10 of the Most Surreal Walks in Australia, Handpicked by a Longtime Trekker

Australia best hikes

When it comes to recommendations for walks in Australia, Bruce Elder is one of the best people in the country to ask. He grew up in a small rural town on the edge of Snowy Mountains in the 1950s, and so walked everywhere and, unsurprisingly, developed a love of the Australian bush. He’s appearing on Great Australian Walks With Julia Zemiro (on SBS on Thursday, August 10 at 7:30pm and on SBS On Demand if you miss it).

“In Australia, because we are so large and diverse, our walks range from spectacular experiences along the coastline with dramatic views enhanced by the sight of whales and dolphins, through sublime walks through rainforests with towering eucalypts, cool gorges and beautiful stands of ferns, to the harshness of the deserts,” Elder says.

The way he says, there really is a walk to suit everyone, and most appealing, the prospect of walking seemingly forever through changing landscapes.

Elder separates walks in general into two categories: short and pleasant, which might take up to a few hours, and the more serious bush walks, which can take up to a few days or even weeks and involve camping and require high levels of fitness.

Walking around Uluru, NT

“When it was finally decided that visitors should not walk up Uluru, the very sensible alternative of walking around the Rock became essential. Known as the Uluru Base Walk it is only 10 km, but common sense determines that it should be done in the early morning. The heat of the day, even in the winter months, can be exhausting and dangerous.

Uluru walk
Image: Getty Images

“You can see the rufous hare-wallaby, finches, kestrels and buzzards. There is also the opportunity to see an indigenous campsite, kitchens, rock art… to walk past water holes and to enter gorges of great beauty and peacefulness while, all the time, the rock rises above you.”

Walking from Thredbo to Mount Kosciuszko, NSW

“There is an easy way to do this walk, and there is a more honest way. Mount Kosciuszko’s summit can be reached either by walking from Charlotte’s Pass on the Summit Walk — a healthy 9 km each way — or from Thredbo.

“It’s best to start the walk to the summit before 10am, which allows most of the day to complete the walk although, if you are fit and energetic, it can be done in a couple of hours.

Thredbo to Mount Kosciuszko
Image: Getty Images

“How long does it take to walk the 12 km? Thredbo is 1370 metres above sea level, which means that the walk from Thredbo Village to the top of Mount Kosciuszko is 858 metres. However, the Crackenback Terminal on the Thredbo ski lift is 1930 metres above sea level which means you travel the first 560 metres sitting on a gondola and the next 6 kilometres involves walking up a gentle slope for 298 metres.

“National Parks and Wildlife have created a walkway made of concrete, elevated metal grids and well-prepared gravel all the way to the summit. Along the way, you’ll pass Ramshead Creek, marvel at the mountain meadows awash with delicate pink, white and yellow summer flowers, pass grey granite outcrops and walk above hardy tundra-like grasses.

“At Rawson Pass, the metal grids give way to a well-gravelled path for the final 128 metres to the summit. The views, all 360 degrees, are delightful. Rolling, barren hills stretching to the horizon in every direction. And you can proudly tell all your friends that you have been to the highest point on the continent.”

Walking through Royal National Park, NSW

“The park has walks ranging from a 500 metre stroll to the Bungoona Lookout, which is wheelchair friendly and takes about 30 minutes through to the wonderfully diverse and beautiful Coast Track which is 26 km, medium difficulty and takes two days.

“A personal favourite, on the edge of the park, is the walk from the Bundeena ferry to Jibbon Point, which involves walking along a wonderfully firm and sandy beach and passing some fascinating Aboriginal rock platform carvings of sea creatures, including a whale.

Royal National Park
Image: Getty Images

“Then, you’ll reach a vantage point where the vista crosses the past two centuries with the timeless, rugged cliffs of the Royal National Park to the south and the southern suburbs of Sydney, particularly Cronulla, just across the waters to the north.”

The Great South West Walk, Victoria

“The Great South West Walk is a 250 km circular walking track which starts and finishes at Portland. It heads north through farmland, veering westwards through native forests and the Lower Glenelg National Park, following the southern bank of the Glenelg River to its mouth near Nelson, then returning eastwards along the coastline through Discovery Bay National Park.

best hikes australia
Image: Getty Images

“It then reaches Descartes Bay and passes around Cape Bridgewater, past The Springs, the Petrified Forest, the seal colony, Bridgwater Bay, Cape Nelson, Point Danger and back to Portland. A favourite shorter walk is from the Blowholes — you start at the car park — and the Petrified Forest, which was probably formed from moonah trees which were covered by a large sand dune. The walk takes you around the coast to Point Danger and back to Portland.”

Kiama Coast Walk, NSW

“A delightful, easy walk along the coast south of Sydney from the Minnamurra River in the north to the town of Gerringong in the south.

