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by Tracey Purdon
Sometimes we set off on a seemingly routine day out in the sun or weekend away break, only to stumble upon what we think is a gem of a place; a place worthy of ‘writing home about'. Well in this series of articles we invite you to do just that, we are going to bring you information, mostly about National Parks, but also other amazing nature places that we or other readers have really been inspired by. If you have a place that you want to share then send us your story and some photos, because if you thought it was great then I am convinced we will too.
Australian National Parks facts

There are around 3200 national parks, conservation parks or reserves, in Australia totalling more than 40 million hectares,(5.3 percent of the Australian land mass). A further 38 million hectares (94 million acres) in 228 marine and estuarine areas have been set aside for further conservation. Most Australian national parks and reserves are within easy reach of main cities and towns; access varies with the park - some are reached by road, some by air, and a few by rail. Many parks contain fragments of Aboriginal culture - paintings, burial grounds and ceremonial sites. These rare, sacred sites are protected and, in some cases, parks are owned by the Aboriginal people.

Every year, more than four million people visit Australia's national parks. As a result, almost all parks have good walking tracks and picnic spots; most allow camping in designated areas and some allow bush camps. Where camping is not allowed, suitable camping grounds or accommodation are usually nearby.

Over the next few issues we hope to cover some of the less well known areas we have either been to or heard about. There are too many national parks to mention all of them but we will provide some great websites for you to visit. I have to confess that coming from our beloved, but landlocked Zimbabwe, the ocean side parks hold the biggest fascination for me so please forgive my bias. With the help of our readers we will endeavour to broaden the scope to include some great inland parks too. We have intentionally excluded some of the more obvious Australian National Parks such as the Great Barrier Reef and The Great Ocean Road's Twelve Apostles Marine National Park, as there is already so much available on some of the more well know National Parks that I can not tell you anything you don't already know about them.
Getting used to the fact that there is not going to be an adrenaline rush and you wont be blown away with size or danger, you will come to accept that what the Australian bush has to offer deservers it's own recognition, albeit for very different reasons to what we are accustomed.

While there is no big game to be found anywhere on Australian soil, there are endless kilometres of bush and rainforest walks, hundreds of birds to spot and of course if you are lucky and patient enough you will eventually find a koala in the wild. There are so many unrivalled scenic views to take in that one's camera will work overtime trying to capture the essence of the breath taking panoramic views and scenes.

National Parks of VICTORIA

Even though I live in Queensland and it is widely thought to be the tourist hub of Australia, so far my favourite state for National Parks and wildlife has got to be Victoria. It is no wonder the Victorians are known for their travelling spirit. Their back yard has so much on offer you can never tire of it. Although this is limited to the southern part of the state with the Northern part of Victoria experiencing such terrible drought, it is hard to feel any sense of peace when driving through or flying over the region. But the lush green and beauty of the coastal region is exquisite. If you have any special favourites in the Victoria region we would love to hear about it as I am sure our readers would, so please send your suggestions in to editor@ sabona.com.au. While we always try to bring you original content, there are just too many national parks in Australia for us to have first had experience of them all so I hope you will forgive the extensive use of some excellent websites to reference, ideas and descriptions.

Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park and Port Phillip

Quick Facts: Covering 1,950 square kilometres, Port Phillip is the entrance to Australia's busiest port. Studies show that Port Phillip is a dynamic and self sustaining ecosystem which is healthier and cleaner than comparable bays near large cities. The shallowness of the water aids aeration and the many marine plants and organisms keep the bay in good condition. The Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park is located at the southern end of Port Phillip Bay, including the entrance to the bay at Port Phillip Heads, and is made up of six separate areas including Swan Bay, Great Sands (Mud Islands), Point Lonsdale, Point Nepean, Popes Eye and Portsea Hole incorporating a total of 3,580 hectares.

