You call that a man cave? We reveal Australia’s best caves.

No Comments
Lake Cave, Tourism Western Australia

Lake Cave, Tourism Western Australia

There’s more to Australia than what you see on the surface – in fact, Australia has some of the best caves in the world, from the intimidatingly long and watery Cocklebiddy Cave to the famous Jenolan Caves. And whether you’re looking forward to squeezing yourself through tiny gaps on an adventure caving tour or you just want to see the light show, you’ll find a cave experience to suit.

Lake Cave, Jewel Cave and Mammoth Cave, Margaret River

If you’ve previously only visited Margaret River for the wineries and surf, then you’ve barely scratched the surface – because under the surface you’ll find a remarkable collection of caves, including the popular tourist destinations Lake Cave, Jewel Cave and Mammoth Cave. Lake Cave is famous for its pristine underground lake, which reflects the crystalline formations; Jewel Cave is an epic cave that extends for 1.9 kilometres and Mammoth Cave – well, you’ll just have to visit and find out what makes it quite so mammoth.

Cocklebiddy Cave, 10 kilometres north of Eyre Highway, Western Australia

There’s more to the Nullarbor Plain than meets the eye. Renowned as one of the most featureless stretches of Australia, travellers who call the plain boring are not looking in the right direction – down.

There are hundreds of caves underneath the Nullarbor Plain, many just north of Highway One. The most famous of which is Cocklebiddy Cave, which gained fame in 1983 when cave divers travelled 6259 metres into the cave – at the time the longest cave distance undertaken in the world.

Unfortunately, many of the caves are unstable, and you need to get a special permit from the Department of Parks and Wildlife to enter. You can still poke around the entrance to Cocklebiddy Cave, and maybe get some ideas on how to upgrade your man cave.

Capricorn Caves, Rockhampton

As the only privately own cave system on this list, Capricorn Caves has been turned into an adventure playground, with caving adventures, abseiling, rock-climbing and a ropes course all organised around the stunning natural scenery of the caves. The ultimate challenge is probably the caving adventure, where you’ll twist and turn and crawl through rock tunnels, such as squeezing yourself through the 30-centimetre-diametre hole called Fat Man’s Misery.

Of course, you can just admire the caves themselves on one of the hopefully less eventful caving tours, such as the Cathedral Cave tour, which takes visitors through smaller caves through to the incredible natural acoustics of the large Cathedral Cave.

Naracoorte Caves, Naracoorte National Park

Welcome to Naracoorte, where there are caves so good they’ve been World Heritage listed. The main attraction here are the fossils. Millions of years ago, animals fell into these concealed caves and topsoil was washed over their skeletons, preserving an amazing fossil  of megafauna records visitors can enjoy today. Of course, there are also your more traditional cave attractions, such as stalagmites and stalactites, and adventure tours where you can feel the squeeze caving through the underground system.

Jenolan Caves, near Oberon

You can’t mention Australian caves without mentioning Jenolan Caves. These caves, within easy driving distance of Sydney, are among Australia’s most spectacular, and the limestone in these caves is thought to be at least 340 million years old. There are 11 caves open to the public (although more than 40 kilometres of cave in all), and each of these magnificent caves puts on its own show, some with light shows, some with walking tours. If you want something with less flash, try adventure caving. Crawling through the undeveloped caves with just a headlamp will give you new appreciation for the world above ground.

 

 

 

The ultimate Red Centre bucket list

No Comments
Jen and Clint at Kings Canyon

Jen and Clint at Kings Canyon

Jen Adams and Clint Bizzell have the best jobs in the world – they get to travel Australia for work as presenters on TV show Places We Go. And sometimes, they get to take the public with them.

Jen and Clint are leading a tour to their favourite spots in the Red Centre in September. Many of the places you’ll visit feature in Jen and Clint’s new book Australia’s Top 100 Places to Go – the Ultimate Bucket List. Here’s a sneak peek at Jen and Clint’s Red Centre bucket list or find out more about the tour here.

