BOOTS AND ALL

Aus­tralia and New Zealand are blessed with some of the world’s best walk­ing tracks.

Vacations & Travel - - Contents - BY AN­DREW BAIN

Aus­tralia and New Zealand are blessed with some of the world’s best walk­ing tracks.

For a pair of neigh­bours, Aus­tralia and New Zealand have strik­ingly dif­fer­ent back­yards: out­back, desert and seem­ingly end­less beaches in one; sharp-edged moun­tains, glaciers and omi­nous vol­ca­noes in the other.

What they share is a sense of wild­ness, where grand land­scapes beckon hik­ers up to moun­tain tops with vast views, along empty beaches, through dense rain­for­est, or into the spray of mighty water­falls. No other form of travel can give you such an in­ti­mate look into the nat­u­ral heart of these most nat­u­ral of coun­tries.

Here’s our pick of 11 of the finest hikes in Aus­tralia and New Zealand.

Aus­tralia

OVER­LAND TRACK

Tas­ma­nia’s Over­land Track car­ries a rep­u­ta­tion as the pre­mier moun­tain hike in Aus­tralia, and yet it clev­erly avoids all moun­tains. For 65 kilo­me­tres the track winds be­tween some of the coun­try’s most strik­ing peaks – Cra­dle Moun­tain, Barn Bluff, Mt Oak­leigh, Mt Ossa – but climbs are few, mak­ing it more ac­ces­si­ble than many be­lieve.

The ter­rain is in­cred­i­bly var­ied, rang­ing from alpine plateaus to an­cient beech rain­for­est and pow­er­ful water­falls. If the moun­tains do beckon, most of the peaks can be reached on side trails.

Six pub­lic huts dot the track, pro­vid­ing walk­ers with ac­com­mo­da­tion, or you can carry less and eat (and drink) more with a guided trip on the Cra­dle Moun­tain Huts Walk stay­ing in pri­vate huts.

THORSBORNE TRAIL

Think of it as a trop­i­cal hol­i­day in walk­ing boots. This mag­nif­i­cent 32-kilo­me­tre trail along the east coast of Queens­land’s Hinch­in­brook Is­land, Aus­tralia’s largest is­land na­tional park, hops be­tween palm-fringed beaches, high water­falls and cool­ing swim holes.

There’s early per­spec­tive with a short but steep de­tour up Nina Peak, where there’s a view along the line of beaches that will be your com­pan­ions for the next four days, as well as over one of Aus­tralia’s largest man­grove ar­eas (which helps ex­plain the croc­o­dile warn­ing signs).

Each day of walk­ing is short – an av­er­age of eight kilo­me­tres – al­low­ing plenty of time to wal­low in wa­ter and laze on beaches. Camp­grounds are set be­hind beaches, or by the foot of Mul­li­gan Falls. It’s ev­ery­thing that’s good about trop­i­cal life, with a walk thrown in.

LORD HOWE IS­LAND SEVEN PEAKS WALK

A great way to ex­plore the nat­u­ral won­ders of the World Her­itage-listed Lord Howe Is­land is with this guided five-day walk with Pine­trees.

The walk – for ex­pe­ri­enced hik­ers only – show­cases the spec­tac­u­lar na­ture of Lord Howe, in­clud­ing the pris­tine beaches, the mist forests on Mt Gower, the cliff-side scenery on Mt Lidg­bird, through Banyan forests and more.

Tours are led by for­mer park ranger and moun­tain guide, Dean His­cox, from Lord Howe En­vi­ron­men­tal Tours, and for­mer United Na­tions ecol­o­gist, Luke Han­son, from Pine­trees Lodge. Af­ter a day of hik­ing, en­joy the com­forts of the la­goon-side Pine­trees and take in the sun­set.

THREE CAPES TRACK

Tas­ma­nia’s new­est walk opened at the end of 2015, and may well re­de­fine the na­ture of Aus­tralian hik­ing trails. It’s a cliff-top spec­tac­u­lar, head­ing to the airy tops of Aus­tralia’s high­est sea cliffs, 300 me­tres above the rag­ing South­ern Ocean, but just as im­pres­sive as the views is the trail in­fra­struc­ture.

The pur­pose-built track is wide enough for two to walk abreast, there are 36 art in­stal­la­tions (with ac­com­pa­ny­ing hand­book) telling the story and his­tory of the Tas­man Penin­sula, and the three huts are the plush­est pub­lic hiker ac­com­mo­da­tion in the coun­try – think yoga mats, can­vas deck chairs and mem­ory-foam mattresses. It is a hike like no other in Aus­tralia.

