On nearly every trip to Sydney, I check into a room no further than a mile from the sand at Sydney’s most popular stretch of coastline.
From talking to Australian friends, the beach town of Bondi is looked at with a skeptical eye. “Why would you stay there?” they say, always followed by, “There are better places to be.” Ignoring my foreign accent, they’d add, “It’s infested with tourists!”
Bondi is Australia’s busiest beach with over one million international visitors per year. It’s a backpacker’s paradise where a Brazilian woman asks me if I need help choosing a bikini, a French man asks me to repeat my coffee order, and the receptionist handing me my key to the hotel hails from the Philippines. Strolling along the beach, a shirtless Dutch man with a sunburn muses that the beach here is much more beautiful than any in the Netherlands. Just about every employee in Bondi seems to be someone making the most of their year-long working holiday visa.
The more I travel, the more I make a conscious effort to drop expectations. While hosting couchsurfers in Los Angeles, I saw travelers arrive with wide eyes, ready to see the City of Stars in all of its glory, ignoring that their arrival at LAX should’ve been the first sign that the city is not all that Hollywood makes it seem. After a few days, the couchsurfers’ eyes would dull and they’d set their sights on San Francisco.
In 2006, a reality show called Bondi Rescue was born. It depicted sunkissed lifeguards rescuing surfers and swimmers from currents, bringing them back to shore before they were dragged underwater or out to sea. In between rescue missions, the show highlighted the area’s rock pools, famous coastal walk that connects the nearby beaches, trendy town, and grassy area that doubles as a perfect picnic spot.
Following a few seasons, crowds to the famous beach climbed and it became more of a challenge to find a spot to yourself on the sand.
A quick Google search of “Bondi” + “Overrated” will reveal that many people think the New South Wales icon has been a bit too glorified. On paper, I’d agree with the statement. I typically shy away from overly-hyped neighborhoods–especially if the main attraction is a beach. Beaches are supposed to be private, uncrowded, pristine. Not overrun with loud backpackers and first-time surfers who don’t know basic surf etiquette. I suspect that Sydneysiders pump up the image of Bondi to tourists not because they truly like Bondi but to bait the tourists away the city’s less-crowded beaches.
I’ve been to the ‘better’ beaches of Sydney and while they might be better in some aspects, they don’t have the same spirit as Bondi. The view when entering Bondi Beach is unlike anywhere else, marked by the seaside swimming pools and a large bay with peaky waves peeling left and right. Colorful towels create a kaleidoscope on the shoreline, while skateboarders try new tricks in the skate park. Hip cafes, surf shops, bikini boutiques, and bars keep everyone tipsy, fed, and armed with enough lycra and neoprene for their trip. Street art ranging from serious to silly is found in between the parking lot and the sidewalk.
Part of the reason Bondi Beach isn’t overrated is that for once, a destination’s stereotype matches its expectation. Visit during summertime, and you can learn to surf for the first time, feel the sun warm your skin on the sand, make friends, and feel connected to the rest of Sydney thanks to the many buses that come in and out like clockwork to the rest of the metropolis.
If you are looking for those unknown beaches that most locals would love travel writers to stop talking about, you can find many of them simply by walking south along the sidewalk.