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Australia has over five hundred national parks spreading across deserts, forests, mountains and water. While their main purpose is to protect the native flora, fauna and culture, they also exist for Australians and visitors to enjoy.
Audrey Bourget

3 May 2017 - 2:10 PM  UPDATED 11 May 2017 - 11:49 AM

The names Uluru, Blue Mountains and Twelve Apostles are familiar to most of us, but these national parks are only a fraction of what Australia has to offer.

Covering almost four per cent of Australia’s land, national parks are protected areas which often have unspoilt landscapes, and diverse plants and animals.

The manager of Australia's largest national park, Kakadu in the Northern Territory, Pete Cotsell says national parks are windows into our country's nature and culture.

"National parks are usually areas of wilderness or areas of important cultural significance for the Aboriginal people of Australia. They're usually areas that have been identified for some unique values, that might include wildlife like plants and animals or geological features such as mountains or escarpments or rocky outcrops. Or they might have been chosen because they have cultural values associated with the Aboriginal people and that might include rock art, meeting places, ceremonial practices and areas of cultural significance."

Pete Cotsell says parks offer many different activities for people to enjoy.

"So in Kakadu, you can do cultural tours and explore the cultural significance of the people here. There's also a lot of bird watching. There's also a lot of different animals if people are more interested in fauna, that includes crocodiles, obviously and some marsupials, snakes and lizards. There's plenty of wildlife to see up here. There's also a very unique waterfall and river systems." 

Whether you're into nature, sports or culture, there's something for everyone.

"In other national parks like Booderee for examples, there's wildlife there as well as birds. Coastal activities, like surfing fishing and swimming in the ocean. There's also obviously Uluru, another Commonwealth reserve that has a great cultural significance, but is also a natural wonder." 

The Australian government manages six national parks and thirteen marine reserves, often in partnership with Indigenous traditional owners.

Most parks are managed by the states and territories and their rules vary. For example some parks charge entry, while others do not. Tammy Schoo is the Ranger Team Leader at Victoria’s Grampians National Park, which is popular for its rugged mountains. She says that the key to a good outing is to do some research before getting to the park.

"We're seeing a lot of people coming to our parks that aren't really prepared. They might have a little bit of information but they don't have proper maps or enough information so I suggest before a visit to jump online, have a look at the park notes and get a bit of an understanding of what the park is about, what's the best time to visit, are there other issues that you might need to consider like is there remote areas, what are the roads like. Plan your visit so you know you'll have a safe and enjoyable time while you're there." 

She says that even if regional parks require more preparation than urban parks, new Australians shouldn't be put off.

"Apparently there's a fair bit of fear among new Australians for our parks. They're known for being full of spiders and snakes and being dangerous places. So there's a lot of education that needs to take place to say they are fantastic places for body, mind and soul and you can get out and do all those fantastic activities." 

Parks Victoria is working with local communities and immigrants to make parks more welcoming for new Australians.

"We're looking at our activities and our infrastructures in parks. For example we're looking at ways to design better picnic areas that cater for large groups because we know the new Australian groups tend to go out in really large groups. Even down to simple things like what are bbq are like. We have to start considering that there's different ways for these groups to cook and socialise. So yeah, we're starting to implement some of those changes into our parks as well."

According to Kakadu's manager Pete Cotsell, visiting a national park is a true Australian experience.

"To get to know Australian landscapes and Australian culture through the Aboriginal culture, they're really interesting places to visit to really understand Australia's history and environment."

Tammy Schoo says she believes in the saying "healthy parks, healthy people". 

"Parks are very important for our physical, mental and spiritual health and well-being, but beyond that, they're really helpful in generating income, they provide jobs and they also provide for the economic productivity of the state."

For more information visit Parks Australia.

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