It’s mid-week and you’re sitting at your desk under the glare of fluorescent light, tap, tap, tapping away on the keyboard, dreaming of leafy trees, dirt paths and scenic walks. Take comfort in the knowledge that, just a short drive away, nature calls. Wherever you are in Australia, here’s a guide to some of the best, lesser-known short drives to get away from it all.
Lysterfield Park, Melbourne
When Melbourne’s coastal beaches are crowded on a hot day, there’s only one thing to do – head inland and swim at a beach in the middle of a forest. Just a 40-minute drive from the Melbourne CBD, Lysterfield Lake is an unexpectedly tranquil, sandy spot in which to cool off. The park around the lake has its own share of attractions, too – it’s excellent for bike riding and a stroll around the 8km walking track at dusk all but guarantees a kangaroo sighting.
Lerderderg State Park, Melbourne
Just near Gisborne in Melbourne’s north-west, Lerderderg State Park is a protected stretch of near 15,000-hectare parkland, centred around the Lerderderg River. Having carved a gorge near 300 metres deep, the river provides a playground to explore. Squeeze between rock ravines, push through thick, dry bushland and scramble over two river crossings to reach the magic waters of Grahams Dam. There’s no less than six walking tracks to explore.
Palm Beach, Sydney
There’s plenty of spots around Sydney to get a hit of nature, the question comes down to how many people do you want to be sharing it with? For something a little different, investigate Palm Beach, situated opposite Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park in Sydney’s north. The waves are ideal for a paddle or swimmers can take refuge in the 35-metre ocean pool. Barrenjoey Lighthouse sits 91 metres above sea level, with panoramic views over the skinny “Palmy” peninsula, to Ku-ring-gai Chase, Broken Bay and the Central Coast. In winter this is a great spot to watch the great humpback whale migration.
Royal National Park, Sydney
In the other direction, Australia’s first official national park lies just an hour south of Sydney. Stop by the old Audley Dance Hall for snacks on the way in, and bring the inflatable flamingo you got for Christmas to kick back at Wattamolla lagoon. The calm waters make it popular with little ones. Nearby Providential Point lookout (a 45-minute return walk) takes in picturesque views of the ocean, cliff faces and back towards the beach. It’s just a small glimpse of the 26-kilometre, two-day coast track that follows the park’s eastern edge.
Mount Cordeaux, Main Range National Park, Brisbane
Some say Brisbane’s Scenic Rim has more mountains than it does people. The bush in this Jurassic-like area south-west of Brisbane is wild, and between the region’s six national parks you could keep yourself lost for weeks. The easiest summit climb is Mount Cordeaux, a 6.8km round trip that will take about two hours. The trail zigzags through lush rainforest and sparse bushland up to the final lookout with epic views.
Twin Falls Circuit, Springbrook National Park, Brisbane
This short trail packs a gorgeous triple threat – a swimming hole, caves and waterfalls to walk under. Take in the view at Canyon Lookout before choosing a path. Go clockwise and amble down through changing layers of bush to rainforest as the path plunges deep into the valley. Trees in this World Heritage area have been radiocarbon-dated at 1500 years, making them the oldest found on Australia’s mainland. On the drive home take five to stop at the Best of All Lookout – the name doesn’t lie.
A 45-minute drive east of Perth, the Noble Falls Scenic Drive makes the most of WA’s wildflower season. Spanning 53 kilometres, you’ll need to start early to capture the colourful blooms in flattering morning light. The drive passes through Marri, Jarrah, Powderbark and Wandoo woodlands, plus rolling farmland dotted with milk and cheese producers, emus, olives, alpacas, pecans and more. Turn left off Toodyay Road onto O’Brien Road, where Walyunga Lookout will get you a bird’s eye view over the national park and Avon River. On the final leg, stop at Noble Falls for a short walk to get lost in.
More than 100 years ago, Jarrahdale in Perth’s south-east was booming with a worldwide Jarrah logging trade. Life has since slowed, but chef-slash-gardener Guy Jeffreys prefers it that way. At Millbrook Winery he celebrates simplicity on the plate, letting his heirloom vegetables shine as nature intended. Located within Chestnut Farm, which has vines that date back to 1860, the winery makes a great home base for exploring the region’s walking tracks. Soak up a slice of history on the Jarrah-deck veranda and take in vistas of the rolling landscape before a stroll. With the heart rate slowed, there’s no need to rush off – you can stay the night in an old converted railway carriage. With no TV or phone reception. Perfect.
Waterfall Gully, Adelaide
What’s better than chasing a waterfall in Adelaide’s south-east? Chasing six. Rise early, pack a camera and set the GPS to Cleland Conservation Park. The four-kilometre Waterfall Gully trail follows a steep incline towards the summit of Mount Lofty. It takes a couple of hours and is a serious workout, but the panoramic views from the top make it all worthwhile. And if the view doesn’t do it for you, perhaps an iced beverage from the summit cafe will. Those tight on time can still enjoy the cascades. First Falls is the most spectacular and is viewable from the carpark, while 500 metres along the trail visitors can walk up to the creatively named Second Falls. In winter the cascades flow freely – in summer it can be but a trickle.
Granite Island, Adelaide
This small flat island is no palm-tree paradise, but its big granite boulders covered in orange lichen and pristine aquatic surrounds make for a peaceful afternoon exploration. Park the car in Victor Harbour and step onto historic horse-drawn tram. Sure, the pier is just 700m long – but a double-storey cart pulled by a Clydesdale is worth the novelty. The Kaiki Circuit follows the circumference of the island and takes about 90 minutes. Keep an eye out for the wild penguin colony at dusk – though your best bet is to join a Granite Island Nature Tour.
This article is presented in partnership with the Kia Rio.