How many National Parks have you visited? Hilary visited every one in Victoria last year alone! Here’s her thoughts on exploring 45 National Parks in 52 Weeks

Here’s a fun fact for you: Victoria has 45 National Parks. From not knowing where many of these places were (Lind, Burrowa Pine, and Tarra Bulga) to not being able to pronounce them (Errinundra, Coopracamba, and Budj Bim), I am now personally acquainted with all 45.

I can attest to the incredible diversity, beauty, and wildness of these Victorian landscapes. From bushfire-ravaged forests to old growth wonderlands, vast beaches and wild rivers, here’s what I learnt on my year long quest in Victoria’s great outdoors.

Read more: 5 Victorian National Parks You Probably Haven’t Been to Yet



Like all big, wonderful goals, this project came about in the dark hours of the night, tossing and turning, unable to sleep, feeling restless for a purpose beyond the 9 to 5. It was December 2019, and life was going well; steady job, good lifestyle, enough cash and most importantly; weekends. Like many of you WAE readers out there, I’m a different breed of weekend warrior – forget the clubs and late nights, I was all about wilderness and nights under the stars.

Midweek was spent deciding where to go and prepping meals, and come Friday evening, I’d be weaving my way through peak hour traffic before returning home late Sunday evening exhausted, but refuelled from a weekend in wild places. This project was not only going to force me to get out each weekend but take the deliberation out of deciding where to go. 

Fast forward 52 weeks, and I found myself paddling across Western Port Bay, having ticked off my final National Park, French Island, on December 28th 2020.  Surrounded by water, islands, estuaries, and sky, I felt exhilarated by the memories of the places I’d visited, and the incredible diversity within the small state of Victoria.

There were many lessons I learned during this journey, and here are just a few to get you started on your own backyard adventures.


1. Obscure is Good

When you think of Victorian National Parks, Wilsons Prom, The Grampians, and 12 Apostles come to mind. There’s no doubt that these places are stunning, but they’re also often booked out, busy, and well-trodden. I thought I had a pretty good idea of Victoria’s most scenic wild places, and yet, it was the Parks I’d never heard of before that were the hidden gems I uncovered, filling me with feelings of accomplishment, adventure, and appreciation for the journey. 

Early in the year I visited Tarra-Bulga National Park, tucked away amongst the open cut coal mines of central Gippsland. It’s home to the Grand Strezlecki Track; an often overgrown, leech infested, muddy trail weaving through old growth rainforests and pine plantations around the tiny town of Balook. I’m a keen ultrarunner, so running was my means of exploration, and over a long weekend in January I explored 60km of trails.

Along the way I encountered waterfalls, lush rainforests, logging coupes, and when the inevitable rains came, foaming eucalyptus trees amongst the dense mist. I had the trails completely to myself, apart from the odd wombat and wallaby, and couldn’t believe that this incredible, Jurassic-like landscape was just 2.5 hours from Melbourne.

2. Don’t Underestimate Victoria’s Diversity

In terms of wild places in Victoria, I feel we’re often overlooked for the other states when it comes to places of exceptional beauty, as we often roll our eyes at the thought of visiting somewhere as cliché as the 12 Apostles. These trips are often saved for when a cousin visits from overseas, and an obligatory trip down the Great Ocean Road is on the cards.  However, the diversity within our (relatively) small state is incredible and needs to be seen to be believed.

Until this experience, I wasn’t aware that Victoria had Gondwanan forests to rival Tasmania’s takayna/Tarkine region, or the highest sea cliffs or (once) tallest tree in Australia.  Forget the Big Banana – in the Yarra Ranges you’ll find what was once Australia’s tallest tree (a Mountain Ash) until a storm knocked the top branches off. Standing at 87.84 metres high, the ‘Big Tree’ near Powelltown in the Yarra Ranges is a true sight to behold.

