8 best coastal walks from around the world

There’s nothing better when traveling than exploring a beautiful city coastline. Not only do these treks give you access to unique landscape and picturesque beaches, they also help you stay in shape while on the road.

Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk, Australia

When I lived in Sydney, Australia, this was one of my favorite ways to spend a sunny day. Not only do you get to explore the beaches of Bondi and Coogee, but also Tamarama and Bronte. The walk is not all beach, as you will also pass through local communities, parks, and a cemetery littered with palm trees while also seeing unique rock formations and jagged cliff faces with contrasting colors and shapes. At the end of the 4-mile walk, which includes some challenging uphill sections, reward yourself with a dip in the ocean or a brew from the adjacent Coogee Bay Hotel‘s beer garden.Abel Tasman Coast Track, New Zealand

While this coastal hike will take a few days to complete (it’s about 34 miles), it is worth it as you will get a lot of diverse experiences in different areas of the South Island of New Zealand. There are campsites along the way as well as the option to do only certain sections of the hike, which are outlined here. You begin the Abel Tasman Coast Track in Marahau at the Information Kiosk, making your way past Tinline Bay, Apple Tree Bay, and Torrent Bay as well as through forests of beech and kanuka trees until you reach Anchorage Bay. Here, you can choose to spend the night at a campsite or continue on to Bark Bay via coastal forests and a 154-foot suspension bridge. Next it’s on to Awaroa, passing an old rock quarry along the way. Moving on from Awaroa Estuary, which can only be crossed during low tide, you will head towards Totaranui and will be given access to prime lookout points. Next it’s on to Whariwharangi Bay via lush forests and Anapai Bay. On the final day of the hike, you will traverse gorse-covered ridges that are remnants of 1978 fire before ending the journey at Wainui Inlet.

Cinque Terre “5 Towns” Hike, Italy

While flash flooding has recently damaged the towns of Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare, the spirit of the community is speeding the recovery process, which is expected to be almost back to normal around Easter. You can still visit now, and the Cinque Terre towns of Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore were generally not affected. According to the Cinque Terre Riviera blog, while some of the hiking trails were damaged by the flooding there are still many safe paths open to hikers. Hiking through the five towns of Cinque Terre was the best experience I had in Italy and is a great way to experience the Italian Riviera, diverse beaches, grape vines, countryside, and colorful towns embedded right into the hillside. The bright yellows, pale pinks, and olive greens of the buildings face all different directions in a confusing yet artistic pattern as fishing boats hug the coastline. It is definitely a unique way to experience the natural side of Italy as well as some old-world charm as you can take breaks during the walk and stop in the different towns. The hike is about 7 and a half miles and contains sections of uphill and uneven terrain, but is worth it for the views.

California Coastal Trail, California, USA

The California Coastal Trail, while not completely finished, will extend from Mexico to Oregon and was actually a mandatory creation by Proposition 20 in 1972, which stated that “a hiking, bicycle, and equestrian trails system shall be established along or near the coast”. The trail system will be 1,200 miles long and, while it is not fully complete, still has a lot to offer visitors. All trails are within “sight, sound, or at least the scent of the sea”, with various tracks running parallel to each other to accommodate the needs to different physical capabilities. For a map with access points, click here. For a list of fun day hikes on the California Coastal Trail, click here.

Stanley Park Seawall and False Creek Seawall, Vancouver, BC, Canada

When I was in Vancouver, Canada, experiencing these hikes was one of my favorite parts of the trip, as I got to see great views of the skyline as well as beaches, marinas, and monuments. The hike is very easy, as it goes along a paved road. While you can experience the Stanley Park Seawall and the False Creek Seawall as two separate hikes (about 5 and a half miles each) it’s also possible to connect them and do one longer hike. During the Stanley Park Seawall, you will travel from Coal Harbor to English Bay while getting to see smooth beaches, the North Shore mountains, and Coal Harbor Marina. If you want to walk further and experience the second section of the hike, you can get to the False Creek Seawall via Sunset Beach. As you make your way towards Kitsilano Beach where you will end, you can take in views of Granville Island, Yorktown, and Science World, a unique looking dome that is a work of public art as well as an art gallery and museum.

Pembrokeshire Coast Path National Trail, Wales, United Kingdom

The Pembrokeshire Coast Path National Trail in the United Kingdom allows hikers to explore 186 miles of British coastline. The path is more than just your average walk on the beach, as you will pass rugged cliffs, winding estuaries, shaded coves, coastal flowers, and bird life. For those who like a bit of history with their adventure, you will also get the chance to see evidence of human activity from Neolithic times through prehistoric megalithic structures. The trail begins in St. Dogmaels in the north and runs to Amroth in the south. Be aware that it is physically challenging, with a 35,000-foot ascent and descent that is said to be “equivalent to climbing Mount Everest“. If you’re not in tip-top shape don’t be dismayed, as you can still enjoy the hike in smaller sections.

