I don’t know about you but I’m a sucker for a beach.
Not any type of beach, you understand. In fact, I’ll happily admit it takes a lot to get me excited enough to want to throw off my walking sandals and tee-shirt, liberally apply the factor 30 and thank my lucky stars for finding another slice of paradise.
And believe me, during our travels we’ve found ourselves on some pretty dire expanses of rubbish-strewn sand, which made a mockery of the so-called “paradise” moniker they’d been associated with.
To me a GREAT beach must have clean sand – whether it’s a white powder, golden brown, rusty red or slate black. It mustn’t be snarled up with bars, hotels, souvenir stalls and hawkers. And it must have enough variety for me to able to explore on foot, once the twenty-minute boredom threshold of lying on my back has routinely expired.
But a SUBLIME beach must have something about it that would entice me back again and again. It’s a beach that’s totally different from any others I’ve ever set foot on. And it’s one that I just can’t wait to tell everyone else about.
I don’t even mind if the sea’s so rough that I can barely dip my toes in it for fear of being washed away by the undercurrent. Or if there’s a force nine gale blowing so hard that tiny particles of sand seemingly find their way in through one ear and out through the other. And I don’t care if it takes half an hour of scrambling through the jungle or down hundreds of rickety steps to reach it either. After all, it’s probably going to be one of the reasons why there’s hardly anybody else there.
So, my friends, I give you ten absolutely sublime beaches we discovered on our recent 15 month trip around Asia, Australia and New Zealand. And seriously, your bucket list just won’t be complete without them.
1. Wharariki, South Island, New Zealand
Pronounced farra-reeki, it’s quite possibly the best beach in New Zealand – even though it’s practically impossible to sit down on the white sand for even a few minutes because of the ferocious wind that almost permanently whips across it.
So why bother?
Well for a start, the gorgeous 20-minute walk to it through farmland and across pristine sand dunes is worth the effort alone. And then you’ve got the incredible panorama that unfolds when you finally reach the huge empty beach, with the iconic Archway Islands and their sheer rock faces standing proud just off-shore. Meanwhile, baby seals play in the rock pools left behind by the outgoing tide.
Elsewhere there are caves and archways to explore, not to mention the brilliant white dunes at the back of the beach, which are sculpted and re-sculpted by the relentless wind.
It’s a place to truly marvel at the raw beauty of nature rather than lay down your towel and soak up the sun. But in terms of a “wow” factor, we reckon it’s pretty hard to beat.
Read about the superb coastal walk from Wharariki Beach to Pillar Point Lighthouse in our post, Three New Zealand walks you won’t want to miss.
2. Golden Buddha Beach, Thailand
Imagine 11 kilometres of stunningly clean golden sand on a tropical island where there’s practically nobody else around and the only distractions are your own thoughts, an occasional hornbill soaring above and sea turtles nesting their eggs.
The spectacular Golden Buddha Beach, on the relatively little-known Thai island of Koh Phra Thong, is everything that a tropical beach should be – and then some. And if there was ever a beach made for walking along it was this one – just go as far as you can from the entry point at Hornbill Hill and watch as hundreds of crabs dart in and out of the sea ahead of you.
And when you reach the point at which you want to turn back (you might struggle to do the whole 11 kilometres!) the walk back is an absolute stunner.
The best view of the beach is actually from a viewing point on top of Hornbill Hill, which is easily climbed from an access point to the rear. From there you can also fully appreciate how the tsunami wave that battered this beach in 2004 might have looked to anyone who was unfortunate enough to be there at the time.
3. Phra Thong Bay, Thailand
Adjacent to Golden Buddha Beach is this absolute gem. Although it’s no more than a two-minute walk from that beach it’s a totally different beast altogether.
It does tend to get busier than Golden Buddha, too – mainly because of a small sprinkling of bungalow accommodation set back from it and its easier access from further guest house accommodation elsewhere. And when the tide goes out it’s almost as if millions of litres of water have suddenly drained out through a huge plug-hole in the sand, leaving behind a vast expanse of silvery-grey (caused by the deposits of tin which are common on the island).
But when the tide rolls in the bay is a sight to behold as watery hues of blue, orange, peach and pink take over and the mud flats of the mangrove forest at the rear are flooded, providing a window of opportunity for exploration by kayak.
In all honesty, if I had to pick one beach as my all-time favourite it would probably be this one. And incredibly, in a country where clean, pristine and uncrowded beaches are not that easy to find anymore, this island has two of the best we’ve ever seen right next to each other.
And, as sure as night follows day, that won’t last forever – so get there as soon as you can!
You can read more in our post Reflections on Koh Phra Thong.
4. Marakolliya Beach, Sri Lanka
Continuing on the theme of spectacularly wild beaches, in our opinion Marakolliya is THE beach to visit in Sri Lanka.
Again, apart from a few designated areas, you can’t actually swim in the sea as the waves and undertows are far too strong, but if your idea of relaxation is lying in a hammock and reading a book while mighty waves crash onto the shore just metres in front of you then you might just never want to leave this place.
