Meet Your Next Big Thru-Hiking Challenge: The 1800-Mile Australian Triple Crown

So you hiked your own hike until there were no more hikes left to hike. CDT. PCT. AT. CT. PNT. AZT. JMT. LT. And now this wistful walking career feels as though it’s hitting a plateau. The points on that crown are starting to look a little rusted, amigo. Maybe this is your sign to come chase a shiny new triple crown — the Australian Triple Crown — in the land down under, where they’ve got 600 species of Eucalyptus trees and unfathomable amounts of coastline. It looks kinda like this:

(I actually didn’t know they had camels in Australia until recently )

Okay maybe that’s only in the Outback. But seriously it will actually look a lot like this:

and this:

and this:

What Is the Australian Triple Crown?

Styled after the USA’s Triple Crown of hiking trails, the Australian Triple Crown is more of an idea than an actual reality. As of now it mostly just exists on internet forums and consists of completing the three longest backpacking trails on the continent: the Heysen Trail, the Australian Alps Walking Track, and the Bibbulmun Track, together totalling almost 1,800 miles.

A lot of folks in the backpacking community don’t seem to have Australia on their radar, especially the mainland. So this is an attempt to bring a little more publicity to the wild and ancient landscapes that make up this beautiful continent and to say that, yes, it is very possible and very recommended to come check out all that the Aussie bush has to offer, and also c’mon, the snakes and spiders aren’t that bad.

And they’re especially scarce above treeline.

What Makes the Australian Triple Crown Special?

These trails may not boast the insane distances, extreme topographies, or robust trail culture that you’ll find in the States. But they make up for it in glorious solitude, strange ecologies, provincial hospitality, and generally unearthly landscapes.

You’ll come face to face with wombats, wallabies and kangaroos. You’ll eat like a million vanilla slices. You’ll watch giant flocks of parrots blocking out the sun. You’ll see the only four glacially formed lakes in mainland Australia, one of the most remote coastlines on the planet, and carve your way through a volcanic crater among chunks of the world’s oldest sandstone.

Sometimes in the Australian Alps it feels more like you’re walking on the moon.

All of these trails are very well-maintained and easily navigable. And although most local folks tend to complete them in sections, the logistics of each trail makes it totally possible to thru-hike them. Plus there is a FarOut guide for each one.

So why not make a whole trip out of it? Australia is a huge place, almost as big in size as the USA, and gigantic swaths of it remain extremely remote, largely undeveloped, and difficult to access.

This means that, if you’ve got the money, time, and spirit of adventure, your adoubement will land you among an elite group of finishers. It’s estimated that only a handful of people finish the AAWT each year. Forty to fifty for the Heysen. And 100 for the Bibbulmun. As for all three? Talk about trailblazing.

Plus you get this fun patch when you complete the Bibbulmun.

Land Acknowledgments

When it comes to recreation on public lands, Australia has a slightly different relationship to its trails than America. Each hike takes place on indigenous lands, so it’s invaluable to be aware of the history and practices of each place when walking on country. In some cases, due to cultural significance, access to geographical features is entirely off limits.

For each of these trails, the state and federal governments usually work together with traditional owners to steward them. Many places are considered sacred and still-living by traditional owners, and so it’s imperative to respect trail markers — not just to prevent erosion, but also in order to preserve what are some of the oldest cultures and histories in the world.

A great example of this occurs along The Heysen Trail at St Mary’s Peak/ Ngarri Mudlanha, where traditional owners ask that hikers respectfully not summit the mountain. It’s always best to follow the word of the locals, and anyways, for me it was more than enough just to imagine just how many centuries of footsteps had passed through that same spot.

Plus the view from the saddle before the peak is more than sweet enough.

The Three Points of the Aussie Triple Crown

Below is a breakdown of each of the three trails, as well as a rough estimate of how long it takes to complete them. As you can see, a Calendar Year Triple Crown might not be quite the same feat as it is in the States (the total distance between all three trails is just 1781 miles), but on the other hand, if you’re here on a 90-day travel visa, then I say let the games begin.

The Australian Alps Walking Track

Distance: 713 kilometers / 446 miles
Time: 3.5 – 4.5 weeks (if you’ve got a good pair of trail legs)
When to Hike: November – March

Experiencing PCT Sierra mosquito flashbacks in real time.

Let’s start with the most difficult and most conventionally beautiful trail in Australia, the AAWT. The snow season may be a little bit shorter, and the peaks may not be quite as high, but make no mistake: this is a very rugged, world class alpine trail. But it also feels so otherworldly at times. It’s an otherworld class trail.

The AAWT crosses the highest point in Australia, Mount Kosciuszko / Kunama Namadgi which sits at 2,228 metres / 7,310 feet. And indeed the elevation doesn’t seem like much, but given that it essentially starts at sea level, some of the climbs along this trail are so absolutely brutal.

