Top 10 day walks in Australia and New Zealand

By Australian Geographic Adventure 9 June 2015
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Australia and New Zealand are chock-full of brilliant day walks for hikers of all skill levels and ages

1. Ormiston Pound, West MacDonnell Ranges NP, NT

Time: 3-4hrs

Grade: Moderate

Season: April to September

Start/finish: Ormiston Pound carpark is a two-hour drive (135km) from Alice Springs

More info:

This 9km loop walk is a microcosm of the nearby 221km Larapinta Trail. For those without the time to complete a section or two of the Larapinta, the Ormiston Pound loop offers a real sense of what walking in the Red Centre’s West MacDonnell Ranges is all about: endless blue skies, rich red rock, mirror-like waterholes and unique native fauna and flora.

The walk is well signposted. Start from the carpark info board and follow the signs and red markers and you’re away. The best way to accomplish this walk is anti-clockwise, allowing you to slowly ease into the terrain while also offering more spectacular sights as you progress. The path leaves the carpark and then, soon after, crosses the (usually dry) Ormiston Creek before starting a slow ascent up a rocky ridge. From this highpoint your gradual descent winds through rugged rocky terrain on the way to a high saddle from which you can see the massive expanse of the Pound itself.

It’s worth taking some time here to soak up the sense of space that only the outback can offer before rejoining the track and heading across the flat, wide Pound, on the way to the dry bed of Ormiston Creek on the far side. Traversing this area you will see small waterholes and numerous contorted trees that indicate the power of the (very) infrequent floodwaters in the area. The red triangle signs will keep you pointed in the right direction as you move closer to the entrance to Ormiston Gorge itself.

Once in the gorge you will be surrounded by near-vertical ochre-red cliffs, dotted with white ghost gums growing out of the rock faces – amazing stuff. There are numerous waterholes dotted throughout the gorge, all of which provide mirrors to reflect the red rock/blue sky that is synonymous with this part of Australia. Also keep an eye out for the occasional dingo here, as well as numerous native birds and small mammals. When you’re through the gorge, you have the option of retiring to camp (our tip: definitely stay the night here, the campsite is awesome) or returning to your car. You could also tackle the nearby Ghost Gum Walk (an extra 1.5 hours) or you can just spend 20 minutes climbing up to the Ghost Gum Lookout, which provides you with an all-encompassing view of the main gorge you just trekked through.

2. Blue Gum Forest, Blue Mountains, NSW

Time: Full day

Grade: Challenging

Season: All year round (dress appropriately during winter)

Start/finish: Govetts Leap lookout, Blue Mountains NP, is a five-minute drive from the centre of Blackheath, about 1.5 hours from Sydney, via the Great Western Highway

More info:

This 10km return walk in the World Heritage listed Blue Mountains National Park is a cracker. From the moment you seemingly step off the edge of the high viewpoint of Govetts Leap and start descending quickly down the cliff-side track, you’re entranced by the spectacular variety of scenery contained in this day walk.

From Govetts Leap it is nearly straight down to the Grose Valley floor. The track that sidles along and down the cliffs deserves plenty of attention but there are a number of small spots you can stop and take in the grandeur of the Grose Valley below, not to mention checking the flow of the beautiful Bridal Veil Falls that flow beside the track.

Once you reach the bottom of the cliff track, it’s worth spending a bit of time exploring the pool area below Bridal Veil Falls before rejoining the track that leads further down the valley toward Campbell and Beauchamp falls. You will cross Greaves Creek a couple of times before sticking to the left side as you make your way to Junction Rock.

As its name suggests, Junction Rock signals the joining of a number of walking tracks here (including one from the nearby Grand Canyon walk, another great day walk). You will need to continue in a leftward direction following a small creek through some grassy flat areas toward Acacia Flat and the majestic Blue Gum Forest.

You can camp at Acacia Flat, but this walk is easily accomplished in a day if you make an early start. Just be prepared for the grunt back up the hill to Govetts Leap!

