated tribe of anglers not only have great fishing but amazing views of Melbourne's skyline in the distance.
The town was a favourite spot for Greek families in the 1950s thanks to the abundance of squid, flathead, snapper and bream. And little has changed.
To get to Portarlington from Melbourne, take the fast ferry from Docklands; the relaxing 70-minute journey across the bay beats 90 minutes by road.
Add more novelty to the experience by glamping amid the vines at nearby Bellarine Estate winery. The 20 luxury bell tents set up by Coastal Glamp are as Instagram-worthy as they are comfortable, while the estate's cellar door has wine tastings and an enticing menu of American-style smoked brisket, burgers and ribs.
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