Australia is a vast country, with vast landscapes. So it’s no wonder, when it comes to picking a hiking destination, the choices are, well, vast. We are lucky enough to have a huge selection of National, State and local parks that provide a varied setting for walks ranging from quick strolls to treks lasting weeks on end.
For those searching for a truly immersive experience, multi-day walks are the best way to really experience the countryside, and in that department, Australia boasts some of the best in the world.
But how do you choose? There are so many factors to take into account including, whether you are seeking beauty or remoteness, coastal or mountain hikes, hut stays or camping, near civilisation or wilderness adventures.
Here is our top ten must-walk destinations.
Location: West MacDonnell Ranges, Northern Territory
Suggested days: 16-20 days
The Larapinta is quintessential outback trekking, it’s like following a rollercoaster ride as you weave in and out, up and over the impressive West MacDonnell Ranges. There’s a real sense of the history on this walk – you almost feel like one of the early pioneers as you set off from Mount Sonder, the trail’s highest point in the far west. Or if you like to go against the flow, you can start from the Old Telegraph Station just outside Alice Springs, with Sonder the target 223km to the west. Either direction, take your time to enjoy the rugged allure of engaging rock formations and oases including Simpsons Gap, Ellery Creek Big Hole, Ormiston Gorge and Glen Helen as you traverse two parallel ranges: the Chewings and the Heavitree. If not up for knocking off the long haul in one go, there are numerous trail access points that break the Larapinta into 12 sections which you can walk one or a few at a time. Being smack in the middle of the Red Centre, this trek should only be undertaken in the ‘cooler’ months between April and September. Food drops will be required if you’re doing it all in one go. Most campsites offer picnic tables and tent sites and all trailheads have a water supply.
Location: Western Coast, Victoria
Suggested days: 5-6
It’s a trend these days for tourism boards to whack the word ‘Great’ in front of any walk, the Great Ocean Walk (GOW) was one of the first to append the adjective, but rightly so. The GOW skips its single-track way along some of the finest coastline our island nation can muster, traversing cliff-tops and tracking over beaches whose wild and remote feel is magnified with every bluster of a stiff southerly off the Southern Ocean at your left. Starting at Apollo Bay the trail takes bushwalkers west, soon ducking inland through lush rainforest, before spitting you back out from the Otway Ranges to a soundtrack of gigantic waves rumbling in. The idea, of course, is to time your final day’s walk to hit the Twelve Apostles just on sunset, the crumbling rock formations rising from the whitecap ocean a fitting finish. Choose from 12 walk-in campsites for the fully immersed experience or one of the bountiful and unique B&B or farm stay (you’ll need a tour operator to ferry you to and from the trail head each day, but there are a few options within walking distance of the track, including an award-winning farmstay at Red Johanna).
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Location: South West, Tasmania
Highlight features: absolute isolation, peak views over pristine lakes, raw wilderness, brutal terrain
Suggested days: 8-11
Mention this to any walker in the know and you’ll get the puffed cheek, raised eyebrow, “Ohhh, that’s a toughie” response. Like its Eastern brethren, the Western Arthurs has a hard as nails reputation for good reason: it’s one of, if not the most brutal recognised walk you can undertake in Australia. The 15km skyline traverse is dangerous, especially when inclement weather comes storming in, which it has a tendency to do with some fury no matter the season. But in its polarising harshness lies its charm – it’s more than simply an experience to trek it, it’s an achievement to finish it. Expect steep, mud-infested paths, knee-crunching descents on loose scree, gullies and climbs through sharp rock territory. You’ll need to be a good navigator as you will inevitably take false leads and have to backtrack. But the reward is jaw dropping views from 22 major peaks over wilderness at its most raw, including 30 lakes, matched with tranquillity that is difficult to find these days – you will be one of only a few that tackle the challenge in any one year, this being one of the least trekked official routes in Australia. Arguably, though, it delivers the most.