3. Mt Anne, Southwest NP, Tas

Time: Full day

Grade: Challenging

Season: All-year round (NB: snowfall is not uncommon during winter this far south)

Start/finish:Condominium Creek carpark, via Scotts Peak Road, around 19km from the township of Maydena, in southwest Tasmania. There is a walker registration book here – be sure to sign in/out.

More info:

Mt Anne is Tassie’s premier day walk – a title that is thrown about pretty freely but, in this case, one that is definitely justified. You’ll work hard all day but the rewards are many, and include some incredible scenery as you make your way up to the summit, plus a variety of track surfaces, including plenty of boulder scrambling and, at the end, a bit of free climbing to the summit itself.

Tassie’s weather is nothing if not volatile, so making an early start allows for any abrupt change in conditions; even in summer temps can drop down near zero. Conversely, you can cop some belting hot days (as <i>Australian Geographic Adventure’s<i> Editor found during four days trekking the Mt Anne Circuit) of above 30°C. There is little shade along this walk, except for a small sprinkle of trees surrounding High Camp Hut, your first rest stop about 1.5 hours into the walk. High Camp Hut is reached after around 3.5km of steady incline (roughly 600m) along a grassy open ridgeline. The views from here – across Lake Pedder and further north – are just a teaser for what awaits further up the track. (For those with children aged around 9-12, the High Camp Hut makes a decent day walk in itself.)

Once you leave High Camp Hut, it’s a walk/scramble to the summit of Mt Eliza, weaving in, out and over some pretty big boulders. This hour-long scramble sees you at 1289m once you reach the summit, and leads on to a plateau for the next hour of walking on the way to the Mt Anne Circuit junction, passing a series of small alpine tarns along the way.

From the junction the hard stuff begins; it will take fit walkers around two hours to reach the summit of Mt Anne. The route up is marked by a series of cairns before you reach the main cliffs of the peak. Here you may need ropes if you’re not that confident in your scrambling/climbing skills. Once over the first section of vertical rock you again follow more cairns as they lead around the summit cone in an anti-clockwise direction on the way to the summit, crossing over some huge rock slabs and sidling along some very exposed cliff edges. It will be tough, but the sense of achievement – not to mention the vista from the top – will make all that sweat, blood and tears more than worth it. Be sure to sign the logbook on the summit.

4. Tongariro Crossing, Tongariro NP, NZ

Time: Full day


Season: September to April

Start/finish: The track is one-way, so you either need two vehicles and a car shuffle, or book a bus for transport to start/end of the crossing.

More info: Tourism New Zealand, Department of Conservation

The 19.4km Tongariro Crossing, in the North Island of New Zealand’s Tongariro National Park, is touted as the world’s best day walk. The walk takes you through a volcanic wonderland, crossing two high ridges, walking through a valley of ancient volcanic lava, traversing the bowl of a crater and past sulfur-filled lakes of amazing hues of green. All this while being shadowed by the peaks of Mt Tongariro and the still-active Mt Ngauruhoe (both great side-treks if you start early and are well prepared/fit). Yep, it’s a cracker.

The traditional starting point for the crossing is from the southern end, at Mangatepopo carpark, where there is a shelter and toilets. From here it’s a steady ascent to the first lofty viewpoint of Soda Springs where, on a clear day, you can see Mt Taranaki in the distance to the west. From Soda Springs you cross the South Crater before tackling the exposed ridge walk to the top of the Red Crater. It’s here you get your first glimpse of the amazing Emerald Lakes which are, as their name suggests, a vivid emerald green in colour.

Take your time descending the slippery track to the lakes and enjoy lunch there before the walk out to track’s end at Ketetahi Road. This second half of the walk is more level in terms of profile as you traverse the Central Crater’s base, past the massive Blue Lake, before entering ubiquitous beech forest for the last hour before you reach the carpark. Just remember it’s NZ – and you are walking in an alpine environment – so be prepared for all weather conditions in one day. Regardless, the Tongariro Crossing is a magic way to spend a day.

