A walking holiday is one of the best ways to get fit while seeing some of Australia’s stunning countryside. With beautiful beaches, pristine national parks and stunning outback country, it’s possible to enjoy a walking holiday in every state of Australia. Hiking the great walks of Australia is fast becoming a popular holiday activity.
- Why go hiking in Australia?
- 16 Great Walks of Australia
- 1- Maria Island Walk, Tasmania
- 2- The Jatbula Trail, Northern Territory
- 3- The Great Ocean Walk, Victoria
- 4- Hinchinbrook Island, Queensland
- 5- Lord Howe Island, New South Wales
- 6- The Simpson Desert, Central Australia
- 7- Kosciuszko National Park, NSW
- 8- Heyson Trail, SA
- 9- Larapinta Trail, NT
- 10- Overland Track, Tasmania
- 11- Cape to Cape Track, WA
- 12- Fraser Island Great Walk, QLD
- 13- Gold Coast Hinterland Walk, QLD
- 14- Freycinet Peninsula Circuit, Tasmania
- 15- Six Foot Track, Blue Mountains, NSW
- 16- Australia Alps (Vic, NSW and ACT)
- Safe walking tips
- Hiking packing list
Why go hiking in Australia?
Hiking is a great way to see the world. It’s low-impact and simple – all you really need are your legs and a pair of good shoes or hiking boots.
Do it in nature and it fills your lungs with fresh air, relaxes your body and refreshes your spirit. Walk with friends and it’s social, a conversation on the move.
Go alone and it’s a moving meditation.
Hiking is portable and economical – you can walk just about anywhere, and much of the time it’s free.
Then there’s the sense of achievement you feel when you get somewhere under your own steam.
Sure, it takes a bit more effort to put one foot in front of the other for a few hours or days than to recline on a poolside lounge, cocktail in one hand, a good book in the other.
But that’s the point.
The effort makes the rewards more, er, rewarding: coastlines you’ll never see from Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, mountain views you won’t glimpse by driving through alpine national parks, tropical World Heritage rainforests accessible only by foot, outback landscapes that have been walked barefoot for thousands of years.
It’s all there for you, and your feet, to discover.
Walk this way and be inspired by these great walks of Australia.
16 Great Walks of Australia
1- Maria Island Walk, Tasmania
Close encounters with wildlife – sea lions on the beach, penguins in rocky crevices, wombats in the long grass, Cape Barren Geese promenading like women in grey bustle skirts – are everyday events on Tasmania’s award-winning Maria Island Walk.
Much of this four-day trip is beachcombing: walking, stopping and stooping to look at something of interest on the sand, like a shark egg casing, a pretty pink razor shell, an endangered hooded plover’s egg or strings of kelp baubles like Christmas lights.
The rest is like this: a wander through forests of tall blackwood and peppermint gums, a climb to the top of the 709-metre Mt Maria for views to rival those of Wineglass Bay back on the Tasmanian mainland, visits to Aboriginal middens.
It’s also a journey back in time.
The island has played host to French explorers, two convict eras, sheep and cattle farmers, Chinese abalone divers, whalers and sealers, even winemakers and a cement works before it finally became a national park in 1972.
As if all that wasn’t enough, each night you wine and dine at candlelit outdoor tables on everything from King Island cheeses to roasted quail, Roaring Forties chardonnays, fresh scallops, even summer berry puddings – before retiring to comfortable canvas tents in secluded bush campsites.
This gourmet guided walk is a genuine crowd pleaser – without the crowds.
2- The Jatbula Trail, Northern Territory
Five days of wilderness hiking in the Top End with a full pack (not a daypack) might not sound like your cup of billy tea, but this is one of Australia’s best walks for a reason.
The terrain is mostly level, which makes the walking easier than it otherwise would be, and you’re trekking in the footsteps of the Jawoyn people who have inhabited this country for thousands of years.
One of the highlights of this walk, in fact, is learning about bush tucker and visiting remote rock art sites along the way, including the Amphitheatre, a pocket of monsoon rainforest two days walk from Katherine Gorge (aka Nitmiluk, where the walk begins, three hours south of Darwin) and one of the best Aboriginal art sites in the Territory.
What makes the Jatbula Trail unique is that every day ends with a swim because every campsite is situated beside a natural waterfall or swimming hole, where the water is fresh enough to drink.
Walking season is also the Dry Season when it never rains, so there’s no need to carry tents.
Your “accommodation” is simply a mosquito net, through which you can star-gaze every night from the comfort of your sleeping bag and the stars really are something out here, so far from any city lights.
3- The Great Ocean Walk, Victoria
At first glance, the west coast of Victoria might not seem terribly inviting for a walking trip.
But what it lacks in stable weather, it more than makes up for in wildness and, since 2006, a trail that traces one of the most dramatic coastlines in Australia.
