The world’s greatest walks
There are some spectacular places on this planet that are only accessible by foot. Here are eight of Australian Geographic Adventure’s favourite walks from all over the world.
West Coast Trail, Canada
Studying the West Coast Trail (WCT) on a map, you might think it is a straightforward, seven-day hike following the western coastline of British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, but this would be a serious mistake – not because the trail is tough, but because it offers everything you could wish for in seven days in the wild.
The WCT experience includes whales and orca splashing about in the Pacific Ocean; cougar, black bear and wolf roaming the dense forest; and an undulating path over a multitude of tree roots, plenty of mud (especially after rain), some old (and some new) timber boarding, and 70-plus ladders that provide access to the mainly beach-based campsites. If there’s another weeklong walk that packs in as much excitement, we’d be very surprised.
Hikers can tackle the WCT either north to south or south to north. We’d opt for the tougher south to north version, as the southern section of the WCT includes rugged track sections, water/creek crossings and steeper terrain – and you will be carrying a heavier pack – but it’s worth it as you’ll experience some of the best beach campsites you can imagine, each with clean toilets and bear boxes, where all food is stored to lessen the attraction of the bruin kind.
This walk is one that always appears on “best of” lists and, as a result, booking a place on it means planning well ahead – especially if you’re keen to tackle it as an independent hiker via a WCT Overnight Use Permit, rather than as part of a guided group (AGA hiked the WCT with Ecosummer Expeditions).
Whatever your poison in regards to the WCT, you will need to be strong and fit: at a minimum your pack (whether guided or independent) will weigh at least 20kg, and you will have to be capable of negotiating tricky, occasionally technical ground, as well as crossing those few waterways that aren’t bridged (or have a cable car) and getting used to climbing ladders. It sounds challenging but if you’re fit and have walked multiday routes before, the WCT will, over the course of its seven days, ingrain itself permanently in your memory as an epic adventure.
Kepler Track, NZ
Take one hugely popular adventure town, in the form of Te Anau, and add in a sublime multiday loop track right nearby (yes, within walking distance of town) and you have one of New Zealand’s trekking success stories: the Kepler Track.
Originally designed to take the load off the other two Great Walks nearby – the Milford and Routeburn tracks – the Kepler has become hugely popular (like all Great Walks, you will need to book hut tickets). This 60km circuit offers the quintessential Fiordland Great Walks experience of majestic landscape, brilliant Department of Conservation huts, a well banked track, and the chance to spend a full day walking above the tree line, surrounded by NZ’s Southern Alps.
The Kepler can be walked in either direction, starting at Lake Te Anau Control Gates or, if you wish to walk clockwise (our preferred route), from Rainbow Reach (this means a short shuttle bus ride from town). For most, the Kepler can be walked in three days, giving you plenty of time to really soak up this unique experience.
- A real alternative: Kepler Track, NZ
If you start at Rainbow Reach, the first few hours are nice and flat before you reach the beachside Moturau Hut, with its views across Lake Manapouri. If you’re keen to take four days to walk the Kepler, this is where you’d stay. Walk a further four hours, slowly making your way up, and you will reach Iris Burn Hut. Here, if you’re lucky, you might hear the elusive kiwi calling out during the night.
The “middle” day – from Iris Burn to Luxmore Hut – is the most amazing of the walk. After a steep climb of around 800m you reach the Hanging Valley Emergency Shelter (for cover in inclement weather, i.e., snowstorms) and then you’re at an altitude of 1390m, with the magic vista of Lake Te Anau and the snow-capped Southern Alps. You stay up on the ridgeline the entire day until you reach Luxmore Hut (take the sidetrack to Mt Luxmore if it is fine – it is well worth the extra effort). Luxmore is usually packed full of hikers but, as with all NZ Great Walks Huts, the atmosphere is jovial and the views out to Lake Te Anau below are fantastic.
The final day’s walk is downhill to Te Anau, so take your time. Of all the NZ Great Walks, we reckon it is the Kepler that is the one most worth savouring on the last day – and celebrated with a cold Speight’s Dark Ale back in Te Anau when you finish.
