Top 10 Trails in Australia (Western & South Australia)

Explore Australia’s huge open spaces on trekking routes that penetrate every corner of the country to reveal surprisingly diverse snapshots of the island-continent’s landscape and nature

Story by Andrew Bain

Cape to Cape Track

Where Western Australia

When June to December is whale season

How long 133km

How tough
Moderate – some long days slugging it out through sand, but few real climbs.

What’s great about it
Whales, wine and waves . . . why wouldn’t you?

Imagine a coastal hike at the edge of one of Australia’s finest wine regions, with whales regularly popping up out of the ocean as you walk. Welcome to the Cape to Cape Track, running between the lighthouses on Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin in the southwestern corner of the country.

This gorgeously rugged route clings to cliff-tops and empty beaches near to the point where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean in a tangle of waves. Suitably, much of your focus as you walk will be on the sea. From June to December, this strip of ocean is a whale migration corridor, and it’s not unusual to see breaching whales just offshore as you hike along the cliffs. The southern hemisphere spring also sees the blooming of numerous wildflowers.

Evocative, ocean-beaten coastal rock features abound along the length of the week-long trail, alternating with loops inland. There are long, isolated stretches of beach, chances to duck away from the trail into Margaret River vineyards – easy to get a bit sidetracked here! – and a section of hiking through Australia’s westernmost stand of giant karri trees at Boranup.

Nights offer a mix of walker-only campsites with picnic tables and water tanks, and guesthouses and simple hotels in likeable seaside towns such as Yallingup and Prevelly Park. Book ahead for the latter as they fill up quickly, with some places not keen on single-night bookings.

The Friends of the Cape to Cape Track website, www.capetocapetrack.com.au, is an invaluable planning resource.

Heysen Trail (Northern Section)

Where South Australia

When April to May, August to October

How long 60km (this section only, or up to 1,200km if you’re really keen)

How tough
Moderate. Remote but straightforward hiking.

What’s great about it
Seeing more of Australia’s most beautiful range than most locals have.

The Heysen Trail in its entirety is probably the most daunting hike in Australia, stretching for 1,200km along the back of Adelaide and into the far-northern Flinders Ranges, where South Australia approaches desert country.

Water is scarce, the hiking is remote, and the dry heat can be intense. But the northernmost 60km of the trail, from Parachilna Gorge to Wilpena Pound, provide a pretty complete highlights package.

This section of the trail parallels the ranges, crossing through the ABC Range out of Aroona Valley and into the Bunyeroo Valley below the northern wall of Wilpena Pound. This crater-like circle of peaks is the most striking natural landmark in South Australia, and there are good views of its sawtooth peaks for much of the length of the hike.

The final section of the hike rounds the base of the Pound to finish at the Wilpena Pound Resort, but there’s also a chance to veer away onto the shoulder of St Mary Peak, the highest mountain in the Flinders Ranges, for a perspective on the Pound’s arid interior.

You’ll need to carry a tent and all food on this hike, but camping areas at Aroona Valley and Yanyanna Hut break the route into fairly even stints across three days. The trail is closed during the local fire danger season – typically November to April.

There’s a wealth of information at the Friends of the Heysen Trail website, http://heysentrail.asn.au