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Exploring the top Australia national parks and reserves

by Visagov | January 12, 2023
warning sings of the presence of kangaroos and animals on roads in Australia

If you love a good outdoor adventure, exploring natural wonders and seeing unique wildlife, Australia is the place for you! That’s because the country boasts the second-largest number of protected areas in the world, making it a paradise for nature and adventure lovers.

From the natural beauty of the Mungo National Park’s lunar landscape and the spectacular rock formations in Uluru to the mysterious beehive-shaped cones in the Purnululu National Park and the pristine waters of the Whitsunday Islands, Australia travel is different to visiting any other place on Earth.

A trip to some of the country’s best national parks and protected areas will take you back millions of years through Aboriginal history and legends.

Introducing the national parks in Australia and its reserves

While Australia has over 650 national parks, the term national park can be misleading as only 3% of these are managed by the federal government through Parks Australia. The other Australia national parks or reserves are managed by the states and territories. 

Parks Australia runs six Commonwealth National Parks, including Norfolk, Christmas, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, and the Booderee, Kakadu, and Uluru-Kata Tjuta national parks, managed in partnership with the traditional land owners. The organization also runs the Australian National Botanic Gardens and 60 Commonwealth Marine Parks.

Besides a plethora of national parks, Australia also has conservation reserves (in South Australia), state reserves (in NSW), nature and wildlife reserves (in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Tasmania, and Western Australia), and indigenous protected areas. These sites are all managed by state and territory agencies under Australia’s National Reserve System. 

Note that almost 20% of the country’s landmass is protected under the National Reserve System, contributing to the preservation of Australia’s unique flora and fauna.

Understanding the Australia national parks and reserves

As mentioned, Australia is home to over 650 national parks and reserves. But while they’re all breathtaking in their own ways, we’ve chosen to narrow down the list for you and list the top 3 world-heritage-listed national parks in Australia. These are some of the best national parks in Australia: 

Uluru/Kata Tjuta (Ayers Rock and the Olgas)

Uluru (also referred to as Ayers Rock) is the spiritual heart of Australia. The mysterious and world-famous sandstone monolith sits in the red centre, in the middle of the Australian desert. About half a billion years old and towering 348m above sea level, the sacred site is of high cultural significance for the local Aboriginal tribes. Indeed, for the Anangu people, Uluru represents the resting place of ancient spirits and therefore has an important religious meaning.

40 km west of Uluru lies another sacred site: Kata Tjuta. Kata Tjuta fascinates travellers from around the world due to its unusual 36 ochre-colored dome formations culminating for some of them at more than 540 meters above sea level.

Here are the best activities to do in Uluru/Kata Tjuta:

  • Hiking the Walpa Gorge Walk in Kata Tjuta.
  • Hiking the Uluru Base Walk.
  • Watching the sunset in Uluru from the Talinguru Nyakunytjaku lookout point.
  • Watching the sunrise in Kata Tjuta from the Kata Tjuta dune viewing area.
  • Visiting the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre.

People at the beach in Australia

The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef of Australia is the largest coral reef in the world! Stretching for over 2,300 km along the Queensland Coast, it’s one of the most complex natural ecosystems on the planet. Home to more than 350 types of coral, over 1,500 species of multicolored fish, and 4,000 types of molluscs, this magical marine park is also a breeding ground for six of the seven turtle varieties found on Earth and the endangered dugong.

Best activities to do in the Great Barrier Reef:

  • Taking a boat tour and snorkelling on the reef.
  • Exploring Heron Island.
  • Hiking the Summit Track on Fitzroy Island.
  • Swimming at Green Island.

Daintree National Park and Cape Tribulation

The Daintree Forest is the world’s oldest tropical lowland rainforest. Indeed, this enchanting natural wonder was formed between 150 and 180 million years ago and is even older than the Amazon rainforest! What makes the site even more magical is that this is the only place in the world where two UNESCO World Heritage sites meet: the rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef.

The incredible biodiversity found in this breathtaking place is unparalleled, and the dense rainforest landscapes have hardly changed since Pangea. Here are some of the best things to do in Daintree National Park:

  • Walking down the beach in Cape Tribulation and exploring the Mount Alexandra lookout.
  • Embarking on a crocodile tour on the Daintree River.
  • Hiking the Marrdja Boardwalk, Kulki Boardwalk, and the Dubuji Boardwalk.
  • Going on a guided hike with a guide from the Kuku Yalanji tribe.
  • Exploring the Mosman Gorges.
  • Visiting the Daintree Discovery Centre.

National parks in Australia house kangaroos

Exploring Australia national parks and reserves

While some Australia national parks and reserves are very popular and feature facilities and paved roads for easy access, other remote parks deep in the Australian wilderness don’t. Here are a few tips to help you plan your trip to Australia national parks and reserves:

  • If you explore remote national parks such as the Ikara–Flinders Ranges in South Australia, The Purnululu National Park in Western Australia, or the Mutawintji National Park in NSW, make sure to purchase a satellite phone and a first-aid kit as you won’t have reception. You should also rent a 4WD.
  • Australia is home to some of the most dangerous animal species on the planet so inquire about safety precautions in the local information center before exploring a national park. Read our guide: "Is Australia safe?"
  • Guided tours are the safest options for most national parks.
  • The type of accommodation available across the country and close to national parks ranges from camping sites and hostels to historic homesteads, Airbnbs, hotels, and glamping options. However, if you’re planning to camp, we’d recommend hiring a campervan and checking the list of legal camping sites beforehand. Illegal camping can lead to hefty fines and can be dangerous as Australia is prone to bushfires. Each state has a dedicated website listing legal camping sites, and you can even book some of them directly online. Here’s an example for the Northern Territory.

Planning your trip to the national parks in Australia and the reserves

In addition to checking for legal campsites before planning to camp in Australia national parks and purchasing a first aid kit and satellite phone, we’d recommend wearing sunscreen at all times, as Australian radiation levels are the highest on the planet.

Also, avoid touching or walking on Aboriginal sites as these sites are sacred and integral to the country’s indigenous heritage.

Note that many Australia national parks ask for a fee, and in some remote parks, you’ll find an honesty box at the entrance prompting you to pay whatever fee you deem reasonable. This is important as it allows landowners and local conservation agencies to maintain and preserve these protected areas.

To ensure you’re all set for your trip, here’s a list of additional national parks you’ll love visiting if you ever travel to Australia:

  • Freycinet National Park.
  • Kakadu National Park.
  • Kosciuszko National Park.
  • Great Sandy National Park.
  • Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park.
  • Port Campbell National Park.