Three weeks ago, I boarded a plane with my husband, way too many bags, and a one-way ticket to Australia. Living abroad has always been a goal of ours, so when a job opportunity arose, offering 2-plus years to live in Melbourne, we jumped at the chance.
I have to admit that the one thing we were worried about was the country’s lack of mountains. We moved from Washington, where you could see a mountain range from almost any direction you looked. But we’re learning that what Australia lacks in mountains, it makes up for in serpentining coastline and spectacular outback.
There are more than 500 national parks here covering 28 million hectares. That should definitely keep us busy exploring for the next 2 to 3 years.
1. Border Ranges National Park
Border Ranges National Park is located in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales. This protected area is known for its Australia World Heritage-listed rainforest.
Throughout the park there are a number of well maintained walking paths with varying distances and grades. Brindle Creek, a 6 kilometer one-way path, is one that shouldn’t be missed. Along the trail you’ll find picnic spots, waterfalls, and places to cool down and go for a swim. This region also has the highest concentration of marsupial, bird, snake and frog species in Australia, so you’re bound to come across some unique wildlife.
2. Royal National Park
Just one hour north of Sydney, Royal National Park was one of Australia’s first areas of land set aside for conservation. The environment consists of expansive ocean, sandstone cliffs, and grassy woodland. If you have a few days to explore this region, the Coast track is an epic multi-day walk between Bundeena and Otford. Trails wind throughout some 26 kilometers of the park, leading to coastal lookouts, swimming spots, and wildflower groves.
The suggested time to spend exploring this park is two days, and you’ll need to book a spot in advance at the North Era Campground if you plan to stay overnight.
3. Purnululu National Park
Here is where you’ll find the kind of geology you might think of when people talk about wilderness in Australia. Located in the northwest part of the country, Purnululu National Park is a remote, and thus untouched, wilderness area. It’s home to the famous Bungle Bungle range, one of the most fascinating geological landmarks. A number of accessible walking trails weave between these beautiful orange-black sandstone cliffs, rising some 300 meters above the plains.
Fun fact: Purnululu, meaning ‘sandstone’, has long been inhabited by local Aboriginal people, but did not become widely known to the rest of the world until the mid 1980s.
4. Great Otway National Park
Great Otway National Park is as diverse as parks come. Depending on what you’re in the mood for, you can visit rugged coastlines and sandy beaches or tall forests and ferny gullies. This park is home to the famous Great Ocean Road and, as such, is a scenic place to stop during a lengthy road trip.
The park offers heaps of camping opportunities with a majority accommodating campervans. You can also take part in a number of tours ranging from mountain biking and hiking excursions to heritage and photography walkabouts. This is a choose-your-own-adventure type of park and it’s great for families with diverse interests.
5. Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park
An isolated island state off Australia’s south coast, Tasmania is known for its vast, rugged wilderness areas, largely protected within parks and reserves. One of the most impressive is Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. With a mix of rainforest, alpine heathland and rugged peaks to climb, the park provides a rich habitat for wildlife, including Tasmanian devils, wombats, platypus, and several bird species. Don’t miss the view of Dove and Crater lakes from atop Cradle Mountain—one of the park’s most popular hikes.
6. Whitsunday Islands National Park
This one’s for the water enthusiasts. Located in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef on the Queensland coast, Whitsunday Islands National Park is comprised of 74 gorgeous islands. Most of them are uninhabited national park islands, but four islands provide accomodation with adventurous water-based activities like scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, paddle board and fishing—all right outside your room or tent. This breathtakingly beautiful national park should be on everyone’s travel bucket list.
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