If you thought the Great Ocean Road was a coast-hugger, lace up your walking shoes and take a hike along this 91-kilometre track, which meanders from Apollo Bay, three hours south-west of Melbourne, to the Twelve Apostles (a jaw-dropping Australian landmark).
Along the way, you’ll pass wild beaches and quiet coves, visit remote lighthouses, climb coastal staircases, hurry across tidal rock ledges (between breaking waves) and see more stunning scenery than you can poke a trekking pole at.
One of the best things about the Great Ocean Walk is that you can walk as much or as little of it as you like.
How to do the Great Ocean Walk
- There are short walks ranging from 20 minutes to five hours
- string a few day treks together (between September and May) and stay each night at a purpose-built eco-lodge owned and used by walking operator bothfeet
- tackle the entire six-day walk, from east to west.
4- Hinchinbrook Island, Queensland
Hinchinbrook Island, which nestles against the Queensland coast halfway between Townsville and Cairns like a dugong calf to its mother, is a special place.
More than 30 kilometres end-to-end, uninhabited (the eco-lodge at the northern end of the island closed after it was hit by Cyclone Yasi in 2011) and boasting undisturbed valleys lorded over by 1000-metre peaks that’d look more at home in Tasmania than far north Queensland, it’s also Australia’s largest island national park and protected within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.
So it makes sense to experience it on foot, via the four-day, 32-kilometre Thorsborne Trail, named after conservationist couple Arthur and Margaret Thorsborne who explored the island in the 1960s and ‘70s.
The trail leads from one end of the island to the other and you can do the hike in either direction.
There are few places in the world where such pristine wilderness exists so close to civilisation.
5- Lord Howe Island, New South Wales
When Lord Howe Island’s highest peak, the 875-metre Mt Gower, was first climbed, by a group of visiting botanists and two locals in 1869, it took them two days to cut the track.
More recently, in 1932, climbing Gower was said to be “almost impossible without a great deal of trouble … [and] camping out for several nights”.
Now it can be accomplished in a single, eight-hour day – with a guide.
Once open to independent walkers, Australia’s best, and most challenging, day walk is now accessible only with a licensed guide because much of the track is overgrown and unmarked, but that doesn’t make it any less of an adventure.
Following goat-tracks along rocky ledges high above the sea, you’ll have to grab a helmet (supplied en route) before hauling yourself up near-vertical rock faces using permanently rigged ropes (which also help on the return journey).
You’ll be rewarded for your efforts of course, with peaceful palm jungles, wild waterfalls and, on the 27-hectare summit plateau, Tolkienesque cloud forests where 30,000 Providence Petrels nest in burrows every winter.
The views of the island’s tranquil lagoons and beaches are heavenly too and, on a clear day, you’ll see the jagged 500-metre spire of Balls Pyramid rising out of the Pacific, 26 kilometres away.
6- The Simpson Desert, Central Australia
Following in the footsteps of the Afghan cameleers, some of Australia’s greatest inland explorers and, more recently, Robyn Davidson (author of Tracks), camel-supported treks through the Outback offer a rare opportunity to leave the well-beaten 4WD tracks for a real desert adventure.
“Inland Australia is, on the whole, emptier now than it has been since human occupation,” says Outback Camel Company owner Andrew Harper, who was head cameleer during the making of the movie version of Tracks in 2012.
He runs “short” treks of a week or two, with locations varying each season (April-September), but the real deal in terms of desert exploration is the challenging 21-day Great Southern Simpson Desert Expedition.
Called Australia’s “horizontal Mount Everest”, it involves walking at least 400km, but the expedition ends at the iconic Birdsville Hotel in western Queensland, making it possibly the world’s only cross-desert trek that ends at a pub!
Add the chance to sleep in swags, walk with up to 22 camels, gaze into campfires and tune in to the desert silence, and this is a unique, and quintessentially, Australian walking experience.
7- Kosciuszko National Park, NSW
The hike to the highest point on the Australian mainland, the 2228-metre Mt Kosciuszko, is a classic – it even starts with a chairlift ride, from Thredbo at 1365m to Eagles Nest at 1945m.
Take it up a notch by leaving Thredbo in the late afternoon to take in the high-country views over the Victorian Alps at sunset before walking back down to Thredbo by the light of the full moon (Thredbo Alpine Village runs guided full-moon walks between December and March).
Or pack a tent and head off on a 20km overnight hike along the iconic Main Range Trail from Charlotte Pass to Thredbo via Mt Kosciuszko.
You’ll cross the headwaters of the iconic Snowy River and see snowgums, wildflowers, historic alpine huts and the only glacial lakes in Australia.
The highlight is seeing a sunset and a sunrise (if the alpine weather gods are smiling on you) and, in between, camping out at the top of Australia, long after the day-trippers have caught the last chairlift back down the mountain to their lodges.
8- Heyson Trail, SA
Walking the 1200km Heysen Trail is one way to experience South Australia’s diverse landscapes.