WIL­SONS PROMON­TORY

The south­ern cir­cuit of Vic­to­ria’s Wil­sons Promon­tory, the south­ern­most point of the Aus­tralian main­land, is a rite of pas­sage for many bush­walk­ers. Dis­tances are short – no more than about 10 kilo­me­tres be­tween camps – the ter­rain is straight­for­ward, and beaches are plen­ti­ful.

The open­ing hike over Windy Sad­dle is one of the rare climbs of note, be­fore the trail makes for the coast and idyl­lic ocean nooks such as Refuge Cove.

At Lit­tle Water­loo Bay, the main cir­cuit turns west, cross­ing to Oberon Bay and re­turn­ing to the start­ing point at Ti­dal River, but it’s worth build­ing in an ex­tra day and con­tin­u­ing down the coast to the Prom’s light­house, where light­house keeper cot­tages of­fer a night out of the tent. All in all, one of the finest coastal walks in Aus­tralia.

CAPE TO CAPE TRACK

Ex­pect a few un­usual hik­ing com­pan­ions on this 133-kilo­me­tre coastal wan­der past Mar­garet River in the south­ern cor­ner of Western Aus­tralia. Scan the waves as you walk along the cliff tops, and you’ll prob­a­bly find surfers. Look be­yond the surfers and you’re likely to see mi­grat­ing whales.

The walk con­nects Cape Nat­u­ral­iste and Cape Leeuwin, and feels far more re­mote than maps would sug­gest – on beaches such as Quin­inup Beach and long Deep­dene Beach you’ll be un­lucky if you see an­other per­son.

South­ern right whales mi­grate past this sec­tion of coast from about June to Septem­ber, so aim to walk it then – sight­ing a breach­ing whale as you hike is a mo­ment never for­got­ten.

For a trail taster with a touch of luxe (think end-of-day plunge pools at your villa, spa treat­ments, pri­vate bar), take a four-day hike with Walk into Lux­ury.

THE BIBBULMUN TRACK

One of the world’s most scenic long dis­tance walk­ing trails, the Bibbulmun Track stretches from Kala­munda on the fringe of Perth to the port town of Albany. One of the best sec­tions to ex­pe­ri­ence is be­tween Walpole and Albany, where you can watch surfers tack­ling the waves and walk in na­tive forests in four na­tional parks; Walpole-Nor­nalup, Wil­liam Bay, West Cape Howe and Torndirrup. Walk into Lux­ury con­ducts guided walks on the Bibbulmun, stay­ing at the The Beach House at Bay­side and West Cape Howe Cot­tages with all the trim­mings thrown in.

MARIA IS­LAND WALK

Take a walk through Tas­ma­nia’s his­tory – both nat­u­ral and hu­man – on this four-day guided hike from toe to tip of Maria Is­land. The is­land na­tional park is a place of craggy peaks, sub­lime beaches, abun­dant wildlife and a con­vict in­fra­struc­ture that pre­dates Port Arthur.

Stay­ing in stylish pri­vate camps, with fine Tas­ma­nian pro­duce and wine to fuel your jour­ney, the Maria Is­land Walk presents short wak­ing days with spec­tac­u­lar scenes – the view down into the is­land isth­mus from high atop Mt Maria; the swirling sand­stone pat­terns of the Painted Cliffs – and wildlife en­coun­ters with the likes of wombats and Tas­ma­nian devils, which were in­tro­duced to the is­land a few years ago and are now thriv­ing.

JATBULA TRAIL

Com­bin­ing clas­sic Top End scenery with cool­ing swims and a re­mote gallery of Abo­rig­i­nal rock art, the North­ern Ter­ri­tory’s Jatbula Trail is a 66-kilo­me­tre walk along the Arn­hem Land es­carp­ment. The hike be­gins at Kather­ine Gorge (and ends at Edith Falls) and fol­lows the line of the cliffs through the Top End sa­van­nah, pass­ing a wel­come se­ries of croc­o­dile-free water­falls and streams. Camp each night is be­side the wa­ter, pro­vid­ing ir­re­sistible op­por­tu­ni­ties to wash off the out­back heat and dust. One of the walk high­lights is the chance to de­scend into the shaded Am­phithe­atre, where mon­soon rain­for­est is backed by a wall of rock art de­pict­ing the likes of emus and Ja­woyn women. There are guided walks on the trail.

