National parks in Australia

Conservation areas in Australia topics:
National parksMarine parksIndigenous Protected Areas

State/territory national parks: NSWNTQldSATas.Vic.WA

Australia is known for having a large number of national parks, actually the largest of any country in the world, with around 650. However, it has a system that's very unusual, because most national parks are managed by the individual states and territories, not by the federal government, similar to the Netherlands or Quebec's provincial parks – the name "national" is a complete misnomer. The few managed by the federal government are managed by Parks Australia.

National parks account for about 3% of Australia, accounting for about 350,000 km2 of land – which is larger than the area of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Estonia combined or just a bit more than the area of Italy. Australia has the second largest amount of area protected as national parks, just behind Canada.





The concept of "national parks" quickly emerged with the world's second national park, Royal National Park, created soon after Yellowstone National Park was given special protection in the United States. However, Royal National Park was the first national park to use the "national park" title, so Royal NP is the first park to use the national park title as Yellowstone was previously called "Yellowstone Public Park" and until the 1950s, Royal National Park was just called "national park".

It started off with New South Wales, but then other British colonies were quick to implement national parks. Tower Hill National Park was Victoria's first national park in Victoria, Adelaide's Belair National Park became South Australia's first while Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park was Tasmania's first. However, Victoria's first national park was downgraded in the 1960s and today, it is only a nature reserve.

In 1901 during Australia's federation, national parks and land ownership remained with the states. That convention remains, which is why national parks are run by the states and territories, not by the federal government. However, some national parks are now managed by the federal government, including Australia's most famous ones like Uluru-Kata Tjuta, Kakadu and the Great Barrier Reef (though the GBR gets a bit complex) along with those in external territories. However, even other popular or world heritage national parks such as Purnululu in Western Australia, Budj Bim in Victoria, Ikara-Flinders Ranges in South Australia, Blue Mountains in NSW or pretty much any other national park are pretty much state parks.

Today, Australia's national parks system is often a controversial one. It is often compared to the national parks system in the United States and Canada – two countries that have a similar size, geography and culture — and is often criticised for it. There have been several proposals to make a reputable national parks system in Australia, though none have been implemented.

However, Australia does have a "National Reserve System", which is a part of the National Reserve System Cooperative Program, in which is a cooperated program between the federal government and the states and territories which effectively manages to conserve the treasures of Australia.

Some parks such as Uluru or Mungo today are now managed by a joint management program, meaning that the park is managed by the respective parks department alongside Indigenous elders. Joint management programs have been starting to appear in many national parks regardless of where it's located. This is on top of Indigenous Protected Areas, comanaged by the federal government and the Indigenous people.



Australia is far too big a country to give an overall description of its national parks, but in general:

  • the parks in the north such as Kakadu or the Daintree are often best visited during the dry season (during southern winter/northern summer) and may be open with disruptions while others like Purnululu National Park are completely shut off during the wet season.
  • the parks in Central Queensland or the Pilbara are best visited in winter, similar to those in the north as cyclones regularly hit the regions on both sides. In Queensland, jellyfish also roam the waters and some national parks prohibit swimming or snorkelling.
  • in more central parks such as the Mid-West region in Western Australia, anytime of the year is suitable
  • in south-central national parks such as the region north of NSW is best visited in autumn/fall or spring. Sometimes winter may be too cold, while summer may be too hot
  • parks in the south (most of Victoria and Tasmania along with some parts of Western Australia) are best visited during summer. Sometimes Tasmania's national parks are inaccessible and others such as in Victoria are just too cold.
  • parks in the outback regardless of state should only be visited in winter. Visiting in summer is just far too hot and some are closed (often from Dec 1 to Mar 15).

Get in


As there are many national parks in Australia, it's not exactly possible to give an overall description on how to get in, but accessibility significantly varies across the country. Some like Royal National Park or Blue Mountains National Park have regular scheduled transport with others like Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park don't have public transport but are still easily accessible by car.

However, many of Australia's national parks are only accessible by gravel roads, which can often be of poor quality, and some are located in areas so remote that there are no roads leading there at all; the only way to access them is off-road driving in a four-wheel drive. Be sure to stock up an ample supply of food, water and fuel before attempting to reach one of these, and it is highly recommended that you rent a satellite phone in case of emergencies despite the high cost involved. See the relevant articles for details on how to get into each one.

As Australia's national parks are mostly run by the state governments, unlike in the U.S. and Canada, there is no single annual pass that you can purchase for unlimited entry into all national parks of Australia. However, each state may sell its own annual passes that are valid for all national parks within the state. Most notably, entry into all national parks is free in Queensland.

National parks


There are too many national parks to list here, but these ones are the ones that are either most well known or have some sort of significance. See the relevant state articles for a full list of parks in that jurisdiction.

In some cases, a conservation reserve or a recreation park may be more famous than a national park – such include the World Heritage listed Jenolan Caves Karst Conservation Reserve much much more well known and touristed than Abercrombie River National Park, which is not very far from the karst conservation reserve, albeit it being a "national park".

Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia also have conservation parks, which are also protected areas of outstanding natural beauty, but are not considered to be of enough national significance to be declared national parks. Many of these are also popular tourist attractions.