From Cape Jervis to Parachilna Gorge in the North Flinders Ranges (500km north of Adelaide), the trail follows tracks and roads through coastal areas, bushland, rugged gorges, forests, vineyards, farms and historic towns.
Highlights include the Barossa Valley and Wilpena Pound, which is one of the most stunning Australian landmarks most people have never heard of.
The southern section – from Cape Jervis to Spalding – offers ideal walking conditions for beginners while the northern section – from Spalding to Parachilna Gorge – is challenging for experienced walkers.
9- Larapinta Trail, NT
Stretching along the backbone of the West MacDonnell Ranges, the 223km Larapinta Trail is a walk through the heart of Central Australia with jaw-dropping scenery of gaps, gorges and chasms.
Climb Mt Sonder (1380m) for wonderful views of the West MacDonnell Range. You can do the whole track or choose shorter one or two-day walks, as many sections of the trail are accessible by 4WD.
Camping in the outback is an experience to remember. This is hiking Australia at its best.
10- Overland Track, Tasmania
Tasmania’s Overland Track is a six-day walk through the heart of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. It connects Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair.
There are plenty of sidetracks that reveal picturesque waterfalls, dolerite mountains, lakes and diverse ecosystems along the way.
Bushwalker’s huts, rainwater tanks, camping platforms and bushwalker’s toilets are located at each of the five overnight stops on the track.
If you had to choose only one of these great walk in Tasmania, this iconic experience in Tasmania is the one to put at the top of your list.
11- Cape to Cape Track, WA
From soaring Karri forests to windswept limestone cliffs and pristine beaches, the Cape to Cape Track offers picture-perfect scenery.
The seven-day route from Cape Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin stretches 135km along Australia’s Southwest coast and offers views of coastal heath, ancient dunes and granite cliff lines.
In spring, the hillsides are covered in wildflowers; blankets of purple scaevola and pink pimelia make this walk a highlight.
12- Fraser Island Great Walk, QLD
The 90km route around the world’s largest sand island is an adventure for all the family.
Following old logging roads and tramlines and the pathways of the island’s original inhabitants, the Butchulla people, the track passes crystal-clear lakes, sand dunes and towering rainforests.
The island’s freshwater lakes and creeks are a sanctuary for birds such as brahminy kites, pied oystercatchers and white-bellied sea-eagles.
There’s also the opportunity to spot sugar gliders, brush-tail possums and flying-foxes at night.
Fraser Island is a Queensland gem and a World Heritage site that should be on your bucket list.
13- Gold Coast Hinterland Walk, QLD
The lush 54km Gold Coast Hinterland Great Walk traverses the ancient landscape of the Gondwana Rainforests.
It’s a magical walk that links World Heritage-listed Lamington and Springbrook National Parks.
Highlights of the picture-book trail include walking along the rim of an ancient volcano and through the lush rainforest past babbling brooks and waterfalls where you can spot platypus, bandicoots, wallabies, pademelon and pygmy possums.
This is a lush and lovely walk in a beautiful area of Queensland.
14- Freycinet Peninsula Circuit, Tasmania
The 30km Freycinet Peninsula Circuit travels from Hazard Mountains to Wineglass Bay and takes around two days to complete.
But there are plenty of shorter sections within Freycinet National Park that are part of this circuit.
It’s a beautiful hike and perhaps one of the best in Tasmania, Australia’s island state.
15- Six Foot Track, Blue Mountains, NSW
The 42km Six Foot Track follows the route of the original 1884 horse track that was carved through rock and bush, between Katoomba and Jenolan Caves.
Walkers cross mountain ranges, rainforests, eucalypt forests and open grazing country.
There are spectacular natural features such as caves, sheer sandstone cliffs, waterfalls and forested valleys.
The entire walk takes about three days. Several tour operators run guided trips on this track.
16- Australia Alps (Vic, NSW and ACT)
The 650km Australian Alps Walking Track winds through the high country of Victoria, NSW and ACT.
Ten weeks of walking through rugged remote alpine country is not for the faint-hearted and anyone attempting the entire walk needs to be experienced, self-reliant and have good navigation skills.
But you can still enjoy the scenery from the Man From Snowy River country by walking shorter sections on the Baw Baw Plateau, Bogong High Plains and in the Jagungal Wilderness Area.
Safe walking tips
- Choose a walk that is suitable to your experience and fitness.
- Leave details of your trip with a family member or friend to alert authorities if you fail to return as planned.
- Pack clothing and equipment to suit changeable weather and track conditions.
- Always carry a tent on overnight walks.
Hiking packing list
Your equipment list should include:
- a good quality tent
- warm sleeping bag
- waterproof clothing
- warm clothing in layers
- sturdy boots
- woollen socks
- warm hat
- sun hat
- first aid kit
- lightweight, nutritious food.
Alternatively, there any many companies that organise guided luxury walking holidays where the equipment and food are included.
Practice minimal impact walking techniques by leaving only footprints.