The large vast open areas of Australia make it a prime hiking destination, or bushwalking as its known locally. With more than 3,200 trails throughout the country, the many different trails pass through different biomes including tropical rainforests, subtropical rainforests, estuarine, grassland, temperate rainforest, desert, coastal and alpine landscapes.
The term hiking and bushwalking can be used interchangeably, though bushwalking typically refers to what Australians call the bush.
Australia is huge – and the first thing you will need to understand is that it is next-to-impossible to give generalised information on bushwalking or hiking. The conditions found in the very tropical humid Kakadu National Park will be very different to the conditions you will find in the temperate Southwest National Park.
Unlike countries like New Zealand or the United States, there are few hiking trails that cross state borders, as land ownership in Australia lies with individual states and traditionally with the lack of cooperation with the states and the federal government, there is no national trail system, but that should not be a surprise given Australia doesn't even have a proper national park system.
Politics aside, Australia has hiking trails for all abilities and interests, owing to the fact that the country has nearly every type of biome you could find. Whether it's the tropical rainforests in Far North Queensland, the subtropical rainforests in the Northern Rivers and South East Queensland, estuarine landscapes in much of Northern Australia, grassland in the Central West of NSW, the temperate rainforests of Tasmania, to the many deserts in the Outback, the many coastal trails scattered around the coast or the alpine landscapes in the Australian Alps, there's a trail for all kinds of environments.
In some areas, the local Aboriginal people provide bushwalking tours to tourists. When available, these are excellent opportunities to learn about the culture of the local Aboriginal ethnic group, as well as their traditional relationship with their land.
Australian Walking Track Grading System
The Australian Walking Track Grading System is a simple system that is used to measure the difficulty of the trails. It consists of five grades, and is unusually used throughout the country.
- Grade 1: The trail is wheelchair accessible, easy to do, few steep surfaces and the absolute max the trail can go is 5 km.
- Grade 2: The trail is moderate, and the absolute maximum distance is 10 km. It is suitable for first-time hikers, but there may be hilly sections and is not wheelchair accessible
- Grade 3: This is the most common grade you'll encounter in most of Australia. The absolute maximum is 20 km, and you'll need to have a bit of experience, as the trail can have steep sections.
- Grade 4: You need to have a reasonable amount of hiking experience, and often goes in remote areas such as many trails in the Great Dividing Range, the Australian Alps or the Tasmanian Wilderness.
- Grade 5: The most difficult of them all, where you will have to be self-sufficient, and you will need good navigation skills. They often go for very long distances, have rough terrain, and the conditions are tough.
As the country stretches from nine degrees south of the equator down to 43, there is a huge different in what time of the year you should hike. In general, in the north, hiking is best done in winter during the dry season, while in the south, hiking should be done in summer to avoid the cold and snow while places that are more in-between are best done in either autumn (fall) or spring.
If you are bushwalking in either the Australian Capital Territory or most of New South Wales, the best time for you to bushwalk is during autumn or spring, i.e. between the months of March and May or late August through to November. Bushwalking is a particularly popular activity during the Easter public holidays, and many trails what would otherwise get few bushwalkers a day get swarmed with holiday makers. The months closer to the winter season can get very windy at times, but a jacket or two will do you just fine.
Queensland may be a bit harder to give generalised information on climate, but the most popular months for bushwalking are between April to October. Generally bushwalking in the Tropical North is best done during the dry season (winter) as the roads are closed off during the wet season. In parts of Central Queensland, with the exception of summer, as cyclones ravage the region. In the southeast and Daring Downs, the best time of year is the same as most of New South Wales, while in Outback Queensland, the only time when many trails remain open is during winter.
The Northern Territory's bushwalking season remains fairly standardised, and the best time to visit is generally between mid-April, to early October. While the territory encounters two very different landscapes, the north being a very humid and tropical area whilst the centre covered with desert as part of the Outback, summer is wet season in the north, while no-one would want to go bushwalking during a hot 45° day in the Outback.