Time: 3 days
NZ Department of Conservation hut bookings:
Larapinta Trail, NT
The mighty Larapinta – all 223km of it – takes walkers through a microcosm of the Northern Territory’s Red Centre landscape of rich-red rocky terrain, deep gorges with cool waterholes beneath, and ethereal ghost gums. It is a world-rated multiday trek that is a regular listing on any global trek hit list.
The Larapinta is nothing if not a versatile walk; there are a number of ways you can “do” the trek, including independently over 10-14 days (with one or two food drops along the way), you can join a guided group (still carrying all your food and gear), or you can take sample bites out of its 223km by tackling a shorter seven-day journey, via World Expeditions, or even a three-day luxury sampler, where you head out on day walks to the choicest highlights of the track, then are back in your swag (by a campfire complete with bush chef) by nightfall, just in time to admire the famous star-filled outback night skies.
- Larapinta: Iconic Australian trek
- GALLERY: Trekking the Larapinta trail
You can walk the Larapinta in either direction: east to west, starting from Alice Springs’ historic Telegraph Station; or west to east, starting at the top of Mt Sonder, and making your way back into town. Either way, each day on the track brings with it a new and amazing highlight, whether it is the swimming hole at Ormiston Gorge, or views across more rugged ridges of the West MacDonnell Ranges.
Independent walkers will need to be fit – your pack will be full of food, tent, gear, clothing, etc. – and food drops will need to be properly organised. The designated campsites all have water tanks and are, roughly, a day’s walk apart.
There are numerous access points along the walk, with the track moving in and out of popular tourist spots along the way. Go guided and a lot of the planning is taken out of your hands. World Expeditions is the most experienced operator, and it also offers a number of options, from the full-monty 223km, to a seven-day experience and a luxury three-day taster. Whichever way you choose to walk the Larapinta, you will not be disappointed – but you will be amazed; this world-class walk is a great showcase for the Aussie outback. And you’ve gotta be proud of that…
Dusky Track, NZ
New Zealand is chock-full of any number of multiday treks that would sit comfortably on a walker’s bucket list – it just boils down to how much of a (rewarding) challenge you want.
Enter the Dusky Track.
Deep, deep down in the wild southern section of Fiordland National Park, the Dusky is one of Australasia’s most challenging walks – and is for experienced, independent walkers only; there’s no cushy guided option here, folks, it is an epic undertaking. It is also one that pays massive dividends: you will be transported to one of the world’s most remote regions – most likely by float plane or boat – to tackle the journey from Lake Hauroko in the south, to the track’s northern finish point of Lake Manapouri. You will traverse some absolutely crazy terrain, ranging from low boggy floodplains to high ridges and mountains, while negotiating 21 three-wire bridges across creeks and rivers, and slogging for at least one day through deep, boot-destroying mud along a rough, barely formed track. In other words, it is a real adventure!
- GALLERY: Dusky Track, New Zealand
The Dusky Track will, at a minimum, take you eight days. But make sure you pencil in another two days at least to allow for any weather delays; high rainfall means flooded track sections, which in turn means extended stopovers at huts. Then, add another two for the not-to-be-missed optional side trip to Supper Cove, on Dusky Sound. Yep, that’s 12 days. And you’ll need to be fit and strong as you will have to carry all your food, clothing, sleeping and cooking gear in your pack – there are no food drops here. Like we said, it’s an epic undertaking.
The huts are basic, but offer the required shelter. The days are long but time is forgotten as you focus on negotiating terrain, checking out incredible views and, most importantly, soaking up the enriching experience. Not all Dusky-ites tackle the side trip to Supper Cove but, the way we see it, if you’re going to be heading to a place that is so remote, and you’ve seen some of the brilliant photographs of the cove, you will put your head down and just do it.
For all this ruggedness and long distance, the Dusky has earned its place on this list for one simple reason: there’s nothing else quite like it in our part of the world. And if you ask anyone who has done it what their opinion is, the answer will probably be: “It was tough and challenging, but I’d do it again tomorrow if I could.”
