10 best iconic day walks in the world
My 10 of the best iconic Day Walks Worldwide
There never been a time like this time to indulge in a little reminiscing given the present circumstances.
Let me start with a disclaimer, this is not the world’s 10 best iconic walks, it is 10 of the best walks that I’ve had the privilege to have set one foot in front of the other on and that I can remember. It’s a real list, not a made-up one from looking on Google. But having walked and hiked a whole lot of places I feel the list is somewhat worthy of consideration given that I also work at and run Australia’s oldest walking holiday company, Auswalk. However, if you have your own list, I’d love to hear from you. There’s always room for some more dreaming.
1. Upper Pisang to Manang, Annapurna Circuit, Himalaya’s, Asia, 6hrs
The Annapurna circuit is one of the best long-distance tracks in the world, and by the way a far superior walk than the Everest Base camp. The walk from Upper Pisang back to Manang is just one of the stacks of highlights on the circuit, but this walk stands out as you’re surrounded by 13 or so 7000m plus mountains including Annapurna 1 at over 8000m. The never-ending continuous stupendous views are amongst the best the world has to offer. Ok, I’d admit this walk isn’t that easy to access, but it is possible these days I have been told to get a vehicle to Manang and walk back from there. The walk to Manang took 12 days in the ’80s. My advice, be like the ‘old bull’ and take 4 weeks off and walk the lot. I have walked it twice and it has left a lasting impression both times.
2. Mount Gower, Lord Howe Island, Australia, 8 to 9 hours, 14kms
Would you believe this is a one of a kind hike, truly! There actually is nothing like the summit of Mount Gower anywhere in the world. The summit has its own one-off biosphere packed full of endemic flora that is unique to Mount Gower and Lord Howe Island. The walk at the summit across to the viewing point through the biosphere is reminiscent of something from Lord of the Rings, a mist-filled moss garden like no other. The walk up to the summit is another thing; it’s the only really challenging walk in Auswalk’s comprehensive catalogue of walks. You’ll need physical strength to pull yourself up with ropes and be walking fit, as the climb is well over 875m, the height of the mountain (there is some undulation to the track). And you can’t be afraid of heights, seriously. You have to do this hike with Dean from Lord Howe Island Tours, a local and excellent guide, however, he’s on a tight schedule so you have to keep up or be left behind. The magnificent views out over Mount Lidgbird, the UNESCO World Heritage listed island and Balls Pyramid the world’s tallest sea stack are more highlights.
The island only allows 400 visitors at a time and is home to the world’s most southerly barrier reef nestled in its western embrace. The water is warm thanks to the Southern Equatorial current that the Nemo film made famous, so pack your bathers.
3. Kumano Kodo, 3000 peaks Ukegawa to Koguchi, Japan, 6hrs
To be honest this day on the Kumano Kodo only surpasses the walk from Koguchi to Nachisan on the basis that it is less arduous. The 1200 m plus of continuous ascent on the walk to Nachisan isn’t to be trifled with, but arriving at Nachisan is pretty amazing. The Ukegawa to Koguchi 13 km walk has only 700m of up. The views over the 3000 Peaks from the top of Nyatten gura are not as you find them in photos, but much more beautiful. There’s actually not 3000 mountains, the name is metaphoric and the implication is that there are so many mountains that there’s at least 3000 of them.
The set of ancient stone stairs at the very beginning of the walk that samurai, pilgrims, and even princes and princesses alike have walked upon are steeped in history. The stories are expertly related to you on signboards as you make your way up the mountain. The walk into Koguchi comes as a welcome relief as does the extra time you have for a long soak in the accommodation’s onsen and to enjoy a cold beer or sake.
4. Walk of the Gods, Amalfi Coast, Italy, 3 to 5 hours
This walk combines all the best things about Italy, its culture, its’ history, its beautiful landscapes, the crystal clear blue Mediterranean and of course red wine over a delicious meal in Positano at the end of the walk. Take the route from Praiano to Positano via the Convent of San Domenico on the way up the mountain. This is one of the most stunning parts of Europe framed by the beautiful Med with spectacular views all the way. And as I mentioned, there’s food and wine waiting for you at the end of the walk.
5. Sun Gate to Machu Picchu, Peru, 2 to 3 hours
The view from the Sungate back over the Machu Picchu ruins is stunning. If you’re after that ‘photo’ then this is where it is taken from. I’ve walked the Inca Trail from the railway line in the 80’s. Interestingly, we had to bribe the train driver to stop the train in the right place. I was part of a much larger ad hoc group that formed in Cusco, supposedly to ward off being kidnapped by the Shining Path. Looking back on it now makes me laugh to think how being in a group would have made any difference. They had guns I had bananas (that’s all I had to eat for the 3 days). Just to let you know Auswalk is far better organised than I was back then. We abandoned the group on the second day and muscled on. If you want the real money shot you have hike the Inca Trail and stay in Winya Winya the night before and then wake up early and walk in the dark to get the Sun gate at sunrise.
