Kalbarri National Park, Western Australia
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Malta’s Azure window might have collapsed into the ocean but there’s a far less-touristy natural opening in Western Australia. Nature’s Window, a layered archway of staggered sandstone, frames the Murchison River and is a short, one-kilometre walk from the nearby car park.
Blue Mountains National Park, NSW
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Head west from Sydney and in few hours you’ll find yourself staring at the Three Sisters in Katoomba, a popular starting point for 140 kilometres of walking trails weaving throughout the valley below. Though the expanse of green might be the first colour that strikes you up close, from a distance the mountains really are covered in a blue-tinged haze emanating from the oily leaves of the countless eucalyptus trees.
Ningaloo Marine Park, Western Australia
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Not all protected spaces in Australia are land-bound. The World-Heritage listed Ningaloo Marine Park, on Western Australia’s Coral Coast, is easily reached by snorkelling from the mainland and supports more than 500 species of speedy tropical fish, as well as whale sharks, dolphins, dugongs and peaceful manta rays within its 260-kilometre span.
Boodjamulla National Park, Queensland
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This is the outback. It’s a 200-kilometre drive off the Barkly Highway, most of which is unsealed but once you endure the bumpy ride – and trek into the most scenic spots – you’ll be rewarded with huge sandstone gorges filled with still, emerald water. Also known as Lawn Hill Gorge, Boodjamulla has several camping sites so you can soak in the scenery for as long as possible before journeying back to the city.
Purnululu National Park, Western Australia
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The striped sandstone domes known as the Bungle Bungles are so distinctive and so revered by the traditional land owners, the Jaru and Gidja people, it’s hard to believe they were only made known to the wider world around 35 years ago by a film crew. But the alternating, colourful concentric circles that adorn these rocks aren’t the only fascinating sight without this park: cavernous Cathedral Gorge rewards photographers with a still pool surrounded by a ceiling of deep-red rock, and the three-kilometre trail along Piccaninny Creek, in the opposite direction, proves waterways flow in the unlikeliest of places.
Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, Tasmania
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The most striking view within this reserve isn’t found at the top of the eponymous mountain – it’s getting a glimpse of the indented dolerite peak through the wisps of cloud that so often hide it from view. The six-day, 65-kilometre Overland Track alpine hike begins near the mountain’s base and traverses all manner of landscapes, from alpine slopes to nostalgia-inducing eucalypt forest, and finishes at the other end of the park, near Lake St Clair.
Daintree National Park, Queensland
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In the steamy tropics of northern Queensland, the silky green leaves of the towering trees in the country’s last uninterrupted tropical lowland rainforest protect all manner of unique Australia wildlife, including the eye-catching blue Ulysses butterfly and other creepy crawlies. Set on Eastern Kuku Yalanji country, the national park-protected area covers two distinct environments: the lush Mossman Gorge and the sandy shores of Cape Tribulation.
Freycinet National Park, Tasmania
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The wind-worn granite dotted throughout the sprawl of Freycinet was first formed more than 400 million years ago and standing atop one of these sturdy boulders, looking out over the untouched slopes towards Wineglass Bay, the only sounds being the occasional squawk of yellow-tailed black cockatoos from above, it’s hard to imagine much has changed within the park since then.
Grampians National Park, Victoria
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Bushwalking is among the most popular ways to explore the 168,000 hectares of this park and its fair to say the most popular walk is the relatively easy hike to the The Balconies, a claw of rock that juts out over the scrubby valley (that’s incidentally the most important botanical reserve in Victoria with a third of the state’s flora species protected there). It’s in the central section of the park, where most of the best hikes can be found.
Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory
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Kakadu is the largest national park in all of terrestrial Australia, covering an impressive 20,000 square kilometres of the Territory. Consequently, within its boundaries is an eclectic array of environments, from floodplains to woodlands, paperbark forests to impossibly high stone escarpments, all sheltering a diverse collection of wildlife. The most well-known area is arguably Jim Jim and Twin Falls, a pair of waterfalls near the Garnamarr Campground that flow steadily during the tropical summer.
Cooloola Great Sandy National Park, Queensland
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If you spend a trip to the beach preoccupied with dusting off the sand stuck to your toes, then steer clear of this national park because there’s sand – a lot of sand. North of Noosa proper, the protected area covers wide beaches lapped by the ocean and dune lakes, impossibly steep dunes and swirls of richly coloured red, yellow and brown sands.
Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory
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A cool oasis might seem a rarity in the red-soil-strewn lands of the Top End but within Litchfield National Park, a 1500-square-kilometre pocket of the NT, the land has been shaped by water. Wangi Falls (pictured), Florence Falls, Tjaynera Falls, Surprise Creek Falls – there are scores of rushing cascades that imbue the ragged cliffs with bursts of greenery courtesy of the trees forcing their way through the rock.
Mallee Cliffs National Park, NSW
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Down near the Murray, this dune-strewn national park is truly ancient with the sandy formations estimated to be up to 500,000 years old. One of 46 parks protected by the Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife (FNPW), the charity partner of Australia’s National Parks, the dunes and woodlands shelter a variety of quirky creatures such as the chicken-sized malleefowl and the western pygmy possum.
Naracoorte Caves National Park, South Australia
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Deep beneath the Naracoorte East ranges are a series of cool caves where the remains of the ferocious megafauna that once roamed the country have settled in rest. So complete and varied are the bones found here this site is considered one of the world’s most significant fossil sites, with excavations and research still underway. But it’s not only what’s embedded in the rock that’s considered special – the series of sparkling stalactites and stalagmites will captivate every explorer.
Oxley Wild Rivers National Park, NSW
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You’ll need sharp eyesight to catch a glimpse of the endangered Brush-tailed rock-wallaby as you trek through this park. Around 10,000 of them call these 142,000 hectares near Armidale home but they generally keep to themselves. But not to worry, there are hundreds more species pottering through the bush, including wedge-tailed eagles, swamp wallabies and chameleon-like Peron’s tree frogs. Image: Rob Cleary/FNPW
Mungo National Park, NSW
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If you woke to the site of these towering, pale sand dunes, stretching for kilometres, you’d no doubt think you’d arrived on the moon. But this lunar-like landscape is actually 120 kilometres north-east of Mildura, on the remains of an ancient lake that dried up 15,000 years ago. But it’s not just these fascinating formations that make Mungo an important site: it’s a meeting place for the Ngiyampaa, Paakantji and Mutthi Mutthi peoples and the discovery of thousands-of-years-old midden, tool and animal remains that demonstrate human occupation more than 40,000 years ago. Image: Lake Mungo Lunette dune, Chris Grounds/FNPW.
Royal National Park, NSW
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This huge swathe of bush south of Sydney lays claim to being the second oldest national park in the entire world, established a few years after Yellowstone National Park in the US. Traverse its knots of pickle-green native fauna towards the coast and you’ll be rewarded with stunning sea views (and the chance of whale-spotting), swimming holes such as Wattamolla Lagoon and the wind-and-wave smoothed edges of unbelievable cliff formations such as the fragile Wedding Cake Rock.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory
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The rust-red rock might steal most of the limelight during a visit to this expanse of Anangu land but Uluru isn’t the only natural wonder worth exploring. There’s Mutitjulu Waterhole at its base, its still waters home to the wanampi water snake, and Kata Tjuta, another ochre rock formation rising suddenly from the dusty flats beneath it around 30 kilometres west of Uluru.
Whitsunday Islands National Park, Queensland
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The smattering of around 90 islands dotting the Queensland coast are, thankfully, protected by national park status. And these isles are certainly worthy of protection, given they are home to iconic stretches of sand such as the blindingly white Whitehaven Beach and creatures including the sweet-faced Proserpine rock-wallaby and are fringed by coral pockets of the Great Barrier Reef.
Wilsons Promontory National Park, Victoria
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Standing at the granite-heavy Wilsons Promontory Lightstation is pretty much as far south as you can go on the Australian mainland – another step and you’ll bob across the Bass Strait to Tasmania – save for a few tiny, hard-to-access islands on the park’s edges. The wilderness, known affectionately to locals as The Prom, is especially brilliant come spring when fields of wild wattle and orchids bloom.
Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park, South Australia
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The rolling, sun-kissed ranges of Wilpena Pound might be best seen from the air but there are plenty of activities at ground level to keep you occupied on an extended hike through this park, around 450 kilometres from Adelaide. Arkaroo Rock, at the southern end of the park, is etched with ochre and charcoal drawings, while Brachina Gorge is a base for yellow-footed rock-wallabies that, if you’re quiet enough, might make an appearance.
Up Next: 19 Beaches Around Australia You’ve Never Heard Of
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We’re spoilt for excellent beaches in Australia. But sometimes, you just want to spread out your towel without accidentally scattering sand on someone else’s Speedo-ed behind. The remedy? Wander off the beaten track. We’ve explored Australia’s 50,000-odd kilometres of coastline and found some secret spots. Keep them to yourself.