Like the movie and music industries, bushwalking has its blockbusters and superstars.
Most Australians, even those whose idea of hell is pulling on a pair of hiking boots, have heard of Tasmania’s Overland Track, which evolved from pioneer and prospector trails into a world-renowned long-distance hike.
Purpose-built walks backed by imaginative marketing and spectacular scenery are also attracting people who’ve never bushwalked before.
But our countless lesser-known tracks – the off-Broadway walks, if you like – aren’t necessarily lesser stars. You’ve probably never heard of any of these day walks – five of many crackers – but they deserve bigger billing.
1. Kooyoora State Park, Victoria
There could have been few more impressive hideouts for a bushranger between raids on Victoria’s central goldfields than Kooyoora State Park, and local legend puts Scottish-born transportee and life-long criminal Francis McCallum, better known as gentleman outlaw Captain Melville, here in the 1850s.
A nine-kilometre moderate loop walk through Kooyoora State Park, combining the short, sharp Melville Caves climb and Long Rock Walking Circuit, gifts walkers grandstand views of spectacular natural stonemasonry, face-to-face encounters with crenelated granite slopes and huge sculpted boulders – and the odd golden orb-weaver spider on her grand-scale web.
Start: Melville Caves picnic area, off Wehla-Kingower Road, 19 kilometres from Inglewood, north-west of Bendigo
Best: Any mild sunny day
2. Waitpinga Cliffs, Fleurieu Peninsula, SA
An early leg of the Heysen Trail, which continues 1200 kilometres north to the Flinders Ranges, this moderate 12-kilometre through walk rewards pre-hike car shuffling with toe-curling Southern Ocean views, framed with wildflowers in spring and summer.
The walk climbs from unpatrolled Waitpinga Beach, up and over Newland Head. From there you continue north east to King Beach along a line of magnificent sea cliffs that plunge to a rocky shoreline – in places only centimetres from your booted feet.
Keep watch for the pair of white-breasted sea eagles that nests on the cliffs and patrols the skies.
Start: Waitpinga beach parking area, 16 kilometres west of Victor Harbour
Best: Any clear, dry day
3. Sullivan Rock to Monadnocks Campsite, WA
A monadnock is an isolated rock hill, knob or ridge rising abruptly from flatter eroded country; this moderate 15-kilometre walk scales two of these 500-metre protuberances, giving stonking good views of the Darling Range.
You can then push on to a sheltered lunch spot at Monadnocks Campsite before looping lazily back through flatter ground, often thickly stitched with wildflowers, to the moss-patched granite rise called Sullivan Rock.
An 80-minute drive from Perth, this is one of the best day walks on the Bibbulmun Track, which snakes 1000 kilometres south from the Perth hills to Albany.
Start: Sullivan Rock picnic and parking area, Albany Highway, 37 kilometres south-east of Armadale
Best: Mild, clear days
4. Jarnem Loop, Keep River National Park, NT
Keep River National Park was for years known to few others than people driving the big lap around Australia. They camped here – still do – to share foods prohibited in Western Australia with travellers coming the other way. The park’s fascinating geology was a bonus.
But this gem of a park, just off the Victoria Highway, three kilometres shy of the WA border, is a wonderful place to walk.
The eight-kilometre easy-moderate Jarnem Loop leaves from the northernmost camping area. It traverses grassland, scales a time-worn hill, crosses a plain studded with spinifex and bloodwood trees, and then meanders through striped beehive domes and towering livistona palms to an Indigenous art site.
Start: Jarnem camping area, 31 kilometres north of the highway on gravel road
Best: A sunny winter’s morning
5. Pillinger Point, Tasmania
Walkers become part of a kaleidoscope of greenery on this 15-kilometre return forest hike to the rusty ruins of East Pillinger port and township, on the banks of Macquarie Harbour, otherwise accessible only by boat.
Hidden deep in the lush and leafy Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, this flat walk follows the long-abandoned North Mount Lyell Railway line that carried silver and copper to the port for shipment. Early on, it crosses the photogenic moss-covered Bird River trestle bridge.
A four-wheel-drive is required to reach the bridge parking area; otherwise you’re up for a 25-kilometre round trip on foot from good gravel road.
Start: Bird River Bridge parking area, off Kelly Basin Road, 49 kilometres south of Queenstown
Best: A mild overcast day for shadow-less forest photography – with the sun coming out on arriving at the harbour!
Melanie Ball has written three bush-walking guidebooks: Top Walks in Victoria, Top Walks in Tasmania and Top Walks in Australia, published by Explore Australia.