The accommodation here is pretty good too and is discreet enough as to not be a blot on what is essentially a gloriously unspoilt slice of coastline.
5. Mare’s Leg Cove / Cathedral Cove, New Zealand
Famous for being filmed as a location in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian movie, these two beaches are only accessible by foot or boat and are connected by a limestone rock arch.
When it’s quiet there’s possibly no better place in New Zealand for acting out your beach bum fantasy. Trouble is, it’s rarely quiet as it’s heavily touted as one of the essential Kiwi experiences – in which case it arguably shouldn’t appear on our list. However, get there early (between 8 and 9 am) and you’ll be rewarded with plenty of your own space and a gorgeous turquoise surf to frolic around in.
And when you’re all frolicked out head to the far end of Mare’s Leg Cove for an open-air natural shower to freshen up with before making your way back up the track to the car park.
6. Lonely Beach, Koh Rong, Cambodia
The clue’s in the name really.
Although Lonely Beach actually refers to the stretch of beach in front of the excellent Lonely Beach Resort, there’s a whole raft of beaches along this coastline, connected to each other by short jungle tracks, on which you won’t see another soul – other than the occasional fisherman. For us, this was our ultimate tropical paradise, complete with a thick jungle backdrop, a clear turquoise sea and a nightly light show of blue bioluminescence in the water.
Indeed, enjoying a bottle of red wine on the beach while the setting sun cast its multi-coloured glow on the horizon, followed by a dip in the sea in pitch black darkness – with the Milky Way clearly visible above and blue neon droplets of water dancing around us – was a pretty perfect way to finish the day.
I could have done without the spider bite, though.
Read more about Lonely Beach in our post 3 alternative things to do in Cambodia.
7. Turquoise Bay, Western Australia
Another beach where its name’s origin is fairly obvious.
The beach is actually split into two parts – one being a fairly narrow spit of white sand that does get quite crowded during the peak months. The other side of the beach – beyond the sandbar – however, is a beautiful curved and wider stretch of sand that’s so worth the extra walk to reach.
One of the big attractions here is the drift snorkelling, which starts at the southern end and the strong current then carries you across Ningaloo Reef and up to 500 different species of fish. One word of warning, though – you need to look out for the sandbar because if you drift beyond that the current can sweep you out to sea.
But don’t let that put you off!
8. Railay, Krabi Province, Thailand
Only accessible by boat – either from Krabi or Ao Nang – Railay’s famous beaches are some of the most photographed in South East Asia. Which probably accounts for the huge numbers of people that now visit them. And, as a result, you need to go there early if you want to avoid the crowds that start arriving from around 11am onwards. The regular 15-minute boat journeys from Ao Nang start at around 8am and we recommend you get on one of the first ones if you can.
There are four beaches in all but our favourites are Phra Nang and Railay West – both are spectacular and are dominated by huge limestone karst cliffs that rise almost surreally from the water. You’ll probably want to leave by mid-afternoon when there are literally dozens of long-tail boats moored up on the shore, having offloaded their crowds of day-trippers.
But for the quintessential Thai beach experience, look no further.
9. The beaches of Kahurangi NP, New Zealand
Along New Zealand’s wild and wonderful South Island west coast are a number of equally wild and wonderful beaches that just beg to be explored.
Again, these aren’t your typical bucket and spade beaches – the notoriously hungry sandflies make it almost impossible to sit or stand still for too long. But as walking beaches, they’re stunning, with a constant barrage of large waves crashing onto the shore creating an almost permanent haze of water spray.
Our personal favourites were at Mokinihui, Kohaihai and Scotts Beach (which is actually part of the first stretch of the five-day Heaphy Track walk). But pick any of the beaches stretching northwards from Westport and you won’t be disappointed.
Just don’t forget the insect repellant!
Read more about Kahurangi National Park in our post, Exploring New Zealand’s South Island – the west coast.
10. Palawan Camping, The Philippines
Forget overcrowded and over-hyped El Nido. If you’re looking for a get-away-from-it-all beach paradise in The Philippines you’ll love Palawan Camping – AKA Toby and Thelma’s Island Camping Adventure.
As so often on our list, the only way to get there is by boat, arranged through Toby. What you can expect is a gloriously ultra-clean stretch of powdery white sand, luxury tent accommodation and plenty of opportunities to explore surrounding islands, beaches and coral reefs, either by boat or kayak.
And, because it’s a private beach with only a limited number of tents available, you’re guaranteed peaceful and quality sun-worshipping.
You can read more about Palawan Camping in our post 3 hidden gems in The Philippines.
What did you think? Have you been to any of our featured sublime beaches? Or do you have some personal favourites to recommend? Even if you haven’t we’d love to hear from you so please add your comments below.
Hi, we’re Ian and Nicky, an English couple on a voyage of discovery around the world, and this blog is designed to reflect what we see, think and do. Actually, we’d like to think it also provides information, entertainment and inspiration for other “mature” travellers, too. So please feel free to pour yourself a glass of something suitably chilled and take a look around.