Meet Australia’s National Heritage–listed national parks

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Bungle Bungles, Purnululu National Park

Bungle Bungles, Purnululu National Park

Overwhelmed by Australia’s 500 national parks and can’t decide which ones to add to the bucket list? Why not start with the six national parks so good they’ve been heritage listed? We introduce you to Australia’s National Heritage–listed national parks.

Royal National Park, New South Wales

Just south of Sydney’s Cronulla, Royal National Park has been a playground for Sydneysiders for over one hundred years. And it’s not hard to see why this area was chosen to be Australia’ first national park, from its sheltered bays and beaches, to the intimidating sandstone cliffs shaped by the battering pressure of the Pacific, to the paths twining in and out of the shrubby – yet beautiful – landscape.

Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

Rising out the east Kimberleys like – well, like an impressive series of beehive-striped, dome-shaped rocks, the Bungle Bungles are the centrepiece of Purnululu National Park. Around 100km from Halls Gap, the first half of 50km from Halls Gap to Purnululu National Park is along the Great Northern Highway, but the final 53km is only a 4WD-only dirt track – this is wild country, and a wild national park. There’s more to see in the national park than the Bungle Bungles, including astounding gorges like Cathedral Gorge.

Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, New South Wales

The second national park near Sydney on the list, Ku-ring-gai Chase is the sort of the park you’d expect of Sydney – it has water, water everywhere. Protecting a swatch of land in the famous Pittwater region from St Ives to Brooklyn on the Hawkesbury River, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park is all dramatic hills, sandstone cliffs, dry and temperate rainforests – and did we mention the water? Take one of the many walking tracks in the park that wind down to a hidden bay for a sneaky swim in Pittwater.

Stirling Range National Park, Western Australia

You’ll have to forgive the pun – Stirling Range truly is a sterling range. Hidden in the south-west of Western Australia, the park is around an hour north of Albany. Rising 1000m above sea level, the range is rather hard to miss. While part of Stirling Range’s appeal is the remarkable vista, and the great walking tracks to the tops of various peaks in the park, Stirling Range National Park also shelters around 1500 species of flora, some of which are found nowhere else in the world. Oh, and apart from all that, Stirling Range is the only place is Western Australia where you might – might – see snow.

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory

The national park that needs no introduction, although we’re going to give one anyway! Uluru, allegedly the world’s largest monolith (although that honour really goes to Western Australia’s Mount Augustus), is one of the most famous landmarks in Australia. The national park was formed to protect the remarkable rock, along with nearby remarkable rock formations of Kata Tjuta. Both rise out of the central Australian desert, and are truly in the middle of nowhere, around 5 hours from the nearest major town of Alice Springs – although we’re sure you’ll agree that the rocks are worth the journey.

Warrumbungle National Park, New South Wales

The spectacular and ancient environment of Warrumbungle National Park was devastated by fires in 2013, and the park is still recovering (although the NPWS is working hard to rebuild facilities). But you can access some of the most popular facilities of the park, including the famous Breadknife walk. And then, of course, there’s the fact that if you camp you’ll see stars in your eyes. The night sky in the area is so good that Australia’s leading research observatory, Sliding Spring Observatory, was built right next to the park.

Australia’s most isolated islands

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Norfolk Island

Norfolk Island

Do you want to get away from it all – and we mean, really get away from it all? When a regular beach holiday just won’t cut it, why not jet away to one of Australia’s most isolated islands and discover what their appeal is, apart from the distance.

Christmas Island

You don’t hear much about Christmas Island, apart from the detention centre located on the island. But over half of this small Australian territory around 2600km from Perth (it’s much closer to Indonesia than Australia) is national park, which protects what might, in other circumstances, be called an island paradise.

Rising out of the ocean – Christmas Island is the top of an underwater mountain – much of the surface is covered with tropical rainforest. The most famous residents of the island’s rainforest are the huge crabs. These crabs aren’t like the ones you see in tanks in Chinatown. Robber crabs, one of the prominent species on the island, can grow to be as big as rubbish bins. You don’t want to find yourself in the way when these crabs start their annual migration to the beaches for the mating season.

If crabs aren’t really your bowl of seafood chowder, then Christmas Island offers great snorkelling, diving and fishing. The seas around the island are treacherous, and most areas of the island greet the sea with 20m-high cliffs, but there’s a selection of beaches with natural coves where you can safely swim. Oh, and the best thing about swimming here? The island is ringed by a coral reef, so the snorkelling is just offshore.

