People come to Australia for many reasons, but it’s rare that our visitors don’t spend at least some time at the beach. With ocean on all sides and fresh rivers flowing into them, Australia is a water lover’s paradise, and you’ll find entire households weekending on the beach, often year-round. But it’s not all sunbathing: there’s world-class surfing, windsurfing and kiteboarding, sailing through archipelagos, snorkeling, diving and much more. Here’s just a sampling of how life is a beach in Australia:

The Great Barrier Reef

You can’t mention the beach without talking about one of Australia’s (and the world’s) great wonders: the Great Barrier Reef. This thriving ecosystem stretches more than 2,000 kilometers along the Queensland coast, from Port Douglas in the north to Bundaberg in the south. The reef is dotted with islands both inhabited and deserted where you can swim, snorkel, dive and sail on a living masterpiece so big that it can be seen from outer space. Check out technicolor coral and marine life through a glass-bottomed boat from coastal hubs such as Cairns, Bundaberg and Airlie Beach. Or experience the reef’s smooth seas, deep drop offs, underwater tunnels and caves with a dive school or day trip operator. At night, you can find every kind of accommodation on the mainland or on islands-from beach camping right through to five-star hotels.

Photo Credit: Richard Rydge

Byron Bay, New South Wales

Perfect breaks have been attracting surfers to Byron Bay’s Wategos and Main Beach for decades. Today visitors come to Byron’s beaches for meditation, massage, hang gliding, quiet walks and sheltered swimming as much as for its tubular waves. There’s also flying of many kinds: swoop over the Cape Byron Lighthouse and Wategos Beach on a tandem hanglider or freefall above the countryside on a skydive. Take it a bit slower in a hot air balloon, enjoy a glider flight or get the adrenaline pumping on a trapeze at Byron’s Circus Arts Trapeze School. From excellent dining to rainforest walks and massage at one of Byron Bay’s many health spas, you’re bound to find something to your liking here.

Photo Credit: Nigel Howe

Sydney’s Manly Beach

If you’re not going to be able to go far afield from Australia’s main metropolis, Manly Beach is the place to head for some R&R. Because it’s only a thirty-minute ferry ride from downtown Sydney-and faster if you take the jet boat-even business travelers can sneak away for a well-deserved laze in the sun. It’s also a popular place to swim, surf, windsurf, snorkel and scuba dive. Plus, the palm-lined Corso leads onto a promenade replete with cafes, shops and restaurants. If you want more seclusion, the nearby Sydney Harbour National Park links shady bush walking trails with more sheltered beaches. You’ll find art galleries and historical attractions, like the Quarantine Station where newcomers to Australia were held pending a clean bill of health in centuries past.