5. Lake Marian, Fiordland NP, NZ

Time: 3-4hrs

Grade: Moderate-challenging

Season: October to March

Start/finish: The track starts just off Hollyford Road, about 1km past the turnoff from Milford Road. It is about a one-hour drive from the Fiordland tourist town of Te Anau.

More info: Tourism New ZealandDepartment of Conservation

This hidden gem of a day walk is in beautiful Fiordland, just off the main tourist thoroughfare of Milford Road, but a million miles from the throngs. During the three-hour return adventure, you’ll pass the beautiful Marian Falls (about 10 minutes into the walk), before trekking up what is classified by the NZ Department Of Conservation (DOC) as a “tramping track” – in other words, a narrow, undulating, sometimes muddy, and relatively rough thoroughfare – to the beautiful Lake Marian. <i>Australian Geographic Adventure<i> Editor Justin Walker did this day walk in peak “tramping season” in NZ and he and his wife had the lake all to themselves, so it is definitely worth the effort. The track is by no means remote – it is just off Hollyford Road – but it has remained a secret to all but those who do a bit of research, making for a fantastic day walk for those looking for a remote experience in Fiordland.

The walk starts off in spectacular fashion; after a swing-bridge crossing about 10 minutes in, you’re at a series of waterfalls, which can be viewed from a nearby gantry (this short walk is ideal for those with young kids/toddlers). It is after the gantry that the track gets more challenging, moving steeply up through often-muddy sections to the lake itself.

Lake Marian is nestled in a hanging valley above the tree line, with the reflections from the towering mountains all around it near glass-like in their clarity. Sitting on the lakeshore, looking out across the lake and the valley it sits in, you can easily see how it was formed by glacial action (DOC advises avoiding walking around the lake’s edge during avalanche season of spring and winter). The water is cold – even in summer – but if it’s hot, take a dip. Oh, and pack some food– you’ll go a long way to beat this lunchtime view.

6. Cradle Mountain Summit, Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair NP, Tas

Time: Full day

Grade: Challenging

Season: All year (winter walkers must be experienced and prepared)

Start/Finish: Dove Lake carpark, via Cradle Mountain Road, a 1.5-hour drive from Devonport.

More info:

There’s nothing better than being able to walk a loop, rather than an up-and-back track during a day walk. During a day walk you really want to pack in as much variety/interest as possible so a loop walk, such as this Cradle Mountain Summit walk, allows you to do just that. You must be fit and relatively experienced to tackle this walk, which is actually a combination of different tracks including the circuits around Dove and Crater Lakes respectively that converge at Kitchen’s Hut before you tackle the summit itself. Of course, if you’re not so confident, you can still do an up-and-down route, via either of the aforementioned tracks.

The walk is at high altitude (for Australians, anyway), starting at around 900m and topping out at 1545m. Included in the 13km return distance are not only that 600m ascent, but also some negotiation of large boulders along the way. The track can be more treacherous in winter; ice and snow (not to mention heavy rain) are prevalent in the colder season, making the track surface tougher to negotiate. If it all sounds too hard, don’t be dissuaded – you’ll be walking through some of the most pristine terrain in this country.

Walking in an anticlockwise direction sees you depart Dove Lake and then take a right-hand turn near Lake Lilla before winding around the pretty Wombat Pool and then starting the ascent to, firstly, Marion’s Lookout, and then on toward the summit itself. Attempting the loop this way also means you will have a mostly downhill run on the return which will also keep you close the shores of Lake Willis initially, and then offer considerably more time walking around the western side of Dove Lake before returning to the carpark. One of the walk highlights is making your way through examples of Tassie’s alpine vegetation, plus negotiating the ever-present scree. And don’t forget to stop and admire the amazing dolerite columner towers.