Australian Capital Territory

  • Namadgi National Park – the only national park in the ACT, and the northernmost of all the Australian Alps National Park covering about 47% of the Australian Capital Territory.

New South Wales

The Grand Canyon in Blue Mountains NP
The Walls of China in Mungo National Park
The breadknife in Warrumbungle National Park
See also: New South Wales national parks

Northern Territory

Main article: National parks in the Northern Territory
Jim Jim Falls in Kakadu

The Northern Territory has seventeen national parks, which is still quite a lot for its size. Of those seventeen, two of them; Uluru-Kata Tjuta and Kakadu National Parks are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and are managed by the federal government. The rest of them are managed by the territory government. Similar to South Australia or Tasmania, the Northern Territory only reserves "national parks" for the finest and has a system of conservation reserves and parks below national parks.

Even though the NT only has seventeen national parks, it is sometimes considered "too many" by some. The Northern Territory is of similar size of the Canadian province of Quebec, but Quebec only has three national parks, about a sixth of how much parks in the Northern Territory (this number does not include Quebec's "provincial national parks").


Cooloola in the Great Sandy National Park
See also: Queensland national parks

Although the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park isn't exactly a national park, it is treated as a national park. Other than the GBR Marine Park, the Great Barrier Reef has some national parks within it such as Capricornia Cays National Park.

South Australia

The Flinders Ranges
A thylacoleo skeleton in Naracoorte Caves NP
See also: South Australian national parks

South Australia is the only Australian mainland state that limits its national parks to what is nationally significant. It has a system of conservation reserves, wildlife reserves, etc., for parks that aren't as nationally significant, and so it is why it has fewer national parks than the 200 or so that New South Wales or Queensland have.

However, even that may be considered "a lot" by some. South Australia is roughly around the size of Ontario in Canada, yet Ontario has only five, compared to South Australia's 28 or so. (However, Ontario also has more than 300 provincial parks, but South Australia has many conservation and recreational reserves.)


Cradle Moutnain in Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park
See also: Tasmanian national parks

Tasmania is the only state to be mostly covered in wilderness with 42% of its land protected. A quarter of the state is a world heritage site, as part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, which accounts for a little less than half of all Tasmanian national parks. Similar to South Australia, Tasmania too has a graded system of what becomes a "national park" and what is called a conservation reserve and a range of other types of parks and so it has a reasonable number of national parks for its geography.


Gariwerd in Grampians NP at dusk
The 12 Apostles in Pt Campbell NP
See also: Victorian national parks

Western Australia

The incredible Bungle Bungle Ranges in the world heritage Purnululu National Park

Other jurisdictions

The red crab migration season on Christmas Island National Park

There are four national parks in Australia to be located on other federal territories. One of them is on the mainland, while the others are located on offshore territories.



Many national parks that are heavily touristed or have some great natural scenery or views will often have at least one or two lookouts, but many national parks have a lot more than one. Some of them are right beside a carpark or some sort of road access, while others require a bit of a hike.

In other cases, you may be allowed to go very close up to whatever you're intending to look at. Often this isn't an option for most heavily touristed parks, but in some cases like the Three Sisters in Blue Mountains National Park, you can actually go to the very edge of the rock formation.

Even if there are no lookouts to whichever park you're heading to, the landscape itself may be something to see.

Apart from lookouts and the landscape, some national parks may have some sort of historical site in it. These can either be from the colonial times of Australia, or a site that is significant to Indigenous Australians, or a mixture of both.




See also: Hiking and bushwalking in Australia

Nearly all national parks have at least one hiking or walking trail, even tiny ones like Malabar Headland National Park (which would be no more than your ordinary neighbourhood park), and they are very prominent. In most cases, it is possible to download a map off the relevant jurisdiction's national park website, but if not, there will be some sort of topographic map online. The biggest exception is in the desolate parks in the Outback (something like Munga-Thirri National Park, not Uluru or Ikara-Flinders Ranges), and hiking in such remote places are often discouraged and often there will not be a single walking trail – this is deliberately done for safety reasons.



In coastal or riverside national parks (but not marine parks or the GBR), you may be allowed to fish certain types of fish. However, make sure to check local fishing guidelines and laws, as if you end up catching a fish that's endangered (even in an area where fishing is permitted), you could end up with a hefty fine. However, it's not very common to keep the fish, and most people will just catch and then release the fish.



In those parks which have caves, you may be allowed to go caving. Some caves require tours, some are self guided, and others require a permit in advance. See the relevant park article for how to visit the caves (if the park has them).



Very few national parks have some sort of cafe, restaurant, kiosk or any place to eat in the first place. Most will have some sort of picnic table or two, but otherwise, you will generally have to bring your own food. However, many national parks are within close proximity of a nearby town, an alternative if you want some hot food or simply don't want to bring some food with you.

Some parks might have some sort of local specialty, such as Kakadu National Park for crocodile or the Kakadu Plum, while Daintree National Park is known for its rainforest ingredients. This is not a common occurrence in most parks, but if you're at one that has one, they're often worth a try.

See also

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