Looking for the ultimate natural high? Get some altitude atop Australia’s most unlikely summits: inselbergs and island peaks, rock orbs and monadnocks and discover Australia’s most surprising views.
Cooks Lookout – Lizard Island
This may well be Australia’s most spectacular fly-in lookout, crowning the east coast’s most beautiful coral-fringed isle and the see-through curl of baby blue called Watson’s Bay where yachties and campers mingle on the sand.
Scaling the sloping granite slabs that lead to the 359-metre high Cooks Lookout takes a couple of hours return, elevating you above 24 shimmering white sand beaches, the big Blue Lagoon (the real-life location for the movie Fools Gold) and endless flourishing coral reefs where you can float with green sea turtles, spot giant Clam Garden and spook moray eels, reef sharks and octopus when you manage to stumble back down off the mountain.
During far north Queensland’s dry winter months (May to October) when marine stingers disappear and south-easterly winds push sailboats northward, Lizard Island attracts an eclectic mix of grotty yachties (myself included), honeymooners (who fork out upwards of $1500 a night) and fly-in campers who pay a tiny $6.15 a night for their beautifully primitive beachfront sites.
Essentials: Lizard Island is located 240km north of Cairns. East Air flies twice daily (from $670 return, phone 1800 837 168 to book). Book national park campsites online at www.npsr.qld.gov.au BYO all supplies, including a tarp for shade, camp gear and water containers (the bore is a 250m walk away). Visit over the winter months from
The Devils Marbles – Central Australia
Gigantic granite orbs lie scattered in heaps across the spinifex plains, and precariously balanced, frozen in mind-boggling towers and turning travellers into rock-hoppers chasing the best sunset views. Edging upwards, sticky feet clinging to the granite, climbers find irresistible fun at this unusual red rock playground known as Karlu Karlu or eggs of the Rainbow Serpent.
It’s impossible to take a bad photo here as the setting sun turns the granite golden, and as darkness falls, dingoes howl and campfires crackle, making Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve one of the loveliest places in the Red Centre to spend a night.
Essentials: 100km south of Tennant Creek, the Devils Marbles is best visited from May to October. Pay camping fees on site ($3.30/adult, $1.65/child and $7.70/family, BYO drinking water) and find out more at nt.gov.au.
Mount Bremer – Cape York
This low-lying spine of rock that touches the sea at the very Tip of Australia, Mount Bremer marks the end point of every Cape York adventure, a poignant, much-photographed spot on the Bucket List of just about every Aussie with a 4WD and fishing rod.
A stroll The Tip takes around 15-20 minutes, and at low tide you can return along Franjipani Beach, stopping to cast a line off the rocks for a mackerel or queenfish dinner, and sending bright blue solider crabs scurrying and spiraling into the sand.
Essentials: Camp close to the beach or find a forested nook behind Frangipani Bay (follow the tracks that lead off the main road). There are no facilities so bring drinking water. Plan your trip at www.tourismcapeyork.com.
Kojonup – Fitzgerald River National Park
It’s name means place of the stone of the axe: a twisted ridge of great quartzite shards rises above mallee-heath plains and tannin-hued inlets, rugged sea cliffs and clear-sky views of The Recherché Archipelago offshore.
A great place to get some height in one of southwest Australia’s largest and most botanically significant national parks, East Mount Barren’s summit demands a short, strenuous stroll through landscape that is anything but barren, proving that ancient explorers aren’t always right. Matthew Flinders lumbered the park with its ‘barren hills’ tag back in 1802. The name stuck but just so you know, more than 1880 flora species flourish in the park and that’s more than exist in the whole of the United Kingdom.
Essentials: This WA national park is located between Albany and Ravensthorpe. Head here to hike, surf, swim and paddle on the magnificent Gairdner, Fitzgerald and Hamersley River Inlets. Camping and entry fees apply, find out more at www.dec.wa.gov.au.
Glowing tangerine and gold at sunset, South Australia’s Pildappa Rock will take you by surprise: a giant pink granite inselberg fringed with weathered walls that flare like cresting waves. It’s like Hyden’s more famous Wave Rock in miniature, but far more interesting, carpeted with lichen and pitted with tiny waterholes Indigenous Aussies call gnammas.
Climb the gentle rock spurs to find yourself standing three or four storeys above a patchwork of distinctly rural plots and the far distant sea. Weird fact? Pildappa Rock was once buried 7km beneath the earth’s surface, and only emerged after a whopping 1500 million years of erosion.
Essentials: Turn north off Highway One at Minnipa, 270km west of Port Augusta and follow the signs.
Kata Tjuta – The Red Centre
With inspiring lookouts and windy walkways, Kata Tjuta is the most visited lookout on this list, luring crowds to ogle the 36 weathered domes that tower head-and-shoulders above nearby Uluru. Painted from a rich palette of crimson, burnt yellow and fiery orange set ablaze as the sun slips west, Kata Tjuta – whose Pitjantjatjara name means “many heads” – is a spectacular sandstone wilderness and the aptly named Valley of the Winds trail carves a breathtaking path through it all.
Essentials: Kata Tjuta is located west of Uluru and national park entry costs $25/adult for a three-day pass (kids are free). Yulara’s Ayers Rock Resort provides camping, accommodation, food, meals and fuel (www.ayersrockresort.com.au). Find out more at parksaustralia.gov.au.
Mount Chudalup – D’Entrecasteaux National Park
Ever climbed a monadnock? This windy granite island that studs the coastal heathlands in low-lying southwest WA is a modest 187 metre-high lump of 1177-year-old rock and it takes just 20 minutes to climb. No sweat!
An easy access trail curls through a picturesque scene: towering karri and marri timbers, peppermint and grass trees, and above snotty gobbles and banksias before you grip your way up the granite for sweeping views over the giant Yeagarup Dunes, Point D’Entrecasteaux and an endless, turbulent sea.
Essentials: Mount Chudalup is located 16km south of Northcliffe on Windy Harbour Road. On the coast you can bushwalk, fish, beachcomb and swim, and overnight at Windy Harbour Campground (for power and showers) or 4WD track over the dunes to a top free camp at Gardner River.
Mount Bushwalker – Morton National Park
Shrouded Gods Mountain – it’s name alone inspires many a trekker across the flowering heathlands of Little Forest Plateau, leapfrogging muddy bogs and wombat burrows to teeter, spellbound on the edge of Clyde River Gorge. Across the airy abyss lies a dramatic, peak-studded skyline, distinguished and named by Captain James Cook back in 1770 and continuing to impressive the weary walkers who discover it today.
Essentials: Morton National Park stretches west of the Princes Highway between Ulladulla and Nowra. The Mount Bushwalker hike takes about 2.5 hours (7km return). Visit during spring (www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au).