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10 amazing Australian hikes
Our countrywide guide to getting closer to nature on the best Aussie walking trails
Through rainforest, over mountain ridges, across open plains, beside lakes and oceans, Australia has so much to offer the hiker who’s prepared to pull the boots on and get stuck in.
With the peak walking season for Tasmania’s stunning Overland Track beginning on October 1, here’s our list of great hikes, taking from half a day to a week.
And, if you’re in the mood to run a cursor across a map, there’s a handy chart of all 10 hikes, plus a few extras, right here.
Overland Track, Tasmania
The Overland Track covers 65 kilometers over six days through the Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park, part of the World Heritage Area.
Walkers can trek independently but must book with the Parks & Wildlife Service, or use one of the many guided-walk operators.
We went with Cradle Mountain Huts, known for its eco-friendly lodges tucked away from the track.
Highlights include Marion’s Lookout with (if the weather’s good) great views of Cradle Mountain; Barn Bluff towering over an exposed alpine plateau; and the beautiful D'Alton and Ferguson Falls.
Worth the challenge, weather permitting, is the five-hour side trip climbing Mount Ossa.
Our guide points out two rocky towers, nicknamed The Gates of Mordor, after that dire place in “The Lord of the Rings.” And up we go.
Larapinta Trail, Northern Territory
The Larapinta Trail winds through a rugged and ancient landscape in the Northern Territory.
Waving goodbye to Alice Springs from the Euro Ridge, walkers head westward, experiencing the beauty of Simpsons Gap, Standley Chasm and Ormiston Gorge and ascending Mount Sonder at the end.
Being remote, this trail is best tackled on a group tour.
Michele Eckersley of World Expeditions (WE) says: “It’s our No. 1 trek worldwide.”
Apart from the six-day classic experience -- support vehicles reduce the total walk -- there’s also a 14-day end-to-end option (the whole 223 kilometers).
Both treks are organized by WE subsidiary Australian Walking Holidays.
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Great Ocean Walk, Victoria
Since 2006, the Great Ocean Walk has enabled us to go where its namesake road could not.
Stretching 104 kilometers from Apollo Bay, the track meanders through gum and eucalypt forest, reaches Cape Otway Lightstation, traverses sand dunes, beaches and cliff-top tracks.
There are shipwrecks to inspect and magnificent views of the Twelve Apostles, those much-photographed limestone sea stacks.
For guided walks or self-guided inn-to-inn packages try auswalk.
Six Foot Track, New South Wales
Marked out in 1884 as a six-foot-wide (1.83 meters, if you really must know) track to allow loaded horses to pass each other while traveling from Katoomba to Jenolan Caves, the Six Foot Track in the Blue Mountains is iconic.
Taking three days and two nights, the 44-kilometer track starts at the Explorers’ Tree, drops into Megalong Valley and crosses Coxs River by the Bowtells Swing Suspension Bridge.
Challenging climbs take walkers to the Black Range ridge before heading for the caves.
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Cape to Cape Walk, Western Australia
The Cape to Cape Track in the southwestern corner of Western Australia follows the ridgeline for 135 kilometers through the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park, between the lighthouses of Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin.
The track mostly follows the coast, sometimes along cliff-top paths, at other times crossing beautiful beaches.
Several inland loops traverse sections of karri forest, while staff at the spectacular lighthouses at both ends run guided tours.
Do these in a day
Kosciuszko Walk, New South Wales
From the Kosciuszko Express chairlift at Thredbo in the summer, a 14-kilometer return walk (five hours) goes to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko -- at 2,228 meters, Australia’s highest peak.
The landscape features rocky granite outcrops, wildflowers and glacially carved Lake Cootapatamba.
Many walkers seem oblivious to the stream near the trail, but we pause to see the beginning of a waterway that became a legend thanks to Banjo Paterson’s poem “The Man from Snowy River.”
Passing the sign at Rawson Pass, it’s not much further before there’s a carnival atmosphere among hikers who have made it to the top of Australia.
Kings Canyon Rim Walk, Northern Territory
It’s one of the world’s best short walks.
The reasonably fit should not be deterred by the 500-step climb to the top because it’s then quite flat.
This walk of six kilometers (four hours) follows the rim of Kings Canyon in a horseshoe fashion.
There’s a sense of awe at this ancient land with 100-meter-high sheer cliff walls, weathered dome-like structures called the Lost City and the Garden of Eden with its permanent waterholes. It’s enough to make one feel humbled.
Stay the night before being sure to start early to avoid hiking in the midday heat.
Kings Canyon Resort lays on various accommodation levels and guided tours.
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Dove Lake Circuit, Cradle Mountain National Park
This six-kilometer walk leads around the shores of Dove Lake in Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park in about two hours.
It’s an easy grade of walk, much of it on boardwalk, and one of Tasmania’s most popular.
Highlights include the much-photographed boat shed, built in 1940 by the first Ranger at Cradle Mountain, Glacier Rock, which bears the marks made by Ice Age glaciers and the peaceful cool temperate rainforest known as the Ballroom Forest.
Towering above it all is Cradle Mountain. Look several times to see its mood change from bright to brooding with the weather.
Binna Burra to Green Mountains (O’Reilly’s), Queensland
Part of the Gold Coast Hinterland Great Walk, a multi-day hike, the section from Binna Burra to O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat in the Green Mountains section of Lamington National Park makes a good full-day walk.
The Border Track passes through stands of Atlantic Beech forest, subtropical and cool-temperate rainforests and along the rim of the Tweed Valley volcanic erosion caldera.
From Wanungara Lookout views extend over Limpwood Valley, Mount Warning and sometimes as far south as Byron Bay.
Manly to the Spit Bridge
Hiking in the middle of the city? Absolutely.
Walks through Sydney Harbor National Park provide a peaceful perspective.
A favorite is Manly to the Spit Bridge, a 10-kilometer one-way walk of three hours.
No human guide is needed and manlyguide.com has an excellent map.
Catch the ferry from Circular Quay, alight at Manly Wharf and head west along the foreshore.
Having crossed the picturesque and oddly named Forty Baskets Beach, the track heads up through a reserve with spectacular lookouts.
Quiet beaches like Castle Rock give the walker reason to pause, before everything becomes busier approaching the Spit Bridge, which we see open for a ferry to pass.
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