Walking and trekking
Australia is an excellent walking country. There are a number of reasons why this may come as a surprise; the principle one being that the stereotypical view most outsiders have of Oz as being a landscape of flat, murderously hot nothingness with bongly names, a big red rock in the middle, something colourful under the sea to the east and a melee of imaginatively lethal creepy crawlies every few yards. To a certain extent all of these are true, but as Australia is a land of almost unimaginable scale (the sixth largest country in the world, its largest island and home to one of the lowest population densities anywhere) with a huge climatic range, it is a place where you will find all of the variety such dimensions suggest - and plenty of it. 'Bushwalking' - which is the general term for hiking in Australia - falls into a number of different styles, from decidedly moist rainforest walks to bone-arid desert tramps, which much in between. Another surprise to greet the walker is that there are mountains here, and reasonable ones too. The south-eastern segment of Australia – New South Wales and eastern Victoria – is home to the highest peaks of the Great Dividing Range, which span most of the east (it's tempting to say 'east coast', but on a UK scale they are well and truly inland) the highest of which is Mt Kosciuszko, which sits in its namesake national park at a not insignificant 2228m. These mountains, like most of Australia's physiology, are pretty unique, having been eroded from a much grander range built from volcanic rock into river-valleys, gorges, table-top mountains and - in the higher reaches, Alpine vegetation and glacial lakes beneath fairly benign mountains which are high enough to catch ski-able snow in the winter. To say that nothing is convenient in Australia would be unfair, but prepare yourself for a lot of road-time wherever you go: if you want to explore these highest mountains, the best base is the town of Jindabyne, where you can access numerous trails that will allow you to cover Mt Kosciuszko as part of a number of circuits of varying length. There is even a chairlift from the village of Thredbo up onto the main ridge. If you are used to fellwalking in Britain, you will find little to worry you other than the added height, which will only affect those who are very sensitive to altitude. Also hereabouts is the Jagungal Wilderness Area, The Kerries, Cooleman Caves (a limestone plateau with many distractions which is particularly excellent). Victoria and Tasmania – being in the southernmost part of the country – is wild and windswept, with ragged coastline, Alpine National Park (hardly France but very impressive) where a string of peaks nudging 2,000m form the crest of the Victorian Alps, including Mt Bogong (1986m) and Mt Feathertop (1922m). Both can be linked in a walk in the Bogong unit of the Alpine National Park. Other areas for bushwalking in Victoria include the pleasingly named Wonnangatta-Moroka Unit of Alpine National Park, Wilson’s Promontory in the south of the state, and the Grampians – low, impressively mangled sandstone mountains – in the west. Tasmania harbors Australia’s famous Overland Track, which includes Cradle Mountain and the wild upland of Australia’s prickly offspring, and is well worth a visit as it throws yet another unique spin on an already distinctive country. Queensland is rainforest territory, with Cairns the natural base for excursions inland and to Hinchinbrook Island, a Jurassic Park of mangroves, mountains and tropical waterfalls. If you are flying into the West – which few will, simply given the density of attractions to the east – there is still much for the walker, though what there is is ferociously remote: the Stirling Ranges, near the remote town of Albany on the south-west coast, is a dramatic and biologically important range of arresting mountains. Further north lies the Pilbara, an arid region of bleak beauty which is mostly visited for industry, while in the North, the legendary Arnhem Land is crocodile central. If you’re looking for a good base to explore a range of attractions, fly to Sydney and take it from there.
Where to start? Australia has long been a magnet for every type of traveller, from the retiring wrinkly to the hedonistic gap-year youth, and every demographic including and between the above can find plenty to do here. Firstly, the most obvious thing to mention would be perhaps Australia's greatest attraction: the Neighbours set, which can be visited in Melbourne. Failing that, you may want to check out the next most impressive sight: the Great Barrier Reef. You'll have to get yourself up near the very top of the East (Gold) Coast, where excursions run from Townsville, Cairns and just about every coastal town with a marina. While you're up here, also check out some of the rainforest preserves in this part of Australia, where some outstanding demonstrations of the country's massive vegetation can be observed, as well as the salt water crocodiles which inhabit the more verdant areas of Australia. The far north and the Northern Territories are Crocodile Dundee country, particularly around the town of Arnhem, and if it's an authentic bush experience and the sort of lakes and streams that warrant a cautious investigation before you jump in, this is the place to head. In the far south, the coastline is rougher and more rugged, and those of a suitably insane disposition may want to experience a shark cage dive. The town to head for if this is your bag is Port Lincoln, a notorious Great White (or White Pointer as they're known locally) hangout. Heading west into the interior, things get awfully flat and brutally huge, and assuming you haven't been to the interior on walking business (unlikely, considering the sparseness of everything) you may want to save your pennies and fly to Alice Springs, in the geographical centre of Australia's interior, hire a car and drive to one of the most oustanding natural marvels of the world - Ayers Rock, or Uluru. It is by all accounts a sight you’ll never forget, and for lovers of wilderness, reaching this lonely part of one of the world's great empty places will no doubt have considerable appeal. Though you will no doubt be tempted, don't climb the rock: it belongs to the Aborigines, it is sacred and they ask visitors not to climb it. Plus, considering it is the only thing to be seen for an area around the size of Europe, the view from the top really is no great shakes. Sit at the bottom and look at the rock instead.
Australians consume more beer per person than any other country: FALSE Australians are in fact moderate drinkers. The average Australian consumes 7% less alcohol than the average Brit, 25% less than the average German and 35% less than the average Irish.
A third of Australia’s entire area is given over to sheep rearing. FALSE. Half of it is!
Must see and do
- Uluru (Ayers Rock) – the obvious one. But it is perhaps the one image of Australia that has perforated the public’s consciousness and apparently – for a change – it is far more breathtaking than you imagine.
- Climb the Australian Alps – visit the marvellous mountains of Victoria and New South Wales and see a side of Australia you probably didn’t expect. www.parkweb.vic.gov.au/1park_display.cfm?park=41