Travel Outdoors Australia

    Australia’s National Parks: The Highlights

    April 22, 2017
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    Australia is a big country with over 500 National Parks. In our 6-week road trip we managed to drive though, visit and camp in quite a few. Here are my top three National Park experiences.

    Blue Mountains National Park

    The Blue Mountains are located just a few hours west of Sydney. We started in the picturesque village of Mt. Wilson, which has many charming old homes and beautiful gardens. Here we enjoyed some fantastic hikes, including the short Cathedral of Ferns walk and the Wollangambe Canyon. We never found the trail to complete the Canyon loop, but instead had a picnic and a lovely swim in the cool, clear waters of the Wollangambe River.

    The majestic Cathedral of Ferns.

    The majestic Cathedral of Ferns.

    Blue Mountains National Park is huge, so we drove south for more bushwalking. We completed the Clifftop Walk which had sweeping views of the valleys and cliffs in this part of the mountain range. The scenery was incredible, but in high summer this area is HOT! One part of the trail crosses a small creek and we had no reservations about jumping in fully clothed to cool off.

    Looking out over the Blue Mountains.

    Looking out over the Blue Mountains.

    This park was one of my favorites because the lush green hills reminded me of home in Arkansas. Higher elevation also means cooler temperatures at night, which is a blessing when you’re sleeping in a vehicle. There are so many incredible trails that we could have spent more time here, but we were just starting our trip and ready to move on to…

    Kosciuszko National Park

    Kosciuszko is hands-down my favorite park in Australia. Home to the Snowy Mountains, it’s a popular destination for winter snow sports. In summer, though, the colorful landscapes are stunning. Bonus: no snow chains required.

    We spent our first day here at Three Mile Dam, which was one of the most beautiful and peaceful campgrounds of the trip. The lake is a brilliant blue color and the surrounding views are incredible. The next day, we hiked the Gold Seekers’ Track, where I had a total Julie Andrews moment twirling around in a field of wildflowers.

    Best. campsite. ever.

    Best. campsite. ever.

    The hills are alive, y'all.

    The hills are alive, y’all.

    Further south, we explored ghost town of Kiandra and its fascinating history as a boom town in the Australian gold rush. The points of interest in the park require a lot of driving on winding mountain roads, but the scenery makes it worthwhile.

    Our main objective was to hike Mt. Kosciuszko, 2,228m above sea level. While this peak is unimpressive by world standards, it’s the highest point in mainland Australia. We reached the summit on the 1 year anniversary of our trip! We also saw snowfields for the first time on our travels, as well as the legendary Snowy River.

    The immense valley and Snowy River on the trail to Mt. Kosciuszko/

    The immense valley and Snowy River on the trail to Mt. Kosciuszko.

    Cold and windy on the summit of Kosciuszko.

    Cold and windy on the summit of Kosciuszko.

    One unexpected highlight of the park was the SnowyHydro Discovery Center in the town of Cooma. We stopped in because it was a free attraction, but were blown away when we learned that the Snowy Mountains Scheme is one of the civil engineering wonders of the world. An international team worked for decades to design and build a network of dams and power plants that provides electricity to almost all of the populous eastern half of Australia. We even made a point to visit one of the SnowyHydro power plants for a tour, which was very cool!

    Wilson’s Promontory National Park

    Wilson’s Promontory is the southernmost tip of mainland Australia, located east of Melbourne. There is an amazing diversity of ecosystems here, from forests to mountains and spectacular beaches.

    Both the park itself and its accessibility from Melbourne make it a very popular destination, and accommodation within the park must be booked well in advance. Unlike the other two parks in this post, we just visited Wilson’s Prom as a day trip— but what a day it was!

    Mount Oberon seemed like the don’t-miss-activity for a limited time in the park, so we caught the free shuttle to the trailhead. A long uphill slog on a gravel road, the hike itself is not great. But the panorama from the top is TREMENDOUS! Looking out over the ocean are three linked bays with beautiful beaches, and you can also see the forests in the inland park area. The viewpoint is very exposed but absolutely fantastic.

    Best viewpoint hike ever? Possibly.

    Best viewpoint hike ever? Possibly.

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    If it looks like a risk, it might be fun.

    After a very hot afternoon of hiking, we were eager to go for a swim. Squeaky Beach was recommended but we were put off by the number of cars. Instead, we headed to Picnic Bay and were pleased to find only a handful of people. Walking down the trail to the bay, it’s obvious that this beach is picture-perfect.

    Picnic Bay in all its glory.

    Picnic Bay in all its glory.

    We were so very hot when we finally arrived at the far end of the beach, but let me tell you: the waters of the Bass Straight are frigid!

    Wilson’s Prom is highly recommended if you’re traveling to or through the Melbourne area— though I would honestly rate it a worthwhile destination in its own right.

    Australia, You’re Gorgeous

    Australia is such a big country that it can be overwhelming to plan a trip and figure out where to go. If, like us, you’re more interested in exploring the outdoors than the cities, you’ll appreciate the well-maintained park systems here.

    Pick a park (or two or three) and give yourself enough time to discover and enjoy what’s on offer. There are walks to suit all preferences, scenic drives and incredible lookouts. Visiting some of the National Parks is a perfect way to dive into the wonderful diversity of Australia’s natural beauty.

    Bonus tip: Stop at Kosciuszko Tourist Park. For just $2, you can buy food for the mob of tame kangaroos there. It’s probably the cheapest way to get amazing pictures with kangaroos and also an explosion of cuteness. You’re welcome.

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