The guide South West Tasmania by John Chapman is a good starting point for information.
Location: Walhalla-Canberra, High Country, Victoria/NSW/ACT
Suggested days: 40-50
In one sense this is the easy way to climb Mt Everest three times. It’s also the hard way to get from a quaint gold rush village in the Victorian hills all the way to the nation’s capital. The territory that lies between the disused mine shafts of Walhalla and the hallowed halls of Parliament is some of the toughest and remote alpine walking on the mainland and some of the most beautiful given it passes through six national parks. Pack your Boy Scout motto – the Great Dividing Range through which you will alternatively walk and sometimes bushwhack can throw up all manner of surprises in terms of the topography and weather. The trail is sometimes well marked and other times not marked at all (in wilderness areas). To tackle the track you should be an experienced bushwalker, used to travelling in remote areas, and skilled in the use of map and compass. Food drops are essential as there’s not a lick of civilisation bar farm property or 4WD track. The AAWT’s brutality is its beauty, compared to other better marked, easier to navigate ways. It’s quintessential Australian bush.
Location: Cape Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin, Margaret River, Western Australia
Suggested days: 6-7 days
A walk through one of Australia’s most stunning seaboards that just happens to also be one of the nation’s winery heartlands? The perfect match, perhaps. This multi-day walk stretches from lighthouse to lighthouse at the tips of Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin. The experience alternates from sweeping cliff-top views and stretches of pristine beach to rolling hinterland, which takes in sheltered woodland sections as well as the magnificent Boranup Karri Forest. Caves, headlands and rock formations dot the coastal stretches, and in springtime, wildflowers create an enchanted walking experience. Trails range from old 4WD tracks, to single-track, both well-graded and rough stony pathways plus several sandy beach sections. Difficulty ranges accordingly with easy to rugged and challenging lengths. The multi-day experience gives the best experience, but there are plenty of access points for shorter stints, or for the multi-day hiker, access out to the wineries. There is plenty of camping along the trail, but also lots of options for more comfortable nights, from basic to luxe B&Bs. There are also tour operators who offer fully guided Cape to Cape walks, and services that can offer transport between points along the Track. You can even trail run it if you like, with Windroo Trails offering guided multi-day run packages.
Location: Fraser Island, Queensland
Suggested days: 6-8 days
There’s something special about being able to explore the world’s largest sand island on foot. It could be the fact you are marooned on a big sand pit surrounded by glistening water, or the unique topography and flora that such a unique environment conjures, unlike anything else in Australia. Marvel at towering rainforests, crystal-clear lakes, multi-coloured sands and vast dunes. Far from simply being a mound of sand, the landscape is ever-changing including coastal heathland, mangrove forest, woodland and subtropical rainforest.
The walk takes in iconic sites such as Lake McKenzie, Wanggoolba Creek, Lake Wabby and Central Station, and there are shorter walk options for those not looking for a multi-day experience. The trail underfoot is mostly firm sand with leaf litter – very easy walking for the most part, allowing you to enjoy the environs through which you are moving, although there are a few dune sections, more challenging on the legs. For multi-day walkers, it is a case of camping (bookings required) and being self-sufficient, carrying water (water is available at some places but must be treated).
Location: Wilsons Promontory, East Victoria
Suggested Days: 2-3 days
Wilson’s Promontory is a jewel sticking out of Victoria’s eastern coastal crown.
Starting from the family-friendly Tidal River camping settlement, the Circuit heads east, inland across the belly of the Prom, passing through fern-shaded gullies and crossing long boardwalk-covered swamps to reach the secluded and paradisiacal Sealers Cove with its long stretch of sand and calm ocean, fringed by steep forested ridges and granite boulders. The trail then takes on a different character, as it undulates along the coastal fringe, knarled trees and big rocky outcrops giving plenty of visual wonderment. Walkers take in Refuge Cove before being treated to big views along Waterloo Bay. En route a visit to the Prom Lighthouse is of course mandatory, before heading north for more spectacular inland scenery, hitting Little Oberon Bay and back to Tidal River. Shorter than many multi-day walks, this one punches above its weight for sheer beauty.
