Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Beach magic

What makes a great beach? I was wondering this as Jenny and I and a friend were walking across Ballyholme beach, just a few miles from Belfast, and I was thinking "This is just as good as Bondi."

Yes, I've been to Bondi, but why it has such a glittering reputation I don't know. It's no better than a lot of other beaches. It's probably all the visiting celebs who give it an inflated glamour.

So what's the secret of a perfect beach? Here's my own checklist:

1) plenty of sand
2) plenty of space
3) no sharks, jellyfish or other nasties
4) not too many people
5) no litter or pollution
6) attractive setting, not over-developed
7) warm enough to swim
8) windy enough to surf
9) some good cafés
10) some interesting shops

Well, Ballyholme scores on most of those (even the surfing), though swimming is for the warm-blooded only and I did see a few jellyfish. And the only cafés and shops are round the corner in Bangor.

On the other hand Bondi is often distinctly overcrowded and touristy, and sharks sometimes pay a visit. The one big difference is of course the blazing Aussie sun. But wild, windswept beaches can be just as exciting as the scorching ones.

The fact is I was just as reluctant to leave the particular charms of Ballyholme beach as I was to leave Bondi. And I know some Sydneysiders wouldn't be seen dead on Bondi, they sneak off to the quieter, more remote beaches only the locals know about.

So move over, Bondi, other beaches are magical too.

PS (Wednesday): A 14 foot shark has been spotted at Portrush harbour on the north coast. But it's a basking shark and is said to be harmless to humans....

Pic: Ballyholme beach, near Bangor, Northern Ireland


  1. Too true. I never go to Bondi Beach. I'd rather go to Bronte, Watsons Bay or La Perouse. Sydney has hundreds of beaches to choose from.

  2. Shops 'round the corner in Bangor'? That's miles away! And there's one thing Bondi has that Ballyholme can never match - the weather!

  3. Myra - I agree, all those beaches are better than Bondi. The coastal walk from Coogee to Bondi is great too. But I felt a bit out of place at Little Congwong beach in La Perouse - all those nude gay guys....

    Jenny - As I said, wild and windswept has its attractions. Too much Aussie heat can be pretty overwhelming.

  4. Haha.... you went further round the rocks didn't you?

  5. My perfect beach is less developed than that one. I don't really like to be able to see big buildings from the beach. Other than that - I like a couple of different kinds of beaches. One is the traditional beach of the U.S's eastern seaboard - a solid couple of rows of dunes with an inter-dunal system populated by dune hares and birds, a wide expanse of beach with tide pools, dolphins off the shore, and water as warm as a bath. The other is the sort of beach you find on tropical islands, with palm trees and clear blue water.

  6. Sand dunes! A good beach needs sand dunes! And I've adapted to Scottish weather, so if I can't have a warm sunny day I need huge breaking waves and wheeling gulls.

  7. Myra - We did. It was hilarious though, watching the guys flaunting themselves, hoping for a tasty catch.

    Secret Agent - Wow, that's a very specific formula. Sorry to say, no dunes on Ballyholme. No dolphins either, though there are supposed to be some seals.

    Macy - Sorry, can't help with the dunes. It's got breaking waves though, and wheeling gulls. And definitely no sharks.

  8. little congwong has nude gay guys? i learn something new everyday :)
    bondi is good for what it is....
    i never met a beach i didnt like really

  9. Kylie - And you learnt it from a Pommie! Not a single beach you didn't like, ever? What about beaches covered with rubbish or overrun with screeching kids?

  10. Nick, the beaches in Donegal are hard to beat!

  11. One place that will meet all your requirements, with one small problem of the local language for you is Umbergaon.

    Just learn a little more about it here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umbergaon

    Moreover, except during the monsoon, June to September, the weather is balmy!

    I will be delighted to host/escort both of you when you decide to come.
    I have very dear friends who are locals.

  12. Grannymar - You're right. We've seen quite a few of them.

    Ramana - Umbergaon beach looks pretty spectacular. Thanks for your generous offer. One day we'll get round to visiting your part of the world!