Tasmania being mostly below the 40° line of latitude, and with a climate similar to New York state or southwestern Ontario, the best time to go hiking in Tasmania is undisputedly summer – between late November and early February. However, it can snow even in summer, and snow regularly covers up hiking trails. Climate can easily change the conditions, and as such, you will need to be flexible in your plans and be able to change it at the last minute.
The level of preparation you will need to do significantly depends on what hike or trail you are planning to do, and where you are planning to do it. Many of the trails inside the many national parks inside metropolitan Sydney such as Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park are more like "walks" and do not require anything, some trails may require you to carry a bag with some supplies while in some others, you will need to be self sufficient.
If you are going on a grade one walk under the Australian Walking Track Grading System, you will not need anything, except maybe water if you are travelling on a hot day. You do not need any special kind of gear, and the surface of the ground is very stable and even. The walks are mostly the types you will find in your neighbourhood park, or any city park.
If you are going on a grade two walk under the Australian Walking Track Grading System, you may need to prepare a bit more, but you will not generally have a problem if you did the walk unplanned. However, water is a must, especially in summer. Be prepared to turn back if you had forgotten to bring some with you, as water is not easily available on most bushwalks.
Grade three walks require a lot more planning, but planning two-hours before doing the bushwalk in most cases will be fine. As walks can stretch up to 20 km, be prepared to carry some food with you, and possibly some hiking sticks and some clothing for cold weather if you're going to be in the southern states. Water is a must, and be prepared for rain.
Many of the national parks in Australia will have at least one, particularly the national parks closer to the coast, which will have at least five at the bare minimum, and if it is a large national park, you may encounter at least 10 and sometimes even between 20 to 30. As with everywhere, the difficulty of the trail will significantly vary between location, however, there will always be a trail somewhere around which suits your ability to bushwalk.
Some state forests, conservation parks or whatever type of park you're in depending on state may also have their own types of conservation reserves. However, note that there may be private properties located within them, so do be careful on where you're walking. They are clearly defined, with clear boundaries surrounding them and it is easy to go around the properly. However, most residents will help you if you're lost, but no-one likes an unauthorised entry into private property.
- See also: Hiking in Kosciuszko National Park
If you're visiting the Australian Alps, i.e., Namadgi National Park, the Snowy Mountains or Victoria's High Country, you'll never fall short of trails albeit the region only making up for 0.1% of the area of Australia. While there are many trails in the Australian Alps, an important notable trail is the Australian Alps Walking Track, which starts near the Namadgi Visitor Centre and straddles 655 kilometres (407 mi) through the snow capped mountains and alpine landscapes of the Australian mainland. It mostly passes through Alpine National Park in Victoria, Kosciuszko National Park in New South Wales and Namadgi National Park in the Australian Capital Territory and through the highest peaks of both states and the territory, which includes Mt. Kosciuszko, the highest in mainland Australia at 2228 metres and finishes at Walhalla.
There are other trails in the Australian Alps too, however, nearly all of them are contained within individual national parks. A notable one where many travellers come to do is the hike (or more like a walk) up to Mount Kosciuszko, one of the Seven Summits, if you consider Australia to represent Oceania rather than Indonesia. It is about a 6.5-kilometre trail (one way) from the ski resort of Thredbo, and the reason why many from all around the world choose walk to the summit is because it is the easiest of all the seven summits to climb. For those that still want to climb the summit, but want more of a challenge, the trail from Charlotte Pass has more of a steep climb, reserved for those who have a bit more of hiking experience.
If you are time limited in Victoria and still want to hike in Victoria, there are plenty of hiking trails in Alpine National Park. They may not be as famous as the Australian Alps Walking Track or the trails to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko, but they are still a great way to enjoy the outdoors in the snowy parts of Victoria.
The backyard of Sydney provides a whole network of bushwalking trails that if you theoretically went for one medium to long distance trail every week, you would still not be complete after a more year. The UNESCO World Heritage Region provides many bushwalking trails ranging from simple trails descending to waterfalls to multiday trails that take you through the many valleys of the Blue Mountains.
Many of the trails in the Blue Mountains are located within the Blue Mountains National Park, which is the most visited national park in New South Wales. The bushwalks closer to the Great Western Highway are those that are more particularly visited as they are more easily accessible, and have carparks nearby so you do not have to do so much preparation to get to many of the trails.
