Olympian Courtney Atkinson running at 12 Apostles

Have you considered touring the country on foot? For Olympian and endurance athlete Courtney Atkinson, the appeal of challenging his physical and mental strength was the reward of seeing the Australian landscape in its most rough, remote, iconic, and inspiring forms. Recently, Atkinson completed an unbelievable tour of Australia which included running every state and territory in just one week, covering 150km - and even captured it all in a documentary! We spoke with him to learn about his epic Australian journey and get his recommendations for each state’s most mesmerising trail.

After representing Australia in the Olympics, what does it feel like to have actually seen so much of Australia by running?

I remember running across the terrain in South Australia and smiling to myself thinking 'I could just keep doing this, this is life for me,' daily. I’m happy, really happy.

I’ve realised how lucky we are to live in this country with the places you can see. Australia is so vast and different; one day you can be down south in Tasmania running along beaches, the next day you can be in the snow on the top of Mt. Kosciuszko and the following day you can be in Queensland’s tropical conditions.

Courtney Atkinson running Mt Kosciusko

What motivated you to achieve the feat of running every state in Australia?

This is actually the second time I’ve done a challenge like this. In 2017, I saw Australia by running our country’s highest peaks in each State & Territory and it was such an epic way to see our beautiful country.

I can’t quite explain the reason why I do it but there’s just this feeling of being out there alone and when you look around, you kind of think we’re hundreds of kilometres from anywhere and I’m just standing here in my ‘backyard’, enjoying the best of what nature has to offer. I get a big kick out of that. Plus I want to inspire others to get off the beaten track, get active and see new places. They don’t have to run it at an Olympian level like I do. Every run I did this time round is attainable for anyone to go hike over time.

Courtney Atkinson running on a beach

After running the country so thoroughly, can you name your favourite running trails in every state?

ACT: Parliament House - perfect for runners of all levels. This is the perfect fitness loop for beginners working out of the Capital, but even some of Australia’s best Olympians have run here. It’s actually the perfect place to go for a midnight run, with the Parliament House as the backdrop. It’s also popular with lunchtime runners.

NSW: Mt. Kosciuszko - In summer, this makes for a beautiful beginner’s hike. But in snow, this should be reserved strong runners who need to take the correct safety precautions. Mt. Kosciuszko is the top of Australia, which makes this trail pretty special. If you run this trail in the middle of winter through the snow, it can make you feel like you’re truly on a different planet.

NT: Kings Canyon - Perfect length for beginners. It’s at the heart of Australia and it’s like our little Grand Canyon. It’s rocky but a lot of fun to run.

QLD: Hinchinbrook Island - To run, this you need to be strong. Normally, this is a four-day hike of 30km through harsh conditions of tough trail and beaches. It’s truly one of the most untouched environments left in Australia. There’s isolated long stretches of beaches, rainforests, headlands and creek crossings. Only 40 people are allowed to visit the Island each day.

SA: The Pound – Strong runners recommended for this one, as it is 19km of technical, tougher terrain. The landscape is pretty epic and the highlight is when you get to the top of the ridge and look out at the view. It’s an awesome run, especially if you go super early and are running back down the ridge at sunrise.

TAS: Wineglass Bay - The full route is a tough run 30km, climbs, tramping but beginners could experience Wineglass via an 11km loop. It’s one of the whitest beaches you’ll probably ever see with crystal clear blue water. It’s great trail running and at the end of it, you can kind of sit there and relax in one of the most isolated and beautiful places in the country.

VIC: 12 Apostles - Princetown to 12 Apostles Visitor Centre is the perfect introduction to trail running for someone. Being able to see one of Australia’s most iconic landmarks at the end of the trail is what makes this one so special.

WA: Cape-to-Cape - this incredible trail has sections and beginners would love Cape Naturaliste to Yallingup. But I recommend leaving the longer stretches south to stronger runners who enjoy a bit of pain. This trail has a bit of everything including beautiful views. You’re running next to some of the bluest oceans you’ll ever see, along beaches and also through the forest. I recommend that everyone goes once in their lifetime because it shows you the best of WA’s beaches.

Courtney Atkinson running on rough terrain

Of all the trails you’ve run, which deserves to be on every runner’s bucket list?

Running King’s Canyon with the addition of the surrounding trails of Larapinta in the West MacDonnells while around Alice Springs is a must. Until you visit central Australia, you can’t truly understand the beauty of it. And getting out on the trails - whether running or hiking - you truly get to experienced the heart of our diverse country.

Courtney Atkinson running in NT

Are there any misconceptions about opportunities to get active that you’d like to clear up to the Australian public?  

Everywhere is seasonal and doable, and sometimes the encouragement of visiting locations in their nicest climate months of the year means you miss some of the best wonders of nature. For example, in Tropical North Queensland, most tourists avoid the hot, humid wet season over the summer months but this is the time that you get to see the waterfalls in full flow. And it’s hot enough to swim in the water holes and enjoy the cold mountain water! Like anything, there are two sides to a story.