Cocos Keeling Islands

Joining Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean, the Cocos Keeling Islands are like Australia’s version of the Maldives, a collection of small islands forming an atoll. And unlike Christmas Island, with its more controversial ties to immigration and mining, there’s nothing to mar your enjoyment of these islands. You can participate in all of the activities you’d expect at a tropical paradise – swimming, snorkelling, diving, windsurfing, bird-watching, island hopping – as well as some that are a bit more unexpected, like walking across the entire atoll at low tide on certain days.

Of the 27 islands that form that Cocos Keeling, only two are inhabited. Most people stay on West Island. From West Island, you can catch a ferry across to Home Island, home to the Cocos Malay people, where you try some spicy Malay food or check out the museum.

King Island

The island where dairy is king! King Island is famous for its cheeses, but there’s more to this island in the Bass Strait than its exports. Situated almost perfectly halfway between Tasmania and Victoria, King Island constantly braces itself against the Roaring Forties and has the shipwreck history to prove it. Luckily, the days of maritime disasters seem to be over, and you can take a self-guided shipwreck tour of the island. And if that doesn’t scare you off, there’s some world-class surfing spots you can try.

What else is there to do on the island? Well, apart from take in the incredible natural environment, buy some cheese and eat some beef, you should just … relax and embrace island life.

Macquarie Island

Macquarie Island

Macquarie Island

Just when you thought an Australian island couldn’t be more remote than the Cocos Keeling Islands, along comes Macquarie Island to burst that bubble. This Tasmanian State Reserve is halfway between the Australian mainland and Antarctica, around 1400km from Tasmania.

So here’s the good news: Macquarie Island is a truly unique natural environment (so unique it’s on the World Heritage List), with dramatic cliffs and mountains crafted from volcanic rock, and is home to king and emperor penguins, seals and a magnificent seabird population.

The bad news is that the only humans who get to visit Macquarie Island do so as part of Australia’s Antarctic program. But if we were you, we’d think about signing up.

Norfolk Island

From Australia itself, to Tasmania, to Cockatoo Island in Sydney – the early British inhabitants of Australia really liked using islands as prisons. And even though Norfolk Island was a difficult 1000km from the east coast of Australia, that didn’t stop the British from following their usual patterns and establishing Norfolk as a prison island, although the last prisoner was moved to Tasmania in 1855.

The remains of the prison on the island are now heritage listed, and the island has shaken off the rest of its penal past. It’s now a delightful holiday retreat, complete with a friendly community and a tropical island feel.

Aussie Loos with Views

Kalbarri National Park, Marion Halliday

Kalbarri National Park, Marion Halliday

Do you like your loos to come with views? Here are some of the most scenically situated dunnies around Australia from the new book Aussie Loos with Views by Marion Halliday.

Loo on Larapinta Trail at Ormiston Gorge, Marion Halliday

Loo on Larapinta Trail at Ormiston Gorge, Marion Halliday

Lord, what a view at Lord Howe Island, Marion Halliday

Lord, what a view at Lord Howe Island, Marion Halliday

Rainbow Valley, Marion Halliday

Rainbow Valley, Marion Halliday

Kata Tjuta (the loo that started it all), Marion Halliday

Kata Tjuta (the loo that started it all), Marion Halliday

Aussie Loos with Views

Find more dunny delights in Aussie Loos with Views.

Best camping around Cairns and the Mid-Tropics

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Mission Beach Hideaway Village, Tom Simpson

Mission Beach Hideaway Village, Tom Simpson

If you want to camp with a view, look no further than the campsites around Cairns. We’ve picked our favourite campsites around the popular holiday town, everywhere from a boulder-bound campsite (yup, there’s more to Cairns than the beach) to a camping area on a beach where you can actually swim.

Mission Beach Hideaway Holiday Village, Mission Beach

Your holiday mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find an affordable, but still decent, place to stay. And if you book at Mission Beach Hideaway Holiday Village, you’ll be able to say mission accomplished.

Davies Creek camping area, Davies Creek National Park

If you found yourself up a creek without a paddle, you’d find yourself lucky to land at Davies Creek camping area, a picturesque spot next to Davies Creek. There are eight sites at the camping area, and good facilities.

Downfall Creek camping area, Danbulla State Forest

This open camping area is on the banks of Lake Tinaroo, and has uninterrupted views of the water. There are no defined sites, so rock up, set up tent wherever you like and tell yourself that this is the life. There are flushing toilets and fire rings.

