Australia’s National Parks have come a long away since 1879.
Ever since the ‘Royal National Park’ (Australia’s first) was established in New South Wales in 1879, an enormous number of national parks have been declared in each state. These parks have become very important in protecting and preserving what remains of the natural environment.
For the traveller, these sectors of green, marked on maps of the country, create marvellous stepping stones, offering the chance to experience the best of what this huge and diverse continent has to offer.
From tiny pockets of tropical rainforest to expansive areas of desert, dramatic gorges and coral cays, the variety of national parks in Australia is astounding.
Here’s a pick from each state:
Croajingolong National Park, VICTORIA
Wild, rugged and windswept, Croajingolong National Park embraces 86,000 hectares of glorious, unspoilt coastline stretching for nearly 100 kilometres from Sydenham Inlet in Victoria to the New South Wales border.
Inlets, estuaries, tiny sheltered coves, beaches and splendid rocky headlands make this wilderness an exciting destination for all outdoor enthusiasts, particularly sea kayakers and canoeists.
Serious bushwalkers have a world-class walking trail that runs from Cape Conran, about 20 kilometres west of the park, through to Eden in southern New South Wales, a distance of more than 150 magical kilometres.
Mutawintji National Park, NEW SOUTH WALES
A wilderness of rugged beauty, a rich canvas of towering red cliffs and deep secluded gorges dissecting the knobbled and broken Bynguano Range, 130 kilometres north of Broken Hill is Mutawintji National Park.
For thousands of years, Aboriginal people were drawn to the abundant wildlife and semi-permanent water holes of this desert mountain range, leaving behind them extensive galleries of cave paintings and rock engravings.
Like a treasure trail, the park’s system of walking tracks lead to some of Mutawintji’s 300 Aboriginal sites and offer visitors the chance to explore this remote and magnificent corner of outback New South Wales on foot.
The Homestead Creek camping area situated close to the mouth of the Homestead Gorge provides an excellent base for exploring the park.
Mt William National Park, TASMANIA
One Tasmanian National Park guidebook suggests that Mt William, situated in the north-east, is Tasmania’s least visited national park. There are kilometres of wild beaches, punctuated by boulder-strewn headlands which offer sheltered swimming and snorkelling and where the only footprints likely to be found are those of wallabies and Tasmanian devils.
The Eddystone Lighthouse is an impressive sight and was built of local granite in 1887 after a series of shipwrecks along the coast. Close by is a small child’s grave which stands testimony to the isolation and hardships endured by lighthouse keepers and their families in the 19th century.
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Namadji National Park, ACT
Namadji National Park is largely made up of wilderness areas in the south-west and occupies almost half of the ACT. It has eight peaks higher than 1,700 metres and offers challenging bushwalking.
There are picnic grounds and bush campsites by the Orroral River and near Mount Clear in the south. The Visitors Centre 3-kilometres south of Tharwa has displays and videos about the park and also provides guided tours on request as well as detailed information on bushwalking tracks.
Bellenden Ker National Park, QUEENSLAND
Situated one hour south of Cairns, this huge wilderness park covers most of the Bellenden Ker Range, which includes Queensland’s highest mountain, Mount Bartle Frere at 1,622 metres.
It is the single largest tract of upland rainforest left in Australia. Unlike the Daintree, which receives the major slice of tourist attention, Bellenden Ker, being upland rainforest, harbours a far greater diversity of flora and fauna.
Although virtually untouched, a number of well signposted walks offer a unique glimpse of this biological treasure. Highlights of the park include a visit to Josephine Falls and the arduous but rewarding hike to the summit of Mt Bartle Frere.
Windjana Gorge National Park, WEST AUSTRALIA
Situated in Western Australia’s rugged north-west, Windjana Gorge is an inland national park that is part of a 1,000-kilometre long ancient barrier reef. In the early morning and late afternoon, the gorge exhibits a full range of colours. Deep waterholes surrounded by sandy beaches provide the ideal spot for a swim.
It is possible to float in tranquil waters gazing up at the 350 million years of history glowing warmly above. This is one of the highlights of this unique region as is the opportunity to observe freshwater crocodiles in the wild.
Litchfield National Park, NORTHERN TERRITORY
Just 110-kilometres south of Darwin, Litchfield National Park is a wonderful all-year-round destination with good access and easy trails leading to lookouts, picnic grounds and spectacular waterfalls.
Most people visiting the park do the ‘waterfall crawl’, going from one to the next, camping, swimming, 4 wheel driving, picnicking and generally soaking up scenery that rivals anything the Top End has to offer.
Wangi Falls is the most popular falls in the park. The plunge pool is more like a small lake and there is plenty of room for the crowds that flock here. Green lawns with picnic platforms provide the perfect environment for relaxing.
Flinders Ranges National Park, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
“The bones of nature laid bare,” was how the famous Australian artist Hans Heysen described the rugged saw-toothed ridges that make up the Flinders Ranges.
This is fabulous walking country. A network of trails weave throughout the Flinders Ranges National Park and provide access into many of the more remote areas – to deep-red gorges where traces of Aboriginal art lie hidden on the walls of overhangs, along dry creek beds lined with majestic red gums, and across old station properties where ruins tell of the hardships that faced the early settlers.
A highlight of a visit is the hike to St Mary’s Peak, at 1,622 metres. It’s the highest in the Flinders Ranges and boasts, arguably the best view in South Australia. Looking over Wilpena Pound is inspiring – a 35-kilometre ringed circumference of jagged outcrops forming the geological phenomenon that once had scientists thinking it was the site of a meteorite hit.
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