Ready to go walkabout? Barry Stone, editor of 1001 Walks You Must Experience Before You Die, hand-picks his six favourite trails in Australia.
Three Capes Track, Tasmania
Four years ago I was bobbing around, cork-like, in a tub of a boat, metres from Cape Pillar’s vertical walls of Jurassic dolerite. I gazed up more than 300 metres at Australia’s tallest sea cliffs and over the substantial remnants of this vast drowned escarpment on the southern edge of the Tasman Peninsula.
What would it be like, I thought, to walk along that cliff top, high above this wild, twisted, fractured world of columns, stacks and chasms? I reluctantly left behind that day the most inspiring natural landscape I’d ever seen in this country but knew that I’d be back.
The Three Capes Track – which takes in the cliffs around capes Raoul, Pillar and Hauy – is Australia’s greatest coastal walk. And with its official opening last December, it’s also the newest. A maximum of 48 people a day set off at staggered times – far enough apart to preserve the overwhelming sense of discoveries to come.
Built for families and the uninitiated (the thrilling 46-kilometre, cliff-top trail costs $495 per adult and $396 per child), this “dry-boot”, easy-to-moderate trail of alternating timber, stone and gravel is a generous one-metre wide so you can walk alongside someone instead of trailing behind them.
To minimise the impact on the environment, five camp sites on the track have been closed for rehabilitation. A new camp site, managed by Tasmania’s Parks & Wildlife Service, has been cleared for a maximum of six tents – an option for those who prefer “roughing it” over staying in the track’s three huts.
Designed to accommodate the daily trail quota, the huts have mattresses, heating, toilets, lighting, water, cooking facilities, even cold outdoor showers. Whatever you decide, this sublime coastline now has a track that does justice to its broad vistas. It’s one that begs to be conquered.
Start/end: Port Arthur
Distance: 46 kilometres
Time: 3 nights/4 days
Type: Broad, graded trails
Eastern Sherbrooke Forest, Victoria
If you want to see the shy, ground-dwelling lyrebird in its natural habitat, first book an overnight stay at Emerald’s sumptuous Tyneside Gatehouse, in the lush Dandenong Ranges, an hour’s drive east of Melbourne. The next morning, you can get an early start on the fern-lined paths of Sherbrooke Forest – a green wonderland in a sea of pale, ghostly barks.
The Eastern Sherbrooke Forest loop walk starts and ends at Grants Picnic Ground. Setting off on Lyrebird Walk, follow Neumann Road into open grassy meadows where lyrebirds forage for worms and insects in the soft, moist soil. At Paddy Track Junction, head downhill before climbing Welch Track then return by Coles Ridge Road.
The circuit takes you into a world of towering stringybarks and mountain ash, one of the tallest trees (and flowering plants) in the world. Keep your eyes peeled – on the way you’ll pass silver wattles and blackwoods, grassy clearings and gullies crowded with ferns. And you’re likely to see robins, rosellas and currawongs in a forest that’s been a part of the Dandenong Ranges National Park since 1987.
It’s crucial to walk these trails at the right times. People can live for years in Victoria’s Dandenongs and neversee the elusive lyrebird – famous for its ability to perfectly mimic sounds in its environment, including the calls of other birds (such as kookaburras) and animals (like the koala). During the breeding season – from June to August – they sing, adding to the beauty of an already enchanting forest.
Start/end: Grants Picnic Ground
Distance: 7 kilometres
Time: 2-3 hours
Type: Broad, well-maintained forest trails
The Heysen Trail, South Australia
To walk the length of The Heysen Trail – named in honour of the great German-born Australian artist Hans Heysen, who achieved fame for his watercolours depicting the Australian bush and, in particular, its towering gum trees – is to walk through virtually every landscape South Australia offers.
The trail begins on the coastal fringes of the Fleurieu Peninsula and passes through state and national parks, as well as historic townships, over the famous Adelaide Hills and through the winegrowing regions of the Barossa and Clare valleys – 145 kilometres north of Adelaide. It continues through the lush Gilbert Valley and onto the imposing grandeur of Wilpena Pound, a rock amphitheatre in the Flinders Ranges and one of Australia’s most impressive natural environments, often visited by Heysen. First proposed by Warren Bonython, a conservationist who spent years exploring the South Australian outback, the trail was completed in 1993 after starting as a track through the Mount Lofty Ranges in the late 1970s.
It’s mostly built for walking but cycling and horseback riding are permitted on some sections. The trail isn’t regularly cleared (some maintenance is carried out by The Friends of the Heysen Trail) and there can be steep gradients. Overall, however, it’s easy walking, despite a shortage of camp sites, and a trail you complete in stages rather than as a straight walk-through –which makes sense considering it’s the longest walking trail on the continent. There has been talk of extending it by 500 kilometres to Mount Babbage, a remote place even by Australian standards.
