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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.