Apart from Blue Mountains National Park, other national parks in the world heritage area with plenty of bushwalking trails include Wollemi National Park, Kanangra-Boyd National Park, Yengo National Park, Thirlmere Lakes National Park, Nattai National Park and Gardens of Stone National Park. However, these are not that easy to access unlike Blue Mountains NP, but are a great alternative if you would like for a more quieter place to bushwalk.
Despite being in the dry and desolate Outback, South Australia's iconic mountain range provides some excellent bushwalking opportunities, many of which are inside national and conservation parks. The best time around to go bushwalking in the Flinders Ranges is around the time in either autumn or spring. The winter temperatures can get very cold, but it is generally tolerable if you have a couple of layers on, but summer temperatures can soar to the upper forties.
By far the best known place in the Flinders Ranges that are known for hiking is Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park, which is perhaps not surprising given it is South Australia's most iconic national park, containing Wilpena Pound, a naturally formed amphitheatre. While climbing the amphitheatre is often considered disrespectful to the Indigenous Adnyamathanha people, there are many trails that do not pass through sacred areas where you can still see the beauty of nature.
Another park with excellent opportunities to go bushwalking is the lesser known is the Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges National Park, in the northeastern parts of the Flinders Ranges, also with some spectacular scenic areas and some longer tracks reaching some of the peaks.
If you cannot travel too far from Adelaide, some of the national parks in the southern Flinders Ranges such as the newly created Wapma Thura–Southern Flinders Ranges National Park or Mount Remarkable National Park are within three hours from Adelaide, mostly on good sealed national highways too have some great trails. They are not that well known, but still a great way to experience the Flinders Ranges.
There is an amplitude of bushwalking opportunities in the regions of the Northern Rivers and Eastern New England in New South Wales and South East Queensland and Darling Downs in Queensland. With many UNESCO World Heritage Sites, many of the smaller parks have at least one trail, while the larger parks will have one or two long distance trails and many shorter more convenient walks.
Many of what's in the rainforests can only be accessed via bushwalking trails and out of Lamington National Park's 500 waterfalls, nearly all can only be accessed via bushwalking trails. Similarly, Dorrigo National Park's main waterfalls are only accessible via bushwalking trails, albeit a very easy trail.
The trails do go out into very remote areas, and it is very common for travellers to get lost. However, for first timers to the Gondwana Rainforests, you're best "first attempts" should either be in Lamington National Park or Dorrigo National Park, both with visitor centres and plenty of visitor facilities. Springbrook, New England National Park or Barrington Tops National Park are a step lower down, and whilst they do have good facilities, they do not have visitor centres. Other parks are often reserved for travellers with plenty of bushwalking experience.
Gippsland may not be the first thing that comes up to mind for many when thinking of hiking or bushwalking, but the Victorian region has many bushwalking trails, some of which lead to the base of the Australian Alps along with several coastal trails along its 800-kilometre (500-mile) coastline.
The region also has some rail trails, such as East Gippsland Rail Trail and Gippsland Plains Rail Trail. Rail trails are essentially bushwalking trails on what used to be a railway (railroad) line during the pastoral times of the region, which can either be done by cycling or bushwalking.
Australia's third largest island just three hours away from the South Australian state capital of Adelaide has plenty of bushwalking opportunities. With many of its important natural attractions only accessible by bushwalking, it is a great way to explore some of the bush in South Australia. The island has many national and conservation parks located on it, with the most being on Flinders Chase National Park, containing one of the state's most iconic rocks.
A notable bushwalking trail that is popular in Kangaroo Island which also may overly promoted by SA Parks is the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail, a five-day trek with a distance of 61 kilometres and it is classified as a Grade 4 level trek with the most ideal months to visit being any month of the year except November to March.
If there's something that the Riverina region in NSW, the Murray region of Victoria and the Murray and Mallee Riverland have in common, it's the plenty of bushwalking trails beside the Murray River. While there isn't any trail such as the Australian Alps Walking Trail, there are several small chunks of trails contained within national parks and conservation parks. Many of them are easy to do, but unfortunately they are not particularly very long trails.