Philip Island offers a unique opportunity to view the Fairy Penguins waddling ashore to their burrows at sunset every day of the year. Approximately 26,000 little penguins live in the waters around Phillip Island, 4,500 of which have their burrows around Summerland Beach on the far south-western point of the Island. The little penguins are native to Australia and are the smallest of their species, standing at a mere 33 centimetres. They return to their burrows each evening to rest or, in the breeding season from August to March, to feed their young.

Philip Island also offers the nature lover opportunity to see seals, Koala and many bird species in their natural environment
French Island

Quick Facts: The 11,100ha park contains environments ranging from mangrove saltmarsh areas to open woodlands and plays home to an equally diverse range of wildlife.

A short ferry ride from either Philip Island or the main land will deliver you to French Island. This historical island will appeal to nature lovers more so for the abundant koala population than it's history although impressive in it's own right. One can spend the day cycling around the island and spotting Koalas and birds or spend some time exploring the marine part of the park.

The Great Otway National ParkQuick Facts: The Great Otway National Park incorporates the former Otway National Park and Angahook-Lorne, Carlisle and Melba Gully State Parks, as well as areas of State forest and other Crown land. The new national park covers 103,000 hectares, an increase in park area of more than 60,000 hectares.

This park represents all that is special about the Otways: the tall wet forests, ancient rainforests, the drier forests of the inland slopes and the very diverse heathlands and woodlands, fringed by a spectacularly rugged coastline and studded with some of Victoria's most striking waterfalls and other attractions.

Camping under the Koalas is an experience for anyone who is ‘koala spotting challenged' – the koalas literally sleep in the trees in the camp site. Not a flash camping ground at all but sleeping with the Koalas certainly makes up for the lack of luxury, and as there is no big game to worry about you can wonder for miles into the lush bush trying to find the next Koala and take that perfect picture all of your own. With it being little known and not that fancy you will be surprised how tranquil and private it is – contact the editor if you would like details for this park.

Another attraction in the Otway National Park is the Otway Fly which is an incredible steel rainforest walk. It is 600 meters long and averages 25m above the ground with the highest part – the Spiral Tower reaching 47m high. The Cantilever walk is designed to hold 14 elephants (28 tons). The drive the Fly is through some of rural Victoria, providing great views and a bit of look at “how the other half' live.

Seals by SeaBy far the best 45minutes I have spent in a long time and it only cost me $30…. take an exciting boat charter which takes a maximum of 11 passengers to the largest mainland seal colony in Australia. See up to 1000 Australian and New Zealand fur seals up close. Enter an inset cave where the seal mothers and pups can be seen lolling along the rock crevices. Feeling like you are inside a massive washing machine, you leave the cave behind with a slight mixed feeling of relief and regret only to ski right into another colony of seals playing and showing off in the waves and rips.

This is a million dollar 45 minute trip that I can not justify with words. If you love marine animals, you will love this trip. Contact the editor if you would like contact details.

GrampiansQuick Facts: Renowned for rugged mountain ranges and stunning wildflower displays, Grampians National Park is one of the State's most popular holiday destinations. Declared in 1984, the 167,000 hectare park is a home for almost a third of Victoria's plant species. Management of the park requires a careful balance between tourism and conservation of the environment.

In January 2006 a large fire swept through the central area of the Grampians National Park. Two years on, environmental regeneration is well underway. The park is nationally significant for its extraordinary variety of native flora and fauna and the wealth of Aboriginal rock art sites. Aboriginal people have a long association with the Grampians and there are many shelters in the park where you can see ancient art work including Billimina Shelter, Gulgurn Manja Shelter, Manja Shelter and Ngamadjidj Shelter.

Get out of doors and explore the natural beauty of the Grampians. View the surrounding landscape from a scenic lookout, follow a trail to MacKenzie Falls, one of the largest waterfalls in the state, see wildflowers or the spectacular rock formations of the Grampians National Park.

We drove only very briefly through the Grampians during a time of serious drought making it hard to see the beauty beneath all the dry and dead scrub. Our contributor (opposite) has a more humours story to share along with some interesting facts…..

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Posted by Tracey Purdon
19 Dec 2008

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