Australia: Top 6 hikes

With its dramatic scenery, wildly varying landscapes and natural penchant for the outdoors, Australia offers superb hiking trails. We've picked six of the best.

By David Whitley
Published 6 Apr 2017, 09:00 BST, Updated 20 Jul 2021, 15:51 BST
Large orange tipped Rocks on the oceans coastline, "the remarkables, Kangaroo Island, Australia

Large orange tipped Rocks on the oceans coastline, "the remarkables, Kangaroo Island, Australia

Photograph by Getty Images

The Arkaba Walk
Where? The Flinders Ranges, South Australia.
Distance: Up to 28 miles, spread over four days.
Difficulty: Moderate to challenging.
The Flinders Ranges isn't exactly short on great walking opportunities — especially in and around the striking natural amphitheatre of Wilpena Pound. But the Arkaba Walk puts a twist on things by throwing in luxury touches — fully cooked meals, swag camping (as close to a hotel room as it gets) and hot water showers heated up over fires. Aside from this, it's the variety of habitats that really makes the walk special. The Flinders Ranges is famed for rugged outback starkness, but after the red rock ascents, there are also creeks lined with majestic river red gums, bird-watching hotspots and rolling sheep paddock hills where kangaroos regularly make an appearance. It's an immersive experience in a rich landscape.
More information: The four-day package, including all meals and two-way transfers from Adelaide, costs A$2,400 (£1,450).

The Jatbula Trail
Where? Nitmiluk National Park, Northern Territory.
Distance: Just under 40 miles, covered over five days.
Difficulty: Medium to hard — expect plenty of rough surfaces and several creek crossings.
Heading from the National Park Visitor Centre to Edith Falls, the route passes beneath sandstone escarpments, via a series of pools and waterfalls. Basic campsites dotted along the route all have their own water source. There are a few climbs (though none too brutal), some wide open space, shady monsoon forests and indigenous rock art sites along the way. And it's these glimpses of ancient heritage that bring to mind the cultural aspect of this hike. The Jatbula Trail has been walked for tens of thousands of years. It is an ancient Song Line followed by the Jawoyn people who have long inhabited the area.

The Murray River Walk
Where? Riverland, Ramsar Wetlands, South Australia.
Distance: 25 miles on foot, with a bit extra done as a cruise.
Difficulty: Easy to moderate, with only a couple of steep sections, spread over four days.
Not all great walks have to be hard going, and the Murray River Walk is made much more laid-back by mixing things up a bit. The four-day package involves staying on a cosy houseboat overnight, with a bit of cruising before the day's hiking commences. Enjoy a three-course feast, with locally sourced ingredients and wines, each evening. Guides with canoes take charge when the river needs crossing. The walk itself includes cliffs, forests of red gum trees and plenty of kangaroo and emu sightings. The wetlands and birdlife play a big part too.
More information: The package costs A$2,300 (£1,400) per person.

Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail
Where? Kangaroo Island, South Australia.
Distance: 38 miles, usually tackled over five days, although sections can be done as extended day walks.
Difficulty: Bushwalking experience is strongly advised; but the challenge is more in distance covered than difficulty of terrain.
From the Flinders Chase Visitor Centre to the Kelly Hill Caves, this multi-day hike includes plenty of wildlife. The Platypus Pools near the start of the walk showcase one of Australia's weirdest and most elusive creatures. Later come the dolphins, the birds of prey and the sea lions. But for most of the journey, it's about being alone with the crashing Southern Ocean, as it smashes into clifftops and laps up on stunning sandy beaches.
More information: Bookings, either as an independent walker or through a tour operator, are essential in order to limit numbers and manage the campsites along the way.

The Tabletop Track
Where? Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory.
Distance: 24 miles, tackled over three to five days.
Difficulty: The bulk of the route falls under the Grade 4 (difficult) rating, suitable for those with bushwalking experience carrying their own gear.
The Tabletop Track pulls together a lot of what the Top End has to offer, scenery-wise. It has rugged rock formations, ancient forests and waterfalls that veer between elegant and ferocious depending on the season. It also packs in many of the Litchfield National Park's highlights, including the graceful twin Florence Falls (and the highly seductive swimming hole beneath them), plus the giant termite mounds that add more than a touch of weirdness to the landscape. This is one for the happily self-reliant — there are some scrambly, squelchy stretches on barely-there paths, while the campgrounds are rudimentary. But it's a circular route, meaning the hassle factor of arranging transport from one end to the other doesn't come into play.

The Larapinta Trail
Where? The Red Centre, starting in Alice Springs, Northern Territory.
Distance: 139 miles, split into 12 sections.
Difficulty: Hard, partly due to sheer distance, but there are significant climbs in there too. However, walks can vary from a single to several days.
The Larapinta Trail, it's fair to say, is the big one. Heading across Central Australia's rumpled MacDonnell Ranges, there are some long daily stints of up to 17.7 miles. But the splendid sights — the mountains, gorges and dry river beds — make it all worth it. Highlights include Standley Chasm, where a thin corridor threads through the red rock, and the creek bed is lined by ghostly gum trees and cycads. Of the many gorges, the Ormiston Gorge is arguably the prettiest, and plenty of wildlife hangs out in the Ormiston Pound, which the gorge wraps around. As the distance and remoteness of this trail would indicate, a strong degree of self-sufficiency is needed to take it on. There are basic campsites at the end of each section, but you're going to have to carry your own kit and supplies. That, of course, is half the appeal of this most rewarding of outback adventures.

Follow @mrdavidwhitley

Published in the Australia 2017 guide, distributed with the May 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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