SWIM WITH SEA LIONS, take in Queensland's rainforests with a canopy-level view, canoe in wine country or mountain bike through alpine bushland. There's heaps to do this summer - pack one in each weekend.
Tamborine National Park, QLD
Tamborine National Park. (Image credit: AGO archives)
Tamborine National Park, an easy drive from the main beaches (just 45 minutes from Surfers Paradise), became Queensland’s first national park when the Witches Falls section gained this designation in 1908. The northernmost remnants of a volcanic eruption on Mt Warning 20-23 million years ago, Tamborine Mountain is today characterised by rainforest-fringed waterfalls, rocky outcrops and basalt cliffs.
The park is comprised 14 sections, six of which offer bushwalking tracks ranging in difficulty from Australian Standard class 1 to 4. These walks may last from 15 minutes to two hours, and showcase a range of landscapes from pockets of piccabeen palm and wet eucalypt forest to bracken fern groves and open forest. Be sure to bring a jacket as the park receives 1500mm of rain annually – most from December through April – and at 500m above sea level, it is consistently cooler than adjacent low-lying regions. Keep an ear out for the gurgling sound of giant Tamborine earthworms underfoot, which can grow to more than a metre long.
Several tracks lead to coursing waterfalls, and the rock pools at Cedar Creek Falls beckon walkers to take a dip.
The Tamborine Escarpment provides essential habitat for wildlife, serving as an island of refuge within highly-developed urban surrounds; 85 per cent of the total animal species and 65 per cent of the plant species found in the Gold Coast City region thrive on the Tamborine plateau and foothills. Such species include pademelons, land mullets and the Richmond birdwing butterfly, as well as native and migratory bird species such as brush-turkeys, scrubwrens, Albert’s lyrebird and the noisy pitta. Strangler figs, yellow carabeen, hoop pines and ancient cycads are among the mountain’s biologically diverse flora, which includes more than 900 distinct species.
Location: Tamborine Mountain is located 80km south of Brisbane and 36km west of Southport. The park’s various sections have different access points across the mountain and surrounding foothills.
Accommodation: While camping is not permitted in the national park, there are a variety of lodging options on Tamborine Mountain ranging from hotels and motels to B&Bs and cabins.
Food/drink: The villages scattered around Tamborine offer an assortment of restaurants, cafes and the mountain’s specialty: fudge shops.
Points of interest: The 11ha Tamborine Mountain Botanic Gardens, situated in Forsythia Drive, features an amalgam of tropical and temperate species. Experience the otherworldly luminescence of the glow-worm cave at Cedar Creek Estate.
Maps: Available on the park website as well as at information kiosks on Tamborine Mountain.
Thredbo. (Image credit: AGO archives)
In the Snowy Mountains of NSW, Thredbo prides itself on the abundance of activities it offers year-round.
From June to October, it is a snow-sports mecca. From November to May, it becomes the base for a range of sports, from mountain biking, hiking and bobsledding to fly fishing and horse riding. The Kosciuszko Express chairlift at Thredbo runs all year round, giving hikers a head start up the mountain in summer.
Construction on Thredbo began in 1957, after a Czechoslovakian former ski instructor saw its potential as a ski resort. The village is European in style, with lodges and chalets huddled into the mountainside. The golf course, day spas and leisure centre provide a little luxury amid the rugged terrain and unpredictable weather.
During the warmer months, hiking Mt Kosciuszko is a must. From the top of the chairlift begins a medium-difficulty climb to mainland Australia’s highest peak. The three- to four-hour round trip covers spectacular alpine terrain and the view from the top lookout is unrivalled anywhere else in the country. Guided walks are available from Thredbo and hikes to Charlotte Pass and Blue Lake are highly recommended. If you’re lucky you’ll spot plenty of native animals, birds and wildflowers and perhaps even wild brumbies.
Bike tracks around Thredbo are suitable for everyone from beginners to pros and the trail network here has expanded over the past year, so there’s plenty to keep the MTBer busy. There are trails around the village, perfect for cruising, and along the river through alpine bushland. The more adventurous can take their bikes up the Kosci Chair and ride the downhill track back to the village, or explore the rugged outcrops up high.
Location: Thredbo is in Kosciuszko National Park in NSW, in the Snowy Mountains region. The closest town, Jindabyne, is about 35km to the north.
Accommodation: Thredbo village consists mainly of holiday accommodation, ranging from basic to five-star. Ngarigo campground is 8km north of Thredbo on the Alpine Way. Camping here is free, requires a short walk from the car and you must take your own drinking water and firewood. Huts are dotted throughout the mountains; some can be booked through NSW National Parks.
