Our year travelling around Australia involved a lot of walking. It also involved a lot of sitting on our butts for very long car trips. About 48,000 kilometres worth of car time actually. And so we got out to move our legs as much, and as often as we could. With three young kids, we thought when we first set off that we may be limited to short and easy tracks. Yet as the trip went on, we tackled more difficult walks, and it wasn’t long before the kids would race ahead, leaving the adults huffing and puffing behind.
Walking is one of my favourite things to do – exercise, fresh air, seeing amazing sights. Also, it’s generally free, which rates very highly in things we look for in family activities. So we were definitely keen to see some of Australia’s great scenery by foot. It is way too hard to narrow down all the walks we did into a list of favourites, but here are a few (in no particular order, and completely unintentionally involving alliteration and the letter K) that were enjoyable for the whole family.
The walk to the very top of Australia has a lot going for it. Spectacular views, glimpses of snow even in the middle of summer, a ride in a chairlift, treats at Australia’s highest café at the end of the walk, and bragging rights that you have conquered one of the world’s Seven Summits (albeit the easiest – by far – of the Seven Summits to scale. Absolutely no need to mention that though, while you’re bragging about your mountain climbing prowess). It’s a 13 km return walk, and the air is a bit thinner up there - so it’s not super easy going but it’s totally do-able. We made it to the lookout (6kms return) with our (then) 4 year old, and returned the next two days with the older children. A tag team parenting effort, each adult taking one child – and to minimise whinging we decided to race and see who could get to the top and back to the café at the chairlift in the fastest time. My son and I did it in 3 hours and 20 mins, narrowly losing to the family champions daughter-dad combo who zoomed back in 3 hours and 5 minutes. Although their legs were tired, the kids had a great sense of achievement at reaching the highest point in Australia (2228 metres), and the promise of a hot chocolate at the end, had them racing back enthusiastically on the return leg.
Kata Tjuta (the Olgas)
The 11km walk around the base of Uluru was incredible. I can’t put my finger on what makes it so captivating – so mesmerising. Is it the symmetry, the incredible photogenic-ness (photogenic-ity? Is that a word? You know what I mean – the noun form of whatever it is that means even a boofhead amateur like me can’t take a bad photo of the rock) the contours, how different it is from every angle, the changing colours? All the cliches are true – pictures can’t capture the scale and magnificence. You get a wonderful sense of peace and serenity wandering around the base, and a boastful sense of being a champion photographer snapping it from a distance. But the thing about Uluru, incredible as it is – is that we were always expecting it to be. And in fact, as far as walks go, we had even more fun on bikes around this very flat and easy-riding track.
What completely surprised us, was the amazing walk through Kata Tjuta, the lesser known attraction of the red centre. A 20min drive from Uluru, the 7km Valley of the Winds Walk winds through the giant ancient boulders which are completely different conglomerate rock formations from the smooth surface of Uluru. We had a very enjoyable 3 hours scrambling up and down boulders, climbing to lookouts and seeing Uluru in the distance, descending into shady valleys, and even waterholes (if you’re lucky and are there shortly after rain). My limited list of adjectives can’t quite do it justice – but walking through Kata Tjuta gave us a real connection to our country.
I know I said I couldn’t pick a favourite, but if I was absolutely forced to, I would probably chose Karijini. Big call I know. Especially because mentally and physically my hiking preference is generally mountains (up and then down), over canyons (down and then up). I like getting the hard stuff out of the way early and then cruising. After having tackled the Gibb River Road in the Kimberley (which, if you have a 4WD and are prepared for things to break, fall off or catch on fire as you battle some serious corrugations, has some awesome hiking and exploring of the canyon, waterhole and tunnel variety) I have to admit that we were ever so slightly, ah, gorged out. Until we arrived in the Pilbara and trekked down into the depths of the earth.
The Karijini gorges are like nothing else – wading through narrow waterways, gripping to the sides of narrow crevices – spider like – to get to caves, tunnels, waterfalls. As far as getting the kids on board for yet another hike, we didn’t even need to bribe them (see our standard trickery below). It was like being in nature’s fun park. They were all up for swimming, wading, jumping, scrambling, clinging the side of crevices and scaling steep rocks to descend into hidden pools. The gorges of Karijini were some of the most interesting of our treks, and the adventure more than made up for the aching calf muscles that got a whole lotta working out to get back out of those deep canyons.
Kakadu (Ubirr / Maguk)
When you’re scrambling over boulders, checking out ancient rock art, looking out for crocodiles, and jumping into plunge pools (high up and far away from crocs), the kids will probably not even notice that they’re going on ‘a walk’. Kakadu has some great hikes – some short ones along boardwalks, and some longer treks up to the top of waterfalls. Our favourites were the Maguk falls and Ubirr. We hiked into the bottom of the waterfall at Maguk – 3 hours return (though that included lots of swimming time), mainly walking / rock scrambling, and occasionally running for our lives when we heard a very suspicious and terrifying splash in the creek leading to the higher waterholes.
The next day we took the secret path up the left hand side of the river to get up to the plunge pools at the top of Maguk – the steep trek up there was worth it when we jumped into the crystal clear, and definitely croc free pools. The free ranger-guided walk to the top of Ubirr rock was also one of our highlights. Quite the scramble in some places, but we were treated to amazing Aboriginal art and one of the most spectacular, and good for the soul, sunsets of our trip, overlooking wetlands to the ancient stone country of Arnhem Land.
If, like we used to, you thought that you would have to wait until the kids are much older before doing any serious hikes, you may well ask: ‘how do we get our kids to walk so much, and so far?’ Better parents than I may use positive reinforcement methods, pointing out all the rational benefits of exercise and being out in nature and the personal development potential of getting out of your comfort zone. All true. Sadly, this would never work with our intransigent ratbags.
So we tend to rely on one of two things – carrot (ie – blatant bribe) or stick (such as, legs must move – lots - before any screen time). Of the two, we find the carrot (not an actual carrot – ha! I imagine trying to bribe my kids with vegetables would be highly ineffective) to be the better option. Lollies are very much a sometimes food in our house. We tend to save those sometimes for when we need to incentivise, manipulate, and well – bribe – the ratbags into a bushwalk, without whinging about it – too much.
If we can rope another family into coming with us, all the better for distracting the munchkins. Chatting, racing, and frequent snack breaks are all key items in our bag of tricks (as is a snake bite kit by the way – you can’t be too careful, and we have had many a slithering critter cross our paths). Now we’re exploring Tassie and working our way through many of the fantastic walks on this island. The little girl (now 5) who a year ago couldn’t make it to the top of Mt Kosciusko, last week did a 5 hour, 18 km walk to South Cape, the southern most point of Tasmania (there were MANY lollies involved in that hike). By perseverance, and quite a bit of sugar-y bribery, we have gotten to the point where we get the impression, just occasionally, that the kids might actually be enjoying these on-foot excursions.
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