At LAST I’ve got the answer to that irritating question – Have you been to all the Australian National Parks?
I’ll just get out my recently released 2nd edition of Explore Australia’s excellent Explore Australia’s National Parks!
And point out that to visit ALL of Australia’s 500+ National Parks would be a life-long project.
The question comes up because lots of visitors stop counting after Uluru-Kata Tjuta, the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu and the Blue Mountains. But what about the other 500 or so? Over the years, our travels in Australia have taken us to some spectacular National Parks that we’ve often had all to ourselves.
Using Explore Australia’s National Parks will help to narrow the field. And I’m not just saying that because I was lucky to get a complementary copy – check out the infographic at left, then take a little armchair tour of these 6 less well known Australian National Parks and you’ll see what I mean!!
And if this doesn’t whet your appetite for Aussie travel, then NOTHING will!
Let’s head to South Australia first!
Driving the Nullarbor is the ultimate road trip – part of a 4000 km journey from one side of Australia to the other, its big chunks of nothing broken only by roadhouses, rest stops and ‘roos! And stopping for the obligatory photo of yourself in the middle of a long stretch of empty road with nothing all around …
But the drive through the Nullarbor Regional Reserve is an adventure in itself with several world exclusives, including Nullarbor Links, the world’s longest golf course; the Nullarbor itself, world’s longest, flattest limetone formation; and the Bunda cliffs – longest unbroken stretch of cliffs without a natural harbour in the world.
For those unimpressed by such things, the Great Australian Bight – that big concave bit along the bottom of the continent – is a world reknowned Southern Right Whale nursery and migration path.
And on a good day – May to October – literally dozens of whales and calves can be spotted up and down the coast from the Head of Bight viewing platforms.
Such a spectacle, in fact, that I almost didn’t notice the scenic public toilet!
Read MORE: Whale Watching at Head of Bight
For a complete change of pace, Victoria’s Mallee country is a surprise to those who thought the Outback was confined to Australia’s more central parts.
Only 450 km north-west of Melbourne, visit Wyperfeld’s eastern section from nearby Hopetoun or Rainbow, but for a real outback experience camp in one of the park’s two campgrounds and explore the park on foot.
With walking trails to suit all levels of fitness, the park is part of a complex lake system and is a known habitat for the endangered Mallee fowl.
During our May 2012 day trip, we saw two other cars. But although lots of others joined us for our second stay on the June long weekend in 2014, we were on our own again once the weekend was over.
And when you’re done with Wyperfeld, drop in to nearby Patchewollock for the BIG Mallee fowl!
The poor relation of Exmouth’s two parks, Cape Range is often overshadowed by the world famous Whale Sharks of Ningaloo Reef. And while these Western Australian Coral Coast offshore attractions are undeniably spectacular, Cape Range was so intriguing on our August 2012 visit, we saved Ningaloo for next time.
After escaping our campsite between the twin delights of the amenities block and the backpacker accomodation, Yardie Creek Gorge along the western side of the range running down the middle of Northwest Cape was a welcome surprise.
It’s not every day you get to see a classic Outback Gorge with a river running into the ocean!
The eastern side of the range was even more dramatic. A very rough, narrow, winding and steep drive along the aptly named Charles Knife Road revealed more rugged Outback scenery with staggering views across to the ocean.
And in the height of tourist season, with caravan parks and campgrounds full to bursting, we lucked out with only a couple of other vehicles!
Although one contained quite possibly the only sarong-wearing Frenchman in the world …
Read MORE: Exploring Cape Range National Park
Described to us as the ‘mini Bungle Bungles’ in a nod to one of Western Australia’s big ticket items, the Northern Territory’s Keep River National Park actually abuts the WA border. And makes a mockery of the 1½ hour time difference! Although we left Kununurra early, by the time we’d visited the Ranger station and nearby Cockatoo Lagoon, then driven to the 7km Jarnem Loop walk trailhead, the morning had all but gone.
This spectacular walk through bizarre rock formations to the 360ºlookout, then down through a lightly wooded valley past more rock formations to an Aboriginal rock shelter complete with paintings was virtually people free!
Add a lifer – White-quilled Rock-pigeon – for twitcher Pilchard and I see a return to this remote Top End park in our future …
I can only imagine the views at sunset and sunrise – but one day we’ll stay in one of the campgrounds for a few days and find out!
And when one day we visit the real Bungle Bungles, we’ll see how it got it’s nickname.
Jolting along the rough road from remote opal mining town White Cliffs towards Paroo-Darling National Park’s Peery Lake, we spotted a Winnebago parked in the middle of the road. Stopping to make sure the owners were OK, we asked where they’d come from. The middle aged couple exchanged guilty glances and seemed strangely reluctant to tell us.
‘You’re not Park rangers, are you?’, she finally asked. Then the penny dropped! They’d illegally stayed at the lake overnight.
‘It’s not really camping,’ she continued. ‘We’re fully self-contained!’
And that was our introduction to both Paroo-Darling National Park and the new definitions of ‘camping’.
The park is a string of seven old pastoral leases, several of which form one of the only reserves on the Darling River floodplain.
The park’s only campground – the Coach and Horses – is in this section, more easily reached from Wilcannia.
In the northern sections, along the Paroo River Overflow before it meets the Darling near Wilcannia. In this part of the park, the massive bulk of Lake Peery, full during our 2010 visit, supports abundant birdlife but when dry its unique mound springs become visible.
Read MORE: White Cliffs, New South Wales
Back in 1998 on our first and only visit, Queensland’s Lawn Hill was considered a remote destination with the riverbanks at closest town Gregory Downs a makeshift stopover campsite before the rigours of 100 km of bulldust and gravel.
Nowadays, nearly 15 years later, it’s still a long, hard 100 km of unsealed road. With either mud or dust, depending on the time of year.
But it’s still one of the most spectacularly memorable National Parks in Australia, an Outback oasis with a soaring red rocky gorge system, clear water and staggering scenery. The canoe trip from the camping area up the gorge, then over the portage point into the higher gorge is an amazing experience. Get close to the wildlife too! Swim with the giant carp, spot freshwater crocodiles lurking in the gorges – and watch out for snakes in the water! My first instinct was to paddle like hell when my oar nearly hit a snake in the water; but Pilchard wanted to paddle back to see what he’d missed.
I guess that’s the essential difference between us!
Back at the campground’s cold showers, the high limestone content in the water gave a whole new meaning to ‘sculpted hairdo’ …
While travelling to these National Parks may take a little longer, the trip is well worth the extravaganza of stunning scenery, wonderful wildlife and extraordinary experiences you’ll encounter.
If YOU would like to explore Australia’s National Parks further, Explore Australia’s Explore Australia’s National Parks would make a GREAT investment in your Aussie travel!