Start: Cape Jervis
End: Parachilna Gorge
Distance: 1200 kilometres
Time: 60 days
Grade: Easy to moderate
Type: Rock, gravel and dirt trails
Bluff Knoll Summit, Western Australia
The Stirling Range, in the Great Southern region of Western Australia, is the only major mountain range in the southern half of this vast state. Because of the region’s weather patterns, the mountain peaks are often shrouded in mist and can, occasionally, even be sprinkled with snowfall. Its unique flora includes 1500 plant species (of which 87 are endemic to Stirling Range National Park) and no visit to WA’s south-west is complete without a visit to these isolated, rugged mountains.
Hiking to the 1095-metre summit of Bluff Knoll sees you at the highest point of the Stirling Range. Gazing up at the face of Bluff Knoll from the car park below, which marks the start of the ascent, can be a daunting experience. The track takes you around the western face of the bluff, with views over the craggy, crenellated Coyanerup Peak and onto the peaks of the western Stirling.
Next is the saddle between the two mountains, where you take a turn first to the east and then to the north past scattered dwarf grass trees as you ascend Bluff Knoll’s sloping southern approach. Here the flora becomes almost bonsai-like, with tiny melaleucas set in small beds of moss and an alpine-like assortment of wildflowers, shrubs and mountain herbs. Among the plant life, you can spot parrots, honeyeaters and thornbills. At the summit the views extend forever – to the east are the silhouettes of the Arrows peaks; to the south, small lakes filled by mountain run-offs; and dry salt-beds to the north.
Find a rocky crevice to shelter from the wind and enjoy what is routinely described as one of the 10 greatest walks in Australia.
Start/end: Bluff Knoll car park
Distance: 6 kilometres
Time: 3-4 hours
Type: Mountain paths, exposed rock
Mount Gower, Lord Howe Island
A crescent-shaped volcanic remnant 600 kilometres east of the Australian mainland, Lord Howe Island, just over 10 kilometres long and two kilometres wide, is dominated at its southern end by two mountains: Mount Lidgbird (777 metres) and Mount Gower (875 metres).
Only Mount Gower has an authorised trail, although what passes for a trail here can at times be difficult to follow. The ascent is on a steep gradient and involves occasional rope-assisted climbs up near-vertical rock faces, as well as tracks that hug the lower slopes of the mountain before the real climb begins.
It’s not the sort of thing you want to attempt on your own so it’s no concern that climbing the mountain isn’t permitted without a licensed guide. Fifth-generation islander Jack Shick is a veteran of more than 1000 Mount Gower climbs. “For 70 per cent of those who get to the top,” he’ll tell you, “it’s the most physical thing they have ever done.”
Lord Howe Island is on the UNESCO World Heritage List for good reason. Its forest is largely uncontaminated by the outside world and much of its flora and fauna is endemic. It has the world’s southern-most coral reef in its lagoon; the Lord Howe woodhen, a flightless bird found nowhere else; and providence petrels so unafraid of humans that they land at your feet if you can master their call.
David Attenborough declared the island “so extraordinary, it is almost unbelievable”. There’s no better place to see it than from Gower’s plateau-like summit, sitting in the coolness of its moss forest and pitying those who have not yet made the journey.
Start/end: Car park trailhead
Distance: 13.6 kilometres
Time: 8-9 hours
Type: Mountain trails and rope-assisted paths
Uluru Base Walk, Northern Territory
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, 335 kilometres south-west of Alice Springs, in Australia’s Red Centre, is home to Uluru and the 36 domed rocks of Kata Tjuta (The Olgas).
For many Australians, a pilgrimage to Uluru is a rite of passage; it’s one of those few places that makes you feel Australian to the core just by virtue of looking at it.
A walk around the base begins at the Mala car park and traces a meandering path through acacia woodlands and claypans spiked with grasses. It’s worth doing the walk with an Aboriginal guide to gain a deeper understanding of Uluru’s significance and learn about the land, which the Indigenous custodians refer to as “country”.
The walk reveals features you won’t see in postcard images of Uluru. There are waterholes, groves of red gums, rock-art galleries, thorny devils, even feral camels. As well as the base circuit, there are shorter walks and tracks designed for wheelchairs and stroller access.
Uluru, which stands at 348 metres tall, is a sacred site. So walking around it, rather than climbing it, is appreciated by the traditional owners. ￼
Start/end: Mala car park
Distance: 10.6 kilometres
Time: 3.5 hours
Type: Rock, dirt trails