If Shanks' Pony is your preferred mode of transport, and you want to point your boots in the direction of somewhere that's both stimulating and sunny, empty your head of everything but the words "bushwalking" and " Australia. "
For sheer diversity the landscapes are incredible, from the red desert and stunning rock structures of Kata Tjuta and Uluru(formerly the Olgas and Ayer's Rock), to the tropical rainforests and reefs of northern Queensland. So bring the sunscreen, hat and water bottles, and, whether searching for an afternoon amble or a five-day hike, prepare to join the rest of Australia in what is tantamount to a national pastime, and stretch both your limbs and imagination.
The Blue Mountains, Sydney
Sixty kilometres to the west of Sydney,(hiring a car is best), the intrepid explorer comes out on the edge of the dramatic Blue Mountains, so named because of the blue mist that hangs over the thousands of eucalyptus trees below. It is actually a high plateau plunging into deep wooded valleys, with plenty of trails of varying grades, and breathtaking, peaceful views. The lazy can look out at the 'Three Sisters', the famous triplet formation of eroded rock from a crowded viewing point. For those who wish to get away from the crowds there are plenty of walks that lead far from the madding crowd. The 300-metre Giants' Stairway, commencing at the Three Sisters, is a steep series of 800 stone steps and runways that descends to the floor of the Jamison Valley below. From here there are several short walks, including one to Wentworth Falls, called the Charles Darwin Walk, where the great man wandered himself in 1836, looking for waterfalls tumbling down through the valley. You can embark on a three-day hike on the six foot track to the Jenolan Caves and back.
Daintree National Park,
In the tropical and steamy far north of Queensland, "where the rainforest meets the reef" there are some stunning, easygoing trails to wander along. Some of the finest walking is found in the rainforest next to the long, golden beaches in this World Heritage area. From Myall beach, it is a pleasant and easy stroll up and over to Cape Tribulation through the trees, with the surf rolling in just a few feet away. Walkers may spot the occasional python sleeping in the trees next to the path, a tree kangaroo, or even crocodiles basking in the creeks.(There are saltwater crocs here, so wandering off on your own up creeks is not recommended.) At the cape, look for pittas, a small colourful native bird with a green back and a yellow-beige chest. A stroll from Myall beach to Emmagen, six km north, takes walkers away from the beach and into the undergrowth and creeks, but the route is safe and the reward is croc-free swimming holes halfway up Mount Sorrow. A whole day can be taken up walking the boards of the Cape Tribulation Boardwalk, which takes in a tour of the rainforest, it's trees and insects, and anything else that wanders along.
The Red Centre, Northern Territory
Climbing Uluru is akin to clambering up a temple in India. Originally only characters in the Dreamtime took the route where the modern chain-walk now is, and the current Aboriginal owners prefer it that way. From heart attacks or falling off, on average one person dies a year. The safer way is the nine km Base Walk, which takes up to three hours. There are several sacred Anangu sites, where secret rites and ceremonies are performed, along the way, often in caves, and photography here is prohibited. Uluru is the world's largest monolith, and contains fascinating textual variations. There are several places where aboriginal mythology and rock art are signposted and explained. Fly-nets are essential in summer, when swarms of flies plague the unprepared. Kata Tjuta is a collection of 36 huge rock domes to admire, stand next to and walk amongst. The Valley of the Winds Walk here is a must - a stony track that winds up to a narrow, windy chasm between two enormous domes that reach into the sky, with stunning views of the desert plains beyond. Walk through the pass and circle back round - an easy to moderate seven kilometre stroll. King's Canyon is similarly fascinating and worth the drive - when there, go left, up and over to the head of the canyon, and take a cooling dip in the Garden of Eden, a lifesaving natural pool, before embarking on the return leg through the stone domes on the other side.
Grampians National Park,
The sandstone outcrops and ridges of the Grampians Ranges ascend from the agricultural plains of Western Victoria, offering stunning vistas and plenty of fresh air. Here, there are waterfalls, lakes, eye-catching flora, Aboriginal rock art, and bushwalks a-plenty. Early summer is the optimum time to come, with flowers in bloom and water cascading over falls. At the height of summer the threat of bushfires is in the air and there are bans on naked flames. The ecosystems here are diverse - you can explore prehistoric fern forests and red-gum woodland in the cooler south, or dry scrub in the warmer north. The Wonderland Walk, starting at Halls Gap, takes five hours and encompasses rocky, moderate-graded paths, the dramatic Pinnacle lookout, cooling off by the Venus baths(rockpools), the Grand Canyon with it's steep, high walls, and magical fern forests. For more experienced walkers, the Major Mitchell Plateau is 23km long and takes two days one way, from Jimmy Creek to Sheep Hills. Highlights include an alpine 'garden' with incredible flowers, a stunning sunset near the campsite at First Wannon Creek, and the summit at Mount Duwil a the top of the Grampians, in a day or two.
South-West region, Western Australia
Due to little rain or public transport, the best hiking in WA is confined to the south-west. The world famous Bibbulman Track runs from outside Perth to Albany, and takes several weeks to complete, camping in shelters along the way. This is out of the question for anyone with time or fitness constraints, but sections of the track can be tramped in few-hour bursts. North of Albany, the Porongurups are a range of wooded granite hills offering tough but rewarding trails for the stout of heart and boot, along with gazing at the enormous karri trees. The walk to Devils Slide, taking in Nancy and Hayward peaks on the way back, takes up half a day. The Stirling Ranges, in the same vicinity, offer some high peaks to conquer, and the weather here is generally clement. Wandering to Mount Magog will set you back four hours and a couple of blisters, with a medium/hard rating. On the south coast, Fitzgerald River National Park is renowned for it's abundance of flowers, especially orchids, dibblers, heath rats, cliffs and beaches off which whales frolic in winter. There is great walking, but no source of drinking water, making the park, like a lot of Aussie restaurants, BYO(bring your own).
Warning: Beware of walking in the midday sun in summer(although you get the magic almost all to yourself), and take plenty of water.