I love a good road trip more than most, but there’s only so many hours you can spend in a moving vehicle before becoming slightly stir crazy, not to mention feeling like a complete blob. The only exercise you get all day is climbing in and out of the front seat – so bushwalking is a great way to get your muscles working again. After a day or two on the road, it’s a wonderful way to explore places that even a 4WD can’t get access to.
Kennedy Range, Western Australia
The sandstone plateau of the Kennedy Range, in the Gascoyne region of WA’s mid-west, is honeycombed with dramatic gorges and rather fantastic rock formations. This stunning natural wonder remains relatively ignored by travellers. There is a variety of walking trails that lead from the campground into the canyons, as well as a climb to the top of the range.
The national park campground is huddled at the foot of the escarpment and all sites offer spectacular views of the rocky ramparts, which turn an unbelievable shade of red at sunrise and sunset. Watching the sunrise from the top of the escarpment is an absolutely magical thing to do, but it’s a bit of a steep scramble in sections and you’ll need to get up early. Allow two to three hours return, depending on your fitness, and take plenty of water. If that sounds a little too energetic, the shorter Temple Gorge trail leads through a boulder-strewn gorge to a small rock pool.
Camping: The Temple Gorge campground in Kennedy Range National Park has toilets, a communal fire pit and around a dozen sites, most of which are fine for small vans. Camping is $7.50 per adult per night.
Bald Rock, New South Wales
Bald Rock, just north of Tenterfield near the Queensland border in NSW, is one of those places that most road-trippers tend to drive by without even noticing. This is despite it being the biggest exposed granite rock in Australia and almost one-and-a-half times as high as Uluru. Granted, it’s not really on a major highway, and you can’t really see it from the road, but the water-streaked dome of Bald Rock is 750 metres long, 500 metres wide and 1277 metres above sea level at the top. Almost straddling the NSW and Queensland border, it’s part of Bald Rock National Park, which is adjacent to the Girraween National Park on the Queensland side.
Unlike that other more famous rock in the middle of the country, where you need to carefully weigh up whether or not you want to climb it against the traditional owners’ wishes, you can climb this one to your heart’s content. It takes around an hour or so to reach the summit on a trail that twists through canyons and across a field of huge boulders (poetically called ‘granite titans’), which are covered in lichens, mosses and flowering rock lilies. It’s more of a walk than a climb, but there are some challenging sections near the summit where you need to traverse large expanses of steeply sloping and sometimes slippery rock. The views across the border into Queensland are well worth it, though.
Camping: The campground, which has 14 sites suitable for vans and camper trailers, is at the base of Bald Rock. Facilities include toilets, picnic tables and free gas/electric barbecues. It costs $7 per vehicle per day and camping is $10 per adult per night.
Conondale National Park, Queensland
There is nothing quite as delightful as finding hidden treasure deep in a forest. The four-hour hike to Artists Cascades in Conondale National Park in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, near the village of Kenilworth, starts at the Booloumba Creek campground and meanders though dense subtropical rainforest – with towering bunya trees – to a lovely plunge pool beneath a small waterfall.
But it’s not the swimming hole that’s the surprise find on this walk – it’s the 3.7-metre-high granite and slate sculpture by artist Andy Goldsworthy called Strangler Cairn, around 3km from the start of the track. The egg-shaped piece is crowned by a small strangler fig, which will eventually grow down to encircle it. This is a fabulous reason to come back again in a few years time to see how it has grown.
Camping: There are three campgrounds in Conondale National Park but the only one that is suitable for vans or camper trailers is ‘Number 4’, a large grassy clearing with no set sites near Booloumba Creek. Facilities include toilets and fire places (BYO wood); generators are not allowed. Bookings are compulsory and camping costs $5.95 per adult per night.
Lincoln National Park, South Australia
The Investigator Trail, named after the sailing ship in which Matthew Flinders circumnavigated Australia in 1802, is an 89km walk that traces the ruggedly wild coastline of Lincoln National Park on the South Australian Eyre Peninsula.
The whole thing takes between four and five days, but the good news is that you can pick up and leave the trail from practically anywhere along the route, including several campgrounds, and just walk for as long as you wish. It doesn’t really matter where you start and finish as it all has stunning coastal views, often from clifftops, and almost always includes at least one ramble along a lovely deserted beach. If I had to pick my favourite section it would be the loop from Fisherman’s Point to the lighthouse at Cape Donington, simply because it manages to include a bit of just about everything in the one half-day walk, including whales in winter.
Camping: There are 13 campgrounds in Lincoln National Park but the best for small vans are Fisherman’s Point (4WD required), September Beach and Surfleet Cove. Facilities include toilets and picnic shelters. There’s an $11 park entry fee (per vehicle) and camping is $11 per vehicle per night.
Keep River National Park, Northern Territory
If the banded domes of Purnululu, aka the Bungle Bungles, in the Kimberley are on your bucket list, but you don’t fancy negotiating your way across the rough van-destroying 4WD track to get there, you’re in luck. It’s a bit of well-kept secret but there’s a national park on the Territory side of the border with WA that has the same geological landforms as the Bungles but with sealed road access.
Keep River National Park might be small, but it punches above its weight when it comes to things to see and do, including Aboriginal sites, wetlands brimming with birdlife (and crocodiles), and woodlands teeming with wallabies and flowering shrubs. The main attraction, though, is the striking Bungle-like sandstone formations. The best way to see them is on the 7km Jarnem Loop walk that leaves from the Jarnem campground and loops round the rocky escarpment. Aside from close up views of the banded domes, highlights include a rock art gallery and spectacular views from the top of the range.
Camping: Jarnem Campground in Keep River National Park offers great views of the sandstone outcrops. Facilities include toilets, barbecues and picnic tables and there is usually drinking water available. No generators are allowed and camping costs $3.30 per adult per night.
Lee Atkinson’s latest book, The Big Lap, is a photographic diary of her road trip around Australia – $35 from ozyroadtripper.com.au.