Prepare to regularly ascend over 3,000 feet in less than two or three miles, and make sure you bring a sturdy set of hiking poles because there are almost no switchbacks in this part of Australia. On a rainy day, some of the descents can feel more like mudslides. But oh how easy it is to love everything from the top.

Unless it’s really windy. Which, at the top of Kosciuzsko, it pretty much always is.

Apart from this, the AAWT also boasts a huge network of beautiful historic huts that are always free to use and never require bookings. The high country and high plains along this track were historically used by settlers for grazing, so if you aren’t camping at some unbelievable saddle for sunset, then many of the huts have been well-preserved and sit in some fairytale clearings for camping and stargazing.

Honestly, this is one of the things that I love about this trail: no permits or bookings are required for any part of it (except maybe one night on the Falls to Hotham crossing), so feel free to rock up and hike at your leisure.

Apart from this, the AAWT guide recommends doing food drops along the trail, but I think it’s entirely possible to resupply along the trail if you’re moving fast enough. There are grocery stores in Falls Creek and Thredbo with a decent enough selection to cobble together a resupply or send yourself a little package at each.

A suggested itinerary for someone who’s comfortable covering long, tough distances every day might look something like:

Walhalla to Falls Creek: 8 days / 270km / 168mi
Falls Creek to Thredbo: 7 days / 215km / 136mi
Thredbo to Canberra: 7 days / 228km / 142mi

The walk down into Falls Creek tempts you with a lake the whole way.

These distances are a little higher than those listed on official sources, but that’s because I’ve already factored in a few of the imperative side trips that I might insist that you check out on this hike, including:

1. A side trip over Mount Bogong, the highest peak in Victoria.
2. A bit of wayfinding to Mount Townsend after Kosciuszko in order to bag the second highest peak in the Aussie Alps, and the much more technical and rewarding of the two. This area also includes what are easily the most superlative campsites in the entire country.
3. A side trip to Blue Lake, the largest cirque of mainland Australia’s four glacial lakes.

Now that your calves have officially achieved full tree trunk status, we can safely move on to the next two hikes.

Townsend is easily a highlight of the whole track. Despite this, it still didn’t stop me from thinking about dehydrated refried beans.

The Heysen Trail

Distance: 1200 kilometers / 746 miles
Time: 4 – 5 weeks
When to Hike: May – October

Named for a famous German watercolor artist who immortalized many scenes along this trail, you’ll soon understand why he loved it so much. The pastoral landscapes and ragged peaks of the Flinders Ranges really satisfy that rule of thirds—there’s always something in the foreground, middle ground, and background. The light plays tricks on your eyes. There are at least a million shades of red and green. I saw the greatest sunsets of my life in the Flinders Ranges.

See how many times you can’t stop yourself from calling it gorge-ous.

This is a great hike to pair with the AAWT, as the seasons for hiking each trail are reversed. The Heysen is closed during summer due to fire danger, and it’s easy to see why. South Australia is the driest state in the country, and can still get very hot even in the shoulder season. Luckily there’s plenty of shade every day, and some beautiful water for many afternoon dips.

In terms of logistics, the Heysen might also look like your most traditional thru-hike, as you’ll never go too long without passing through a town for a resupply. There are so many great historic pubs and hotels to hit on this hike, and it’s of course worth spending some extra time in Adelaide while you’re there. The only thing missing is some folks posted up at a trailhead grilling hot dogs and passing out cans of Bud Light.

Could’ve used a cold Gatorade here lmao.

I feel like, in a lot of ways, the Heysen is the most diverse trail of the three. It starts in the arid mountains of the Australian Outback, slowly transitions through improbably lush eucalyptus and pine forests, and ends with some great swims along remote, windswept coastlines. Apart from all that, you’ve also got an eclectic mix of shelters, bush camps, and small town accommodation that really give you the full range of experiences.

The southern end of the trail is also known as the Wild South Coast Way, and is absolutely stunning, but also a little bit more developed. In fact, all the sections of this trail that pass through national parks require advance bookings, which can be a bit of a headache at times. Luckily the comments are pretty active on FarOut. The only thing left to do is find space in your backpack for your own set of travel watercolors.

Nothing like a L.A.W.O.T.B.I.T.R (long-ass walk on the beach in the rain) to really clear your mind.

The Bibbulmun Track

Distance: 948 kilometers / 589 miles
Time: 3 – 4 weeks
When to Hike: May-October

Named for the indigenous people (also known as Noongar) that have inhabited the lands where this trail is located for thousands of years, the Bibbulmun is a movable feast. It’s a crash course of extremely specially adapted ecology, in one of the harshest, most remote corners of the planet.

There’s no shortage of appeal or beauty in Western Australia. With over 85 species of orchids that grow along the trail, and up to 139 different species of birds — including some absolutely wild ones like the white-tailed black cockatoo — spring on the Bibbulmun is a special time.

