Over the last 30 years, the interest in conservation and the environment has helped walkers in their push for more walking tracks. Long distance tracks are seen by land managers as a status symbol - something they can advertise and promote to the general public. Of course, most members of the public will only walk very short sections of a long distance track but will politically recognize the track and usually want it preserved. For bushwalkers, these long tracks offer a unique opportunity to interact with our landscape over extended periods. All three groups, the managers, the public and bushwalkers, all benefit from these tracks.
Not all states have really long tracks. Where long walking tracks do not exist, I have shown the longest (measured in days) recognised track/tracks in each state. It is also possible to connect tracks together to make much longer walks in some areas and this particularly applies to the eastern states of Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania.
The first long distance track built for recreation was the ‘Yarra Track’. This ran from Warburton (near Melbourne) for 82 km over the Baw Baws to Walhalla. It was constructed by the Public Works Department in 1906 and in 1907 several huts were added. For over 30 years this was the only long track in Australia and was very popular with walkers. They came from all over the country to cross the Baw Baws - much like they do today for the current long tracks. Today, half of this track forms part of the Australian Alps Walking Track with the other half now being called the ‘Upper Yarra Track’.
Australia's most famous track - The Overland Track was opened in the 1930's. This track is extremely popular and is scenically the best track in the country. The other long established track in Tasmania is the South Coast Track which was re-opened in the 1960's. Both of these tracks were originally created by government workers initially for other purposes - an overland link between settlements and an escape route for ship wrecked sailors. While both are not long compared to more recent tracks these are two important popular tracks.
The first extremely long track that was created by bushwalkers was the Alpine Walking Track in Victoria in 1970. This was designed to be a bushwalk without facilities and is the toughest of all the long tracks. It has since been extended and renamed as the Australian Alps Walking Track. This track provided the impetus for walkers in Western Australia to create the Bibbulmun Track in 1974. Initially a road bash, the Bibbulmun has been realigned several times and has matured into a pleasant walk with good services like huts and tank water for each camp.
The 1980's saw an explosion of tracks created for many different reasons. The Hume and Hovell Track and The Great North Walk were financed by the Bicentennial celebration of Australia in 1988. The Great South West Walk was a school project and McMillans Track resulted from a bushwalking clubs desire to re-open a track from the 1800's. The Penguin Cradle Trail was another club project to fill in a missing link.
Some tracks have taken many years to construct like the Heysen Trail which took 16 years to mark
and the Larapinta Trail which took nearly
12 years to complete. Others have just evolved from use like
the Thorsborne Trail, the Cape
to Cape track and the Jatbula Trail
(most of which was a closed road). The
most recent and welcome initiative is the creation of 10 walks in
Queensland which have been dubbed 'Great Walks'. The walk at Fraser Island has been opened and this is an
extension of a previously popular 3 day circuit. Others are in the
Whitsundays, Wet Tropics, Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast and Mackay
All of the recently created tracks are good walks except for the Bicentennial Trail and the Tasmanian Trail. These were actually made for horse riding, not walking. For bushwalkers, a really long trail has been suggested. Dubbed the Federation Trail, the intention is to link the Australian Alps Walking Track through to Sydney using part of the Hume & Hovell Track, then further north is the Great North Walk. Extensions have been suggested to South Australia and further north to Brisbane. Currently this has the support of a very small group of walkers but has not been formally accepted by government as a marked trail. Only time will tell if this combination of tracks becomes recognised.
The newest track is the Yuraygir Coastal Walk in New South Wales.
While only a 4 day, 65 kilomtre walk, it will appeal to those who like
to pass through a small town or village each day.
The really long trails are all evolving and route alterations
can be expected over time - extensions are being planned for some
tracks. Creation of new tracks has slowed down, the only new track
being extended that I know of is the Great
Dividing Trail in Victoria - all of the original track has been
marked and extensions are being worked on. There is also a one week
walk around the Otway coastline - it cannot be described here as the
government body in charge of the track has prevented almost all
public use of the name with a very restrictive trademark - this is a
pity as it also restricts free publicity for the track.