Bushwalking is Australian for hiking and more. In this incredibly vast and wild continent (6th largest country in the world, and 31 x the United Kingdom), any European spoilt with luxurious mountain huts and meticulously marked trails, is bound to encounter his or her roughest alter ego. Bushwalking means finding your own way, knowing how to localise water, carrying food for a week, and putting up your tent in the wilderness among pestering flies, aggressive Dingoes and Kookaburras snatching the food from your mouth.
The Australian landmass has ancient origins, resulting in strongly eroded mountain massifs reaching no higher than Mount Kosciuszko at 2228 m. Nature is most varied, ranging from rain forests up north to vast inland deserts, from snowy mountains in Tasmania and Victoria to the more than 7000 beaches. Forests of beach and eucalyptus give the country colour and scent. Several trails lead to the most remarkable aboriginal rock paintings and sculptures, some of which are more than 1000 years old.
So varied is Australian nature, that the image of the hot continent really must be dismissed as a myth. Australian summers can in fact be very hot and dry in parts of the country. But summer is the best time to walk in the Australian Alps or on the island of Tasmania. Winter is excellent for hiking in humid Queensland and the dry central inland areas of Australia. Spring and autumn make for good hiking almost anywhere in the country.
Hiking is possible on all levels of difficulty and in all biotopes. The many national parks, sometimes the size of a full grown country, are good for both day hikes and long distance walks. Longest in the country (and allegedly in the world, but this is disputed) is the 5330 km Bicentennial National Trail. Walking “by the stars” is not unusual in Australia: the true bushwalker needs no map or path. Sections of some trails are unmarked, or absent altogether. You will need to find your way with a map only, or by following the course of a river. Some people venture across the entire continent on foot, like John Muir. He made a film about it, titled “Alone Across Australia”. In many national parks you will need a permit, and reservations for camp sites and huts.
The longest hiking or multi-use trails are:
- Bicentennial National Trail (Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland), 5330 km
- Heysen Trail (South Australia), 1144 km
- Bibbulmun Track (Western Australia), 961 km
- Australian Alps Walking Track (Victoria, New South Wales), 683 km
- Tasmanian Trail (Tasmania), 477 km
- Hume and Hovell Track (New South Wales), 440 km
- Great North Walk (New South Wales), 250 km
- Great South West Walk (Victoria), 250 km
- Great Dividing Trail (Victoria), 240 km
- Larapinta Trail (Northern Territory), 230 km
- McMillans Track (Victoria), 220 km
- Tops to Myall Heritage Trail (New South Wales), 220 km
- Katoomba to Mittagong Trail (New South Wales), 132 km
- Cape to Cape Track (Western Australia), 124 km
A number of Australian trails find their origins in the national parks, and are maintained by the national park authorities. Within these parks you will always find possibilities for shorter hikes. Other – often longer - trails are private initiatives and being maintained by foundations or non-profit community organisations. In some cases the state government is responsible for a trail. Over the past years for instance, Queensland has opened ten Great Walks, long distance walks through the most beautiful regions of the tropical northeast.
Camping is the rule, huts are an exception. On the Bibbulman Track and the popular Overland Track (Tasmania) it is possible to walk from hut to hut. But on other walks you will need to bring your own tent. Be prepared to carry all your food, and plan ahead carefully where to stock up on water, because summer in many parts of Australia is dry. Open fires are often prohibited due to forest fire risk, so carry your own stove for cooking.
Last but not least, one of Australia's top bushwalkers, John Chapman, is always ready to share all his know-how and experiences with you. His website www.john.chapman.name is the authority, so don't forget to check what he has to say before taking off.