10 TOP Half Day Hikes in 10 HOT Australian Holiday Spots
I’m SO not a hard-core hiker for lots of reasons. Wrong temperament. Wrong size. Wrong fitness level. And my holidays are NEVER just about the hike. Or hikes.
But although I’m the world’s slowest hiker, I like my holidays served up with a bit of hiking on the side. So my holiday destinations have to give me a hiking workout without feeling wrecked at the other end AND some different activities for when I’m over the hiking.
So my Top Ten half day hikes come packaged with their very own holiday destination. Hike to your heart’s content – but when you’re done, you’ll find plenty of different things to do.
PS Half day hikes often take me longer – so being the world’s slowest hiker will probably explain why you’re more likely to trek these trails faster than me!
1. Kims Lookout Circuit, Lord Howe Island, New South Wales
- Where is it: Lord Howe Island is 600 km east of Sydney.
- How to get there: Flights leave from Sydney and Port Macquarie.
- When to go: Any time; September to June are most popular; July and August can be cold.
- The Hike: 7 km Loop Trail; Moderate to Difficult
Going places on Lord Howe Island generally means walking or cycling – so depending on where you’re staying, just getting to the trailhead near Ned’s Beachwill add some extra mileage (why isn’t ‘kilometerage’ a word?) to the distance.
Start climbing Malabar Hill straight away and soon you’ll have sweeping views down to Neds Beach on one side and Old Settlement and northern part of the island on the other. A little higher and you’ll see Mounts Gower and Lidgbird, Balls Pyramid, highest volcanic rock stack in the world, and the Admiralty Islands. That’s if you can bear to look over the sheer cliffs plunging down, STRAIGHT down into the ocean.
The track continues along the cliff tops (don’t look down!) to Kims Lookout with magnificent views over most of the island. Then it’s just a matter of heading down to the Max Nicholls track and back via Old Settlement Beach. Luckily, you’ll pass a cafe on the way!
- While you’re on Lord Howe Island: Highlights include Cruises around the Island, to the Reef, North Bay and Balls Pyramid; Hiking, Water Sports, Birding, Historic Museum. MORE about Lord Howe Island
2. Bararranna Gorge, Arkaroola, South Australia
- Where is it: Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, 730 km north of Adelaide, Outback South Australia.
- How to get there: Self-Drive on fully sealed roads to Copley, 600 km north of Adelaide. Arkaroola is 130 km north-east of Copley on an all weather dirt road.
- When to go: Anytime, but please note temperatures from November to March can be well above 30° C. Contact Arkaroola if planning to travel during this time to avoid closures.
- The Hike: Bararranna Gorge Loop Trail, 6.8 km, Moderate
Actually, the hike can be a bit more than 6.8 km.
How far up the dramatic Bararranna Gorge you can get depends how much water is in Bararranna Waterhole.
Detour from the main trail to explore the gorge – an added extra to an already varied walk through a remote outback landscape scattered with waterholes, intriguing geological features (aka ‘rocks’) and wildlife.
Time passes quickly when you’re rock-hopping, admiring the dramatic cliffs, fossil-hunting and resting stopping for (endless) photos. Hunger and fatigue finally drove us back to the main track, where we finished the loop.
Only to find we’d doubled the suggested 3 hour walk time. But hey! We ARE the world’s slowest hikers!
- While you’re at Arkaroola: Highlights include the signature Ridge-top Tour, Hikes, 4WD Tracks. MORE Things to Do at Arkaroola HERE
- While you’re in the Area: Explore the northern SA Outback and Flinders Ranges. Things to Do at Copley HERE
3. Dales Gorge Circuit, Karijini National Park, Western Australia
- Where is it: Karijini is 75 km East of closest town Tom Price; 1422 km north-east of Perth and 962 km south-west of Broome.
- How to get there: Self Drive. Bitumen roads all the way on main routes; dirt roads throughout the Park.