Location: Mount Buller
Suggested days: 4-5
Here’s one that is our little secret, in that it is not a recognised set route, but should be a Great Walk as it takes in some of the most spectacular high alpine country to be found in Australia, all within view of Mount Buller Resort. Beginning at the Buller summit, just above the resort, walkers drop down into the Howqua Valley, a favourite playground for horse riders. There’s some climbing to be done and this walk is for the more experienced – or go with a guide. It’s a leg-draining ascent to the Bluff to meet the Australian Alpine Walking Track route, which you stay on until hooking back towards Buller at King Valley. This is the section that earns the walk Hut to Hut, with the route going from one to the other highlighting the mountain cattle and wild horse lifestyle that once dominated here a la Man From Snowy River. The highlight of the walk is the traverse along an extended and sometimes knife-edge ridgeline taking in several big summits and a section called Crosscut Saw, which has to be experienced to be believed. Dropping back to King Valley Hut, it’s then back up to Craig’s Hut, made famous by the aforementioned film, and onwards, back west returning to the Resort. There are no central resources for this as a defined walk but good sets of topographic maps makes it possible or take a tour guide. (Operator Tour de Trails takes mountain-running tours on this exact route, but can also arrange walk-based outings, as can other local operators).
Length: 65km / 82km with Lake St Clair extension
Suggested days: 5-9
Like New Zealand’s Milford track, the Overland is possibly one of the most overexposed, in-demand trails in Australasia, such is its worldwide reputation. But the demand (and hence the booking system to limit numbers) is warranted: you simply can’t do a top end list without its inclusion. The one-way trail makes its way from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair, through the sub-alpine terrain of the Tasmanian highlands, glacially-carved valleys, ancient rainforests, fragrant eucalypt forest, golden buttongrass moorlands and alpine meadows which combine to warrant its Wilderness World Heritage Area listing. The accommodation is in huts or in designated camp zones, and the track is often booked out in advance. There are well-maintained huts to stay in along the route, but you need to carry all of your own equipment, as they only contain sleeping platforms and communal cooking areas. Cabins can be full by the time you arrive, so a tent and gas-stove should always be carried (first in best slept). There are a bunch of marked side tracks, all of which are worth pencilling in to your planning, including to the summits of Cradle Mountain and Mount Ossa, Tassie’s highest peak. The Labyrinth and Lake St Clair (the deepest lake in Australia) are worth spending extra time exploring, too.
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Location: Fleurieu Peninsula to Flinders RangesType: end-to-end
Suggested days: 50-60, but shorter multiday sections are feasible
Very few of us will get the opportunity to knock this one off in one go, but such is the varied amount of landscapes and types of walking to be found along the Heysen Trail, that you can choose your adventure, length and section according to taste. And that literally may be a ‘taste’ proposition, as some parts travel through South Australia’s famed winery regions, where the gourmet food and vineyards on offer might waylay you, some just off the trail proper.
In the north, the Flinders Ranges countryside is more arid but no less spectacular with Wilpena Pound and its looming red and orange hued escarpments a highlight. Down south it is the Fleurieu Peninsula with coastal sections, waterfalls and forests making for spectacular walking, not to mention the odd whale sighting in season. Nearing Adelaide the trail takes in the pine and eucalypt forests of the Adelaide Hills and the German village of Hahndorf. This is the section for those looking for a more comfortable B&B-style, gourmet-food inspired multi-day walk.
And to nominate a multi-day to look forward to – the Peak Trail, in Victoria’s Grampians, has been on the drawing board for a while now, linking up parts of the fascinating landscapes of the Grampians National Park via existing and new trail. It will open in sections in the coming years and is expected to be end-to-end ready by 2020.
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