Alice Springs

You can’t go past a town like Alice. Sitting smack bang in the middle of the desert, Alice Springs is the heart of Australia and the gateway to all the Red Centre has to offer. It is one of the country’s best Aboriginal art centres, and boasts incredible galleries and opportunities to meet the artists. A growing cafe culture is also emerging, so you have your choice of places to sit back and enjoy a latte.

Jen and Clint’s take: Alice is a place dear to our hearts. Whether we’ve driven or flown there, both modes of transport have given us an appreciation for just how remote Alice is within that immense red desert that seems to go on forever.

West MacDonnell Ranges

The ‘West Macs’ start just minutes from Alice Springs; here you can enjoy a permanent waterhole and rock wallabies at Simpsons Gap. Further west, watch the sun light up the red rock at Standley Chasm at midday or set over Mount Sonder from Glen Helen Gorge at dusk.

Jen at Kata Tjuta

Kata Tjuta

On the desert road to Kata Tjuta in Australia’s Red Centre, you can’t help but feel a sense of awe as the enormous, red rocky domes start to come into view, spread panoramically across the horizon. All shapes and sizes, but all towering over the desert landscape, the 36 domes (some of which are 500 metres high) that make up the formation are spread over an area of more than 20 kilometres, and are a sacred Aboriginal site within the Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park.

Jen and Clint’s take: We saw Kata Tjuta, or the Olgas as they’re also known, on our very first visit to the Northern Territory. It’s hard to describe the feeling of this place – to be walking through a sacred Aboriginal site was humbling, and then to add such an imposing, beautifully carved landscape pretty much silenced us all.

Kings Canyon

Halfway between Uluru and Alice Springs in Australia’s Red Centre lies a perfect excuse for a stopover: Kings Canyon. Located in Watarrka National Park, this ancient formation of gorges, waterholes and vertical sandstone walls rising up to 100 metres is hundreds of millions of years in the making. The canyon can be explored on the 6-kilometre rim walk, which has some challenging climbs and rocky landscape underfoot. A less challenging option is the Kings Canyon floor walk, where the gorge can be viewed from the ground below.

Jen and Clint’s take: Kings Canyon deserves its regal name. It’s simply stunning. You can see why, back in 1872, an Englishman by the name of Giles called it ‘an agreeable creek’, for it’s certainly that, and then some!

Uluru

Gathering on a viewing platform in the dark, hearing excited whispers around you, you know something special is about to happen. It might still be dark, but you can feel the immense size of the outback around you, and the only thing between the earth and sky is the sacred rock that has started to glow as the breaking sun unveils itself.

First purple, then red, and then with every inch the sun moves up into the sky the rock is further illuminated until the deep orange form of Uluru stands proudly before you in all its glory. Uluru at sunrise is a true spectacle, and an incredible curtain-raiser for the main event, a walk around its base.

Jen and Clint’s take: There’s nothing like the first time we saw Uluru. It was a place we had dreamt of visiting all our lives, and we’d seen a million pictures of it in books and on postcards, so to see it up close was quite surreal. No amount of research would prepare us for how imposing it would feel until we stood in front of it.

 To find out more about Jen and Clint’s tour, click here!

 

Take the best short walk in Grampians National Park

No Comments
The Grampians, Tourism Victoria

The Grampians, Tourism Victoria

Melanie Ball likes to explore Victoria feet first, and in this extract from her new book, Top Walks in Victoria, she reveals her favourite short walk in the famous Grampians National Park.

Hollow Mountain Walk, Grampians National Park

WALK: 3.1km return
TIME REQUIRED: 2 hours
BEST TIME: Any time but there is little protection up top in wild weather
GRADE: Moderate
ENVIRONMENT: Sandstone outcrop
BEST MAP: This one
TOILETS: Pit toilets at Hollow Mountain carpark
FOOD: None – bring your own
TIPS: Wear loose clothing or you might rip your pants asunder

On a scale of 1 to 10 for adventure and scenery, this walk top scores with outdoor fun lovers of all ages. Part walk, part rock climb, part grandstand, this is the most-fun short walk in the Grampians, if not Victoria.

