Ranging from rugged to remarkable, Australia’s national parks offer something new around every corner.
By Leah Dobihal
Australia’s national parks are nothing short of jaw-dropping. You’ll discover winding creeks, lush rainforest and jagged cliffs, but you’re also sure to find something unexpected. In Western Australia, you’ll find beaches full of lounging kangaroos, while in Queensland, you can explore hidden gorges and crystal clear waterholes.
If you’re ready to witness some of the world’s most incredible nature, head to these Australian national parks.
Purnululu National Park
Western Australia is Australia’s biggest state, and one of its wildest as well. Some of the country’s best waterfalls, walking tracks, rock formations and clifftop vistas are hidden within Western Australia’s national parks, like Purnululu National Park.
Located in the isolated nature of the Kimberley region, which covers Australia’s northwest corner, Purnululu is home to the Bungle Bungle Range. The Bungle Bungles are considered the park’s most fascinating formations; the black and orange striped domes rise 300 metres (985 feet) from the surrounding plains. Embark on a Bungle Bungle Guided Tour to learn about local Aboriginal culture that dates back 40,000 years. Stay nearby, and in style, at the Bungle Bungle Wilderness Lodge.
Nambung National Park
Located closer to Perth is Nambung National Park. Drive just two hours to the south end of the Coral Coast to find the captivating Pinnacles Desert. In the Pinnacles Desert, you’ll encounter thousands of limestone pillars dotting the landscape, creating an otherworldly environment.
Kalbarri National Park
A further two hours north lies Kalbarri National Park, known for its dramatic canyons and wind-carved cliffs. Bring your camera along to Nature’s Window, a natural rock arch that opens out to sweeping views of the rugged terrain. You can also indulge in serious adventure, like abseiling and canoeing.
Cape Le Grand And Karijini National Parks
Other impressive national parks in Western Australia include Cape Le Grand National Park, which boasts kangaroo-filled beaches, and Karijini National Park, which offers unforgettable swimming holes and a luxurious eco-retreat.
Kakadu National Park
Brimming with waterfalls, wetlands and ancient Aboriginal culture, Kakadu National Park is one you don’t want to miss. Located about two hours from Darwin, Kakadu offers the opportunity to cruise through billabongs full of wildlife and view ancient rock art. You can’t leave Kakadu without seeing its most famous cascades, Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls. It’s a rough and rugged 4WD track to get there, but if you don’t fancy tackling the track, you can join a tour. The falls really thunder in the wet season (November to May) when the only way you can see them is on a scenic flight, but during the dry season (June to October) you can hop your way across super-sized boulders to the plunge pool at the base of the falls.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
There’s one Northern Territory national park that’s as striking as it is sacred. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, located in the far south of the state in Australia’s vibrant Red Centre, is home to iconic rock formations, burnt orange landscapes and outback wildlife. Visit Uluṟu, often considered the spiritual centre of Australia, at sunset to see the last light paint the incredible monolith with spectacular colours. Don’t miss Kata Tjuṯa, Uluṟu’s lesser-known neighbour, for another unforgettable formation. A sacred site to the local Aboriginal Anangu people, the mesmerising domes offer nearby hikes and panoramic views.
Flinders Chase National Park
South Australia is known for its refined wine regions and lively cityscapes, but nestled in the state’s more rugged regions are unique national parks. Flinders Chase National Park, located 4.5 hours from Adelaide on the beautiful Kangaroo Island, has hidden beaches, gushing rivers and heritage lighthouses. But perhaps the park’s biggest drawcard is its rock formations. Admirals Arch is a natural stone arch formed by the powerful Southern Ocean. Remarkable Rocks live up to their name; the collection of boulders balance delicately above the sea, carved by ocean spray and rain over millions of years. Marvel at the rocks from the viewing platform, or move to the base of the boulders for a closer look.
Nullarbor National Park
Further into the state’s wilderness is Nullarbor National Park. Located in the southwest of South Australia, the park sits where the outback desert meets plummeting sea cliffs. Be sure to drive the Eyre Highway, which follows the 200-kilometre (124-mile) long Bunda Cliffs. The highway lies less than a kilometre from where the edge of Australia drops off dramatically to the sea. Witness this incredible drop from one of five signposted lookouts. Other attractions in the park include vast limestone caves and a variety of wildlife, including the southern hairy-nosed wombat and dingo.
Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park
Just under six hours north of Adelaide is Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park. Here, you’ll find tree-lined gorges and ancient mountains as well as abundant seasonal wildlife. One of the park’s most unforgettable sights is Wilpena Pound, a range of mountains arranged in a circle with a sunken amphitheatre in its centre. Equally as memorable is the ancient Aboriginal rock art you’ll see at sites sacred to the Adnyamathanha people. The three-kilometre (1.8-mile) Arkaroo Rock Hike will bring you to a rock shelter painted with the creation story of Wilpena Pound. Hike on your own, or book a tour through the nearby Wilpena Pound Resort.
Daintree National Park
Covering Australia’s northeast corner, Queensland’s landscapes range from misty rainforest to red outback gorges - and its national parks are just as diverse. The Daintree National Park, located about 2.5 hours from Cairns, is home to the oldest tropical rainforest in the world. Within the lush forest, you can cruise to spot saltwater crocodiles, discover local Aboriginal culture on a Dreamtime Walk and explore the breathtaking Mossman Gorge, where clear water rolls over massive boulders in the river. Get your heart pumping as you zip line through the forest canopy, or completely unwind at the secluded Silky Oaks Lodge.
