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10 Top-Rated Hikes in Australia

Mar 16, 2016

Walking through Australia's vast wilderness is a ritual woven into the rich fabric of the nation's past. Thousands of years ago, the country's first inhabitants went "walkabout," a spiritual journey on foot that traced the ancient tracks or "songlines" of their ancestors. Today, you can follow in their footsteps. Top hikes in Australia range from independent half-day jaunts through bird-rich bushland and along beaches lapped by sapphire seas to guided multi-day treks through the country's red hot heart, where rugged gorges and red-hued deserts challenge even hard-core hikers. You can slice up the longer hikes, called the "Great Walks of Australia," into smaller segments depending on your free time and fitness level. Many of Australia's top hikes weave through World Heritage-listed wilderness areas, where you can see some of the country's quirky wildlife - from wallabies and wombats to dingoes, kangaroos, and echidnas. Budding mountaineers can even summit Australia's highest peak in less than a day. Wherever your walkabout takes you in this wild and sun-soaked land, the spectacular scenery will stir your soul just as it did for the aboriginal people thousands of years ago.

1 Kings Canyon Rim Walk, Northern Territory

Kings Canyon Rim Walk, Northern Territory
Kings Canyon Rim Walk, Northern Territory
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One of the country's most famous day hikes, the six-kilometer Kings Canyon Rim Walk, in Watarrka National Park, skirts the lip of a spectacular 150-meter-deep canyon in Australia's Red Centre. Due to the scorching heat, it's best to begin this three to four-hour walk before dawn. The rising sun paints the landscape in rich hues of rose gold, and this is also the best time to see wildlife, including kangaroos, zebra finches, and white-plumed honeyeaters. The first part of the hike requires climbing 500 steps to the rim of the canyon, but it's worth it for the spectacular views. Once at the top, follow the u-shaped trail around the sandstone cliffs and peer below into a wonderland of weathered dome-shaped rock formations; ancient cycads; and the Garden of Eden, an unlikely oasis with lush vegetation and a perennial waterhole. After winter rains, cascades tumble down the rock faces here. The Kings Canyon Rim Walk requires an average to high fitness level and is a one-way loop, so you won't encounter hikers coming in the opposite direction. If possible, avoid hiking in the extreme temperatures from September through May. Take plenty of water, sunscreen, and insect protection. King's Canyon Resort lies about seven kilometers from here with accommodation ranging from campsites to plush rooms. Hikers seeking a more gentle walk in the canyon can try the easy 2.6-kilometer Kings Canyon Creek walk.

2 Mount Gower, Lord Howe Island, New South Wales

Mount Gower, Lord Howe Island, New South Wales
Mount Gower, Lord Howe Island, New South Wales
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Climbing 875-meter-high Mount Gower on World-Heritage-listed Lord Howe Island off the New South Wales north coast is considered one of the world's top day walks. This 14-kilometer round trip hike ascends to the mist forests at the mountain's summit. Along the way, you can explore the botanical and wildlife wonders of this pristine island, where visitor numbers are limited to protect the natural environment. As you climb this lush peak on the island's southern end, fern-filled forests, rare orchids, and moss-cloaked trees imbue the landscapes with a storybook feel. Along the way, you can gape at views of neighboring Mt. Lidgbird; Balls Pyramid, the world's largest sea stack at 565-meters; the lagoon; and the island's northern settlement. Reaching the summit on this moderate to difficult hike takes about five hours, and the descent takes about four hours, with ledge crossings and rope sections to negotiate along the way. From March through September, the surprisingly fearless providence petrel appears on cue at the summit for close-up viewing. Guided walks are highly recommended and provide insight into the island's unique ecology and natural history.