- When to go: During dry season cooler months May to August; May and June are best
- The Hike: Dales Gorge Loop combines all walks from Dales campground; ~4.5 km, moderate – Class 3 and 4, some steep sections with ladders
Could a track possibly lead safely down the sheer cliffs under the Three Ways Lookout to Circular Pool – 100 metres below? Of course! The REALLY steep bits have ladders! But the first part is the worst part as the track follows the winding river through groves of trees with steep RED rocky walls towering above. Actually, make that BEYOND red.
The river cascades down across treacherously slippery rock shelves as the trail winds steadily uphill towards Fortescue Falls. Then it’s up even further to popular swimming hole, the Fern Pool. Take a break there, because it’s a steep climb out of the gorge and another 2 km back along the Gorge Rim trail to the Lookout trail head.
Just as well this remarkably scenic walk gives weary walkers plenty of reasons to stop – photos, bird watching, admiring the view – that don’t sound like ‘resting’!
- MORE about the Dales Gorge Walk
- While you’re at Karijini: Highlights include Hancock Gorge, Oxer and Knox Lookouts, Joffre Falls. MORE Things to do at Karijini HERE
- While you’re in the Area: Explore more of the Pilbara at Tom Price. MORE about Tom Price HERE
4. Nelly Bay to Arcadia, Magnetic Island, Far North Queensland
- Where is it: Magnetic Island is 8 km and a 20 minute ferry ride east of Townsville. The hike starts near the ferry terminal at Nelly Bay.
- How to get there: Townsville is 1336 km north-west of Brisbane, and 347 km south-east of Cairns on fully sealed roads.
- When to go: Anytime, but the wet season between November and April can be hot and humid. Most popular time is during the Australian winter months June to August.
- The Hike: Nelly Bay to Arcadia, 6 km + 2-3 km extra to walk from Arcadia back to Nelly Bay (local bus available), moderate
Experience life on a tropical island! AND see killer scenery from several vantage points overlooking island scenic hot spots and the mainland as the trail heads upwards through thick rainforest. It probably wouldn’t be anywhere near as tough a climb without the ever-present tropical humidity, but who cares with wildlife like Koalas and Black cockatoos on the trail?
After a detour to the Sphinx lookout, the walk ends at Arcadia aka Magnetic Island ‘suburbia’. Unless you extend the hike by taking the Junction Track to the Forts, Arthur Bay, and even Horseshoe Bay if you’ve still got the energy! Walk back to Nelly Bay – or take the regular bus service!
- MORE about the Nelly Bay to Arcadia Hike
- While you’re on Magnetic Island: Highlights include Beaches, Water sports, Hikes, Guided Walks, Wildlife. MORE things to do on Magnetic Island
- While you’re in Townsville: Highlights include National Parks and Reserves, Great Barrier Reef, Castle Hill, Northern Beaches, Tropical Islands. MORE things to do in Townsville
5. Jarnem Loop, Keep River National Park, Northern Territory
- Where: The Park is 3 km east of the WA/NT border; 203 km west of Timber Creek; 68 km east of Kununurra
- How to get there: Self Drive on fully sealed roads from Timber Creek or Kununurra. Dirt roads throughout the park.
- When to go: Cooler months from May to August. Seasonal closures due to flooding from November to April
- The Hike: Jarnem Loop Trail, 7 km, Moderate
The weirdly striped sandstone domes lining the Jarnem Loop trail and filling much of the landscape beyond are often described as a ‘Lite’ version of the more well known Bungle Bungles. But whether or not that’s true, the view from the fantastic 360° lookout over ranges and plains is anything but Lite!
The trail winds back down to a palm-lined valley getting much closer to the wind-scoured layers and shapes of the rounded domes. Along the creek line are caverns with Aboriginal rock art, then the trail returns to the picnic area. And although it was peak tourist season, we had it all to ourselves!
- While you’re in the Park: Highlights include Walks, Aboriginal Rock Art, Bird and Wildlife Watching. More about Keep River National Park HERE
- While you’re in the Area: Explore the Top End. Highlights include Victoria River Crocodile Cruise, Lake Argyle Cruise, Gregory and Mirima National Parks, Historic Sites, Fishing. MORE about Timber Creek HERE. MORE about Kununurra HERE.
