Stirling Ranges Ridge Walk
By now, you've heard that Australia is a gorgeous continent. But these five hikes take that word to the extreme. And with fall rapidly approaching stateside, now is the perfect time to book your flight to the land down under.
Located 200 miles southeast of Perth, the Stirling mountain range offers a nice alpine respite from Western Australia’s desert landscape. The 3,500-foot Bluff Knoll—the track’s final summit and highest peak in the Stirling Range—rewards a steep ridge climb with spectacular views of surrounding farmland (and if you squint hard enough, the ocean!).
Park at the Stirling Range Caravan Park and catch a shuttle bus ($40) to the Mt. Ellen starting point. The hike traverses through native Australian wildflowers—from spider’s cowslip and queen of sheba orchids to kangaroo paw and mountain bells—which cover the ground in late summer. Keep your eyes peeled for wedge-tailed eagles, goanna lizards, and regent parrots, which hide among the gum and wandoo trees. There are no facilities on along the route, so carry plenty of water (the barrel on the Three Arrows is not reliable), and sleep in one of the several unoccupied camping caves rather than bringing a tent.
Length: Approximately 18 miles; 2-3 days Difficulty: Strenuous Best time to go: August-October
Tasmanian Overland Trek
The Tasmanian wilderness was declared a World Heritage Area for a reason: Within these 2,500 acres lies rolling moorlands, alpine meadows, glacial valleys, craggy peaks, and ancient beech forests. The 50-mile Overland Trail offers a taste of everything—from the craggy 5,300-foot Mt. Ossa summit to a dip in Lake St. Clair, Australia’s deepest natural freshwater lake. Be sure to book huts ahead of time (New Pelion is best known for wombat visitors in the evening), and no matter what season, be prepared for mud. It’s part of the Tasmanian mystique.
Length: 50 miles; 5-6 days Difficulty: Moderate Best time to go: November-April
Great Ocean Walk
The Great Ocean Walk stretches 60 miles along Victoria’s rugged western coastline from Apollo Bay to Glenample. Choose between shorter, day hikes along sand dunes, historic shipwrecks, and lighthouses or take several days to walk through the gum and eucalyptus trees of Otway National Park and along cliff tops with breathtaking ocean views. Camp along the trail or book a night in a hotel at one of the many beach towns easily accessible from the route. End the hike with a sunset side trip to the 12 Apostles limestone formation, home to a large colony of penguins (bring binoculars; they arrive 10 minutes after sunset). Koalas, wallabies, peregrine falcons, albatrosses, and whales (during the summer months of June-September) can also be spotted at various points on the trek. Be wary of the tide: Certain areas of the track are not passable during high tide.
Length: 1-8 days Difficulty: Easy Best time to go: June-September
Just an hour drive from Sydney, this UNESCO world heritage site has one of the most complex hiking track systems of any Australian national park. Choose any number of 2-5 mile day hikes along 3,000-foot ridges, passing through waterfalls and eucalyptus forests, and winding down into deep chasms and gorges below.
Katoomba is a must-see: Hike 2.5 miles from Echo Point to Katoomba Falls for an unparalleled view of the Three Sisters, a distinct rock tower formation. While there, visit the Scenic Railway, which is said to be the steepest cable railway in the world. For more difficult options, head to Wentworth Falls, where there are 3-and 4-mile circuits through rain forests and countless waterfalls. Another option is Blackheath, where hikers can walk along Rhododendron gardens and through Blue Gum forest for spectacular views of 2,000-foot waterfalls and Govetts Gorge.
Length: 1-6 miles Difficulty: Easy Best time to go: September- November
Whitsunday Great Walk
Most people venture to the Whitsunday Islands for kayaking and snorkeling, but few are aware of the subtropical national park offshore. Stretching from Brandy Creek through Conway State Forest to Airlie Beach, the trail weaves around strangler figs, Alexandra palms, Colocasia (elephant ears), and tulip oaks. Ulysses butterflies flit between the wompoo fruit doves and orange-footed scrub fowls. Picturesque views of the islands—including the Mt. Hayward summit—are visible from several points along the trail. Book camping sites in advance, and watch out for the stinging tree, which is known to cause a poison ivy-like rash.
Length: 19 miles, 2-3 days Difficulty: Easy to moderate When to go: April-September