The perfect deserted beach
Paradise lost: Cape Le Grande, Esperance.

The perfect deserted beach. It’s an obsessive grail for some travellers. No jetskis or swizzle sticks. No hawker-stalkers shouting “hello-my-friend-sarong-massage-just-looking?” John Borthwick finds the southern hemisphere still has a few unplundered shores.


Skeleton Coast, Namibia

"Wherever you are, you'll double the population," boasts a Namibia travel poster.

Nowhere is this truer than on the ominously named Skeleton Coast, 180km north of Swakopmund. Shrouded by fog and littered with the ribs of hapless ships and inattentive whales, this 500km stretch is the ultimate deserted beach.

On its southern edge at Cape Cross is a colony of 60,000 barking, brawling, surfing fur seals, plus the replica of a lonely crucifix planted by a Portuguese navigator in 1486.

At the Ugab River, where you may camp, you enter the 1.6 million hectare Skeleton Coast Park - a world apart of ochre dunes that flow down to the cobalt blue Atlantic.

Visitors can only access the southern section; the rest is a wilderness area visited by those on exclusive fly-in safaris.

• Fly to Namibia's capital Windhoek and on to Swakopmund, then drive north.


Stockton Bight, Newcastle, NSW

Mark Twain sniffed that Newcastle was "a very long street with, at one end, a cemetery with no bodies in it and, at the other, a gentlemen's club with no gentlemen in it".

He should have crossed the Hunter River and strode the 35 pristine kilometres of Stockton Bight, the longest barrier dune in New South Wales. The bight is still pristine, bar the occasional quad-bike tour group.

If you're adventurous, grab your swag and take the long stroll from Stockton up to Birubi Point, camping overnight on the beach. This is a world of 30m-high dunes, ancient shell middens and the rusting cadaver of the Sygna, the biggest ship ever wrecked (in 1974) on the east coast.

• Take the short ferry ride from Newcastle across to Stockton, then walk north to the ocean beach.

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Cape Le Grande, WA

A slash of bone china shoreline borders the sapphire-blue Duke of Orleans Bay. Granite headlands brood at each end.

You're in Cape Le Grand National Park, east of Esperance, where the land and seascape open out like an Oriental scroll painting that's gone bush, gone beach.

Names like Duke of Orleans Bay - given when two French frigates explored here in 1792 - remind us of how close parts of Australia came to being French, if not Portuguese, Dutch or Russian.

Explorer Edward John Eyre staggered through here in 1841, more dead than alive after his foot journey across the Great Australian Bight.

These days access is far easier: drive in on bitumen, wander down the endless beach, cast a line, spot the grey kangaroos, count the four-wheel-drives - two or three on a busy afternoon. What less could you want?

• Cape Le Grand National Park is 56km east of Esperance.


Opononi, NZ

Opononi in the far north of New Zealand's North Island is a balmy shore that you first view as a huge expanse of turquoise sea and yellow sands.

In summer there's even more colour, with flame-red pohutukawa trees lining the south side of Hokianga harbour.

The turquoise waters of Opononi Bay. Picture: John Borthwick

While it is a popular holiday spot, on any given weekday the shore is yours to wander and the dunes yours to climb (and toboggan down).

Opo the friendly dolphin made the place famous in the mid-1950s, often playing with visitors, and a statue now commemorates the dolphin's celebrated time here.

At little Pakanae is a monument to Kupe, the legendary explorer some Maori believe discovered New Zealand, making Hokianga a snoozy cradle of NZ civilisation.

• Drive north from Auckland, via Highway 12.


Kusamba, Bali

Deserted is a relative term. If, in crowded Bali, "deserted" means for you a stretch of shore that at least has almost no foreign tourists, try the arid east coast around Kusamba, just south of the Goa Lawah.

It's only a couple of hours from Denpasar but there are no hair-braiders, Kuta cowboys or watch-floggers, just an unadorned village of hard-working folk bent on fishing and making salt.