New Zealand

MIL­FORD TRACK

It’s been more than a cen­tury since the Mil­ford Track was branded the ‘finest walk in the world’ by a Lon­don news­pa­per, and it’s lost none of its sheen in the in­ter­ven­ing decades. The four-day, 53-kilo­me­tre hike fol­lows the course of two dra­matic val­leys, in­ter­rupted in the mid­dle by a steep climb over ex­posed and spec­tac­u­lar Mackin­non Pass.

The moun­tain scenery is sub­lime and hum­bling, the rain­for­est is primeval, and there’s the op­por­tu­nity to de­tour away to the foot of 580-me­tre-high Suther­land Falls, which were long thought to be the high­est falls in the world. The walk ends spec­tac­u­larly on the shores of Mil­ford Sound.

There are pub­lic huts at the end of each day’s walk (camp­ing isn’t per­mit­ted), with guided walks, stay­ing in pri­vate huts, run by Ul­ti­mate Hikes.

ROUTEBURN TRACK

The Mil­ford Track’s moun­tain sib­ling is at least its equal – some ar­gue it’s su­pe­rior. Where the Mil­ford is pri­mar­ily through val­leys, the three-day Routeburn Track is an alpine walk that spools out like a high­lights reel of moun­tain scenes. Climb­ing high above the tree line, the 32-kilo­me­tre track pro­vides vast views and a tan­gi­ble sense of high-moun­tain ex­po­sure, neatly sewing to­gether alpine tarns, the deep Routeburn Gorge and pow­er­ful water­falls.

There’s al­most 1,000 me­tres of climb be­tween the track start at the Routeburn Shel­ter and the high point of Har­ris Sad­dle, so come fit and pre­pared.

There are pub­lic huts with camp­sites, or you can walk it in style, stay­ing in pri­vate huts, with Ul­ti­mate Hikes.

TONGARIRO NA­TIONAL PARK

Whether you spend a day on the Tongariro Cross­ing or three or four days loop­ing around the Tongariro North­ern Cir­cuit, this North Is­land na­tional park pro­vides a stark in­sight into vol­canic land­scapes. The Tongariro Cross­ing, of­ten called the finest day walk in New Zealand, com­bines lu­mi­nous vol­canic lakes with steam­ing fu­maroles and open views of the per­fect vol­canic cone of Mt Ngau­ruhoe (aka Mt Doom in The Lord of the Rings movies).

The Tongariro North­ern Cir­cuit, one of the coun­try’s nine Great Walks, in­cor­po­rates the Cross­ing, but con­tin­ues on to loop around Ngau­ruhoe through New Zealand’s only desert – Mor­dor in the films – pass­ing near to the spec­tac­u­lar Tama Lakes and be­neath Taranaki Falls, which pour pow­er­fully off an an­cient lava flow. There are four pub­lic huts along the Cir­cuit. Adrift op­er­ates guided hikes.

BANKS PENIN­SULA TRACK

A cu­rios­ity of New Zealand tramp­ing is its net­work of pri­vately owned walk­ing trails. Prime among them is this 35-kilo­me­tre hike through farm­land and craggy coast­line out­side of Christchurch. The track be­gins with a climb to the crater rim of an old vol­cano en­cir­cling Akaroa Harbour and then down to stony beaches, the largest lit­tle pen­guin colony on New Zealand’s main­land, and a rugged basalt coast­line pounded by the Pa­cific Ocean. There’s even a sea stack that was a sea arch un­til it col­lapsed in the 2010 Christchurch earth­quake.

The track can be walked over two or four days, stay­ing in farm­house ac­com­mo­da­tion along the way. •

Pho­tog­ra­phy by An­drew Bain & var­i­ous es­tab­lish­ments.

Open­ing im­age: Walk­ers on the sum­mit of Cra­dle Moun­tain, a side trip op­tion on the Over­land Track.

From be­low to right: A quiet break­fast at Mul­li­gan Falls along the Thorsborne Trail; Hik­ers on Ram­say Bay at the start of the Thorsborne Trail, with rocky Nina Peak ris­ing just ahead.

Clock­wise from top right: Walk­ers on the Over­land Track be­low Cra­dle Moun­tain; Hik­ers re­lax­ing at Sur­vey­ors, the first hut along the Three Capes Track; View along the cliffs to Tas­man Is­land from the Three Capes Track.

From left to be­low: Four Mile Beach, Maria Is­land; Views on Mal­abar walk day, Seven Peaks Walk © Luke Han­son/Pine­trees.

Far right: Gran­ite boul­ders at Ti­dal River on Wil­sons Promon­tory.

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