Time: 10-14 days
NZ Department of Conservation:
Jatbula Trail, Northern Territory
If the Larapinta Trail is the perfect NT Red Centre experience, then the Jatbula Trail more than qualifies as its Top End equivalent; the walk is moderate in level but takes you through some of the most vibrant and engaging terrain in this country. It can be walked independently (you need to book well ahead for park camping/passes) or you can jump on board a guided adventure with tour operators such as World Expeditions.
The Jatbula is located in Nitmiluk National Park and winds north (you can only walk it in this one direction) from Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge), which is well worth a few days exploration, to Leliyn (Edith Falls). The route takes you on a walking adventure along the western edges of the Arnhem Land Escarpment, experiencing savannah grasslands, rocky quartzite cliffs, creek-crossings, and exploring monsoon forests, with each day ending at the perfect campsite: right beside a cooling waterfall. This is Jawoyn country, and you’ll spot brilliant rock art in a caves and rocky overhangs and outcrops as you trek an average of 10km each day (the longest stretch is 16km on Day 3, from 17 Mile Falls to Sandy Camp Pool) between campsites.
The first few days are spectacular as walkers traverse what is known as “stone country” before entering some pockets of monsoonal rainforest that are characteristic of the region. After a few days you’ll follow a gentler track as you walk beside the pretty Edith River to Sandy Camp Pool, where you’ll camp for the night, and then through paperbark forests and past more waterholes to Sweetwater Pool.
The hike is brilliant and can be done at a nice leisurely pace, but start early each morning so you can take full advantage of the campsites’ locations right next to waterholes where you can swim and cool off during the afternoons. The trekking season is July to September up here, so as well as warm days and cool-ish nights, you should see plenty of stars in the clear NT skies.
In addition to the brilliant overall walking experience, the fantastic campsites and the rich indigenous history, the Jatbula’s start- and end-points are ideal if you’d like to further explore Nitmiluk National Park.
Time: 6 days
Overland Track, Tasmania
We could be accused of taking the easy way out by choosing Tassie’s famous Overland Track as one of our top eight treks. After all, the Apple Isle is jam-packed with awesome multiday walking options – all of which could easily be included in this list. So what separates the Overland from its neighbours? There are tougher challenges (think: Western Arthurs Traverse; South Coast Track) and there are more remote ones (Mt Anne Circuit, anyone?) but simply put, it is the variety of ways you can travel the Overland that see it make this list. Whether you opt for the popular summer season, less-crowded shoulder season, winter (yes, bring your snow shoes), guided, independent, camping in tents or enjoying the hut-to-hut experience, the Overland can cater for any walker’s preferences, and deliver a grand adventure in this still-wild island state.
The one-way Overland starts at beautiful Cradle Mountain and traverses the sub-alpine landscape of the Tassie high country, taking in glacier-wrought valleys, rainforests, buttongrass-clad moorlands and lunar-esque high meadows. If you are averse to crowds, we recommend either going in the shoulder season (autumn or spring) or, if you’re keen and want a unique Overland trek, go in winter. Summer means lots of people (although numbers are now controlled thanks to a permit system) crammed into campsites and huts, whereas the quieter times of year allow for a more relaxed, contemplative time in this World Heritage-listed region. The huts on the Overland are reminiscent of those on the NZ Great Walks across the ditch, so are great for shelter from the oft-volatile Tassie weather.
As well as the main track, there are plenty of sidetracks to explore, leading to some amazing viewpoints, so if you have extra days on hand, make sure you factor these extra excursions into your planning (and your hut bookings). Some of the highlights along the track are side-trips to the top of Mt Ossa and Cradle Mountain. We can joke about spotting the Tassie Tiger during your hike, but you can definitely see a lot of wildlife on this walk; wombats, snakes and a ton of birdlife will – sort of – make up for the undoubted no-show of the Apple Isle’s most famous former resident. Add to this the mix of easy through to slightly challenging walking, and you’ll be delaying your return to “the mainland”.