Food/drink: Thredbo has restaurants, pubs and a convenience store. Head to Jindabyne for picnic areas, a larger supermarket and more restaurants.
Maps: National Parks’ Jindabyne Visitor Centre has hiking, biking and camping maps.
Green Head, WA
Swim with sea lions at Green Head. (Image credit: AGO archives)
Travellers often miss this small, seaside town, hidden between Jurien Bay and Port Denison. Which is a shame, because Green Head offers pristine beaches, great fishing spots and amazing marine wildlife encounters – including the chance to go snorkelling with Australian sea lions.
Off the coast is Fisherman’s Island, one of WA’s main breeding colonies for sea lions. The 2.5-hour drive from Perth to Green Head is worth it just to go on the half-day charter and spend a couple of hours playing underwater games with these inquisitive creatures.
Swimming with sea lions
Charters take visitors to the waters around Fisherman’s Island between September and May. You can hire snorkelling gear and wetsuits, or bring your own. Bookings are essential. Phone Sea Lion Charters on (08) 9953 1012.
Beach fishing and swimming are best at sheltered and secluded Dynamite Bay and South Bay. You can also try your luck at catching a meal at several offshore islands and reefs.
Nearby Alexander Morrison National Park and Lesueur National Park are famous for their native wildflowers. Late July to late October is the best time to see them in bloom.
Location: 252km north of Perth along the Indian Ocean Drive.
Accommodation: Green Head has one caravan park, several holiday homes and B&Bs.
Food/drink: The town has cafés for coffees and snacks, a service station that sells food, but no major shopping centres.
Points of interest: The nearby Stockyard Gully Caves were used to shelter animals when the old stock route between Perth and Geraldton was in use.
Kangaroo Valley, NSW
Canoe in the afternoon sun at Kangaroo Valley. (Image credit: AGO archives)
The tiny town of Kangaroo Valley is midway between Moss Vale and Nowra, southwest of Sydney. But the only way to get to the heart of the valley is by foot or canoe.
If you don’t mind dipping an oar in, launch your canoe onto Lake Yarrunga at Tallowa Dam, or paddle down Kangaroo River until you reach the sunken forests. Make sure you get there in time for sunset, and watch the day turn to night at Kangaroo Valley alongside an abundance of king parrots, rosellas and black and sulphur crested cockatoos, as well as kangaroos and wombats. Keep an eye out for the ever-shy platypus.
The valley has changed very little in the past 130 years, since the first white settlers arrived in the region, with reminders dotted around the region such as the historical Hampden Bridge – the oldest suspension bridge in Australia, which was completed in May 1898 – and rustic industrial sheds, which are remnants of a time when the valley was home to a flourishing dairy industry.
Kangaroo Valley Canoes offers a range of self-guided eco safaris, including an overnight canoe and kayak safari on the Kangaroo River. You can bring your own camping equipment or hire it from them. See www.kangaroovalleycanoes.com.au.
Take to the hills, meander along the river or venture through the forests via the various walking trails to experience nature close up. There are many different kinds of walks to suit every level. Visit the Kangaroo Valley Explorer website for a range of self-guided walks, rides and drives within Kangaroo Valley. Walks range from one to two hours (Historic Village Walk) to the more strenuous McPhails Trail (11km return). See www.kvexplorer.com.au/KV_Explorer/Walk.html.
If you’re a seasoned single-tracker, or heading out with beginners, there are plenty of tracks to choose from within Morton National Park. Some follow sealed roads while others are a little more technical. For an all-purpose trip, try the Upper Kangaroo River Road (24.4km return), graded as easy to medium. Allow between half and a full day, depending on ability and if you’ve packed a picnic.
Location: 156km (two hours drive) south of Sydney. Take the Hume Highway and then Old Hume Highway towards Mittagong, then follow signs to Nowra before turning left on State Route 79.
Accommodation: Camping is available at Bendeela Campground. The Kangaroo Valley Tourist Park has a number of self-contained cabins, powered and unpowered camping sites, as well as barbecues areas, river access, playground and volleyball and basketball courts. See www.holidayhaven.com.au/kangaroovalley.
Food/drink: The Old Store, established in 1880, is everything you might need: a newsagency, post office, pharmacy and food market.
Points of interest: Paddle into Morton National Park, float past the sunken forest and arrive at picnic grounds located at Acacia Flat and Beehive Point.
Maps and more info: For a range of detailed maps have a look around the website at www.kangaroovalleytourist.asn.au.