Clambering over mossy tree roots, hiking up granite slopes, and breathing in the heady scent of eucalyptus trees atop the base note of damp earth. It’s something Australia’s indigenous people have known for thousands of years – to walk the land is to know it. Whether on the coast, or in the outback, or in the heart of the rainforest, putting one foot in front of the other allows you to connect with the terrain in an intimate way that bus or self-drive tours simply can’t match.
For long distance walkers, Australia’s diverse scenery offers ready distraction from aching legs and feet. Explore windswept stretches of sand, snow-capped mountain peaks, red desert rock, and much more. Beyond breathtaking scenery, there are other benefits associated with “boots and all” adventures. Hiking – or bushwalking, as it is called in Australia – improves blood pressure, increases bone density, builds strength, and enhances balance. It also satisfies curiosity, offers a taste of adventure, and boosts mood. How come? The biophilia hypothesis suggests that humans have an instinctive need to connect with nature and other forms of life.
No single walk will suit every person who yearns to explore this country’s intriguing landscape. After all, one person’s amble may be the next person’s odyssey. But consultation with bushwalking enthusiasts has identified some of the country’s most popular walks, designed to encourage newcomers and perhaps inspire more experienced walkers to test their mettle.
Gold Coast Hinterland, Queensland
Growing up near Queensland’s iconic Surfers Paradise, I was a beach lover from the get-go. More recently, however, the lush inland hinterland has claimed my heart. The Gold Coast Hinterland Great Walk meanders for 54 kilometres from the rim of the extinct Tweed Volcano, through species-rich rainforests, steep escarpments and picturesque valleys. This area forms an important part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area, which contains more frog, snake, bird and marsupial species than anywhere else in the world. It is also a home to many rare and threatened plants and animals.
Within this area, one of my favourite walks is the 12 kilometre Daves Creek Circuit, where you’ll spot kaleidoscopes of butterflies, drifts of wildflowers, and perhaps even lyrebirds and pademelons. Daves Creek Circuit is botanically diverse, featuring rainforest, eucalypt forest and open heathlands, with soils originating from different types of volcanic lava accounting for the dramatic changes in vegetation in adjacent areas, even though rainfall and altitude are similar.
Manly Scenic Walkway, New South Wales
The busy metropolis of Sydney is built around a breathtakingly beautiful harbour and the 10 kilometre Manly Scenic Walkway showcases the very best of it. Also known as the Manly to Spit Bridge Coastal Walk, this well-signposted trail weaves through coastal bushland, and past the city’s northernmost beaches and bays. From Circular Quay in the heart of the city, take the iconic ferry to the beachside suburb of Manly, which is frequently described as “seven miles from Sydney and a thousand miles from care”.
From here, wend your merry way south, stopping for a dip at the family-friendly Reef, Forty Baskets or Fairlight beaches. Keep your eyes peeled for indigenous rock carvings, featuring fish, boomerangs and a kangaroo, near Castle Rock Beach. (Visitors are urged to look, but not touch, in order to preserve the artworks for future generations.) Be sure to leave enough time for a detour to explore the historic Grotto Point Lighthouse. The end point of this walk is the Spit Bridge and some upmarket restaurants nearby such as Ormeggio and Orso which capitalise on the area’s sparkling waters and seafront surrounds.
Great Ocean Walk, Victoria
The Great Ocean Walk snakes along a 110 kilometre stretch of the Victorian coastline, starting at Apollo Bay and finishing adjacent to the Twelve Apostles, a stunning collection of limestone stacks located offshore. The trek can be completed in its entirety (allow eight days) or more cautious types might prefer to attempt sections of it instead. The walk features a “mild side” and a “wild side”, in that there is a noticeable difference between the eastern, gentler half of the walk, and the western side which encompasses more remote beaches and bays.
Traversing some of the highest cliffs in mainland Australia, the walk features lofty stands of mountain ash, the world’s tallest flowering tree, and offers opportunities to spot native wildlife including kangaroos, koalas, eagles and owls. Even those who seek a relatively undemanding experience are catered for on the Great Ocean Walk, with short walks to lighthouses and lookouts achievable within an hour or two.
Kangaroo Island, South Australia
At around 60 kilometres over five days, the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail is no doddle. But you will be rewarded with dramatic and ever-changing scenery – dense and fragrant eucalypt forests, long stretches of bone white beach, and towering cliffs of limestone and coagulated magma. With Kangaroo Island widely considered Australia’s Galapagos, there are also ample opportunities along the way to spot animals, including platypus, dolphins, fur seals and sea lions.
As challenging as it is physically, the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail is also nurturing. There is no better spot for contemplating one’s place in the universe than when standing overlooking the vast rolling blue of the Southern Ocean, beyond which lies Antarctica. Celebrate your hard work with a stay at the Southern Ocean Lodge which offers panoramic views above the pounding surf – and if the trek has left you footsore, treat yourself to Baudin’s Foot Therapy at the in-house Southern Spa. There is nothing quite like a eucalyptus foot soak, mineral salt scrub and pepperberry and peat pedimask, to have you feeling like you’re walking on clouds again.
The Bibbulmun Track, Western Australia
Stretching a languorous 1000 kilometres from Perth to Albany, The Bibbulmun Track covers a lot of ground. The good news is that this long distance trail can also be broken into bite-sized pieces – each with its own distinct flavour. The four-day Walpole to Peaceful Bay stretch, for instance, offers glimpses of dense karri forest adjacent to the sea, while in the aptly-named Valley of the Giants, walkers can spot tingles, a rare species of eucalypt unique to this area, as well as the ornamental red-flowering gum. The Donnelly River Village to Pemberton is rich in forest railway history, as well as campsites, swimming holes and a cascading waterfall. On the final leg, which is sprawled alongside the Southern Ocean, dolphins and whales can be spotted offshore, depending on the season.
Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory
The lush Kakadu National Park is comprised of 20,000 square kilometres of wilderness which features archaeologically significant rock art sites, refreshing plunge pools, and wildlife-spotting opportunities second to none. There are at least 25 signposted walks throughout the Kakadu area. These range from short nature-based wilderness strolls through to more challenging options such as the 12 kilometre Barrk Sandstone Walk which explores the back country around the striking sandstone formation of Burrungkuy (formerly Nourlangie).
The Twin Falls Gorge Walk is also highly rated. The gorge itself teems with aquatic life including barramundi, long-necked turtles, freshwater crocodiles and water monitor lizards. However, you will only be able to access it during the dry season, when the waterfall slows to a trickle. (During the wet season, take a scenic flight over the Twin Falls to fully appreciate their power and majesty.) As you explore the gorge, keep an ear out for white-lined honeyeater birds who sing out to advise the spirits of your arrival.
The Overland Track, Tasmania
The Overland Track used to be strictly for hard-core hikers. Over the years, though, track improvements, bridges and modern bushwalking equipment have helped make this 65 kilometre trail through the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area more accessible to all levels of fitness. About half the track is higher than 1000 metres in elevation on exposed plateaus. That, combined with unpredictable weather in a remote alpine location, means walkers must remain vigilant – or sign up with a guided tour group.
The jagged dolerite contours of Cradle Mountain are the starting point for this adventure. Over six subsequent days, walkers explore dramatic and ever-changing landscapes – glacially-carved valleys and mountain summits. The walk concludes at Australia’s deepest lake – Lake St Clair – where you’ll be reminded that still waters run deep. Because of its beauty and challenges, conquering The Overland Track is immensely satisfying on physical, emotional and spiritual levels.
This article was first published in the June 2019 issue of AsiaSpa magazine which ceased publication in 2020.