From the Red River gum floodplains of Barmah National Park to the rugged, wild coastlines of Croajingolong National Park, the ironbark forests of the Central-West, crusty, pink salt lakes of Murray Sunset, koala lined banks of the graceful Glenelg River and finally the towering mountain peaks of Alpine National Park, Victoria really does have it all.

There’s a park for every season and every adventure, from kayaking to mountain climbing, skiing, mountain bike riding, horse riding, and simply picnicking.


Photo thanks to Majell Backhausen

3. Wing it

I’m usually one for planning, but often found that when heading out to the less popular parks, there was limited information online about what to see and where to go. And as much as I appreciate the work Parks Victoria does, their website leaves a lot to be desired.

My usual routine was to download the Park Notes, and then use an app like AllTrails to see what tracks were in the area and download a topographic map onto Avenza if the area was particularly remote.  

Read more: Our Favourite Outdoor and Adventure Apps

However, the best advice was saved for the information signs in the Parks, and even when I did have a plan in place, I’d often find a better campsite or trail after arriving, and my careful pre-planning was promptly ditched. A quick snap on my phone meant I was ready to explore the lesser-known corners of the park, with loaded in case of emergency!

This was particularly true for Errinundra National Park, a lesser-known but incredible park in Eastern Gippsland, which was absolutely decimated during the Black Summer fires. Most of the affected parks were closed until later in the year, so I headed there in October, when they were still closed midweek due to aerial shooting of wild deer. Online, there were few resources to tell me about the enigmatic Errinundra, but after arriving, I was greeted by incredibly informative, albeit old, signs and resources that shared the ecological significance of this area, as well as a network of trails. 

Read more: The 9 Best Multi-Day Hikes in Victoria

In particular, it was great to see the stories of the Traditional Owners, the Monero peoples, who travelled through this area on their way to the high country Bogong Moth feasts. A quote by community Elder Doris Paton reads,

‘The walking tracks are like road maps, we moved on when the season changed and our diet needs changed. Or campsites were chosen for safety reasons and food availability’.

Photo thanks to Majell Backhausen

Errinundra blew me away so much that I returned a month later, keen to share its beauty and resilience with others. Whilst some towering eucalyptus were bursting with regrowth from their charcoal covered trunks, others were spider-like silhouettes, too damaged to survive. Amongst the devastation were pockets of untouched ancient Gondwanan forest, home to the endemic Errinundra Shining Gum. 

Just kilometres away from these 200+ year old trees lies the National Park boundary, where these same trees, home to the threatened Greater Glider, birdlife, and countless insects, are currently being logged. Appreciating just how miraculous it was that these trees have survived numerous centuries made being in the presence of these giants even more significant.

Thankfully, the local Goongerah Environment Centre (GECO) are working hard to defend these forests, through citizen science programs, forest blockades, and challenging the laws which permit the destruction of these ecologically significant forests.

Read more: Five Reasons to Care About the Errinundra Plateau in East Gippsland


4. Where are all the people?

Sure, 2020 was a strange year to be out and about in Victoria. With Melbournians confined to the city limits, campsites and trails were certainly quieter than usual. Even though regional Victorians were being confined to state borders and holidaying closer to home, I was constantly amazed at how quiet a lot of the parks were. During the winter months, I explored the northwest corner of the state, the desert parks, such as Wyperfeld, Murray Sunset and Little Desert. Compared to the lush, fern-filled forests of the east, the sandy trails, faraway horizons, and warm winter days were a nice change. 

Read more: 5 Secluded Camping Spots in Victoria You Didn’t Know Exist

With incredible birdlife and trails such as the Discovery Walk on offer, you’d think plenty of people would be out enjoying a bit of a mid-winter escape. But no; campsites were often empty, save for a few grey nomads trading Darwin for Dimboola. I visited a few of these parks with my parents in their Winnebago, and safe to say I was the youngest person in the campground by about 30 years. 