  13. Yes loads of underappreciated good beaches in Ireland - Tyrella, Ballycastle, Whitepark Bay, Donegal in general - but, on the east coast anyway, the problem is that the water is brrrr shiver cold.
    I still haven't recovered from swimming in it as a kid.

  14. Blackwater - The last time I swam was at Looe in Cornwall. The water was so cold I was shivering for a good half-hour afterwards.

  15. I nearly drowned on Bondi beach once when I was a kid, I always preferred Coogee beach. I wonder if I'd like either of them now, though!

  16. Jenny - Coogee's much better then Bondi, not so loud and touristy. I nearly drowned on the beach at Southend when I was a kid. I fell into some deep water but managed to swim to the shore (having never swum in my life before).

  17. Yep agree with your criteria although it's hard to avoid water borne beasties sometimes. We go to Hawks Nest on the central coast, about 2 hours from Sydney. Gorgeous bay beach and a surf beach on the other side of the penninsular. Quiet, huge, warm . .yes the odd dolphin and stingray but just lovely. The only time I hit Bondi is with overseas visitors who just 'have' to see it. Most are a little disappointed. It's 'spot the Aussie' there these days.

  18. Baino - Never been to Hawks Nest, that's a long way north of Sydney. It must be worth the journey there and back!

  19. Oh I have a list of gorgeous beaches, not one of which features a shop or entertainment. I bring my own picnic and just enjoy the solitude and being able to hear the water crash on the sand.
    I think I'd like your beach!

  20. www - I'll bet there are dozens of beautiful beaches in Newfoundland. There's something fascinating about waves breaking on sand, I could watch them for hours.

  21. my best beach
    no people
    mr whippy
    thats it

  22. John - Ah, a man who's easily pleased. But I'm not keen on Mr Whippy myself, I prefer something more upmarket. Hang on, though, if there aren't any people, how do you get your Mr Whippy?

  23. I love watching the seagulls. They're so greedy and they look like they have ketchup smeared on their beaks.

  24. Scarlet - I love the effortless gliding of birds. If only human beings could fly....

  25. Having grown up in the tropics with beautiful white sand beaches and lovely blue water, none of the beaches here hold a candle to the tropics. If I could fly, I'd never be here nor would I wait hours for the bus...

  26. e - Oh, spoilt at a young age? I thought Florida had loads of beautiful beaches? But then I've never set foot on any tropical beaches....

  27. Like e, I grew up with tropical beaches. Which means while I adore Holkham beach in Norfolk, I never voluntarily go into the water (that's like the friggin North sea) and having lived in a seaside town, I like it best in the middle of winter with no bugger around.

    Las Cuevas in Trinidad or Crown Point in Tobago are my favourite beaches, though Maracas will be just as fine. And the bonus there is they do Shark and Bake (enjoy Googling that).

  28. My best beach has no shops and the bathrooms are so far away and you have to get up at dark ack emma to get a parking space but the sand is white as milk and the water is clear as day (when you aren't peeing in it, that is).

    Come on over and I'll show you. :)

  29. cafes and shops? acceptable only for visiting when on holiday.
    Beaches are windy, and should be empty; swimming in Ireland is unlikely.
    I love beaches. Quiet seaside towns, without huge amusement arcades etc, are great.

  30. Roses - I find beaches in mid-winter pretty depressing. I require a minimum level of warmth. But beaches are definitely better when they're almost deserted. Hundreds of sweaty bodies packed like sardines put me right off.

    Megan - Sounds fantastic. I'm boarding the plane right now, be with you soon.

    Speccy - The place that annoys me is Newcastle (County Down) which has great beaches and the Mourne Mountains right behind it. But the main street is full of hideous amusement arcades and greasy spoons that ruin the whole place.

  31. Roses - Forgot to mention, no shark and bake for me, I'm a long-standing vegetarian.

  32. The west coast of Ireland is the place for beaches. Along with my Gower and west Wales. Except they lack the warm sea, the cafes and the shops. And only the warmer sea is really desirable.

    But for walking then a wild windy beach with a snug cafe offering home-made cakes and proper pots of tea is ideal.

  33. Liz - There are some lovely beaches on the west coast of Ireland. Jenny and I did a tour of the whole Irish coast soon after we moved to Belfast and some of the coastlines were breathtaking.