10 remote national parks you should visit

By Leila Berney December 18, 2014
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Want to really get away form the crowds? Head to these remote national parks that are worth the effort

IT’S NOT SURPRISING that more accessible national parks get a lot more attention. But with around 36,000km of coastline and a whole of land in between, there are plenty of out-of-the-way wilderness areas to visit. You’ll need a sense of adventure, and maybe a decent vehicle and some camping gear.

Here’s a list of some great remote national parks to visit:

Garig Gunak Barlu National Park, NT

Pronounced ‘Gah-rig Goon-uk Bar-loo’, this park is a stunning patchwork of beaches, sand dunes, mangroves, swamps, lagoons, rainforest, coastal grasslands and coral reefs. Located about 570km north-east of Darwin by road, it includes the entire Cobourg Peninsula as well as the surrounding waters and some nearby islands.

Access by road is via 4WD only, and only during the dry season (May-October); the roads are narrow and dusty so drive carefully and check tide charts before setting out to ensure you are able to get across Cahills Crossing. You can also reach the park by sea (best August-October) two days’ sailing (150 nautical miles) from Darwin, or by air charter. Bring your own food, water, fuel and vehicle repair parts.

You will need a permit to stay in the park overnight, with two campgrounds around Smith Point; book well in advance. There is also strictly no swimming, as saltwater crocodiles, sharks, box jellyfish, blue-ringed octopus and sea snakes live in these waters.

Southern Ocean Beach, Coorong National Park, SA

An isolated beach framed by wild surf on one side and by sand dunes that change colour with the sun on the other, Southern Ocean Beach is part of Coorong National Park, 180km south-east of Adelaide. It stretches along the entire 140km coastline of South Australia.

The park is ideal for birdwatching, sheltering over 230 migratory birds in its wetlands, including swans, cormorants, pelicans, terns and ducks. While the beaches are unsafe for swimming, wild salmon and mulloway attract fishermen to the water’s edge and the dunes are perfect for sand boarding.

Access is by 4WD only, and the sand can be quite soft so towing is not recommended. Wood fires are permitted on the beach all year round, unless there is a total fire ban. There is no shelter and no facilities, so come prepared. Keep an eye on the weather as storms can hit quickly, and take plenty of insect repellent during the warmer months.

Teerk Rook Ra National Park, QLD

Formerly known as Peel Island, the park is fringed by seagrass, mangroves and coral reefs and lies in Moreton Bay, 20km east of Brisbane. The island is only accessible by watercraft from Brisbane or Dunwich on North Stradbroke Island, with visitors sometimes able to spot dugongs, turtles and dolphins that frequent the surrounding waters.

Horseshoe Bay which runs along the southern side is popular with boating visitors, providing clean, sheltered waters and sand. Snorkelling and swimming is also popular in Platypus Bay, where shipwrecks attract a variety of marine life. Visitors can also explore the remnants of a historical quarantine station and leper colony on Teerk Roo Ra.

Camping in designated sites is permitted with a permit, however bring your own food and water and a fuel stove, as fires are prohibited. Bring insect repellent to deter mosquitoes and sandflies that can be present in large numbers.

Munga-Thirri National Park (Simpson Desert), QLD

Endless red sand dunes, claypans, shrub lands and star-filled skies await you in Australia’s driest place. The Simpson Desert covers over 17 million hectares of Central Australia and its harsh environment requires self-sufficient visitors with experience in desert travel. The most famous dune is called ‘Big Red’ and is located 35km from Birdsville.

Now called Munga-Thirri, the park is around 1500km due west from Brisbane and 4WD access only, with vehicles obligated to keep to the QAA line track once inside. The track is impassable when wet, so be prepared to pack at least a week’s extra supplies in case you are stranded. The national park is closed from 1 December to 15 March due to extreme summer temperatures (50°C+) with visiting recommended between May and September.

Camping is permitted anywhere within 500m of the QAA line with a permit; there are no facilities, no mobile phone coverage and no open fires, so pack food, a fuel stove, a first-aid kid, satellite phone, extra fuel, vehicle repair parts and at least seven litres of water per person per day.

Halls Peak, Oxley Wild Rivers National Park, NSW

At 445km north of Sydney, Oxley Wild Rivers National Park is rich in waterfalls and biodiversity, World Heritage listed for its dry-rainforest ecosystem. The Halls Peak campground is the most rugged and remote in the park, snuggled deep in the heart of the wild gorge country.

