Australia’s Best Bushwalks

Writer Denise Cullen | May 15, 2019

Clambering over mossy tree roots, hiking up granite slopes and breathing in the heady scent of eucalyptus trees atop the base note of damp earth. It’s something Australia’s indigenous people have known for thousands of years – to walk the land is to know it. Whether on the coast, or in the outback, or in the heart of the rainforest, putting one foot in front of the other allows you to connect with the terrain in an intimate way that bus or self-drive tours simply can’t match.

For long-distance walkers, Australia’s diverse scenery offers ready distraction from aching legs and feet. Explore windswept stretches of sand, snow-capped mountain peaks, red desert rock and much more. Beyond breathtaking scenery, there are other benefits associated with ‘boots and all’ adventures. Hiking – or bushwalking as it is called in Australia – improves blood pressure, increases bone density, builds strength and enhances balance. It also satisfies curiosity, offers a taste of adventure and boosts mood. How come? The biophilia hypothesis suggests that humans have an instinctive need to connect with nature and other forms of life.

No single walk will suit every person who yearns to explore this country’s intriguing landscape. After all, one person’s amble may be the next person’s odyssey. But consultation with bushwalking enthusiasts has identified some of the country’s most popular walks, ones that can inspire newcomers and more experienced walkers alike, and encourage each to test their mettle.

GOLD COAST HINTERLAND, QUEENSLAND

Growing up near Queensland’s iconic Surfers Paradise, I was a beach lover from the get-go. More recently, however, the lush inland hinterland has claimed my heart. The Gold Coast Hinterland Great Walk meanders for 54 kilometres from the rim of the extinct Tweed Volcano, through species-rich rainforests, steep escarpments and picturesque valleys. This area forms an important part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia, World Heritage Area, which contains more frog, snake, bird and marsupial species than anywhere else in Australia. It is also a home to many rare and threatened plants and animals.

Within this area, one of my favourite walks is the 12km Daves Creek Circuit, where you’ll spot kaleidoscopes of butterflies, drifts of wildflowers and perhaps even lyrebirds and pademelons. Daves Creek Circuit is botanically diverse, featuring rainforest, eucalypt forest and open heathlands. Although rainfall and altitude are similar, soils that originate from different types of volcanic lava account  for the dramatic changes in vegetation.

Couple on the Bibbulmun Track at Sand Patch Credit: Tourism Western Australia

MANLY SCENIC WALKWAY, NEW SOUTH WALES

The busy metropolis of Sydney is built around a breathtakingly beautiful harbour and the 10km Manly Scenic Walkway showcases the very best of it. Also known as the Manly to Spit Bridge Coastal Walk, this well-signposted trail weaves through coastal bushland, and past the city’s northernmost beaches and bays. From Circular Quay in the heart of the city, take the iconic ferry to the beachside suburb of Manly, which is frequently described as “seven miles from Sydney and a thousand miles from care”.

From here, wend your merry way south, stopping for a dip at the family friendly Reef, Forty Baskets or Fairlight beaches. Keep your eyes peeled for indigenous rock carvings, featuring fish, boomerangs and a kangaroo near Castle Rock Beach. Visitors are urged to look, but not touch, to preserve the artworks for future generations. Be sure to leave enough time for a detour to explore the historic Grotto Point Lighthouse. The end point of this walk is the Spit Bridge and some upmarket restaurants nearby such as Ormeggio and Orso, which capitalise on the area’s sparkling waters and seafront surrounds.

GREAT OCEAN WALK, VICTORIA

The Great Ocean Walk snakes along a 110km stretch of the Victorian coastline, starting at Apollo Bay and finishing adjacent to the Twelve Apostles, a stunning collection of limestone stacks located offshore. The trek can be completed in its entirety (allow eight days) but more cautious types might prefer to attempt sections of it instead. The walk features a ‘mild side’ and a ‘wild side’, in that there is a noticeable difference between the eastern, gentler half of the walk, and the western side, which encompasses more remote beaches and bays.

Traversing some of the highest cliffs in mainland Australia, the walk features lofty stands of mountain ash, the world’s tallest flowering tree, and offers opportunities to spot native wildlife including kangaroos, koalas, eagles and owls. Even those who seek a relatively undemanding experience are catered for on the Great Ocean Walk, which includes short walks to lighthouses and lookouts achievable within an hour or two.

KANGAROO ISLAND, SOUTH AUSTRALIA

Taking five days and around 60 kilometres, the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail is no doddle. But you will be rewarded with dramatic and ever-changing scenery – dense and fragrant eucalypt forests, long stretches of bone-white beach, and towering cliffs of limestone and coagulated magma. With Kangaroo Island widely considered Australia’s Galapagos, there are also ample opportunities along the way to spot animals, including platypus, dolphins, fur seals and sea lions.

As challenging as it is physically, the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail is also nurturing. There is no better spot for contemplating one’s place in the universe than when standing overlooking the vast rolling blue of the Southern Ocean, beyond which lies Antarctica. Celebrate your hard work with a stay at the Southern Ocean Lodge which offers panoramic views above the pounding surf – and if the trek has left you footsore, treat yourself to Baudin’s Foot Therapy at the in-house Southern Spa. There is nothing quite like a eucalyptus foot soak, mineral salt scrub and pepperberry and peat pedimask, to have you feeling like you’re walking on clouds again.

THE BIBBULMUN TRACK, WESTERN AUSTRALIA

Stretching a languorous 1,000km from Perth to Albany, The Bibbulmun Track covers a lot of ground. The good news is that this long-distance trail can also be broken into bite-sized pieces – each with its own distinct flavour. The four-day Walpole to Peaceful Bay stretch, for instance, offers glimpses of dense Karri forest adjacent to the sea, while in the aptly named Valley of the Giants, walkers can spot tingles, a rare species of eucalypt unique to this area, and the ornamental red-flowering gum. The Donnelly River Village to Pemberton is rich in forest railway history, as well as campsites, swimming holes and a cascading waterfall. On the final leg, which is sprawled alongside the Southern Ocean, dolphins and whales can be spotted offshore, depending on the season.