The word that comes to mind when you think of Australian rock climbing is ‘variety’. Granite slabs, Dolerite ridges, red sandstone sports routes and long, coastal trad climbs – there’s nothing in the world of climbing that you can’t experience somewhere in Australia.
And when you move past the blue chip destinations – like Victoria’s Mt Arapiles or the Blue Mountains in NSW – you find things that might surprise you. Sheltered cliff routes in Western Australia, or lost river gorges in the Top End. Pristine wilderness that’s surprisingly…quiet (try getting that in Yosemite or Moab).
In short, Aussie climbers are spoiled for choice. We are lucky devils. To get you hitting some new routes here are some of the best rock climbing spots in Australia.
Wilpena Pounds, Flinders Range, South Australia
Elevation: 1,170 meters / 3,839 feet
Difficulty: Medium to High
Time: 5-6 Hours
The best view of Wilpena Pound is really from 3,000 feet above it. That’s the only way to appreciate the mind-bending scale of the natural rock amphitheatre, looming high above the Flinders Ranges National Park. Settlers tried farming Wilpena Pound in the early 20th century, but quickly realised they could make much more money from tourism.
Since 1945, it’s been arguably South Australia’s most famous climbing and adventure destination. The best routes are found on Moonarie, a jagged and highly technical 2km crag, with a similar feel to Arapiles and sweeping views of the surrounding desert. But if you’re up for a challenging day-hike, try the 19km St Mary Peak trail.
Glass House Mountains, Sunshine Coast, Queensland
Elevation: 556 meters / 1,824 feet (Mount Beerwah), 364 meters / 1,194 feet (Mount Tibrogargan) and 253 meters / 830 feet (Mount Ngungun)
Difficulty: Low to medium
Time: 1.5-4 hours depending on peak
Tucked up in the Sunshine Coast hinterland are the Glass House Mountains. These have become popular over the last few years, particularly with beginner climbers. But the secrets of Glass House have been known for a while.
Some people consider this the birthplace of Australian technical climbing: summit attempts were recorded as early as the 1800s. For novice climbers, Glass House offers friendly slabs at Tibrogargan and Beerwah, plus well-established routes across all four volcanic plugs. Just make sure to check the latest updates on Beerwah – climbing access is sometimes restricted, depending on conditions.
Umbrawarra, Northern Territory
Difficulty: Low to medium
Time: 30mins to 2+ hours depending out route
Umbrawarra Gorge doesn’t have panoramic views or high altitude climbing, but the wild terrain and secluded creeks make this one of the most beautiful climbs in the Northern Territory. There are about 30 routes up the red sandstone ridge – most of them intermediate single-pitch climbing. Just be aware, the NT Parks and Wildlife Commission takes the conservation of Umbrawarra pretty seriously.
The gorge is a sacred site, and there are indigenous burial grounds nearby. Bolting is strictly prohibited, and you’ll need a permit to climb (this will get you into the first two pools, but not beyond). And like any climb in the Northern Territory, it’s best to visit in the dry season (winter) when temperatures are less furnace-like.
Mt Arapiles, Victoria
Elevation: 370 meters / 1,214 feet
Time: 2-4 hours
No list of Australia’s best rock climbing would be complete without Mt Arapiles in the Victorian Grampians. This is Australia’s most famous climbing destination – period. (Sorry, Blue Mountains.) It’s a perfect storm of quartz and limestone, carved by God himself as a gift to experienced climbers everywhere.
And we say experienced climbers because, although there are over 2,000 individual routes on Mt Arapiles, most of them are highly technical (just Google ‘Punks in the Gym’). Beginners should stick to nearby Mitre Rock, where you’ll find the more easy-going slabs. We’d also recommend a shoulder season for Mt Arapiles, because things get pretty crowded during the Easter holidays.
Kalbarri National Park, Western Australia
Elevation: 400 meters / 1,312 feet
Time: 1-2 Hours
Sitting on the West Australian coast, by the beautiful Murchison River, you’ll find Kalbarri, one of Australia’s up-and-coming climbing destinations. This place is miles from anywhere, so you should get most of the routes to yourself (except during the summer peak season, when half of West Australia’s climbers camp here for weeks).
Kalbarri offers a good mix of bolted sports routes and longer trad climbing, with several sheltered sandstone cliffs – perfect for beginners. The views over the bay aren’t too hard on the eyes either. Definitely a good option if you’re planning a West Australian road trip.
Blue Mountains, New South Wales
Elevation: 500 meters / 1,640 feet
Time: 2-4 Hours
If Victorian climbing is known for the Arapiles, NSW is known for the Blue Mountains. There aren’t many places in the country where you’ll find so many excellent sports routes in one spot. The whole region is essentially one enormous, fissured sandstone plateau, surrounded by jagged cliffs on all sides.
The hard part isn’t finding a good route: it’s knowing what to climb first. Start your day with a coffee in Katoomba or Blackheath (both burgeoning day-trip towns), then head up to Centennial Glen, Mt Piddington, Mt York or the Soft Parade at Mt Victoria (a solid training crag for beginners). And if you really want to get into Blue Mountain climbing, invest in Simon Carter’s local bible.
Cataract Gorge, Tasmania
Elevation: 120 meters / 394 feet
Difficulty: Low to high depending on route
Time: 1-2 Hours
Tasmania’s moody Dolerite crags can go toe-to-toe with mainland quartz climbing any day. And the beauty of Cataract Gorge is that you don’t have to venture too far into the wilds to experience the best of Tasmanian climbing. In fact, Cataract is just outside Launceston (1.5km from the city centre, to be precise).
There are over 900 individual climbs in the river valley, and they range from beginner-friendly all the way up to Seize The Day, originally done with three bolts and considered one of the toughest climbs in the state. You could spend a happy two weeks in Launceston, eating Tasmanian salmon and thrashing yourself all over Cataract Gorge. Top Rope climbers, make a bee-line for Trackside Buttress – it’s our favourite spot in the whole valley.
Be sure to also check out the Making the Soloist VR series on Red Bull TV. Featuring solo legend Alex Honnold and Red Bull athlete Nicolas Hojac, this visual tour de force showcases epic climbs from across Europe and the US with stunning camera work.