10 Classic Australian national parks

From mountains to deserts to rainforests, here are 10 of Australia’s best national parks to visit
By Matthew Ingles August 20, 2014 Reading Time: 4 Minutes

AUSTRALIA HAS MORE THAN 500 national parks, which cover over 28 million hectares and 4 per cent of the total land area.

National parks are usually large areas of land that are protected because they contain a diverse number of native plants and animals. They’re located all over Australia and include mountains, deserts, forest and reefs.

Their foremost job is to protect our native flora and fauna, but also serve to allow visitors the opportunity to enjoy and learn about our unique environment, heritage and culture.

10 of Australia’s great national parks

Royal National Park, NSW

The Royal National Park is Australia’s first national park and was proclaimed on 26 April 1879, south of Sydney in NSW. It was the second park declared in the world after Yellowstone National Park in the USA. Originally named ‘The National Park’ it was renamed ‘Royal National Park’ after Queen Elizabeth II visited in 1955. In the early days, it was a place where Sydneysiders could relax, rather than a conservation area.

Flinders Ranges National Park, SA

Rugged mountain ranges, spectacular gorges, sheltered creeks lined with river red gums, and wildlife are just some of the amazing sites in the in the Flinders Ranges NP. The park itself protects a number of land and heritage features, including the ruins of early settlement, Aboriginal rock art sites, and impressive fossil remains which form part of Australia’s geological history. One key place to visit is Wilpena Pound (Ikara), which resembles a huge crater, over 80 sq.km in size, and forms a natural amphitheatre with only a single entrance.

Kosciuszko National Park, NSW

The largest national park in New South Wales, Kosciuszko NP is home to Australia’s highest mountain – the eponymous Mt Kosciuszko – as well as the Snowy River and popular ski fields. Visitors have the opportunity to see alpine flora, caves, gorges and historic huts used by mountain cattlemen. The park is recognised as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, within the parks boundaries are six different wilderness areas including alpine and sub-alpine areas, with plants not found anywhere else in the world and endangered species such as the corroboree frog and mountain pygmy possum.

Purnululu National Park, WA

Purnululu National Park in Western Australia comprises the Bungle Bungle Range; its distinctive beehive formation was shaped by 20 million years of erosion and uplift. The area has been used by Aboriginal people for thousands of years as a hunting ground during the wet season when plant and animal life is more abundant. As a result it is rich in Aboriginal artwork and burial sites, but few Europeans knew of its existence until the mid-1980s. The area was declared a national park in 1987, and a World Heritage Site in 2003 (for natural beauty) and again in 2005 (for cultural significance).

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, NT

At the centre of Australia is Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, named after its two most prominent and famous features Uluru and Kata Tjuta (Mount Olga). The 1325 sq.km park is at the heart of Australia’s Red Centre. The park is jointly managed by the traditional owners and Parks Australia. Each year people from all over the world visit this World Heritage Site, marvelling at the geological wonder, cultural significance and natural beauty.

Kakadu National Park, NT

Kakadu is Australia’s largest terrestrial national park, covering almost 20,000 sq.km. It extends from the coast and estuaries in the north, through floodplains, billabongs and lowlands to rocky ridges and stone country in the south. The area is home to a range of rare and endemic plants and animals including, one-third of Australia’s bird population and one-quarter of its freshwater and estuarine fish species. It is considered an area of cultural significance as the traditional owners Bininj Mungguy have lived there for over 50,000 years. As a result, the area was given World Heritage status in 1981, with the area expanded in 1987, 1992 and 2011.

Great Sandy National Park, QLD

Great Sandy National Park is divided into two sections: the Cooloola section between Noosa Heads and Rainbow beach (18,400ha), and the Fraser Island (56,000ha), the world’s largest sand island. Fraser Island is also the only place in the world where tall rainforests grow on sand.

Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, TAS

With ancient rainforests and alpine heaths the area is home to the classic Overland Track and the iconic Cradle Mountain. As part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, the park is considered one of the state’s most special places. Cradle Mountain is the rugged jewel and can be seen from Dove Lake. Cradle Valley is home to many historic Aboriginal sites as evidenced by the remnants of stone tools, caves, rock shelters and stone sources can still be found there. At the Lake St Clair end of the park visitors in late spring and summer will find a brilliant display of wildflowers including waratahs, orchids, banksias and leatherwoods.

Port Campbell National Park, VIC

As part of the Shipwreck Coast, this Victorian park is home to a number of tourist attractions including the Great Ocean Road, Twelve Apostles (only 8 remain), the London Arch, Loch Ard Gorge, the Gibson Steps and the Grotto. The formations are the result of erosion by the Southern Ocean against the limestone cliffs and form some of the most spectacular coastal scenery around Australia.

Daintree National Park, QLD

The Daintree National Park is a tropical rainforest wilderness in Far North Queensland. The area is valued because of its exceptional biodiversity; it has significant habitat for rare species and endangered species of plants and animals, including tree kangaroos and cassowaries. The park contains two main sections – Mossman Gorge and Cape Tribulation. In Mossman Gorge the sparkling waters of the Mossman River flows over granite boulders, while Cape Tribulation features rainforest-clad mountains and long sandy beaches.