One of several walks in the northern Grampians, far from the crowd-pulling Wonderland area and Halls Gap, the short Hollow Mountain climb is just that: a climb, with pitches ranging from gentle to hand-over-hand up and little flat ground. Which is why children love it, often getting up and down at mountain-goat speed and with a sure-footedness that embarrasses (and sometimes terrifies) more cautious mature walkers.Lots of adults, however, can and do get to the top, but this walk is not recommended for anyone with vertigo or dodgy knees or who is uncomfortable clambering up rocks.

The fun begins in Hollow Mountain carpark (where there are pit toilets), off unsealed Mt Zero Rd, about 36 kilometres north of Halls Gap via unsealed Mt Zero Halls Gap Rd. From the carpark the walking track heads south towards lumpy red-and-grey natural stonework.

The Disneyesque brown-and-yellow orchids sometimes seen just near the carpark are leopard orchids, one of more than 900 indigenous flowers identified in the Grampians, 20 found nowhere else. The tiny cup-shaped white flowering shrub among the desert banksias along the first section of the walk, which in flower give the impression of a dusting of snow, are Grampians thryptomene.

After a brief warm-up through thryptomene, grass trees, desert banksias and eucalypts, on a sandy track with occasional steps, the real climbing starts, initially up a rocky spine to the foot of a sandstone cliff , stained with iron and cracked and undercut by time. From here you clamber up, over and between great lumps of stone tucked against the leaning cliff. Navigating these giant stepping stones is when your clothes are most at risk, from ripping when stretching a leg or from rubbing on coarse stone if you’re more comfortable working up (and down) rocky slopes on your backside.

Above here the going is easier but still far from flat. Stepping up the mountain’s rocky face brings you ever closer to a monumental wall of layered ochre rock, which is eventually right in front of you. To the left of the wall is a separate, massive cracked rock – or two rocks – at the base of which is a dark opening. This is the ‘hollow’ that gives the mountain its non-Aboriginal name (Hollow Mountain’s Indigenous name is Wudjub-Guyan or ‘spear in the middle’, so perhaps the cave is a gaping wound).

From inside the cavern you get a fabulous view, framed by the cave mouth, of Mt Zero, another hill you can climb, and the Wimmera Plains, their rows of olive trees and fields of canola stretching to the horizon. Out of the cavern and around this rock to the left, you enter an often-windy stone-walled corridor leading to a sudden drop-off. From the edge you can see along the cliff and down to a rocky demise.

Turning back, walk along the rock wall, passing the hollow rock and the track down to the carpark and following a trail of arrows painted on the rough stone. As you descend to the wall’s end, look left and you’ll see sky through a window in the wall. You might also see silhouetted figures, often hanging upside down from the ceiling. These are not bats!

They’re boulderers, mostly young men and women who rock climb without ropes, seeming to defy gravity as they crab across walls and low ceilings of caves. Walkers in the Grampians often see groups of people to-ing and fro-ing from bouldering sites with climbing mats folded in half on their backs.

Arrows lead around the end of the wall and up a rock slope with a crazy-paving pattern, past the entrance to the cave you looked through below (stopping to watch the boulderers gives you a good rest/drink stop). You might also see other groups of climbers working on stone overhangs further up. At the top of the rock slide the track loops left and up more rocky tiers.

Up top, 300m above the carpark and well clear of any protective trees, the rock has been – and continues to be – worked by wind and water into extraordinary shapes, often with sharp edges, and hollowed to depressions that collect rainwater that reflects the sky. The Mt Difficult Range (which has more great walks) reaches to the south of you; to the west and north are plains.

From here you retrace your steps, around the wall, down the natural shelving and over the boulders, for a cruise back through a sea of thryptomene.

Top Walks in Victoria

Victoria offers a jaw-dropping diversity of bushwalks through areas rich in natural wonders and colourful human history. Experienced travel writer Melanie Ball has hiked every track in this book for walkers of all levels of experience. There are walks for each part of the state, including the renowned Wilsons Promontory Lighthouse loop and salt lake circuits in the Mallee region. Most of the tracks can be completed in a few hours, but there are some more difficult multi-day walks for those wanting more of a challenge. For each walk there is detailed trail information, a map, photographs and beautiful illustrations of fauna and flora that you’re likely to see along the way. Find out more!

 

Meet Australia’s National Heritage–listed national parks

No Comments
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

No Comments
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.