The beach's black volcanic sand can feel as hot as the day it poured down from the looming cone of nearby Mt Agung.

This stretch of coast is overlooked by most tourists: it's mostly glare, heat and stunted vegetation, with no preening spas or bars. Then again, unlike them, it is "the real Bali".

• Drive north-east from Denpasar, via Gianjar and Klungklung.


Fowlers Bay, Great Australian Bight, SA

When the daily grind feels like a life sentence, Fowlers Bay is the sort of place that fishermen and beachcombers dream of, the perfect escape clause.

Matthew Flinders anchored here in 1802 and named this vast bay on the Great Australian Bight after his ship's first lieutenant, Robert Fowler.

Two hundred kilometres west of Ceduna, the village might seem at first glance to be in year-round hibernation.

Fowler's Bay, South Australia. Picture: John Borthwick

Tucked between dunes and a lagoon, it is little more than a wharf, a tackle shop and a rainbow.

Meanwhile, it is framed by beaches that tempt you to see how long a walk to infinity might take.

With any luck en route you'll spot dolphins, sea lions or whales.

• Fowlers Bay is 27km from the Eyre Highway.


Pongwe Beach, Zanzibar Island, Tanzania

"I found a beach of such pristine tropic beauty as I had never seen before. It was a long and gentle beach overhung with leaning palms . . . fragrant with the smell of cloves and salt."

Sixty years ago Australian traveller Peter Pinney found a beach on Zanzibar that approached perfection. True to character, he squatted there in an abandoned spice mansion and wrote a book.

There are some 25 fine beaches on this Indian Ocean island and while Pinney's strand of perfection was on the west coast, today the east coast is the shore less trammelled. Its long beaches are excellent for doing nothing in particular.

Pongwe, 35km from the capital Stone Town, has sands so fine that, if perfumed, they might be sold as talcum powder. Its indigo waters, protected by a broad reef a kilometre offshore, are ideal for swimming and snorkelling.

• Fly to Zanzibar then from Stone Town drive across the island.


Hazards Beach, Freycinet Peninsula, Tasmania

The Hazards, a 375 million-year- old granite massif, look like a quartet of careworn Ulurus that have come to Tasmania for a sea change. Their weathered, 300m peaks look down on the elegant isthmus of Wineglass Bay and its fabled eastern beach.

Meanwhile, facing west is the less celebrated, less photogenic, but even more empty expanse of Hazards Beach.

The usual way into the beach is via the Wineglass Bay loop, a five-hour, 11km hike from Coles Bay on the Freycinet Peninsula. Ascending to the saddle of The Hazards is strenuous; thereafter, it's a breeze.

Your reward is empty kilometres of sands bordered by the waters of Promise Bay. You'll spot far more black currawongs, Bennett's wallabies, rosellas and sea eagles than people.

• Turn east from Highway A3 near Swansea, heading to Coles Bay, Freycinet National Park.


Manann Beach, Fraser Island, Queensland

James Cook saw "Indians" on the only rocky headland on the east coast of Fraser Island and thus named it Indian Head.

They were, of course Aboriginals, for whom the island was known as K'gari - paradise.

North of this outcrop the coast has a very different character to the 4WD drag strip of Seventy Five Mile Beach in the south.

There are almost no vehicles on the 18km stretch north from Waddy Point to Sandy Cape, so this is a hiker's world.

You're walking in the Great Sandy National Park, along the unbroken shore of Marloo Bay - named for the wreck of the 2628-tonne Marloo that went down in 1914.

Beyond the dunes are lakes, wallum heath and wildflowers, plus the purest strain of dingoes in eastern Australia (don't feed them), while offshore are sharks, dolphins and migrating whales. In all, a remnant of K'gari.

• You can drive (via 4WD) to Waddy Point and Orchid Beach, thereafter it's shanks' pony.

The West Australian

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