Ellis Beach Oceanfront Bungalows, Ellis Beach

Ellis Beach is the rare beach near Cairns where you can swim all year round, as there’s a net in the ocean to protect a small area of the ocean from stingers. And you can camp right behind the beach, on either a powered or unpowered site.

Granite Gorge Nature Park

Your stay at this fantastic campsite will be anything but rocky – Granite Gorge Nature Park has facilities that rank among the best, shady sites, and proximity to the park’s famous boulders.

Home Rule Rainforest Lodge, Ngalba Bulal National Park

Home Rule Rainforest Lodge is almost the gateway to the true north of Australia. So make sure to take advantage of the luxurious facilities at Home Rule for the duration for your stay, as it won’t be as easy to find good facilities in Cape York.

Noah Beach camping area, Daintree National Park

Is camping on a beach in Daintree National Park the ultimate mid-tropics accommodation? We say yes, but you’ll have to nab one of the limited camping spots and see for yourself!

Dunk Island camping area, Dunk Island

Camping is the only accommodation option still available on Dunk Island, which has sustained significant damage after cyclones on this section of the coast. Just off Mission Beach, the island is a back-to-nature paradise, but with better facilities.

Top 5 croc-free swimming holes in the Northern Territory

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Gunlom (Waterfall Creek), Kakadu National Park, Tourism Australia

Gunlom (Waterfall Creek), Kakadu National Park, Tourism Australia

Want to cool down in a croc-free swimming hole after exploring the hot spots of the Northern Territory? We’ve picked five swimming holes across the Territory that are (normally) croc free.

Berry Springs, Berry Springs Nature Park

The natural springs at Berry Springs Nature Park couldn’t look more like a picture-perfect oasis if they had been designed by Disney. An emerald pool, fringed by jungle green is exactly what a Disney princess – or anyone, really – would want to swim in after an exhausting day exploring the Northern Territory.

Only 50km from Darwin, Berry Springs doesn’t have any crocs (although you should always read the warning signs), and has several easily accessible pools ranged along Berry Creek.

Gunlom Pool, Kakadu National Park

If crocodiles have a spiritual home in the imaginations of most Australians, it would be at the wildly beautiful Kakadu National Park. And yup, you’ll find crocodiles in most waterholes and rivers and wetlands here. But there is a pool, hidden at the top of a waterfall, that you can only find after a steep hike up. You might be tempted to think that Gunlom Pool is a mirage, but the cold water will soon shock you out of that. Relax in the water while enjoying panoramic views over the park. While crocs up this high are rare, it’s always a possibility, so be careful.

Wangi Falls, Litchfield National Park

Disclaimer: there sometimes are crocs at Wangi Falls. It’s one of the designated swimming areas in Litchfield National Park, along with Buley Rock Hole, Florence Falls, Walker Creek and the Cascades. But as one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Northern Territory, this swimming spot is monitored by rangers and has a permanent croc trap just upstream, although you should always be cautious and follow the warning signs. As for the swimming hole itself? At the bottom of a charming waterhole, it’s a picturesque spot, fringed with trees clinging to the volcanic-looking rocks.

Ormiston Gorge, West MacDonnell Ranges National Park

Phhheww, we’re in the Red Centre – you don’t have to worry about crocs here. Ormiston Gorge is in West MacDonnell National Park. You’ll also find swimming holes at Ellery Creek Big Hole and Redbank Gorge (where you can float through the narrow enclosing walls) in the park. The biggest risk at this swimming hole is that you’ll be so transfixed by the red walls rising above the water (especially if you’re there at sunrise or sunset) and the fringing gums that you’ll stay in the water too long and get hypothermia, a serious concern at these chilly spots.

Leliyn (Edith Falls), Nitmiluk National Park

Nitmiluk National Park has a permanent condition of being stuck between a rock and a hard place. The national park is a series of interconnected gorges, the most famous of which is Katherine Gorge. Nitmiluk is a popular canoeing destination, but it’s not too shabby for swimming either, with swimming spots being open in dry season at Leliyn (Edith Falls) and Sweetwater Pool.

With a waterfall and a large pool with easy access, you’ll definitely want to cool off here. Freshwater crocs are common in the park, but while saltwater crocs hang out here in the wet season, rangers move them on in dry. But, as with any swimming hole in the Top End, be cautious and read the warning signs before you swim.

Find out how to get to these swimming holes as quickly as possible with UBD Gregory’s South Australian and Northern Territory street directory.