I love grass trees so much. (credit: Bibbulmun Track Foundation)

Similar to the Heysen Trail, the Bibbulmun is one for the shoulder season, as fire danger is way too prevalent during the summer, and you’d be roasting alive most days anyway. If you hike in spring, when the most wildflowers are blooming, you’ll also reach the southern coastal section just as it’s really starting to be prime beach weather.

And oh baby there is some good beach and coastal walking on the Bibbulmun. The sunset views from many of the shelters and campsites will actually make you feel guilty for not having to pay.

Bef0re you get there, you’ll spend days wandering below the canopy of some of Australia’s tallest and oldest trees. The Karri and Tingle forests are some of the most untouched and uninhabited stands in the world.

A pretty good indicator of the average elevation gain in a day. (Credit: Salty Davenport)

The logistics of the Bibbulmun also make it a great option for a thru-hike. The northern terminus of the track is just a short bus ride from the Perth Airport, and the southern terminus ends in the busy seaside town of Albany. Many people choose to tack the Cape to Cape track on to the end of their Bibbulmun hike for a bit of extra beach time.

Plus there’s a bus that takes you from Albany right to the trailhead. It’s one of those things that you feel like you’ve got to do, not only for how singular this coastline is, but also because who knows when you’ll ever make it to such a remote place again.

I cannot explain how far away from everything the Cape to Cape track feels. (Credit: SG)

Infrequently Asked Questions (nobody has asked me any of these yet, I’m just pre-empting)

Do I need a visa to travel in Australia and how long does it last?

Pretty much all American passport holders will qualify for a 90-day travel visa in Australia. It’s called an ETA (Electronic Travel Authority) and it only costs $20 AUD. 

If you’re under 30, then the other, potentially better, option is to apply for a working holiday visa to Australia and come experience all the joys of migrant labor. This will afford you more money and time to travel, which, if I’m being honest, is probably the best way to fully experience Australia. It’s so huge and remote and expensive and lovely that an extended trip is the best way to do it.

A young Haiku in 2016, on the holiday sliver of his working holiday, having yet another staring contest with a Pademelon in Tasmania.

IDK if I can do the Triple Crown in 90 days, but I still want to hike in Australia. What should I do instead?

Check out the Larapinta trail for an unbelievable, albeit maybe slightly over-developed at times, Australian Outback experience. These are some of the wildest desert landscapes on the planet, right on par with anything throughout the American southwest. It was insanely hard to get to it, but dang I really loved doing it.

The Jatbula Trail is probably the hiking trail with the most indigenous cultural significance.

It’s also totally possible to just spend 90 days driving/hitchhiking around Tasmania during the antipodean summer. The landscapes there are indeed wilder, and this is a totally valid option, especially if you want to do some technical and way-finding routes.

My best attempt to sum up the Larapinta in one photo (there’s more shade than this don’t worry lol).

What about the Bicentennial National Trail?

This is indeed Australia’s longest actual trail, but I would argue that it’s not really possible as a (fun) thru-hike. Bikepacking is a great activity though, and if that’s more your speed then I’d highly recommend checking it out. Or horseback riding (unrelated but if someone wants to try and do a crew thru on the PCT on horseback please hmu).

Snakes?!?!?!

They exist and they’re deadly. But they also just wanna be left alone. The tiger snake and brown snake are the two that you’re most likely to encounter. I always carry a snake bandage with me on multi-day trips, because it weighs almost nothing and can very much save your life.

As for snake gaiters, I’d say as long as you aren’t bushwhacking and you’re keeping your wits about you, they probably aren’t imperative (but do what makes you feel most comfortable bb).

This is one of the only photos I’ve ever even gotten of a snake in Australia, because they’re almost always off the trail and into the bush before you even have a chance to get your camera out.

What’s the best sunset/sunrise you’ve ever seen?

Somewhere in the Australian Alps. I’ll never tell you exactly where. Or maybe I just can’t remember, because there were so many of them. Or wait, maybe it was the Flinders Ranges. Or somewhere over the endless expanse of the Great Australian Bight. Who’s to say. All I know is that I swear there are at least three other shades of orange and purple in them.

I love my friends so much thank y’all for being in these photos and doing all these hikes with me <333

 

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Comments 3

  • Stephen : Jul 12th

    Last place I would go is any of the Commonwealth nations for anything.
    Imo those places showed their true colors during COVID-19. Liberal facism was brought alive when they tore kids off the beach, beat up old women, isolated whole states….

    Wouldn’t take the risk they would do it again, and again.

    Reply
  • Sascha Zumbusch : Jul 12th

    I wish you would mention the HexaTrek in France.
    I think it‘s worth a feature.
    But of corse, Australia is special.

    Buen camino to all of you!

    Reply
    • Sarah : Jul 13th

      As an Australian it’s awesome to learn about and have such great information about hikes here. A great article 🙏🙏

      Reply

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