Image: Getty Images

“The walk passes dramatic formations created by volcanoes, crosses beaches and headland. And, most impressively, winds around the coast from Kiama Heights to Gerringong with the Pacific Ocean on one side and the rolling, green hills flowing gently down to the sea.

“On a clear day, this final section is one of the finest coastal walks in New South Wales.”

Cradle Mountain and Cradle Lake, TAS

“On a clear day, Cradle Mountain is a reminder that nothing surpasses the loveliness and beauty of Tasmania. Located in the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, Cradle Mountain and Dove Lake are picture-postcard perfect.

best hikes australia
Image: Getty Images

“They are, for most visitors, the start of a walk either into the mountains or, more leisurely, just around the shores of the lake. It takes only two hours to make the circuit of Dove Lake – it is a pleasant walk around the foreshore with excellent views of Cradle Mountain. It passes through sub-alpine plant communities and temperate rainforests.”

Walking Around Lake Burley Griffin, ACT

“There are so many ways of experiencing the National Capital, but there is nothing quite so pleasant than walking around Lake Burley Griffin.

“It’s more than a walk, it’s really a place where so many impressive cultural attractions — the National Library, the National Science and Technology Centre, the National Gallery of Australia, the High Court of Australia, the Carillon, the Captain Cook Memorial Water Jet — are all within easy reach.

best hikes australia
Image: Getty Images

“The distance is 4.9 km between the two bridges but the total distance is 16 km on the Western Loop and 9 km on the Eastern Loop.

The Glory Hole and the Thermal Pool, Yarrangobilly Caves

“I’ve been doing this walk since I was five years old. It has a very special place in my heart. The walk is wonderfully simple. Walk from Yarrangobilly Caves House — once a wonderful rural guest house, now accommodation run by National Parks — around the hillside until the visitor is confronted with the huge Glory Hole, an arch facing the Yarrangobilly River with a collapsed roof near the opening.

best hikes australia
Image: Getty Images

“In the 1950s there was a guided tour of the cave but when the caves were closed from 1966-1968 and prisoners from Cooma Gaol stayed in the area they cut a series of steps and paths so that visitors could have a self-guided tour which started at the arch and ended at the parking lot below Caves House.

“The distance through the cave is about 470 metres with 206 steps rising about 45 metres. Located 700 metres down a steep bush track — you can go via the Glory Hole but don’t be fooled, it’s no easier — this remarkable pool, which was first opened in 1896 and upgraded during the 1960s, remains at a constant 27°C all year round.

“It’s quite an experience to swim in the pool in the middle of winter when there is snow on the ground. It has been estimated that the water in the pool rises from a depth of 762 metres and bubbles out at the rate of 91,000 litres per hour.”

Larapinta Trail, Alice Springs, NT

“The Larapinta Trail stretches for over 223 km along the West MacDonnell Ranges from Alice Springs west to Mt Sonder. It has been created so that walkers, not wanting to complete the 223 km, can join and depart along the way. It’s been divided into 12 sections each of one- or two-day duration.

best hikes australia
Image: Getty Images

“The trail begins at the old Alice Springs Telegraph Station and traverses the gaps, gorges and steep ranges of the West MacDonnells until it arrives at the 360-degree dramatic view from Mt Sonder — the highest point and end of the trail.

“It’s broken up into shorter sections with the most popular, and my favourite, is Simpsons Gap it is easy and, if you go early in the morning or late in the afternoon, you are likely to see rock wallabies on the screen slopes at the beginning of the gap.

“Simpsons Gap is located only 8 km west of Alice Springs on Larapinta Drive. You can admire the ghost and red river gums and experience the silence of the gap.”

Wilpena Pound and the Heysen Trail, SA

“The primary appeal of Wilpena Pound, apart from the intense beauty of the area, is bushwalking. The hills and countryside have been an inspiration for artists.

“Wilpena Pound was where the famous South Australian landscape artist, Hans Heysen, found the inspiration for his most famous gum tree paintings and it is where photographers have found unforgettable images of the Australian bush. The flora in the Pound includes Sturt’s desert pea, river gums, mallee, acacia and casuarinas.

best hikes australia
Image: Getty Images

“The careful walker may see the red kangaroo, the euro, the yellow-footed rock wallaby, 18 species of snakes, 60 species of lizard, dingos, emus, galahs and wedge-tailed eagles.

“The Pound contains a section of the Heysen Trail which, in its totality, runs from Cape Jervis in the south to the northern end of the Flinders Ranges. The Heysen Trail in the area takes about 6-7 hours, crosses the Pound floor and passes over the Pound’s western flank at Bridal Gap. It continues to Black Gap Lookout in the south and north along the ABC Range.”

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