Some places may not exactly border the Murray River, but may still be within close proximity of the river and have great bushwalks. Murray Sunset National Park is an example of one, which is near the river and has great bushwalking trails.
The Red Centre of the Northern Territory is home to some of the most iconic landscapes of the Outback. From the iconic Uluru and Kata Tjuta in Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park, to the relatively unknown but yet very scenic mountains of Tjoritja / West MacDonnell National Park, to one of the most impressive canyons in Watarrka National Park, the best way to get around these places and explore them is by bushwalking.
A notable trail that runs through the MacDonell Ranges is the Larapinta Trail, a 228 km (142 mi) trail passing through perhaps one of the most interesting mountainous landscapes you could find in the centre of the continent.
Other interesting trails are those the several walks around Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon. They are not particularly hard to do, but there is a large variety of trails with a difficulty and distance ranging from different easy short 500 metre walks to some long steep walks descending down canyons.
However, you should remember that the Red Centre gets hot – really hot. Carry several bottles of water with you, as dehydration can pose a severe threat to you. It is advisable to not go bushwalking in the region during summer.
The south-west is perhaps the only region of Western Australia that is not covered in desert and is sparsely populated making it a good spot to go bushwalking if you're in Western Australia. The most popular trail is the Cape to Cape Track, which is a 123-kilometre (76-mile) trail that is located in Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park, starting at Cape Leeuwin, the point where the Indian and Southern Oceans mean, and finishes at Cape Naturaliste, which is in the northern part of the national park. The Southern Forests also present many bushwalking opportunities, in particular, the Stirling Ranges, D'Entrecasteaux and the Fitzgerald River National Parks.
- See also: Tasmanian national parks#Hiking
Tasmania has one of the last preserved areas of vast wilderness, and there are plenty of hiking trails allowing you to immerse yourself into the temperate forests and mountains. By far the most famous trail in Tasmania that many travellers hike on is the Overland Track, connecting the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre to the Lake St. Clair Visitor Centre running north to south passing through many important points of interests inside Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park.
The hiking experiences in Tasmania also provide very different experiences to what you would encounter on the mainland. With a climate more closer to that of southern Ontario in Canada, large expanses of untouched wilderness, and the fact that a good quarter of the state is a world heritage area, the state is never short of trails to go to.
For those that cannot pick on which walks to go to, the 60 Great Short Walks is a set of 60 walks selected by the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service ranging from easy walks from carparks to waterfalls, to hikes that climb the summit of Cradle Mountain, it contains a wide variety of walks suited.
Unlike places such as Europe for example, buses rarely operate to hiking or bushwalking areas, as there are few bus services to national parks and conservation areas in general in the first place. Some tour operators may operate to popular bushwalking or important destinations such as Uluru-Kata Tjuta, but otherwise buses are not an ideal way to get to bushwalking destinations.
In rare circumstances, there may be a shuttle bus operated by the respective state's national parks organisation, such as the shuttle bus in Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair or the Daintree leading to bushwalking trails.
Some remote hiking destinations are only accessible by plane, particularly some hiking destinations in remote southwest Tasmania. They are often expensive, but they provide some of the most spectacular views of Australia, perhaps some that you may have never imagined before.
Most of such would generally be on either charted planes, or via an organised tour.
- See also: Driving in Australia
Many hiking destinations in Australia are only accessible via car. If you are unfamiliar with driving, or uncomfortable driving on the left side, the only other alternative you generally have is by organising with a private tour. The roads often terminate or pass near the beginnings and ends of the hiking trails. The roads to hiking or bushwalking trails may not always be sealed, and you may have to do a bit of driving on gravel or unsealed roads.
Access to some trails may require some driving on private roads. Whether you are allowed to drive on them varies – you can drive on some, while you can't on others. However, as many of Australia's bushwalking and hiking trails are located within or near national parks, having to drive on private roads should generally not be an issue.
While the roads may be open to use, parking at certain areas can pose a problem and in many places there may only be around 10 parking slots at the start of hiking or bushwalking trails. If you cannot find a parking slot, then try to find one within 10 minutes walking distance, or wait till availability frees up.