Anyway, I have had to rely on my faded recollections regarding the directions walking down from the gate not the other way, so forgive me. If you catch the train up from Cusco then you walk from the ruins up. The walk begins near the Caretaker’s Hut or Guardhouse in the ruin complex. There’s a wooden sign for “Inti Punku” that points you in the right direction. Follow the cobbled trail which includes a few steep sections of stairs up the mountain away from the main ruins. There are great views of the surrounding mountains and valley as you go. You are going to have to walk out and back on this walk and even though it has a few steps, the payoff is worth its weight in gold.
6. Iguazu Falls, Brazil, 2hrs, longer if you like
Although the whole walk is fairly commercialised now, it wasn’t always this way. In the 80’s when I first walked it there were less defined paths and more of that Brazilian chaos I fell in love with. There was this old causeway that virtually took you under the falls, which totally rocked. That’s gone now, as has the chaos and there’s a well defined paved track in its place for the length of the falls. Having revisited with the kids 2 years back, I still rate it as one of the most iconic albeit ‘short’ walks anywhere in the world. Follow the path from the shuttle car park and as you walk the falls slowly begin to unveil themselves. At 2.7kms wide, twice that of Niagra and the largest waterfall system in the world, this is a waterfall walk with no equal. The walkway at the end takes you virtually underneath the falls so be prepared to get a little wet. The sheer energy and sound created by the water and being able to stand right up close is an experience in itself. You must include the boat trip that takes you literally under the falls. And if you have the money stay at the Belmond Hotel das Cataratas on the Brazilian side, actually located in the park. That way, you can have the waterfall to yourself when all the crowds have left. The Argentinian side is also worth exploring (it’s very costly for Australians due to visa requirements) but the Brazilian side is the side not to be missed.
7. Watarrka Rim walk, NT, Australia 6kms 2 to 3 hours
The walk takes you through an incredibly varied landscape, which is totally unexpected, given the location. Watarrka is an oasis in the desert, a Garden of Eden with the rich red ochre-coloured landscape bolted on that this region is famous for. The walk travels anti-clockwise from the car park starting with a short ascent and then traversing the rim. It is worth stopping and taking in the place, so allow for extra time. There are lots of side-track walks if you want more walking. If you’re up for it you can drive up the road a few clicks and walk Uluru and Kata Tjuta. Why this made the list over say Mount Sonder, St Mary’s Peak or the stack of other contenders for the best walk in the Australian interior is due to its’ diversity.
8. Bay of Islands, Cape Brett, New Zealand, 7 hrs
The Cape Brett Walk is outstanding for many reasons. One you’re in the Bay of Islands New Zealand’s primo holiday destination; it’s number one for good reason; the Bay is simply stunning. Two, you have access to all the first world comfort that you’d expect from a place like the Bay of Islands. Three, the continuous views as you walk out to Cape Brett rival anything on the Abel Tasman or Queen Charlotte. Four, the forest canopy sections of the walk makes for a great change up from all those views. And lastly and the par excellence is the pick-up with Bob from below the lighthouse, saving the 16 km walk back to the trailhead at Rawhiti. The private water taxi tour back to Russell also takes in the islands of Motuarohia, Moturua and Urupukapuka, the Hole in the Rock (Motukokaka) and if you’re lucky might include putting the rods in and catching a few snapper for dinner. A great day to be had by all.
9. Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa, 2 hrs
You can pick your route up the Mountains, but the route via Platteklip Gorge is the most popular and the most scenic. I’ve walked a few of the routes when living here, but this one was the first route I took and maybe has skewed my judgement somewhat. The first is always the most memorable right? If you want fewer people try the route via Skeleton Gorge or from Camps’ Bay side via Kasteelspoort. Every route has its own unique set of views from back over Capetown and also out over the Atlantic. It’s totally dependent on what route you choose. It is an exceptional hike with amazing views. What’s more it’s a big relief to be able to come down in the cable car and save those knees.
10. The last walk I went on
To tell the truth the walk I always rate is the last walk I went on, regardless of where it was. It has to be pretty bad for it not to leave its mark, that relaxed feeling and the sense of wellbeing that only exercise combined with nature can provide. If the last walk was in the Flinders Ranges, what’s stuck in my head is all that space and the red. If it was the Great Alpine walk then it’s the views and the blue colour of the mountains in the distance. And so on. I am very privileged as I get to go out and recce walks, the new ones and all the old ones to check the notes. So, the last walk was the exploration recce at the Bay of Islands. There were a lot of walks that didn’t make the self-guided itinerary because they were too dangerous or the walks we are now offering on the Bay of Islands itinerary are better . What was the last walk of the whole campaign? Well you guessed it, Cape Brett.
Yuraygir was the walk before that. Gorgeous isolated beaches that you can only reach by walking in. The walk from Angourie to Brooms Head might have been the best day. It doesn’t really matter in practice as on all the days there’s not a soul to be found anywhere. We are so extraordinarily lucky in Australia to have so much space.
Our trip to Mont Blanc was cancelled this year along with just about everybody else’s travel plans so I am not complaining. But perhaps next year will bring more luck and a walk on the Mont Blanc circuit will make the list.
Brett at Auswalk
But what are your thoughts? We’d love to hear from you below if you have walked any tracks that you felt were truly inspiring.