As well as this full-day walk, there are numerous shorter options, ideal for those with young kids or less fit companions. All of these shorter options provide visitors with a memorable snapshot of southwest Tassie, so regardless of your experience/ambition, you’ll find a walking adventure here.

7. Carnarvon Gorge NP, Qld

Time: 5hrs

Grade: Moderate

Season: April to October (you can visit all year but summer can be brutally hot)

Start/finish: Carnarvon Gorge Visitors Centre is 110km north of Injune, which is 90km north of Roma, in central Queensland.

More info:

It’s hard to find a destination that contains such a comprehensive collection of Aboriginal art sites and natural wonders as the gorges and sandstone cliffs of Carnarvon Gorge National Park.

In terms of day walks, there are plenty here (you could spend a few days here and head out on a number of different day walks), but if you only have a day, we suggest a loop that takes in some of the park’s cultural and natural highlights, leaving from the visitor centre, that can be walked by most active people.

The walk takes in Moss Garden, Amphitheatre, Ward’s Canyon and Art Gallery, all reached via the gorge’s main track. Queensland NPWS rates this circuit as Grade 3, meaning you’ll be walking on a “well defined track usually with slight inclines…” The first destination is Moss Garden, around 3.5km from the visitor’s centre, which comprises a natural garden carpeted in moss and tree ferns, and fed by a small waterfall. From here, you move on to the Amphitheatre, a further 800m along the main track. Here, you’ll find a gorge that contains a deep chamber (estimated at 60m in depth) that is accessed via a ladder. Rejoin the main track and continue further into Carnarvon Gorge and you’ll arrive at Ward’s Canyon, in which resides the king fern, the world’s largest fern type. There’s also a small waterfall here, reached via a short, steep track.

It’s the final destination in this circuit, though, that is the standout: the Art Gallery – around 1.5km on from Ward’s Canyon and accessed via a side track – contains more than 2000 aboriginal engravings, hand paintings and ochre stencils along its walls. This site is claimed to be “one of the best examples of stencil art in Australia”, and it really is amazing to see.

8.  Ben Boyd NP, NSW

Time: Full day

Grade: Moderate

Season: All year round (rug up for the cold winter months)

Start/Finish: Boyds Tower/Bittangabee Campground (vehicle drop-off/pickup required). Boyds Tower is at the end of Edrom Road. Drive 18km south of Eden on the Princes Hwy, then take the Edrom Road turn-off. Bittangabee is via Edrom Road, then onto Green Cape Road and follow signs to Bittangabee bay turnoff.

More info:

The Light to Light Walk is a two-day sojourn along the wild coastline of Ben Boyd National Park, starting at Ben Boyd Tower in the park’s north and finishing at Green Cape Lighthouse in the south. It is, however, possible to experience what we reckon are the ‘best parts’ of the L2L in one day; an early start from Boyds Tower should see you easily reach pretty Bittangabee Campground by evening, 22km later.

NOTE: Currently, the Light to Light walk is closed but you can still do day walks in the park and also explore the park’s many beaches.

This part of the L2L most closely clings to the coastline, offering walkers amazing views of the wild Pacific Ocean – and also the chance to spot the abundant marine life, including seals, migratory whales (including orca) throughout September and October. The magic coastline’s abundant fauna (bandicoots, red-necked wallabies, goannas, lyrebirds and more) is matched by the landscape itself: you will encounter everything from heathland to open grasslands and tea tree groves, along with water holes, creeks, rock-covered and/or sandy deserted beaches, tidal pools and more.

The walk’s many bays – such as Leather Jacket and Hegartys – are beautiful, with the iron-rich red sea cliffs offering a brilliant contrast to the deep blue of the ocean and, best of all, the track in this northern section sticks right near it all. Saltwater Creek is a great lunch stop (there are water tanks at the campground here but it’s best to ensure you have a day’s worth of water anyway, as the campground is busy/popular) before the final push on to Bittangabee Bay itself. This bay would have to be one of the prettiest on the NSW coast and its beach (and the nearby campground facilities) makes a great finish spot to a day’s coastal rambling.