3 Cape to Cape Track, Margaret River, Western Australia

Cape Leeuwin
Cape Leeuwin
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In the southwestern corner of Western Australia, 260 kilometers south of Perth, this rewarding multi-day hike meanders for 135 kilometers along coastal cliffs, surf beaches, and forests of giant karri trees. Named for its route between the lighthouses of Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin, along the Margaret River coast, the entire walk lies within a national park and takes between five to seven days, but you can choose easier sections for half-day or day walks. Highlights include coastal rock formations such as jagged Sugarloaf Rock jutting from the sea, cool cascades, clean sun-drenched beaches, and sea cliffs with views across the pounding surf. Between June and December, keep an eye out for whales. One of the most scenic sections of the hike skirts the cliff-tops above Contos Beach where wildflowers flourish in the spring and kangaroos often take cover under shady scrub. Another section crosses the mouth of the Margaret River as it flows to the sea. Campsites lie along the route, as well as a range of more comfortable accommodation, making this a great choice for walking enthusiasts who prefer not to rough it after a long day of walking. Tour companies also run guided walks along this route.

4 Great Ocean Walk, Victoria

Great Ocean Walk, Victoria
Great Ocean Walk, Victoria
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The Great Ocean Road, along Victoria's Shipwreck Coast, is one of Australia's most famous scenic drives, but you can also enjoy the breathtaking scenery on foot. Carving along one of the country's most spectacular stretches of coastline, this multi-day one-way hike stretches for 104 kilometers from the town of Apollo Bay through Port Campbell and Great Otway National Parks and takes up to eight days. This epic trek evokes sheer awe in the power of Mother Nature. Perhaps the most famous stretch is from Princetown to Glenample. Here, a clifftop path perches over the famous Twelve Apostles, the towering coastal rock formations sculpted by the howling winds and thrashing surf. Standing above the treacherous ocean, you can actually imagine how the forces of nature gouged this scalloped coast over millennia. Other highlights include skirting some of the country's highest sea cliffs, wandering through wildlife-rich wetlands and casuarina forests, and descending to windswept beaches where the rusted anchors of old shipwrecks lie. From June through September, look for whales in the wind-whipped sea. Most of the trek is classified easy to medium, although the Wreck Beach Walk section is more challenging. Accommodation along the way ranges from campsites to ecolodges and posh hotels, and tour operators offer guided walks.

5 Larapinta Trail, Northern Territory

Ormiston Gorge
Ormiston Gorge
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A quintessential Aussie Outback adventure, the remote Larapinta Trail in the Northern Territory follows in the footsteps of the country's first inhabitants across ancient desert landscapes and the rugged spine of the West MacDonnell Ranges. The entire 223-kilometer track takes up to 14 days and is best tackled by experienced hikers, but you can choose a combination of the 12 separate sections depending upon your time constraints and ability. The track starts at the old Alice Springs Telegraph Station and weaves west to the dramatic beauty of Simpson's Gap, Ormiston Gorge, and Stanley Chasm. It culminates with a steep climb up Mount Sonder, the highest point of the trail, with 360-degree views over the magnificent desert landscapes. Sleeping under the star-studded desert skies in a bushman's swag is part of the adventure here, or you can pitch a tent at one of the wilderness camps. Guided group tours are recommended for this hike due to the harsh climate and its rugged and remote location in Australia's Red Centre.

6 Fraser Island Great Walk, Queensland

Lake Wabby
Lake Wabby
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Tracing the footsteps of the native Butchulla people on World Heritage-listed Fraser Island this 90-kilometer walk takes in the top tourist attractions of the planet's largest sand island. The trail threads along old logging routes between Dilli Village and Happy Valley through subtropical rainforest and mangroves, and along the shores of windswept beaches. Highlights include strolling along the rainforest boardwalk bordering the crystal clear waters of Wanggoolba Creek, swimming in the striking blue waters of Lake McKenzie, and gazing up at the towering sand dune engulfing Lake Wabby. At Central Station, stop by the exhibits to brush up on the history and ecology of the island, and while you're walking, look out for dingoes, Australia's wild dog. This relatively easy walk takes about six to eight days to complete, and you can concentrate on smaller segments if you're short on time. Basic walkers' camps lie along route, as well as a couple of private guesthouses and the comfortable Kingfisher Bay Resort.

