Walking in Australia
Australia is a fantastically beautiful country and bushwalking doesn’t as yet enjoy the participation levels that rambling and hillwalking do in the UK, so even very popular walks in high footfall tourist areas won’t be completely submerged by walkers.
Walkingworld have kindly taken some of my Australian bushwalks and extended their range of walks south of the equator. I thought it might be a good idea to provide some background and basic do’s and don’ts when bushwalking ‘Down Under’.
I suppose the first thing to do is explain the difference between ‘bush’ and ‘outback’. ‘Outback’ is generally taken to mean the vast largely arid areas of Australia, remote from any urban areas, and in some cases consisting of desert. It’s possible that the term is a shortening of an Australian phrase “out the back of Bourke” meaning somewhere that is remote and inaccessible. It’s generally taken as a term for somewhere much more remote than ‘the bush’ which tends to mean an area of vegetated wilderness which may be quite close to urban areas (Sydney for example contains within it several hundred square miles of ‘bush’). If you’re old enough to remember Skippy The Bush Kangaroo, then that’s the sort of landscape we’re talking about walking in (in fact two of the walks I posted first are near the Waratah Wildlife Park where Skippy was filmed).
Many of the basics of bushwalking are the same as those for hillwalking at home, so let’s start with those first and then move on to the additional ones.
1 – Always wear appropriate clothing and footwear, ankle supporting boots are the preferred option. Bear in mind that not only does it rain in Australia but it also snows and temperatures in winter can drop below freezing. Appropriate waterproof and warm clothing are essential.
2 – Ensure that you have the right map and compass and that you know how to use them. It’s important that you obtain a compass that is properly balanced for use in Australia, don’t just take your trusty Ranger 4 and expect it to work. Also bear in mind that Australian declination is quite extreme; in some cases it gets into double figures, so check that too before setting out.
3 – Take a hat and sunscreen, and make sure you use them. Don’t walk in the height of summer, it does get very hot.
4 – Take more water than you would for a similar length trip in the UK. If you use (as I do) a Travel Tap or other filtration system bear in mind that filling up as you walk may not always be possible. Although the drought has eased over the past couple of years, it is not guaranteed that watercourses marked on the map will contain water.
5 – Don’t get caught out by sudden changes of weather, just because it never rains on Home and Away. Don’t assume that the bright blue sky when you set out wil last all day. Be prepared
6 - Provide route details to a friend or the police and tell them about any medical conditions and when to expect you back.
7 – Don’t leave your vehicle stuffed full of valuables; car crime exists in Australia just as it does at home.
8 – Don’t rely on your mobile phone – Australia has a lot more gaps in coverage than the UK.
In addition to the generic issues above I’ve set out below some specifically Australian issues. It is a beautiful country but it also has one or two issues we don’t have in the UK.
1 - Always remember that wildlife is just that – wild. If an animal feels cornered or trapped, it will use its own defence to save itself, and you might not want to be its target. Do not to feed wildlife as this can cause their behaviour towards humans to alter, and possibly lead to aggression; in these circumstances the animals will be destroyed. Do check where you’re about to put your hands, feet or backside, snakes and spiders do like to rest up in cool shady places. I would suggest carrying a walking pole or long stout stick. Killing snakes, even the poisonous ones is usually an offense. If you get bitten or stung then the usual first aid rules for dealing with this apply. Also a number of walks are along the coast and the sea can look very inviting, but do check for jellyfish and be aware that swimming on un-netted beaches does have a low level risk of shark attack.
2 – Maps - it’s fair to say that Australian maps are just not up to the standard of the good old Ordnance Survey (though that’s true of quite a lot of Mapping Agencies). Make sure that you have the most up to date map for the area (some of the older ones do look a little like they’ve been done by our dogs with a green crayon). Also be aware that the spellings on maps, guides and on the ground may not be consistent , so make sure you have done thorough prep on your route and waypoints before setting off. I’ve already mentioned the need to ensure you have a properly balanced compass.
3 – Bushfires - The Aussie media is pretty good at reporting the fire risk on any given day. National Park websites will usually list the risks and any associated closures as a result of that risk. Check before you head out, if it’s a high risk day, then consider not walking at all, there’s always another day. However if you get caught in a bushfire then advice, taken in part from the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service, can be found on our bushfire advice page.
4 – Water Crossings – flash flooding may be a problem if you are out during or shortly after heavy rain. Be prepared to turn back rather than cross any form of water course that is now swollen.
5 – Personal Locators – A large number of the walks I’ve posted are short half day ones which never really stray very far from civilisation. However as more walks get added there may be ones which take you further afield, it’s certainly my intention to write some long or even multi day walks up. Mobile phone signal coverage is much more patchy than in the UK, and there is not, as yet, anything which matches the wonderful Mountain and Lowland Rescue teams that cover the UK. This being the case the use of Personal Locator Beacons (PLB’s) is actively encouraged. In fact in the Blue Mountains the Police or Park Rangers will provide you with the loan of a free one. Whatever your views about their use in the UK, I’d really consider their use in Australia, it’s a big place to be lost in!
6 – Emergency Numbers – the two emergency service numbers for Australia ( if you can get a signal!) are 000 or 112. It’s also worthwhile seeing if any National Park you are walking in has its own emergency contact number.
I hope that this hasn’t put anyone off. Australia is a great place to walk - where else can you take a Walkingworld walk with dolphins playing in the sea 15 feet from your path, or bump into a wombat or wallaby going about it’s business as you follow a woodland trail. Get out there and enjoy.