9. Spit Bridge to Manly, Sydney Harbour NP, NSW

Time: 3-4hrs

Grade: Easy/Moderate

Season: All year round

Start/finish: Spit Bridge/Manly or the city (if you opt to get the Manly Ferry back to Circular Quay)

More info:

Yep, it’s in Australia’s biggest city and yep, it will be relatively busy during the weekends, but this 10km (one-way) half-day/day walk (if you throw in a few dips in the numerous beaches you pass – pack your swimmers) is an awesome way to explore some of Sydney’s beautiful harbour coastline.

The walk starts at the Spit Bridge, in Mosman (one of Sydney’s Lower North Shore suburbs) on the northern side of the Harbour Bridge. From here you follow a mix of undulating footpath and then dirt track around Sydney Harbour’s northern edge, while also crossing a few beaches as you wind your way slowly towards famous Manly Beach. You will see a number of Sydney’s smallest and sweetest harbour beaches along the way, as well as aboriginal rock art and even some historical fishing cottages off the main track, hidden in a densely forested cliff top.

Other attractions include the harbour views from historic Grotto Point Lighthouse, and the chance to spot wildlife and marine life from the various lofty viewpoints (whale season is a prime time to spot these marine giants from this walking track), or from the beaches themselves. Be sure to check the tides before tackling the walk as some beaches you need to traverse, including Castle Rock Beach, can entail wading through water if it is high tide.

The highlight of the walk, at around the halfway mark, is the incredible wide view from Dobroyd Head back across the harbour to the city. Combine this mix of city/ocean views with the chance to stop for a swim (Forty Baskets Beach is one of our must-swim spots), a barbecue (a lot of the beachside parks have barbecue facilities, toilets and plenty of seating) or an extensive exploration of those now national park-protected fishing shacks (check if there’s a ranger on site first) and you have a fantastic city-based walking adventure that the whole family will want to do again. Just be sure to time it midweek for a less crowded experience!

10. Bunyeroo and Wilcolo Creek Hike, Flinders Ranges NP, SA

Time: 5hrs

Grade: Moderate

Season: May to September

Start/finish: Bunyeroo carpark, via Bunyeroo Valley Road, about 18km from Wilpena in Flinders Ranges National Park

More info: South Australia’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources

The Flinders Ranges area is chock-full of bushwalking opportunities, with everything from short half-hour jaunts to multi-week journeys. But, for a great day walk where you (and the family) get to experience just what makes the Flinders Ranges so special (think: rugged red rock formations, native fauna and flora in abundance and what seem like never ending mountain ranges) this one is the best option.

This loop walk will see you travel through a landscape combining a scattering of purple-tinged shale and native cypress pine woodlands, through to the quartzite cliff-surrounded creeks that abound in the ABC Range. From this rugged country you will move into rolling hills, with views of the Flinders’ many dramatic peaks throughout.

It’s pretty unique in terms of the sheer variety of what you see during a day of walking. Starting in an anticlockwise direction you head south following Wilcolo Creek before turning east into a gorge that cuts through the mighty ABC Ranges. Inside the gorge you’ll spot some impressive river red gums before moving further in and following the grey ripple rock (actually shale) that makes up the creek bed at the eastern end of the gorge itself. From here you will enter native Cyprus pine country before continuing on to a spur track 2km further on that will take you up to a lookout that offers views of numerous peaks, including St Mary Peak, Mt Abrupt, Mt Sinnet and even Patawarta, 55km away from your viewpoint.

Heading east from here means moving downhill before reaching the junction of the track and Bunyeroo Creek, which you will have to cross (be careful in the wet season) before continuing to follow the waterway for around 2km back to the start point. If you only have one day to spare for walking in the Flinders Ranges, make this loop walk the one to do.