Kate’s hiked the 655km Australian Alps Walking Track and has dreams to conquer the rest of Australia’s thru-hikes. She’s got all the info on the hikes that make up Australia’s Triple Crown.
The Thru Hikes in Australia’s Triple Crown
If you’re a passionate hiker then you’ve probably heard of the ‘Triple Crown’ in America. A collection of three long-distance trails that traverse from the top of the States to the bottom.
On the western border is the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), the eastern border has the Appalachian Trail, and straight through the middle is the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). For most thru-hikers it’s a lifelong challenge to complete all three of the tracks and become royalty of the hiking world.
However, Australia actually has its own Triple Crown equivalent! Allow me to introduce you to Australia’s very own long-distance hikes; the Australian Alps Walking Track (east), The Bibbulmun Track (west), and the Heysen Trail (central).
Australia’s thru-hikes are a little different from their American counterparts. They’re built like the Australian people; unique and varying, full of culture and stories, beautiful yet a little rough around the edges and all end at a good pub.
All these tracks can be walked as multi-day hikes or in sections, but defeating a thru-hike to overcome the challenge of the mind, body and soul sings true accomplishment. All of these tracks can be walked north bound (NOBO) or south bound (SOBO), but avoid tackling them in summer due to the higher fire danger and lower amount of water available.
1. Bibbulmun Track – The Coastal Wander
Duration: 6-8 weeks
States: Western Australia
Coastal views for days on end, wandering barefoot on the sand, falling asleep to the sound of the calming waves outside your tent, the Bibbulmun Track sounds more like a beach holiday than a thru-hike. The long-distance hike spans the South West coast of Western Australia; from Kalamunda (north) in Perth Hills to Albany (south), across wide open plains, deep forest floors, and up above the treetops for some breathtaking coastal views.
The Bibbulmun Track is the most developed track of the three, so is a great place to start your thru-hiking journey. With well-built shelters, pit toilets, rainwater tanks, and picnic tables at all 49 campsites, planning your hike’s a breeze. The main concern is what to eat each day.
Whilst food drops can be arranged, tiny towns along the way usually have general stores equipped with hiker’s needs. They’re also a great place to enjoy a calorie-dense meal on a rest day. Many SOBO walkers typically walk the ‘Cape to Cape Track’ after completing the Bibbulmun, as a last hoorah before saying goodbye to the trail life.
2. Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT) – The Mountain Traverse
Duration: 5-8 weeks
States: Victoria, New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory
Starting in Tharwa (ACT) and ending in the picturesque village of Walhalla (VIC), the Australian Alps Walking Track is an extension of the original Alpine Walking Track that spanned across the high country of Victoria.
The only long-distance ski-touring trail in Australia, most hikers choose to walk in spring to frolic in the wildflowers after the winter thaw. Be warned, the snowmelt will also cause rivers to rise, making crossings icy cold and at times waist deep, or higher.
If you love peak-bagging, and bush-bashing, this is your hike. Summiting over 30 mountains, including VIC, NSW & ACT’s highest points, prepare for a little (read: a lot) of elevation gain. Whilst some areas of the track are very populated, it’s not rare to go days on end without seeing another person.
Immense planning is required for this trip, including making food drops and finding water sources, as you only pass through throughout the entire journey; Thredbo and Mount Hotham alpine ski resorts. The recommendation is to walk SOBO, starting from ACT, in order to build up fitness and mental strength for the undulating and overgrown Victorian section.
3. Heysen Trail – The Countryside Experience
Duration: 7-9 weeks
States: South Australia
Travelling through semi-arid country of South Australia, starting at Parachilna Gorge in the Flinders Range into the Adelaide Hills, to Cape Jervis on the Fleurieu Peninsula, the Heysen Trail is arguably the most challenging of Australia’s three thru-hikes.
Extensive planning is required due to the little amount of water available along the track. Especially in drier years, multiple water-drops may be necessary. For this very reason, and the high risk of fires during summer, the Heysen Trail is closed during ‘Fire Danger Season’ from November to April.
Don’t let a little hard work put you off, this is the true Australian experience. From rocky, scorched mountain ranges, to wide-open pastures, dense native forests, cliff tops, and coastal views, the trail is more than just the environment.
It’s the people you meet along the way; fellow hikers, charming townships and farming communities, not to mention the ‘Friends of the Heysen Trail’ who offer a network of support to get you to the end of the trail.
It’s hard to avoid a quick trip to Kangaroo Island, visible from Cape Jervis at the end of the track, the perfect way to conclude an epic adventure.
4. Bicentennial National Trail (BNT) – The Long-Distance
Duration: 6-7 Months
States: Victoria, NSW, ACT & Queensland
What began as a simple horse trail is now Australia’s, and one of the world’s, longest multi-use, non-motorized, self-reliant trails. Starting from Cooktown in Far North Queensland, to Healesville in Victoria, only a few have completed the entire length of the trail by foot, with the entire ‘wall of fame’ of accomplished BNT hikers found on Wikipedia.
With many road sections, and avoidance of wilderness areas, particularly in Queensland, the trail reflects its horse-riding history. However future development is underway to re-route and re-work the trail and make it the greatest thru-hike in Australia. With a little imagination and a lot of off-track skill, detour through the best national parks on the eastern side of Australia.
If you know of anyone that’s dabbled in all three thru-hikes in the Australian triple crown, please reach out!
Feature photo by Benjamin Ho