Access to the campsite is by 4WD only, with a rough, unsealed track that descends a steep 700m and will challenge drivers’ skills. You will need to pre-book your spot in order to open the keyed access gate at the park entrance. Although trailers are not permitted, you can swim, fish (with a license) and canoe, and the river water is safe to drink after boiling.

If you’re lucky enough to have the place to yourself, your only neighbours will be the birdlife, wallabies and bandicoots. Cook your dinner over a woodfire barbecue (firewood provided) and enjoy the wilderness.

Francois Peron National Park, WA

Located within the Shark Bay World Heritage site on the northern tip of Peron Peninsula, Francois Peron National Park is a mosaic of red dunes, arid shrubland, desert acacias and colourful wildflowers surrounded by ocean.

Entering the park from Monkey Mia Road, 4km east of Denham, most of the areas are only accessible by 4WD. The sandy tracks lead to remote campsites, beaches and fishing spots, with the Peron Homestead precinct residing in the south. Explore Big Lagoon’s turquoise waters by kayak or walk along Cape Peron’s striking contrast of white sand, red cliff and blue waters.

Visitors can camp at designated sites at Big Lagoon, Gregories, South Gregories, Bottle Bay and Herald Bright. Sites operate on a first come, first served basis after paying for entrance and camping fees. There is no drinking water available in the park and a total fire ban.

Buddong Falls, Kosciuszko National Park, NSW

Kosciuszko National Park offers rugged alpine landscape, with snow in winter and crisp fresh air in summer. Tranquil Buddong Falls campground is in the remote north-western precinct of the park and a perfect choice for campers looking to get away from the crowds.

Load your tent or swag into a 4WD and hope for dry weather as the unsealed road is too rough for other vehicles and impassable in the wet. You’ll come to a rustic creekside spot surrounded by tall ribbon gums, with parrots and treecreepers flying overhead.

From here, the Buddong Falls track leads to two waterfalls if you fancy a walk, and you can light up wood barbecues for dinner provided you bring your own firewood. Water collected from Buddong Creek can be drunk after boiling.

Sandy Cape, Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area, TAS

The Arthur-Pieman conservation area lies between the wild Southern Ocean and rainforest wilderness; a windswept strip of dunes, heathland and forest regularly battered by powerful ocean storms. It remains mostly devoid of human presence, save a handful of fishing shacks, as access is only possible via 4WD tracks.

Sandy Cape is home to the largest sand dunes in the state, with the shoreline curve of wide beach completely remote and unserviced. Check track conditions and organise an off-road permit with the ranger at Arthur River before you leave. The Sandy Cape Track is known for its extreme 4WD challenges, with quicksand, muddy waterholes, steep sand dunes and river crossings sometimes putting vehicles out of action.

Bring drinking water and all your supplies; the campground itself is on a plateau with harder ground covered with long grass and trees. This is definitely an experience for those wanting to experience a remote, inhospitable place.

Wonnangatta Station, Gippsland high country, VIC

The Gippsland region of Victoria is bordered on the north by the Great Dividing Range and covers a huge area of spectacular mountains right up to the Snowy River National Park in the far east and the NSW border. This alpine land can be unpredictable, with bad weather and snow able to occur at any time of year.

These three campsites are all incredibly remote and accessible only by 4WD. Butcher Cascade north of Licola is spectacular, with the campsite located at the junction of the Macalister and Caledonia Rivers and 4WD river crossing.

Billy Goat bluff is due east of Licola and in some of the steepest country, very popular with adventurous 4WD owners who want to tackle the 1200-vertical-meter climb or descent in only 7km – only doable in dry weather. And the 3hr 4WD trip to Wonnagatta Station in the Alpine National Park provides picturesque mountaintop and deep valley views.

Dirk Hartog Island National Park, WA

Just off the Gascoyne coast of Western Australia 850km north of Perth lies rugged and remote Dirk Hartog Island. Part of the Shark Bay World Heritage site, it is famed as the first place Europeans landed on Australia in 1616 and full of historical significance.

Barren, desolate and pounded by the relentless Indian Ocean, the island hosts a wide biodiviersity, with loggerhead turtles nesting on its beaches every summer, scores of seafaring birds and game fish in its surrounding waters. The vegetation is low and shrubby, with dramatic cliffs sloping eastward towards shallow bays and lonely beaches.

The island can be reached by vehicle barge, boat or plane, although the barge only operates between March and October, limiting access during summer. You will need a 4WD to travel around the island, making this a popular method of transport. There is, however, a limit of 8 vehicles allowed on the island at any one time, so bookings are essential. Designated campsites have either very basic or no facilities, so bring everything with you.