Words Richard Cornish
Victoria has over 2500 km of coast, from the rugged limestone cliffs in the state’s west to the seemingly endless stretches of golden sand in the wilds of East Gippsland. One of the joys of summer is spending days at a quiet beach in the country, a beach where sometimes your footprints are the only ones in the sand. Here is a hand-picked list of some of the most beautiful but lesser-known beaches that line the coast. Some are close to the city such as Merricks, Point Addis and Cape Paterson, so you can drive to them easily in a day and be back in time for dinner. The last two are incredibly dramatic beaches that take a while to get to and could even be part of a great Victorian road trip. Take care on any beach, understanding that conditions can change rapidly, rips can occur spontaneously and not all beaches are patrolled by life savers.
Merricks Beach, Merricks, Mornington Peninsula, 90 km #onehourout
At the end of a country lane is a little gravel car park under the shade of manna gum trees. A sandy track meanders through the ti tree, the smell of salt and dry grass filling the air. The track opens out to a long stretch of sand bordered back by a remnant ribbon of coastal banksia forest. Westernport Bay stretches out in front of you with the green forest of French Island and the rounded cliffs of Phillip Island framing the view. The water here is clean but sometimes flecked with seagrass. Merricks Beach has a feeling of calm and isolation and is also a frequent stopping point for the dolphins of Westernport Bay, who come right up to the shoreline. After a swim with the dolphins head to the Merricks General Wine Store for some really good bistro-style food and to taste the rather fine local textural white wines.
Merricks Beach Road, Merricks
Point Addis Beach, Torquay, Great Ocean Road, 109 km #oneandahalfhoursout
As dawn breaks over Bass Strait the ochre-coloured sandstone cliffs at Point Addis glow with an intense vibrant gold. While the eastern end is still designated a clothing-optional beach, the western end of this great sweeping arc of a beach is family friendly. The water is very shallow close to shore and is protected from the powerful swell by the great stone headland of Point Addis. That said, the shore break is popular with people learning to surf. Sheltered from the westerlies by the cliffs, it is a truly spectacular beach. Stop at Freshwater Creek Store (650 Anglesea Rd) for perhaps the best store-bought sponge cake in the state, pies and old-fashioned milk shakes.
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Point Addis Road, Point Addis
Cape Paterson, South Gippsland, 144 km #twohoursout
This is the beach resort for the former coal mining town of Wonthaggi. Back in the 1960s some local coal miners took some TNT to the rock shelf at Safety Beach and blew a great hole in it. They concreted around the edges to create the local swimming pool. There is a surf life saving club at Safety Beach and the beach is ideal for young families. Further east are five other beaches: ‘F’ Break, 2nd Surf, 1st Surf, Undertow Bay and The Oaks, where clothing is optional. Bring your mask and snorkel as the underwater seascape is spectacular along this strip of coast. There is a general store and a small pub at Cape Paterson, but if you are after some really good coffee head 10 minutes into Wonthaggi to The Coffee Collective, a cafe that also serves some great dishes such as satay omelette and haloumi burgers.
Bridgewater Bay Beach, Portland, 396 km #fourhoursout
Cape Bridgewater is a great headland that rises from the Southern Ocean. The views from the edge across the water to Lady Julia Percy Island, a sacred site to the local Gunditjmara people, are spectacular. Under the shadow of the cape is the vast, sweeping Bridgewater Bay Beach bordered by pure white sand that drops gently into crystal clear water. On a clear, still day the water becomes a stunning Aegean blue-green. Bridgewater Bay Beach is patrolled in summer by the Portland SLSC and is very popular with Western Districts families. While you’re here, explore the headland further to the west for the blowhole, rockpools, seal colony and secluded Whites Beach. Light meals are available at the Bridgewater Bay Cafe (1661 Bridgewater Road), but for some of the best fish and chips in the state go to Deegan Seafoods, 15 minutes away in Portland (106 Percy Street).
Bridgewater Road, Bridgewater
Cape Conran, East Gippsland, 401 km #fivehoursout
About 45 minutes off the Princes Highway near Orbost is perhaps one of the most beautiful coastlines in the country. Great granite boulders, covered in orange lichen, dot this rugged and remote coast. Banksias line the white sandy beaches, offering shade on hot days. The Cape Conran Coastal Park is interlaced with walking trails that explore the bush and the dark lagoons where the creeks meet the sea. There is camping by the beach and cabins in the forest (that need to be booked at parkweb.vic.gov.au). Bring plenty of fresh water to drink and sturdy shoes to walk the coast. A pleasant 20-minute drive away is Marlo and the Marlo pub, offering ice-cold beer, great pub meals and spectacular views of the sun setting over the mouth of the Snowy River.
Marlo-Conran Road, Cape Conran