Hiking fitness guide

Embrace the outdoors to give your fitness and wellbeing a leg up. Here's why you should give it a go, plus some great trails to try.

The benefits of hiking


There are loads of reasons to take up hiking – the sightseeing, socialising, wildlife spotting or just being in nature. Not to mention the obvious aerobic benefits. With more than 500 national parks in Australia and 14 in New Zealand there’s no shortage of places to get outside, build your cardiovascular fitness, as well as strengthen your lower body and core muscles. Here’s how to get out there and make the most of it.


Why hiking is great for your body and mind

Hiking – which by definition is walking over undulating and sometimes unstable terrain – is a brilliant workout, even for newbies. “You’ll reap the benefits associated with light to moderate physical activity, with the added bonus of distraction and adventure,” says exercise physiologist Neil Russell. “Hiking can be great for strength and stability, mostly in the lower body and core".

Plus, you can make it as challenging or as easy as you like by choosing the speed at which you go, whether you carry a large pack, and the difficulty of the hike – the more hills and uneven surfaces, the greater the cardiovascular fitness and leg endurance benefits,” Russell explains.

Recent research by NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service found that hikers were more likely to expend kilojoules than walkers and even runners who visited the parks .

Then there’s the additional boost to your mental health. There’s a growing body of research on ‘green exercise’, showing that when you’re active in a natural setting you get more benefits than with indoor exercise. For instance, an increase in energy and positive emotions as well as stronger motivation to work out, all improve when being active outdoors.

Plus, those who do so experience healthier levels of blood pressure and the stress hormone cortisol. “The combination of endorphin release, sense of accomplishment and removal of technology can enhance your mood and lead to better food and lifestyle choices,” says Russell.


How to be hike-wise

If you’re planning to do a hike, it’s important to stay safe. If it’s a short tramp on familiar, well-marked trails you probably don’t have to worry. “However, if you’re being more adventurous, it’s important to follow basic precautions.” Russell suggests you plan ahead by checking the weather and eating a good meal with slow-release energy such as foods rich in wholegrains. Also, know your abilities and limitations. “If you have any existing injuries get them seen to beforehand. A lot of steps on uneven trails can exacerbate existing problems and expose any instabilities.”

You’ll also need to carry plenty of water. As a rule, if you’re walking for more than two hours, allow at least four litres of water per person. You’ll also need a good map of the area, compass, waterproof gear, sun protection, a torch and a small first-aid kit. Finally, make sure you’ve told someone where you’re going or, if you’re setting off from a National Park centre, enter your details into a bushwalker register.


Hiking trails to discover


Walk: Mystery Creek Cave (TAS)
Distance: 4km
Terrain: Rainforest, cave
Intensity: Easy
Description: This mostly flat walk is just 90 minutes’ drive from Hobart. The walk through forest takes you along the side of a quarry to the entrance of the glow-worm studded Mystery Creek Cave.


Walk: Cloudy Head Track (TAS)
Distance: 12km (Return)
Terrain: Coastal
Intensity: Easy moderate
Description: This four-to-five-hour walk on Bruny Island starts at Cloudy Bay. You’ll get the benefits of walking on sand (awesome for your calf muscles!) before winding upwards to East Cloudy Head.


Walk: Wangara Lookout Hike (SA)
Distance: 7km
Terrain: Hilly
Intensity: Moderate
Description: Enjoy stunning panoramic views of Wilpena Pound on this hike in the Flinders Ranges, which sets off from the Wilpena Visitor Centre.


Walk: The Barossa Trail (SA)
Distance: 37.4km
Terrain: Walking trail
Intensity: Easy
Description: The trail winds along an old railroad between Gawler to Angaston, or you can choose one of four sections broken up between towns. It’s well-signposted and the track is bitumen all the way, making it pram- and wheelchairfriendly. 


Walk: The Pyramid (QLD)
Distance: 3.6km
Terrain: Mountainous
Intensity: Moderate difficult
Description: This short walk in Girraween National Park involves a steep climb up a huge granite dome to amazing views, so allow enough time to get to the top.


