There’s no denying the fact that Australia is a pretty big place and much of our land thankfully remains a pretty wild place. The preservation of our diverse natural landscapes is ensured through countless national parks, many of which receive worldwide attention such as Kakadu, Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park, Tassie’s Cradle Mountain, and the Daintree Rainforest.
However, it’s our many lesser-known national parks which provide a chance to explore unique ecosystems and wildlife away from the crowds. Our nation is home to some real hidden gems that many overlook in favour of more popular national parks.
Get out and explore the country from the Outback to the coasts as we go introduce you to some of the most underrated national parks where adventurous holidays await. And be sure to recognise the traditional owners of the lands of our national parks which are most often great places of significance for our indigenous Australians.
Fitzgerald River National Park, WA
Situated on Western Australia’s southern coast, Fitzgerald River National Park covers an impressive area of about 2,000 square kilometres which makes it one of Australia’s largest national parks. The park is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve due to its ecological significance and rich biodiversity.
Accessing the park is made simple by a sealed road that connects many of the notable sites, making trips via 2WD possible. The landscape of Fitzgerald River National Park is incredibly varied, ranging from rugged coastal cliffs and pristine sandy beaches to rolling plains, dense heathlands, and impressive mountain ranges.
Head to Point Ann or the eastern trailhead for the Hakea Trail at Cave Point which both offer great vantage points to hopefully watch southern right and humpback whales during their annual migration. The park is also notable for its flora, providing habitat for 20% of Western Australia’s plant diversity which includes a range of beautiful orchids.
Numerous walking trails allow you the chance to encounter some of the animals that call the park home including western grey kangaroos, emus, echidnas, and a variety of reptiles. The chance to spot wedge-tailed eagles and rare western ground parrots makes it a great place for birdwatching.
Namadgi National Park, ACT
Canberra may be known as the “Bush Capital” and surrounded by wilderness areas and nature reserves, but just a short drive from Canberra’s urban centre is a truly wild national park that’s home to rugged mountains, rolling hills, lush forests, alpine meadows, and beautiful river valleys.
Namadgi National Park holds significant cultural and spiritual importance to the local Aboriginal people, particularly the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people. Aboriginal culture is showcased with the park’s viewable Aboriginal rock art sites and shelters.
There are many walking trails including Square Rock Walk, Gibraltar Peak Walk, and the Mount Tennent Summit Walk, each offering spectacular views of the park. Mountain biking is permitted on designated fire trails within the park, and there a few campgrounds to choose from such as the Honeysuckle Campground or the more remote Mt Clear Campground which each provide access to notable walks within the park.
Pop into the visitor centre to pick up a map, purchase firewood, and view the checklist of birds and other wildlife that can be found within the park. Wildlife you may encounter includes kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, corroboree frogs, gang-gang cockatoos, and birds of prey such as brown falcons and wedge-tailed eagles.
Coorong National Park, SA
You may recognise the landscapes found within Coorong National Park even if you’ve never been there thanks to it being the location where the much-loved Australian film Storm Boy as well as its more recent remake was filmed.
The park is home to the Younghusband Peninsula where you’ll discover Australia’s longest beach which runs nearly 200 kilometres. The park is also renowned for its stunning coastal lagoon and wetland ecosystems which has resulted in it being named an Important Bird Area thanks to the diverse range of birds found here.
Southeast of Adelaide, the park’s wetlands are vital for migratory birds, providing a significant stopover point on their journeys along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. The Coorong also has a rich and deep cultural significance to the local Ngarrindjeri people who have inhabited the area for thousands of years. The Ngarrindjeri have a strong connection to the land and waterways, and the Coorong holds spiritual and historical importance in their traditional stories and customs.
Exploring the Coorong by boat or kayak is a popular way to experience the park and its rich birdlife, with boat ramps and various access points scattered throughout the park. There are also several coastal walking trails and bird hides if you’d rather explore on foot, as well as camping spots if you want to make a long weekend out of it.
Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, Tasmania
While national parks such as Cradle Mountain and Freycinet may receive the bulk of the attention from travellers visiting Tasmania, the World Heritage-listed Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park should not be missed.
Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers offers a pristine and untouched landscape with deep river gorges, ancient rainforests, and unique wildlife. The Franklin River is also famous for its remote and challenging white-water rafting opportunities.
Just a single highway cuts through the park, but there are many hikes that allow you to venture deeper into the wilderness area, including rainforest hikes like the one to Nelson Falls which is recognised as one of the state’s great short walks.
You can attempt to summit the challenging Frenchmans Cap which will take you four to five days or opt for a more relaxing but still adventurous cruise down the Gordon River. Cruises depart from Strahan and pass through the famous Hells Gates as well as visiting Sarah Island which has a rich convict history.
Experiencing the untamed wilderness of Tasmania isn’t always easy but basing yourself in Strahan makes for a great base to explore the park as it offers various tours and a visitor centre where you can obtain maps and information.
Undara Volcanic National Park, Queensland
You’ll need to dig deep to visit the next Aussie National park. Actually, all the digging has thankfully been done for you already, but you will have to venture below ground. Undara Volcanic National Park makes for a unique Queensland adventure during the dry season. The park is known for its extraordinary volcanic landscapes including the famous Undara Lava Tubes which are said to be one of the longest and most accessible lava tubes in the world.
Southwest of Cairns, the Undara Lava Tubes are a series of large natural tunnels and caves created by historic lava flow. The most notable tube is the Undara Tube, and some sections of the tube are accessible to visitors via guided experiences.
There are several different tours to choose from including the Wind Tunnel Explorer that runs a few hours and ventures into three sections of the tubes, as well as a sunset tour where you can observe thousands of bats head out to hunt the night skies.
There is also unique accommodation available including pioneer huts or the chance to spend the night in a restored, turn of the century, railway carriage. There are several hiking trails within the park where you can hopefully spot some of the local wildlife that live beyond the caves.
Hat Head National Park, NSW
Escape the crowds of Sydney as you venture north to the beaches and sand dunes of the Mid North Coast to visit Hat Head National Park. Approximately 450 kilometres north of Sydney, Hat Head offers up several beautiful uncrowded beaches, secluded coves, and dramatic headlands. The park’s beaches provide excellent opportunities for swimming and surfing, with patrolled areas at Hat Head Beach and Smoky Beach during peak seasons.
You’ll find several walking tracks leading to scenic headlands which provide breathtaking views of the coastline. Kangaroos, wallabies, and goannas can often be spotted in the park’s woodlands, while along the coast you are likely to spot sea eagles and ospreys.
Located at the northern end of Hat Head National Park, the historic Smoky Cape Lighthouse is a must-visit attraction. Consider taking a guided tour to learn about the history and workings of the lighthouse.