Hana-Waianapanapa Coastal Trail, Maui, Hawaii, USA

While not the longest hiking trail in the world (about 4-5 miles), the Hana-Waianapanapa Coastal Trail in Maui, Hawaii, has extremely unique scenery, including tidepools, blowholes, sea arches, black rock beaches, steep cliffs, jagged lava coastline, ancient temples, and spots where dark black lava dramatically meets with the bright blue sea. Beginning at Pailoa Bay in Waianapanapa State Park and makng your way to Kainalimu Bay, the hike follows a portion of the “King’s Highway”, a craggy lava road built in the mid-1800’s

Wild Coast Hiking Trail, South Africa

The Wild Coast Hiking Trail in South Africa is about 174 miles long and takes a little less than a month to complete, as the trail is divided into five 3-6 day sections. During the hike, which is thankfully well marked and begins in Port Edward, you will experience unique sea rock formations, dramatic coastlines, sandy and rocky beaches, lagoons, coves, cliffs, swamps, and wildlife. You can choose to go fishing or bird watching in between or visit the Xhosa villages that litter the hillsides. An array of accommodation styles are available along the way, such as lodges, tents, log cabins, and huts. Even if you don’t want to make the full trek it is still possible to explore certain sections. For this trail, it is important to note that permits are required, and bookings can be made up to 11 months in advance. For more information on getting a permit and the trails themselves, click here.

Isle of Skye, Scotland

While there are many beautiful and interesting hikes to choose from on the Isle of Skye, Scotland, one great coastal option is to trek from the small fishing village of Elgol to Camasunary Bay. The trail itself is about 9 miles long and requires a decent fitness level, however, the views you will get of the island of Soay and the Cuillins, a range of rocky mountains that also contain the highest point on the Isle of Skye, are worth the effort. You enter the hike a little ways up the road from the Elgol car park and behind some houses there will be a trail labeled Garsbheinn where you will turn left. Once you see the sign for Coruisk take that path. As you go you will have to negotiate steep hills and overhanging rocks until you reach the trail beyond Beinn Leacach to Camasunary Bay. These are literally some of the best views in Britain, if not the best, as the hillsides and mountains seem soft and vibrant as they hug pools of turquoise sea and azure lakes.

[First 3 photos are via the author, Jessica Festa; the rest are from Flickr via Rick McCharles and Gutsibikes]

Hiking the Basque coastline

While the Sierra de Toloño offers some amazing trails and views, the most alluring sights I’ve seen in the Basque region are along its coastline.

The coast of northeast Spain and southwest France along the Bay of Biscay is part of the Basque heartland. Inland villages played a key role in keeping Basque culture alive, but it’s the ports–Bilbao, San Sebastian, and many smaller towns–that helped the Basques make their mark on world history.

Today I’m hiking a stretch of Spanish coastline east of San Sebastian and within sight of the French border. Much of my trail today corresponds with the famous Camino de Santiago. This pilgrimage route stretching from France to Galicia on the northwest corner of the Iberian peninsula became popular in the Middle Ages. It’s still one of the most popular trails in Europe, with a record 200,000+ hikers last year.

I can see why. Our route takes us past little towns where churches once offered medieval pilgrims spiritual solace, vineyards growing on steep slopes leading down to the sea, and wide views of the water. The coastline here is rugged, with jagged rocks jutting up from the foamy surf and numerous little islands, some topped by churches and homes.

%Gallery-124603%One of these islands has an important history. It makes up part of the little port of Getaria, home to Juan Sebastián Elcano, the Basque people’s most famous sailor. He was one of Magellan’s officers on the explorer’s circumnavigation of the globe.

The journey started in 1519 with 241 men. That number quickly dropped due to malnutrition, disease, mutiny, and storms. When Magellan was killed in the Philippines in 1521, two other officers took joint command. They were killed by natives soon thereafter. Another officer took over, but he proved unpopular and when his ship sprung a leak, some men decided to follow Elcano in the only remaining vessel. They finally made it back to Spain in 1522 with only 18 of the original crew.

His hometown, shown above, isn’t very big and probably wasn’t much of anything 500 years ago. I can imagine Elcano climbing to the top of that little mountain on the island that dominates Getaria and looking out over the sweeping view of the Bay of Biscay. It’s not surprising such a place produced one of the world’s greatest sailors.

Continuing along the coast we find a slope covered in thick grass. Looking out on the sea, there’s a good view of Getaria to our left and to our right, almost lost in the distance, we spot the coastline of France. It’s a perfect place for a picnic and we feast on Spanish tortilla (a bit like a thick omelet with potatoes), cheese, bread, and fresh cherries. I’ve been on a lot of hikes in Spain and I’ve eaten well on all of them. This picnic takes the prize for best view, though.

This coastline made much of its wealth from whaling. Whale oil used to be the petrol of the world, lighting up the streetlamps of Paris and London and used in a variety of products. While whales enjoy some protection today, they were hunted by the thousand until early 20th century and came close to going extinct. Basque whalers were some of the most adventurous. When stocks were used up in the Bay of Biscay and other parts of the European coastline, Basque whalers went further afield to Siberia, Iceland, Greenland, and even the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. In fact, they may have arrived in the New World before Columbus!

Our hike ends when we make it to the beach at Zarautz, an old whaling port turned resort. People are surfing and swimming, the smart ones wearing wetsuits to protect them from the cold water. When whaling died and the iron industry faltered, the Basque coast reinvented itself as a northern resort paradise for rich Europeans. San Sebastian, which I’m visiting in the next installment of this series, was one of the best. When you see the photos you’ll know why.

Don’t miss the rest of my series: Beyond Bilbao: Hiking through the Basque region.

This trip was sponsored by Country Walkers. The views expressed in this series, however, are entirely my own.