Fees and permits
In many longer multi-day trails, you will have to find somewhere to sleep – after all, the human body is not designed to be working 24/7. If you are going to sleep alongside a trail, try and find a campground somewhere. Bookings may be required, but it should be done as part of your planning. Fees may also apply. Note that this is often not an option in most of the Outback, but hiking in the Outback is not something commonly done.
Tent camping is your best option, and if you are attempting to do a longer multi-day trail, carrying a tent is a must as you may not reach your intended campground in time, and sometimes natural weather may prevent you from reaching there in time. A small tent will do you fine, and is probably ideal as carrying heavy equipment will slow you down, and also put extra weight which is not ideal.
In some Tasmanian long distance hiking trails, you may have to sleep in huts, usually maintained by the PWS. Sometimes, these huts are reserved for emergencies only, but in others, it's where you'll have to rest your head. They can be comparable to the huts found in Europe (more specifically the Nordic countries), and are generally well-maintained. These can also sometimes be found on the Australian Alps, though the huts in the Australian Alps rather preserve heritage rather than hiking.
While bushwalking and hiking may be an enjoyable way to experience the open spaces of Australia, it comes with many safety concerns, particularly if you are going in remote areas with few facilities. However, many of which can easily be prevented, if you take a couple of precautions.
- See also: Dangerous animals
While it is true that Australia has 21 of the world's 25 most deadliest snakes and venomous snakes are also a danger, the thread posed by snakes is very minimal and can easily be prevented if you avoid walking through long grass and displacing the flora. Leave them alone and you will be fine.
However, the most threats posed by animals actually significantly vary by region. In most places, some spiders can pose a severe threat, but they too can be prevented. If you are bushwalking near major cities, be aware of swooping magpies – they can get really aggressive and there is no way to prevent it.
In the Top End of the Northern Territory, the Far North of Queensland and the Kimberley region of Western Australia, but particularly in the Northern Territory, saltwater (estuarine) crocodiles can get very aggressive and pose a severe threat and have killed people in the past. It is advisable to stay at least 100 metres from the water’s edge and it is vital to follow warning signs – unlike snakes, once you're caught by the crocs, you'll become food for them and do not even attempt bushwalking in remoter areas in Northern Australia during the wet season unless you would like to become food for the crocodiles.
In parts of Far North Queensland, another dangerous animal is the cassowary, which is the second heaviest and third tallest bird. While it can also be found in parts of Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, it is not commonly found but can pose a severe threat and sometimes cause fatal injuries if provoked.
- See also: Malaria
There is no malaria present on the mainland, but they can pose an issue in the Torres Strait Islands, between the coasts of Queensland and Papua New Guinea. There are few bushwalking trails in those regions in the first place, so they generally won't pose an issue, but it should be kept in mind.
Being mostly comprised of desert, it is easy to think that rain wouldn't pose an issue in Australia apart from the very tropical north, but you could be hardly more wrong. As most of Australia's hiking and bushwalking trails are around the coast (unless you're in South Australia, but that's a different story), rain can significantly affect your bushwalking trip.
In most cases, after 3 to 5 days, most trails should be accessible, though a bit muddy but that can easily be bypassed by deviating a few metres off the trail. Additionally, you might want to take some gumboots with you, and if the weather seems to be playing games, take a raincoat.
- See also: Arid region safety
Water is a must to take, regardless if you're in the Daintree Rainforest, the remote Outback or the mountains of the Australian Alps. Take plenty of it, especially when bushwalking in the Outback where you are much more likely to need water – about four litres minimum. It is important to remember that in Australia, you could be at least 200 kilometres from the nearest point of civilization, and help isn't always at hand. If you have not hiked before, it is advisable to avoid bushwalking in remote areas. Attempt some of the easier bushwalks or hikes first before trying the harder ones.
For many first timers to Australia, it may be hard to conceptualise that what looks very small on a map has vast open areas that are very far, even more so than places like the Nordic countries, Central Asia or the United States. However, these images should give you a rough idea on how desolate some of these places can be.