Walk: Warrie Circuit (QLD)
Distance: 17km
Terrain: Rainforest
Intensity: Difficult
Description: Allow six hours for this walk through ancient rainforest along the canyon floor of Springbrook National Park. This hike passes pools, creeks and waterfalls so make sure your footwear has a good grip.


Walk: National Pass (NSW)
Distance: 4.5km
Terrain: Bushwalk
Intensity: Difficult
Description: Built into the side of the cliff, the national pass offers unrivalled views of the Blue Mountains National Park. It starts at Wentworth Falls and passes waterfalls and lookouts before reaching the Grand Stairway.


Walk: Mount Kosciuszko (NSW)
Distance: 18.6km
Terrain: Mountainous
Intensity: Moderate
Description: From November to May you can hike up the well-marked route to Australia’s highest peak – an impressive 2228m. Allow seven to eight hours to complete this challenge.


Walk: La la Falls (VIC)
Distance: 3.5km
Terrain: Forest
Intensity: Moderate
Description: An easy hike out to a beautiful waterfall in Yarra State Forest, 80km from Melbourne.


Walk: George Bass Coastal Walk (VIC)
Distance: 7km (one-way)
Terrain: Walking trail
Intensity: Moderate
Description: Walk the beautiful cliff-top path and take in the stunning views of the secluded beaches below on this popular Phillip Island walk from Punchbowl to Kilcunda.


Walk: Gibraltar Peak (ACT)
Distance: 8.2km
Terrain: Varied
Intensity: Moderate difficult
Description: This starts at the Tidbinbilla Visitors Centre and heads to the massive boulders of Gibraltar Peak. Challenging, but easier hikes are available there, too.


Walk: Square Rock (ACT)
Distance: 8.5km
Terrain: Rocky
Intensity: Moderate
Description: Enjoy the best of what Namadgi National Park has to offer. Begin at the Smokers Gap car park then enjoy the hike up to Square Rock.


Walk: Walpa Gorge Walk (NT)
Distance: 2.6km
Terrain: Rocky
Intensity: Moderate
Description: This short hike takes you through the steep, otherworldly landscape of Kata Tjuta National Park, about 32km west of Uluru.


Walk: Tjaynera/Sandy Creek Falls (NT)
Distance: 3.4km
Terrain: Rainforest
Intensity: Easy moderate
Description: This easy-to-moderate route in Litchfield National Park winds towards a plunge pool that you can swim in. A must-see in the Top End.


Walk: 10 Mile Brook Trail (WA)
Distance: 15km (Return)
Terrain: Bush walk
Intensity: Easy
Description: Start in Rotary Park and walk along the Margaret River, ending up at 10 Mile Brook Dam picnic site for lunch. The track is also suitable for bikes.


Walk: Eagle View Walk (WA)
Distance: 15km
Terrain: Hilly, bush walk
Intensity: Moderate difficult
Description: In John Forrest National Park, just 30 minutes’ drive from Perth, this slightly more challenging route is well worth it for the views, waterfalls and beautiful wildflowers in spring.


Walk: Coromandel Walkway (NZ North Island)
Distance: 10km(One way)
Terrain: Coastal
Intensity: Moderate
Description: A great hike to explore this remote, windswept area, with stunning coastal views. You’ll need a whole day to hike there and back – or you can arrange a shuttle back with Coromandel Discovery (


Walk: Putangirua Pinnacles Walk (NZ North Island)
Distance: 4.2km (One way)
Terrain: Rocky
Intensity: Easy
Description: Choose from two routes to these incredible rock formations that featured in The Lord of the Rings. Allow four hours for the return walk.


Walk: Rocky Mountain (NZ South Island)
Distance: 7km
Terrain: Mountainous
Intensity: Easy-moderate
Description: You can get up this mountain in less than three hours for an almighty view over Lake Wanaka and a great sense of achievement!


Walk: Lake Marian (NZ South Island)
Distance: 2.4km
Terrain: Rocky
Intensity: Advanced
Description: This is a steepish climb to a beautiful alpine lake in the Fiordland National Park, so even though it’s short, allow around three hours for a round trip.