6. Mt Abrupt, Grampians, Victoria
- Where: Mt Abrupt is in the Southern Grampians near Dunkeld, 280 km west of Melbourne
- Getting there: Self-Drive to Gariwerd (Grampians National Park) and the Grampians Region on fully sealed roads. Dunkeld is 64 km south of the more central Halls Gap.
- When to go: Anytime. Spring (Sept – Nov) best for wildflowers.
- The Hike: 6.5 km return, Moderate to Difficult.
It’s got one of the most spectacular views of the wilder parts of the Grampians, but the view of Mt Abrupt’s forbidding sheer cliffs from Dunkeld make it look a LOT more difficult to climb than it really is. The trailhead starts just north of Dunkeld and climbs steadily through the bushland. After passing Signal Peak, the views unfold all the way to the summit over the Victoria Range and Valley, Serra Range, Southern plains and Dunkeld.
Returning via the same route means a chance to catch up on the photos you were too knackered to take on the way up!
- MORE about the Mt Abrupt Hike
- While you’re in the Grampians: Highlights include Hikes, Rock Climbing, Scenic Drives, Fishing, Lookouts, Lakes, Seasonal Wildflowers, Wildlife, Historic Sites. MORE things to do in the Grampians HERE
7. Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park, Queensland
- Where is it: 220 km (136 miles) north-west of the Burke and Wills Roadhouse, between Cloncurry and Normanton;
- How to get there: Self-Drive. Take National Route 83 from Cloncurry. At the Burke and Wills Roadhouse, take State Route 84 – the Wills Development Road – to Gregory Downs. Boodjamulla is 100 km from Gregory Downs on a dirt road.
- When to go: Dry season from May to October. Roads can be impassable during the wet.
- The Hike: Several Hikes from 2-7 km, varying degrees of difficulty. The combined hike suggestion below is about 8 km, moderate to difficult.
It takes more than one walk to do Lawn Hill justice and discover everything this stunning blend of towering red cliffs, crystal clear water, palms, bushland, crocodiles, spa-like cascades, lookouts, giant carp and magnificent vistas has to offer. Chances are it’ll be HOT whatever time of year you’re there – and if you’ve come all this way you’d be mad to leave without seeing it all. So combine some of the shorter walks into a longer hike – or avoid heatstroke, stay a few days and do them one by one!
That way you’ll have time for the other activities!
But for the full experience in just one day, start early and take the Middle Gorge track to Duwadarri and Indarri Lookouts. Return the same way, or take the loop down the cliffs and back to the campground. Then do the Island Stack loop, and finish up by taking the Cascades detour – may as well have a natural spa before returning to the campground.
And don’t say I didn’t tell you to stay an extra day!
- While you’re in Lawn Hill: Highlights include Swimming, Canoeing, Hiking, Wildlife. MORE about Lawn Hill National Park
8. Mt Kosciuszko Summit, via Jindabyne, New South Wales
- Where is it: The Mt Kosciuszko summit can be reached either from Thredbo, 212 km south-west of Canberra; or Jindabyne, about 34 km from Thredbo.
- Getting There: A number of routes access Thredbo, Jindabyne and the Kosciuszko National Park. The best route will depend from which direction you’re heading.
- When to go: Anytime, but the track is generally snowbound from June to October – you can reach the summit on cross-country skis or snowshoes, but the track had no snow poles.
- The Hike: 13 km return, Class 3 Moderate (from Thredbo); or alternatively18.6 km return, Class 3 Moderate (from Charlotte Pass).
En route from Thredbo to Mt Kosciuszko’s summit (Australia’s highest mountain), you’ll see Charlotte Pass (Australia’s highest permanent settlement) where Australia’s lowest temperature (-23° C) was recorded, Australia’s highest lake (Lake Cootapatamba) and Australia’s highest Public Loo (Rawsons Pass).
A long ride up the Kosciuszko Express chair lift from Thredbo quickly knocks off 600 metres of altitude. Then it’s a 6.5 km undulating walk to the summit on a specially constructed raised walkway protecting the fragile alpine vegetation beneath. Congratulations! You’ve climbed a Seven Summits peak!!
