One of the best ways to explore a country like Australia is to get out there on two feet and go hiking. There is such a variety of natural landscapes throughout the country, from tropical to desert to alpine. Over a lifetime of living in Australia, I’ve been lucky to explore much of the country, and go on many awesome hikes in Australia, most of them day hikes varying from an hour or two to a full day adventure. Many of these hikes are within a short distance of major cities like Sydney, while for others the journey to get there is part of the fun. Here are 10 of the best day hikes in Australia, most of which I’ve done (often multiple times!), although I’ve also included two highly-recommended hikes that I’m planning to finally do soon.
1. Ascending Mt Gower on Lord Howe Island (NSW)
Lord Howe Island is a small volcanic island 10km long in the Pacific Ocean, a 2 hour flight from Sydney. While it’s possible to just spend a holiday there lazing on the beaches and enjoying the great snorkelling and diving, there are also some terrific hikes. The ultimate is the ascent of Mt Gower. The highest mountain on the island, it rises 875m directly up from the shore. A full day challenge, it can only be done on a guided walk. This is mainly due to the dangerous section not long after the start, where you walk along a skinny track half way up a cliff, assisted by a rope and protected by helmets. There’s also some tough clambers up rock faces assisted by ropes later on, before you emerge into forest surrounded by nesting birds, then arrive at the summit for a gorgeous vista of the island.
2. Coast Track in the Royal National Park (NSW)
The Coast Track in the Royal National Park, an hour south of Sydney, is technically an overnight hike. Most people break up the 27km walk by camping overnight at North Era Beach. However, if you move quickly you can do it in a day. Or else it’s possible to hike many smaller sections of it.
One option is to drive or take a ferry from Cronulla across to Bundeena, then hike south to the treacherous Marley Beach, returning via the same route. Along the way you’ll experience the magnificent clips and heathland scrub in the north of the park. Alternatively, start at the southern end of the Coast Track, near Otford. Then hike north through the Palm Jungle to Burning Palms, a great swimming beach, for a different experience. (The beach patrolled on Sundays in summer plus Saturdays in December and January.)
3. Katoomba Cliff Walk in the Blue Mountains (NSW)
The Blue Mountains are another popular Australian hiking destination close to Sydney. While there are also magnificent hikes to be done at Wentworth Falls and in the Grose Valley, the most popular section of trails are those near the magnificent Echo Point Lookout and Three Sisters at Katoomba.
A fairly short but still interesting walk is to hike down the Giants Staircase and its 800 odd steps, then take the Federal Pass track over to the Scenic World Boardwalk (keep a look out for lyrebirds!). Ascend out of the valley by either the Sceniscender Cable Car or Scenic Railway. Then return along the Prince Henry Cliff Walk to Echo Point, stopping at the lookouts along the way.
This makes for about a 5km walk that takes about a leisurely 2 1/2 hours. It can be extended by continuing along the cliffs past the Three Sisters to the start of the Federal Pass Track. Alternatively return via the Furbers Steps.
4. Summiting Mt Kosciuszko (NSW)
While ascending the tallest mountains on most continents involves at least multiple days of hard hiking, if not the risk of death, Australia’s highest peak, Mt Kosciuszko, is only 2228m tall. Until the 1970s it could be reached by driving to just a few hundred metres from its summit! These days it’s necessary to hike, but the shortest route from the chairlift at the top of the Thredbo ski-field is only 6.5km. It can easily be done in about 3 hours, even by men dressed up for a stag party (yes, I’ve seen that!)
My favourite route for hiking Mt Kosciuszko, however, is the Main Range Circuit from Charlottes Pass. Nearly 22km long, this route crosses the Snowy River on stepping stones and passes by Blue Lake and Carruthers Peak on the way to Kosciuszko, before returning along the old car road. The views of the valleys to the west are simply stunning.
5. Dove Lake Circuit at Cradle Mountain (TAS)
Cradle Mountain marks the start of the Overland Track, a 6-day trek through the alpine region of Tasmania and one of the best multi-day hikes in Australia (and something that I’ve been meaning to do for years). But for those without the determination or the time, there are also many shorter hikes around the Cradle Mountain area, including the Dove Lake Circuit. At only 6km long and mainly along boardwalk, it’s an easy walk (suitable for children) meaning you can concentrate on the stunning vistas across the lake and up to the peaks rather than your footing. It also passes through a beautiful example of temperate forest, known as the Ballroom Forest. Be prepared for rain, and the walk is even more magical after snow falls.
