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Sand, surf, sexy people...these are a few of Sydney's favourite things! And one of the best places to see them is along the staggeringly scenic Bondi-to-Coogee Clifftop Trail − a 5km, three-hour stroll that goes a long way towards explaining Sydney's love affair with the sea.

Bondi Beach
Like Ipanema and Venice, Bondi is an iconic beach experience. This is where Sydney comes to see and be seen, preferably wearing as little as possible (not an affirming place for those with body-image issues). The constant procession of beautiful bods never fails to distract.

Dunk yourself in the surf, or grab a bite to eat, a bikini or some surfboard wax on Campbell Parade. For a gorgeous view of the big sandy arc, wander out to Ben Buckler Lookout at the northern end of the beach.

A beacon on Bondi's southern side is the achingly hip Icebergs swimming pool and restaurant − good for a swim or a ritzy lunch if you are not keen on the surf. The Clifftop Trail kicks off just beyond Icebergs at the end of Notts Avenue.

Tamarama and Bronte
Tracking south, the blustery sandstone cliffs and grinding Pacific Ocean could not be more spectacular: keep an eye out for passing dolphins, whales and rubber-clad surfers.

Small but perfectly formed Tamarama Beach (aka “Glamarama”) is next − a deep tongue of sand popular with the generically good-looking. It is hard to picture now, but between 1887 and 1911 a rollercoaster looped out over the water here as part of an amusement park.

Further south, Bronte is a steep-sided beach ‘burb, its bowl-shaped park strewn with picnic tables and barbecues. The swimming here is good, as are the low-key, breezy eateries. Bronte also lays claims to the oldest surf lifesaving club in the world (1903), an iconic claim in the city that mythologized lifesavers well before David Hasselhoff.

Blanketing the cliff tops south of Bronte with views to-die-for (literally), the gravestones of Waverley Cemetery dazzle in the sunlight. Amongst the subterranean are famous writer Henry Lawson and cricketer Victor Trumper. It is an engrossing (and strangely un-creepy) place to explore, and during the winter you may be rewarded with the sight of whales swimming offshore.

Clovelly and Coogee
Continue south past the cockatoos and canoodling lovers in Burrows Park to sheltered Clovelly Beach, a family favourite. Fringed by concrete terraces, the beach here feels more like a swimming pool − a great place to dust off your snorkel.

The trail continues past Gordon's Bay (one of Sydney’s best shore-dive spots), then lands you smack-bang on glorious Coogee Beach. Coogee is an Aboriginal word for rotting seaweed, but do not let that deter you: the beach here is wide and handsome. Swagger into the beachside Coogee Bay Hotel and toast your efforts with a cold lager, as the Pacific surges up onto the sand, same as it ever was.

Getting there and away
The quickest way to Bondi is by cab. Otherwise, take the train to Bondi Junction then jump on a bus. Buses also link Coogee with downtown Sydney. See www.131500.info for fares and timetables.

© 2011 Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘Sydney by the sea’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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