Hard to believe that back in the good old days you could drive nearly to the top – so the trickiest part of your climb will be to convince everyone how difficult it was!
- MORE about the Mt Kosciuszko Summit Hike (via Thredbo)
- While you’re in the Park: Explore the Park’s seven different areas. More things to do in Kosciuszko National Park
- While you’re in the Alps: Australian Alps Highlights
9. Ormiston Gorge and Pound, Central Australia, Northern Territory
- Where is it: Ormiston Gorge is in the West MacDonnell Ranges National Park, 135 km west of Alice Springs.
- How to get there: Self-Drive on fully sealed roads from Alice Springs.
- When to go: Anytime, but April to October is best for hiking.
- The Hike: Ormiston Gorge and Pound Loop, 7 km, Moderate
Every kilometre the scenery changed. A steep gorge gave way to a hillside dotted with wildflowers and stunning views of Mount Sonder before descending into a spinfex-strewn valley leading up onto a scree-strewn saddle to a lookout over the Pound, ringed with rugged ranges. Down into the pound, across two creeks, then rock-hopping the gorge, red walls towering above us.
At the end of the gorge – only a kilometre to go – recent rain meant the final creek was running higher than usual. Sadly, I hadn’t yet mastered the art of levitation, so I chose to wade through the frigid water – a kilometre in wet underwear WAY better than a 6 km back-track! If you get lucky and don’t need to choose, I say you’ll be missing a super-COOL experience!
- MORE about the Ormiston Gorge and Pound Walk
- While you’re in Ormiston Gorge: Highlights include Glen Helen Gorge, Larapinta Hiking Trail, Ochre Pits, Gorges and Waterholes. MORE Things to Do in Ormiston Gorge
- While you’re in the Area: Explore the area around Alice Springs. MORE Things to do in Central Australia
10. Deep Creek Cove, Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia
- Where is it: Deep Creek Conservation Park is on the Fleurieu Peninsula, 108 km south of Adelaide
- How to get there: Self Drive along Main South Road from Adelaide, about 1.5 hours.
- When to go: March – May and September – November. Summer (Dec – Feb) is dry and hot with temperatures from 30-35. Winter (Jun – Aug) is wet, so tracks can be slippery.
- The Hike: Deep Creek Cove from Trig Picnic Area, 6.4 km return, Moderate
Deep Creek Cove is accessible from two points: a moderate, but longer hike from Trig Picnic Area, and a shorter, more difficult hike from Tappanappa Lookout. But for us, two attempts = two FAILS and I’ve NEVER reached the Cove!
On our first attempt (via Trig) I was off work after an eye operation so we’d decided to explore. That was wrong. VERY wrong. And you’ll be glad to know I was punished for breaking the sick leave rule by actual illness when my eye turned to the dark side and I couldn’t finish the hike. My bad.
‘Where are those explosions coming from?,’ I wondered aloud to Pilchard on our 2nd attempt from Tappanappa as we started down the hill. ‘I didn’t know there was a quarry in the area’. Turns out there wasn’t and the explosions we heard were actually thunderclaps heading our way. So we abandoned the hike, scuttled back to the car and leftf the park before the rains hit the dirt roads.
The Deep Creek Cove hikes and several others (including the Deep Creek waterfall hike which I actually HAVE done), combine to make up the 10.9 (and much more difficult) Deep Creek Circuit. And at this rate it’ll only take me another 10 years to finish it all.
In the meantime, if YOU get to Deep Creek Cove before I do, let me know what it’s like!
- While you’re in the Park: Highlights include 15 Hiking Trails, Blowhole Beach, Lookouts, Wildlife, Camping. MORE Things to Do at Deep Creek Conservation Park HERE
- While you’re in the Area: Explore the Fleurieu Peninsula. Highlights include the Cockle Train, Coorong Cruise, Beaches. MORE Things to do on the Fleurieu Peninsula HERE
There are lots more hikes in Australia and I know I’ve probably missed some good ones. What’s YOUR favourite half day hike holiday hot spot?
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