6. Wineglass Bay to Hazards Beach (TAS)
On the east coast of Tasmania is the beautiful Wineglass Bay, often listed as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Somehow I didn’t visit this spot on multiple trips to Tasmania as a child, but it’s right at the top of the places in Australia I still want to visit. If you’re just after a short (but steep) walk, it’s possible to ascend from the main car park to the lookout overlooking the gorgeous white sands of the bay, returning via the same route, in about 1 1/2 hours. However, it’s worthwhile continuing onward down to the beach itself and looping back to the carpark via Hazards Beach, making a 11km loop. Make sure you keep a lookout for the local dolphins and migrating whales off the coastline.
7. Circuit around Uluru (NT)
For many years, the most famous walk to do to Uluru was ascending to the top of the giant monolith. However, these days the local Aboriginal population ask visitors not to do this (plus it will be permanently closed from late 2019), so most visitors choose to do the walk around the base of Uluru. This 10.5km walk offers so much more, with views of the red rock from many different angles and the chance to view Aboriginal artwork. Each morning you can also join rangers on a free guided tour of the first section of the walk, starting from the Mala carpark, at 8am (October to April) or 10am (May to September). Don’t also miss heading over to Kata Tjuta and completing the Valley of the Winds Walk; it’s a close toss-up for which is the most spectacular.
If you’re lucky, you might spot a Thorny Devil (or Thorny Dragon) on the ground like I did near Uluru. These ferocious looking (but otherwise harmless) lizards are native to the deserts and scrublands of central and western Australia.
8. Rim Walk at Kings Canyon (NT)
Just over 300km via road from Uluru is located the equally impressive Kings Canyon. With walls stretching over 300m high, the best way to appreciate the canyon is by completing the 6km Rim Walk. Starting with a strenuous climb up the side of the canyon (it’s all easier going once that’s complete), the walk offers impressive views down into the canyon, plus of the Garden of Eden waterhole, the maze of sandstone domes up on top and the surrounding desert landscape. On hot days, walkers must start the 3 to 3 1/2 hour walk before 9am, after which the starting point is fenced off. The best time to visit is around sunrise and sunset for the ever-changing colours of the landscape.
9. Hiking the Gorges of Karijini (WA)
Located in the iron-ore rich country half way up the Western Australian coast, Karijini is well worth heading out of your way to visit. There’s a variety of hikes of different difficulties in the different gorges, most no more than a couple of hours long. One of the highlights for those up to a challenge is the hike to Kermit Pool in Hancock Gorge. It’s only 400m one-way, but allow at least 1 1/2 hours for the return hike. Be prepared to wade through water (or clamber along the side of the gorge) and then undertake the “Spider Walk”, with one leg balancing on each side of a narrow ledge above a fissure. The spectacular views of the narrow gorge walls and the blue-green waters of the Kermit Pool are well worth it.
Just be warned that most of the pools, including the Kermit Pool, are freezing cold during the winter time, due to the lack of sunlight penetrating the gorges. (Winter is the peak time to visit the park, to avoid the summer heat of 45C plus.) A better alternative is to take the short walk to the gorgeous Fern Pool (see above), at Dales Gorge. Its water are pleasantly refreshing, rather than icy cold, and it’s close to a great camp spot.
10. Main Gorge Track at Carnarvon Gorge (QLD)
Located about 400km inland from Rockhampton on the Queensland coast, Carnarvon Gorge is another place on my list of must-see places in Australia that I’m yet to visit. One of a highlights of a visit to this national park and one of the best Australian day hikes is the main gorge walking track. The track heads 9.7km one-way into the gorge and is the first section of the multi-day 87km long Carnarvon Great Walk. There are many side-tracks off the main track to see a variety of sights along the way. The most impressive sights are the Moss Garden, the 60m deep chamber of the Amphitheatre, Ward’s Canyon, and the impressive Aboriginal rock art at the Art Gallery and Cathedral Cave. To see all of these, then turn around before reaching the Big Bend, allow a full 8 hours for the 22km hike.
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