Great Sandy National Park
While the Daintree offers lush greenery, further south the Great Sandy National Park offers golden sand. In fact, the park is home to Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island. Here, you’ll find towering trees and roads accessible only by 4WD. Don’t miss a dip in Lake McKenzie, a bright blue lake fed only by rainwater. On the mainland, head to Cooloola to see massive sand dunes and uncrowded beaches.
Royal National Park
Nestled between the cities of Sydney and Wollongong, the Royal National Park is home to a variety of bushwalks, swimming holes and sea cliffs. Explore one of the park’s 11 beaches, including surfing hotspot Garie Beach, or explore the bush on part of the park’s 100 kilometres (62 miles) of hiking track. Stroll along slowly on the 4.4-kilometre (2.7-mile) Forest Path, or work up a sweat on the more challenging Curra Moors loop track, which offers sweeping ocean views from the park’s clifftops. To delve more into the area’s history and nature, spend the night at accommodation ranging from campgrounds to cosy cottages.
Blue Mountains National Park
Another favourite destination for Sydneysiders is the Blue Mountains National Park, known for its iconic lookouts, dense bushland and Aboriginal culture. Just over an hour from Sydney, it’s an easy day trip. Visit Katoomba to see the towering Three Sisters spires before exploring the park on one of several hiking trails.
Kosciuszko National Park
Situated in the New South Wales' Snowy Mountains, Kosciuszko National Park is famous for its ski slopes, but becomes an adventure hub in the warmer seasons. Breathe in the crisp alpine air on the Mount Kosciuszko Summit Walk, which takes hikers and bikers to the top of Australia’s highest peak. Mountain bikers will love the popular Thredbo Valley Track, which weaves through tall forest and open grassland.
Nightcap National Park
If you’re in the chilled-out beach town of Byron Bay, embark on a day trip or overnight adventure to Nightcap National Park, which offers dramatic views, waterfalls and crystal-clear creeks for swimming. Minyon Falls Lookout and Protestors Falls are two impressive highlights.
Tomaree National Park
Tomaree National Park, near Port Stephens, is just a three-hour drive from Sydney and boasts panoramic coastal views, rich history and the chance to spot migrating whales. Take the Tomaree Head Summit Walk for sweeping vistas of islands and ocean, or trek the Fort Tomaree Walk to gain insight into Australia’s military history.
Namadgi National Park
You don’t have to venture far from Canberra to find tranquil bushland, sweeping vistas and Aboriginal culture. Namadgi National Park, just a 45-minute drive south of Canberra, is part of the Australian Alps mountain range and offers bushwalking, wildlife and plenty of secluded spots to reconnect with nature. Set out on a hike on the Yerrabi Walking Track for views of the rugged terrain, or opt for the Yankee Hat Walking Track for a peek into ancient Aboriginal culture. Along your journey, you can spot not only fascinating rock art but also the remnants of campsites from the last Ice Age.
Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve
Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, located within Namadgi, is ideal for slow scenic drives and wildlife spotting. Keep your eyes open for wallabies, emus and even the elusive platypus.
Grampians National Park
Nature, food, wine and adventure all come together in the Grampians National Park, located just a 2.5-hour drive from Melbourne. Not only does this national park boast dazzling waterfalls and stunning vistas, but it’s also home to its own wine region and top-notch venues. Get outside for an early morning hike to one of the many walking tracks, like the popular Pinnacle or Mackenzie Falls tracks, or take to the skies on a magical helicopter tour that overlooks the area’s vineyards and valleys. Check out the Royal Mail Hotel, set within the park’s lush, mountainous landscape, to find multi-award winning dining and quality accommodation.
Wilsons Promontory National Park
Victoria’s largest coastal wilderness area is Wilsons Promontory National Park. Known to locals as “The Prom,” Wilsons Promontory is located at the southernmost tip of mainland Australia, about two hours from Melbourne by car. Known for its rugged terrain and exceptional beaches, Wilsons Promontory offers scenic walks that weave through the park’s eucalyptus forests, rocky mountaintops and cool gullies. Embark on the Mount Oberon Nature Walk to trek the two hours to the mountain’s summit, or take the five-hour Tongue Point hike through beautiful forest and coastal headlands.
Croajingolong National Park
Other worthwhile parks in Victoria include Croajingolong National Park near the New South Wales border, Great Otway National Park along the Great Ocean Road and Alpine National Park in the state’s charming high country.
Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park
Arguably one of Australia’s most beautiful natural wonders, Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park is a wilderness experience you will never forget. You can take it easy and spend a few days in Cradle Mountain meeting the local wildlife (wallabies, wombats and pademelons are easy to spot) and sleeping in luxury, or you can delve deep into this natural playground with the full six-day Overland Track hike.
If you like to treat yourself after a day of hard work, set your sights on Bruny Island, located off the coast south of Hobart. Book in for the Bruny Island Long Weekend, where you’ll spend three days hiking the stunning coastline of the island. Your effort is rewarded each night with luxurious off-the-grid accommodation and delicious meals made from locally-sourced produce and Tasmanian wine.
Tasman National Park
On Tasmania’s rugged Tasman Peninsula, you’ll find a national park known for its wild beauty and natural diversity. Tasman National Park boasts dramatic sea cliffs, unexpected rock formations and ample opportunity for adventure. If you like hiking, set out on the multi-day Three Capes Track, which brings you along the rugged cliffs to stunning lookouts. Don’t miss Cape Raoul for some of the tallest - and most majestic - sea cliffs in Australia. For something more leisurely, head down to the water and enjoy a wilderness cruise with Tasman Island Cruises. Adrenaline-seekers can also hang glide above Eaglehawk Neck and Pirates Bay.