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Tamarama Beach, a place of mysterious sands and glamorous people



Supercell storm approaching Tamarama Beach from the south

Tamarama Beach, located within Mackenzies Bay around 1km south of Bondi Beach, is nestled between headlands and is a popular stop off point along the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk. Known affectionately as Glamarama (due to the beautiful people that flock to its shores), Tamarama has a unique and interesting history that belies its tiny size at only 80m in length. What Tamarama lacks in size is made up for by its beautiful surrounding parklands, a deep sandy beach as well as the intrigue that surrounds its shifting shoreline.

Tamarama Beach has strong rips and a high number of rescues each year are made here.

Tamarama Beach has strong rips and a high number of rescues each year

A place of storms

The area around Tamarama was apparently originally referred to as Dixon Bay by early settlers and the name was officially changed to Tamarama sometime in the 1800's. There is also speculation that the traditional landowners referred to the area as 'Gamma Gamma' which translates to 'storm'. Considering the approaching storm in the photos above, it's not hard to imagine that this story could have some truth to it.

Looking north towards Tamarama Beach

That little pocket of sand in the distance is Tamarama Beach

Tamarama and Mackenzies Bay, the early years

Between the 1860s to around 1926, the land that surrounds present day MacKenzies Point was owned by the Mackenzie family (originally from Scotland) who operated the Waverly Dairy on what was then farmland. This large swathe of land stretched from the corner of Bondi Road and Denham Street all the way east to the coast and as far south Gaerloch Avenue in Tamarama (imagine owning all this land today, it would be worth millions, especially considering the median house price in Tamarama is currently around $4m). It’s hard to picture iot now, but there once was a time when cows roamed and grazed freely over what is present day Marks Park at the tip of the point.

Image courtesy of the State Library of NSW

An unlikely place for a rollercoaster...

The Bondi Aquarium officially opened in 1887 at Tamarama Beach and was the first amusement park in Sydney (and one of the earliest in Australia). While the park did have an aquarium, its greatest attraction was a thrilling rollercoaster that swooped over the beach from end to end - imagine watching the waves roll in while riding over the top on a rollercoaster! Sadly, fire destroyed the aquarium and pavilion on 11 July 1891 but it was once again operational by September the same year. Fast forward to 1906 and the park, renamed 'Wonderland City', was once again a bustling attraction with new rides such as an airship suspended over the bay, an elephant named Alice that gave people rides on the beach, plus a mini railway that stretched for a couple of miles along the cliffs. As you can imagine the locals weren't overly impressed with the constant stream of people flooding the area and after years of low crowds and battles with residents over beach access, Wonderland City officially closed in 1911. The NSW Government bought the area in 1920 and renamed it Tamarama Park, and there is still a Wonderland Avenue behind the beach at Tamarama. 

Getting ready for the annual 'Sculptures By The Sea' festival at Tamarama Beach

You can still see the support beams where the rollercoaster used to be 

The mysterious shifting sands of MacKenzies Bay

The northern end of MacKenzie's Bay is a strange place shrouded in mystery and intrigue. Every few years around winter time, the normally rocky shoreline transforms itself into a sandy beach almost overnight, and no two years are ever the same at Mackenzies Bay - sometimes only the rocks are exposed, other years see a small strip of sand and then even more rarely (like in 1997) a massive build up of sand occurs and completely covers the rocks creating a new beach. Apparently there was so much sand in 1997 that it was said that you could walk north around the headland from Tamarama Beach at low tide nearly all the way to South Bondi. A huge east coast low pressure system hammered the coast in May that year and the beach virtually disappeared overnight, not resurfacing for another 10 years until May 2007. Locals that year said it was the largest build up they had seen in 50 years and it was estimated that the temporary beach had grown to around 80m wide by 20m deep. Large storms pounded the Sydney coastline during winter in 2007 and by August the beach had once again disappeared. 

A mysterious, sandy beach appearsat Mackenzies Bay near Tamarama Beach NSW approximately once every seven years

It's anyones guess when the sandy beach will reappear here

What causes the beach to appear and disappear?

According to Dr Rob Brander from the UNSW Coastal Unit, “Patterns of swell direction have a lot to do with it, but the amount of sand on our beaches is also linked to longer-term climatic cycles. During a La Nina phase we tend to get more storms, bigger waves and our beaches erode". Similarly, Greg Skillbeck from UTS says “It is a common occurrence for sand to end up on the shore during winter when you have increased wave energy”. It is also linked to seasonal changes, with the beach appearing when there is a low-pressure swell with offshore wind, typical characteristics or winter weather conditions.

Looking south from Mackenzies Bay towards Tamarama and Bronte beaches

Looking south from Mackenzies Bay towards Tamarama and Bronte beaches

Surfing and swimming at Tamarama Beach

At just 80m in length, Tamarama Beach is one of the smallest beaches in Sydney (Clovelly is smaller at just 60m). Tamarama is a popular surfing beach especially with bodyboarders as it picks up all available swells and produces short, fast and powerful waves. In huge swells there's a reef that starts to break just offshore called Macca's that can handle waves up to around 15ft. Due to its deep water and constant rips, the beach is considered one of the most dangerous in all of New South Wales for swimming and there are more rescues performed here than any other of Sydney's beaches. To put how dangerous Tamarama's rips can be into perspective, even a small swell can cause rips of around 2m per second which is around the speed of the current 50m men's running world record.

The boardwalk at Waverley Cemetery with Tamarama Beach in the distance

The boardwalk at Waverley Cemetery with Tamarama Beach in the distance

Worlds' oldest Surf Life Saving Club?

Founded in 1906, the Tamarama Surf Life Saving Club is one of the oldest surf life saving clubs in the world and quite possibly the oldest. The club proudly boasts an enviable record of not having lost a single life in the surf in over 100 years of surf life saving patrols, which is amazing considering the beach is considered one of the most dangerous in NSW.

Girl sitting at Tamarama Beach watching a supercell storm approach

She was sitting there almost daring the storm to come towards her

Getting to Tamarama Beach

Simply  catch the 380 or 381 bus from the Sydney CBD or the 362 bus from Bondi Beach direct. If driving you can park in the backstreets although finding a park here on the best of days is hard and you're probably better off parking elsewhere and walking.

Map of Tamarama Beach


What is the next beach north from Tamarama Beach?

Bondi Beach is the next beach north from Tamarama Beach

What is the next beach south from Tamarama Beach?

Bronte Beach is the next beach south from Tamarama Beach

Current weather at Tamarama Beach


Thanks for reading

I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it. Tamarama Beach is a unique and ever-changing part of Sydney's coastline and a great place to visit for a family day at the beach or to go surfing. The beach comes alive around late October for the annual "Sculptures By The Sea" festival where thousands of people descend on the area to admire the sculptures and artworks from local and international artists. Definitely a must-do if you happen to find yourself in Sydney around that time of year.

Prints available for purchase

All photos in this article are available for purchase in various sizes as high resolution acrylic glass or canvas prints, and are available for licensing purposes for media and marketing/promotional material. The photos you see here have been compressed for optimal online user experience, which means we've intentionally reduced the file size and quality of each image to ensure the pages you visit load faster.

High res prints without watermarks

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