Days were spent exploring the far-flung corners of these National Parks on foot, with not a soul for as far as the eye could see, except for the odd emu, which was often heard before being seen, its unique ‘boom-boom-boom’ echoing across the vast landscape. If you want to escape the crowds, look a bit further afield when planning your next camping adventure, and you’ll have nothing but wide open spaces to keep you company.


Photo thanks to Majell Backhausen

5. Long Term Goals are Awesome

January is all about new year resolutions, often which focus on the goal, rather than the journey. A goal that spans a whole year is all about the journey – once it’s been achieved, the fun is over, and all you’ve got is the memories, a few scars, a sock tan, and photos to remember the past 365 days by. 

I’ve never been a long-term planner; I have no idea where I’ll be in six weeks, let alone six months or six years. But having this project ticking away in the background gave my year structure, and in moments of restlessness, I turned to my list of National Parks and decided which one to tick off the list next.

There were weeks and months when I couldn’t go anywhere due to stay at home orders, and during these times, I thought maybe I wouldn’t achieve my goal, resigning myself to the fact it was out of my control. But when freedom was returned, I’d start to plot and plan once again, with a renewed sense of excitement for potentially seeing it through. 


6. So Many of Our Wild Places are Undervalued

Visiting the lesser-known parks, it became evident that with crowds, come resources. Infrastructure, signage, and land management varied greatly between the parks, and in turn, the amount of funding they received.  

I was keen to tackle some of the multi-day hikes across the state, with the Wilderness Coast Walk in Croajingolong National Park at the top of the list. I did this back in 2019, hiking the 110km from Bemm River to Mallacoota over five days. Most of the trail followed the remote, granite coastlines, with only the odd 4WD accessible campsite to break up kilometre after kilometre of solitude. 

The Black Summer fires totally decimated this corner of Victoria, with the ocean the only thing stopping the fire in its tracks. Only several campsites in this park have been reopened, and the Wilderness Coast Walk remains closed. With coastal landscapes to rival Wilsons Promontory, the remoteness and wildness of Thurra River and Wingan Inlet are amongst the best kept secrets in Victoria – if you don’t mind a corrugated road and are happy to take a swim in the ocean over a shower for a few days! 

There’s an exciting new project brewing for this area – the Emerald Link, which will see the creation of a continuous walking track from the Errinundra Plateau to Bemm River. I’m excited to see what investment in these beautiful, remote wild places will have on introducing more people to the diversity of Victoria and bringing much needed tourism dollars and mainstream environmental recognition to these parts of the state.

It’s hard to visit places such as this and leave unaffected by its resilience and unique, Australian beauty, and the more people that can witness these places first hand, the better chance they have to survive for future generations.


7. Life Goes on

After accomplishing something, we can’t help but ask, ‘What’s next?’. After achieving my objective, I felt compelled to set another bigger, loftier goal. A quick Google search quickly quashed my plans to travel further afield – NSW has 166 National Parks, and Queensland an impressive 214. Rather than double down on what started as a late-night thought experiment, I went into 2021 with nothing but an empty calendar and open mind. 

On New Year’s Eve, I’d hoped to travel up the NSW coast, but with impending border closures I decided to stay put in Victoria. By this time, some of the campsites in Croajingolong had reopened, so I set off down a sandy 4WD track to a secluded beach on the Wilderness Coast Walk. I filled my pack with the essentials (tent, bug spray, red wine) and set up camp on the dunes, ready to watch the sun set on a fulfilling year from my 1000 star hotel. Escaping the masses and setting off into the unknown felt like the most natural thing in the world – and was perhaps the biggest, and most rewarding lesson I learnt throughout the year. 

Going on adventures, regardless of how big or how small, had become second nature to me, and the excuses that stood in my way 12 months ago were now replaced with effective systems and habits, which made the transition from work to play seamless. 

Forcing myself to get out the door and not overthink logistics, bad weather, and other petty excuses had allowed me to embrace, and flourish, in a new lifestyle where being outdoors became the norm, and good days were measured by time spent in nature, being present, and appreciating the incredible ecosystems in our vast, beautiful backyard.