Barn Bluff is Tasmania’s fourth-highest peak. Photo: Andrew Bain Barn Bluff is Tasmania’s fourth-highest peak. Photo: Andrew Bain
Barn Bluff is Tasmania’s fourth-highest peak. Photo: Andrew Bain
Barn Bluff is Tasmania’s fourth-highest peak. Photo: Andrew Bain
Sometimes great beauty demands effort. For every drive-up lookout in Australia, there’s another hidden delight that can only be reached on foot. Some are reached on simple strolls, but others reward only those prepared to hike for a full day, or days. Here are 10 of the best exclusive sights for those prepared to leg it. Piccaninny Gorge, Western Australia
Winding through the beehive domes of Purnululu National Park (aka the Bungle Bungles), Piccaninny Gorge is a journey deep into rock heaven. On a short walk you can poke about the gorge entrance, but it’s truly at its best if you hike the entire 15 kilometres through to its end.
Making a base camp inside the gorge, you can explore the well-named Fingers – a series of smaller gorges that branch off the main chasm. Expect mirror-smooth waterholes, towering rust-coloured sandstone walls and the opera-house-worthy acoustics of Cathedral Gorge. See www.parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/park/purnululu Wilsons Promontory Lighthouse, Victoria
Wilsons Promontory is the go-to spot for many Victorian bushwalkers and, at its southern end, just a few kilometres from the southernmost tip of the Australian mainland, sits this 19-metre-high lighthouse. It can be reached along a 20-kilometre inland walking track, or on a longer, more scenic coastal approach through Sealers Cove and Waterloo Bay that’s best broken into a couple of days.
It’s a great journey in, bettered only by the prospect of staying in one of the three visitor cottages beside the lighthouse. See www.parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/wilsons-promontory-national-park/things-to-do/wilsons-promontory-lightstationBarn Bluff, Tasmania
It’s the peak that gets blocked by Cradle Mountain, both literally and figuratively. Read any tourism literature and it’s Cradle that steals the show. Stand on the shores of Dove Lake and Cradle is parked in the way, hiding Barn Bluff from view.
But ‘Barney’ is taller, just as spectacular and offers a more challenging ascent than Cradle Mountain. And once you’re atop Tasmania’s fourth-highest peak, you’ll probably have its fractured, bouldery summit to yourself.
It’s an epic as a day walk, so follow the Overland Track to a night’s stop in the hut at Waterfall Valley, making the ascent from here – walkers can go as far as Waterfall Valley without requiring Overland Track permits. See www.parks.tas.gov.au/index.aspx?base=3297Zoe Falls, Queensland
On an island that’s entirely national park, without a single resort or hotel, the only way to get places is on foot. On Hinchinbrook Island, that invariably means the four-day Thorsborne Trail, running along much of the length of its east coast.
Midway along the trail, as it swings inland from Zoe Bay, Zoe Falls pour down a cliff, providing a cooling tropical swim in the large pool at their base.
For something even more spectacular, the trail continues up to the head of the falls, where the scene is like an infinity-pool showroom, with swimhole after swimhole scoured into the rock and staring out over Zoe Bay. See www.nprsr.qld.gov.au/parks/hinchinbrook-thorsborne/Motor Car Falls, Northern Territory
The irony is delicious – the only way to get to Motor Car Falls is to walk. Part of the Yurmikmik walks at the southern end of Kakadu National Park, Motor Car Falls is one of the park’s less-heralded waterfalls, but when you get here it’s hard to understand why.
The walk threads between lines of hills, often pushing through speargrass that might rise over your head. Once at the cliff-rimmed pool, there are boulders to dive from, a narrow crack in the cliffs to swim into, and often hundreds of butterflies drifting about in the shade of the overhanging cliff. See www.environment.gov.au/resource/yurmikmik-walk-kakadu-national-parkLake Oberon, Tasmania
The closest even most bushwalkers get to Lake Oberon are the framed prints of the lake that have hung in so many Australian homes. One of about 30 glacially carved lakes that seem to balance atop Tasmania’s wildly brutal Western Arthur Range, it’s part of a traverse that’s often called the toughest bushwalk in the country.
The terrain across the serrated ridgeline of the Western Arthurs is so complex and difficult that even full days of hiking might yield only four or five kilometres. A couple of days along the top, you come to Lake Oberon, punched deeply into the range and famously ringed with Tasmania’s endemic pandani trees. See www.parks.tas.gov.au/indeX.aspX?base=3817Amphitheatre, Northern Territory
The Top End is dotted with easy-to-reach Aboriginal art sites, but to view this remote Jawoyn gallery you must walk for days. Seen only by bushwalkers on the 58-kilometre Jatbula Trail through Nitmiluk National Park, the Amphitheatre is sheltered in a shaded gorge in otherwise-unshaded country – for most Jatbula walkers, it’s as welcome for its cooling effect as for its art.
The gallery features a number of human figures and a trio of emus painted in ochre on the cliffs. From here it’s just an hour’s walk to the stunningly situated campsite – and a freshening swim – atop 17 Mile Falls. See www.parksandwildlife.nt.gov.au/parks/walks/jatbula-trail-nitmiluk-national-parkMt Kosciuszko, NSW
Until 1977, you could drive to the summit of Australia’s highest mountain, but these days you need to be a little more energetic. There are two common approaches to Kozzie, either walking along the old summit road from Charlotte Pass (18 kilometres return), or along paths and metal walkways from the top of Thredbo’s Kosciuszko Express chairlift (14 kilometres).
Once you’ve soaked in the view, consider stretching things out by wandering on to nearby Mt Townsend. It may only be the country’s second-highest peak, but there’s a fair chance you’ll come away thinking it more spectacular. See www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/Kosciuszko-National-ParkCooks Beach, Tasmania
See way beyond Wineglass Bay by walking past the famed strand to this equally beautiful beach further south on Freycinet Peninsula. Cooks Beach faces into protected Great Oyster Bay, providing ocean scenes that often calm to a millpond at dawn and dusk. Look north and you can see all the way along the coast to the granite Hazards.
You can walk to and from Cooks Beach in one long day, but it’s a far better experience to camp here, with tent sites overlooking the beach from atop the low dunes.
Complete a peninsula circuit by hiking over Mt Graham and getting a Wineglass Bay fix on the return. See www.parks.tas.gov.au/?base=3363Tali Karng, Victoria
Tali Karng is an unexpected and beautiful lake in Victoria’s High Country that was created by a massive landslide about 1500 years ago. It’s far from the reach of roads, but a few hiking trails converge at the tadpole-shaped lake.
The Wellington River walking track crosses its namesake river more than a dozen times before rising into the apocalyptically named Valley of Destruction – the debris of the landslide.
You’ll need to camp – it’s at least a 34-kilometre return walk – though the Gunai Kurnai Aboriginal people ask walkers not to camp beside the lake itself, which they consider sacred. See www.parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/alpine-national-park/things-to-do/tali-karng
See also: The world’s 10 most spectacular places to take a swim See also: The 10 best mountain experiences for non-hardcore travellers