7 Blue Gum Forest, Blue Mountains, New South Wales

Blue Gum Forest, Blue Mountains, New South Wales
Blue Gum Forest, Blue Mountains, New South Wales JoAnne Sparks / photo modified
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About 115 kilometers from Sydney's city center in the World-Heritage-listed Blue Mountains National Park, the steep hike to the Blue Gum Forest has become a kind of spiritual pilgrimage for Aussie bushwalkers. This beautiful 16-hectare forest was saved from destruction in the early 1930s by passionate bushwalkers who pooled funds to buy the land. Today, it graces the list of popular hikes in this magnificent wilderness area. You can access the forest on various routes, but one of the most popular is the five-kilometer roundtrip track from Perry's Lookdown. The hike takes about four hours round trip. Before descending into the Grose Valley, take a moment to enjoy the breathtaking views from the lookout where eucalyptus forests stretch as far as the eye can see. The hike is a sensory feast. Cockatoos screech across the valley, water splashes over slick rocks in a cool creek, bark crunches underfoot, and the fresh earthy smell of the bush invades your senses. Those who wish to stay overnight can pitch a tent at the Acacia Flat campground nearby. You can also hike to the Blue Gum Forest from the famous Govetts Leap lookout.

8 Wineglass Bay Circuit, Tasmania

Wineglass Bay Circuit, Tasmania
Wineglass Bay Circuit, Tasmania
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Named for its voluptuous curves, Wineglass Bay in Freycinet National Park on the east coast of Tasmania is a ravishing half-moon slice of white sand and sapphire sea. It's often voted among the world's top 10 beaches. Tasmania's Oyster Bay tribe once walked these lands, and now hikers can travel the same ancient routes. The 12-kilometer Wineglass Bay Circuit walk offers picture-perfect views of this sparkling cove backed by the pink-tinged granite peaks of the Hazards. The walk rises steeply to the Wineglass Bay lookout, where you can ogle views of the beautiful bay. From here, the track threads through the Hazards and descends to the beach itself. Linger here to soak up the raw beauty. Another track leads across the isthmus to boulder-strewn Hazard's Beach. Along the way, keep a lookout for some of the quirky wildlife that makes it home here, including wombats, wallabies, and the eastern quoll. The walk is easy after the steep climb to the lookout. The summer months of December through April is the prime time to tackle this hike, when the days are longer and the weather is warmer. This hike is one of Tasmania's Great Short Walks and forms part of the 30-kilometer Freycinet Peninsula Circuit. Accommodation ranges from rustic campsites to luxury ecolodges.

9 Kosciuszko Walk, New South Wales

Kosciuszko Walk, New South Wales
Kosciuszko Walk, New South Wales
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On the Kosciuszko walk, you can enjoy a round trip hike to the 2,228-meter summit of Mount Kosciuszko, Australia's highest peak, in less than five hours, thanks to Thredbo's Kosciuszko Express chairlift. From June through October, this well-maintained and clearly-marked track is usually covered in snow, so the 14-kilometer loop is best attempted in summer. From the chairlift, the track ascends past the rugged granite outcrops of the Rams Head Range through wildflower-flecked heathlands and past Lake Cootapatamba, which was gouged by glaciers. Pause at the lookout to admire spectacular views of Australia's alpine country. You'll also cross over the humble headwaters of the Snowy River from the famous bush ballad, The Man from Snowy River, by Banjo Paterson, the legendary Aussie bard. This is a great moderate walk for budding mountaineers (and even older children) who want to summit a country's highest mountain but are not quite ready for an expedition to Everest. You can easily tackle the walk independently. Make sure you dress in layers and take plenty of water.

10 Flinders Chase Coastal Trek, Kangaroo Island, South Australia

Flinders Chase Coastal Trek, Kangaroo Island, South Australia
Flinders Chase Coastal Trek, Kangaroo Island, South Australia
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Drenched in rugged, windswept beauty, the Flinders Chase Coastal Trek skirts limestone cliffs overlooking the wild sea on the west coast of Kangaroo Island in South Australia. This one-way 19-kilometer hike runs between Ravine des Casoars and West Bay and is packed with opportunities to spot iconic Aussie wildlife. Kangaroos, koalas, goannas, echidnas, and wallabies are some of the creatures that inhabit the coastal bushland. Look out to sea and you can sometimes spot whales, seals, and ospreys. Besides the wildlife, other highlights include the jagged wind and sea-sculpted limestone stalagmites rising from the headland. Campsites lie along the route. Good footwear is essential for this hike due to the sharp limestone shoreline, and fall and spring are the prime times, when temperatures are milder.

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