Time: 5 days
Connecting Yosemite National Park’s Happy Isles with the summit of Mt Whitney, via Seqouia National Park, the 340km John Muir Trail (JMT) takes you up high, and then higher again (around the 2400m mark), as you traverse the rugged Sierra Nevada Range. Alpine lakes, jagged mountaintops, steep alpine passes and designated wilderness areas – as well as oodles of wildlife – all combine to make this long-haul journey a cracker.
Like most treks in this list, you can walk the JMT in both directions – north-south or the other way. Due to the rugged (and, in winter, snow-covered) alpine terrain the best time of year is the northern hemisphere summer (July-September). If you decide to walk the JMT north-south, you get to finish on a figurative highpoint: hiking to the summit of Mt Whitney which is, at 4418m, the tallest peak in the USA’s lower 48 states. As well, by kicking off in Yosemite NP, you’re instantly surrounded by world-famous landmarks, including Nevada Falls, Half Dome and Cathedral Peak, with the latter two being bucket-list destinations for rock climbers around the world.
Leave Yosemite NP and you’re soon in the spectacular Ansel Adams Wilderness, named in honour of the famous landscape photographer, with its steep, rugged terrain. Then, once you cross over Donohue Pass, you’ll enjoy commanding views of the epic Sierra Nevada Range. The Ansel Adams Wilderness section is incredible and leads on to even more spectacular vistas in Kings Canyon NP before coming to the last portion of the JMT that starts in Sequoia NP, and encompasses the haul to the Mt Whitney summit.
As with any global bucket-list trek you will have to plan well ahead for your JMT adventure. Aim to book your permit at least six months in advance and make sure you don’t forget to organise food drops – unlike the Larapinta Trail, the JMT is well away from civilisation, roads and access points. Of course the sheer size of the JMT means that, even though it is popular and might seem like it should be busy, it won’t be. It’s a huge slab of one of the world’s wild regions, so there’s plenty of space for anyone keen to take a few weeks or more to explore it.
Time: 20-25 days
Pacific Crest Trail Association:
Mt Kenya, Kenya
Sitting in the shadow of Mt Kilimanjaro, Mt Kenya is Africa’s second highest mountain, but to view the week-long journey up to its peak as “second-best” would be doing it a huge disservice. Put simply, it is a cracking multiday trekking adventure, with a mix of route options to the top of the trekking summit of Point Lenana, along which you will encounter some seriously dramatic landscape and plenty of wildlife. Plus, there are far fewer trekkers here compared to Kili…
Mt Kenya is best tackled in a guided group (such as World Expeditions) as this takes away all the hassles of logistics and permits. The adventure starts well before the walk; you will be transported via 4WD along a rough, slippery, bumpy track for a few hours before you start the track and walk to the cottages near the Chogoria gate entrance to Mt Kenya National Park.
The first day is through forest before moving higher and into an alpine moorland region. Keep an eye out for wildlife ranging from elephant and buffalo to antelope and monkeys along the way to camp at Lake Ellis. This is a beautiful first camp, but is trumped by the brilliant campsite at Lake Michaelson on the second night of the trek. After climbing high up to 4000m, you suddenly drop down 200m into the famous Gorges Valley, a part of which encompasses the campsite itself.
The landscape changes again the following day as you trek even higher; moorland grasses drop away as you enter the high alpine zone and are replaced by rock and scree, with the jagged spires of the nearby peaks adding to the lunar-esque terrain. From high camp at Simba Tarn (at a lofty 4560m) the final push – via an early 3.30am start – will take you to the summit of Point Lenana (at 4985m and the trekkers’ summit), with the most amazing 360-degree views of the plains below and, amazingly, the dome-shaped silhouette of Mt Kilimanjaro, roughly 340km in the distance.
The return from the summit is long but downhill to Moses Camp for a well-earned rest before the last descent down the Sirimon Valley to the national park gate. For a five-day trek, Mt Kenya packs in everything you could wish for: wildlife, amazing scenery, great guides and porters, and what AGA editor Justin Walker rates as one of the world’s most amazing sunrises.
Time: 6 days
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