From coast to mountain, there's a hike guaranteed to hook you.
Many years ago, I stepped out onto the hiking trails of Victoria's Wilsons Promontory for my first overnight bushwalk, and a monster was born. I've barely stopped hiking since, traipsing over mountain ranges, along coastlines and through deserts around the world. Inevitably, I've gathered favourites - trails that continue to ramble through my mind long after I've finished them. Here's a selection of memorable hikes across the world, gathered together according to difficulty.
There's a fierceness to the cliffs of Tasmania's Tasman Peninsula that isn't reflected in the effort required to hike the Three Capes Track. The four-day, 48-kilometre walk edges across the tops of Australia's tallest sea cliffs, high above the raging Southern Ocean, but nights are spent in the country's swankiest public hiking huts, complete with mattresses, USB ports, deck chairs and all cooking equipment, reducing the burden of weight on your back.
The luxuries are all delivered by nature along Queensland's Thorsborne Trail. This 32-kilometre beach-hop on Hinchinbrook Island, Australia's largest island national park, is typically spread over four days, making for an average of just eight kilometres a day. Even more relaxing are its many cooling swim holes, such as the natural infinity pools atop Zoe Falls and the hidden-in-plain-sight Blue Lagoons.
New Zealand's Great Walks are an excellent introduction to multi-day hiking. More than a century ago, the Milford Track was dubbed the "finest walk in the world" and little has changed to contradict that. Crossing the exposed and spectacular McKinnon Pass, the four-day walk is the ultimate way into Milford Sound.
An even more enticing Great Walk, for mine, is the North island's 45-kilometre Tongariro Northern Circuit. Lapping the perfectly conical Mount Ngauruhoe (aka Mount Doom for Lord of the Rings fans) and incorporating the famed Tongariro Alpine Crossing - sometimes called the world's best day walk - it's a volcanic spectacular of craters, steaming fumaroles, lava bombs and brilliantly coloured lakes.
Think European hiking and you might inevitably think of the Alps, but my favourite compact hiking destination here is northern Spain's Picos de Europa. Just 40 kilometres in length, this mountain range is split by the Garganta del Cares, a narrow gorge almost as deep as the Grand Canyon. Inside it is an 11-kilometre trail, etched at times into the cliffs, which rise up to 1500 metres overhead. Stay on for another couple of days and there's another excellent trail to Naranjo de Bulnes, a 500-metre-high tower of rock with a small mountain hut for hikers and rock climbers at its base.
If you think the Great Ocean Road is aptly named, wait until you see the Great Ocean Walk. Stretching for 110 kilometres from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles, the trail's entire journey is on the ocean side of the road, magnifying those famously familiar views. My overriding memories of this hike aren't the big-ticket features - the Twelve Apostles or Cape Otway - but the places you miss along the drive, such as Milanesia Beach, Rainbow Falls and Wreck Beach.
While many thousands of hikers head to Chile's Torres del Paine National Park each year, just a few hundred find their way to far-southerly Isla Navarino, even though it's a virtual scale model of the Torres. The 53-kilometres Dientes Circuit is the world's southernmost trek, looping through the craggy Dientes de Navarino mountains, briefly in sight (on a fine day) of notorious Cape Horn. The mountains are dramatic, and so is the weather (I've been snowed in at camp in the middle of summer).
The main thing to bear on Canada's Skyline Trail is, well, bears. More than half of the 44-kilometre hike from Maligne Lake to the edge of Jasper is above the treeline, making for vast views over the Rocky Mountains, equalled by the very real possibility of bear sightings (though I saw none when I hiked the trail). There's more than 1000 metres of altitude variation, making for plenty of climbs and descents through its two mountain passes.
While most of the Seven Summits - the highest mountains on each continent - are the domain of mountaineers, Africa's highest peak, Mt Kilimanjaro, yields comfortably to hikers. There are seven different routes to the 5895-metre summit, and my favourite is the Lemosho Route. This ascends through the imposing Barranco Wall, which requires hands as much as feet, and finally onto the summit past Kilimanjaro's remarkable - and, alas, melting - glaciers. Altitude is the greatest challenge, which makes the eight-day Lemosho a more comfortable approach than the ever-popular Marangu Route, which many hikers ascend in as little as five days, albeit with low success rates.
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STEP IT OUT
Australia is a big country, suitably filled with big hiking trails, from the 1000-kilometre Bibbulmun Track through the towering forests of south-west WA to the 650-kilometre Australian Alps Walking Track across the High Country of NSW and Victoria. More approachable long-distance walks are the Larapinta Trail (see story on page 8) and the 13-day Grampians Peaks Trail, which opened in 2021 and runs head to toe through Victoria's Grampians, stopping each night in purpose-built campgrounds.
Many of my favourite long hikes have been high across Europe's Alps, where the challenging terrain is moderated by the presence of mountain huts. The popular Tour du Mont Blanc is a gorgeous lap of the Alps' highest mountain, racking up more than 10,000 metres of climb along its 170 kilometres. By virtue of being second, the 165-kilometre Tour de Monte Rosa, circuiting the Alps' second-tallest mountain, gets less recognition and yet, having hiked both, I prefer the latter for its empty stretches of trail, a glacier-top descent into Zermatt and time in the company of the Matterhorn.
Similarly in Nepal, you can take the well-beaten path through the Khumbu Valley to Everest Base Camp, but the finest approach is a less trodden one. Veering through a side valley to Gokyo, where the 5357-metre Gokyo Ri peak has arguably the finest Everest view of all, it's then a pass crossing over the high Cho La to drop into the Khumbu just a couple of days' walk from base camp - arguably the world's most famous hiking destination.