How to Go Bushwalking
Bush-walking is the common term used for walking through the Australian Bush. Not only is bush-walking a quiet joy, the art of bush-walking is well known around the world.
This article looks at how you can enjoy the bush if you live in Australia, are visiting or on a holiday or simply enjoy exploring similar landscapes close to where you live.
Obtain an up to date map and plot your course according to your fitness and experience.You can often source these maps online, either from the local Governments Website or from Bush-walking sites. Often bush-walking trails are clearly marked on the map with recommended rest or camp areas, points of interest and good vantage points for photography or scenic beauty.
Plan according to the season and what you intend to see.The best time to visit the bush depends on the local area. Many states have wildflower tours and seasons when the bush is ablaze with colour. Its typically late spring, being late September through to November that is an ideal time for wildflowers, but pay attention to local climate. A mild winter will mean flowering will start much earlier.
Consider how far you wish to travel.Many bush tracks can be less then a kilometre long so are a light stroll, some can be many kilometres long.
Pack supplies according to the weather and terrain.A basic list would be:
- Robust but comfortable walking boots with good grip are highly recommended, and better still if they are water-tight. The Australian bush varies in terrain from clay to sandy soils (both of which can be treacherous when wet and dry), as well as flat, hilly and/or mountainous. If you need to make a river crossing and there is no bridge, or you are travelling during the winter where there may be mud and deep puddles; gumboots or waders would be very useful.
- Clothes to suit the landscape & climate. In the tropics, ticks and other parasites are happy to make a meal of you, so it is recommended that you wear leggings or trousers that breathe easily. In summer, the landscape of much of Australia is very hot and dry, it is important to include a hat and wear clothing to protect you from the sun. Popular hats also have net-veils sewn into them to keep flies and the sun away from your face. In cooler seasons, you can wrap a thin scarf (such as a linen cloth) around your nose and mouth to keep flies away. In winter, it can drop to freezing in southern or mountainous areas so it is wise to pack warm clothes, even if you are walking in the middle of the day. High visibility clothing is useful on long country treks.
- Take adequate supplies. A bottle of water is essential, although fruit juice or other sports drinks are recommended for supplementing your energy.
- Take medicines if necessary. A first aid kit is always useful on camps and long treks. Low odour insect repellent and sun blocking cream is highly recommended as well as antihistamines; Australian plants flower en-masse so people who suffer from allergies will be well advised to take some.
- Pack hiking equipment. For short walks, you seldom need anything more than your map, but walking sticks, a compass, binoculars and a backpack are useful for longer journeys, especially where GPS (Global Positioning System) and other web based services will not get a signal.
Organise & collaborate with your travel partners.In practice, if you don't know the terrain, are going on a long journey (more than 2 km. in the hot season, or 5 km. in the cool season) or plan to camp in a National Park, you should travel with a partner as outside of the metropolitan areas, phone coverage is extremely limited.
Keep a close eye on the weather, and take notice of the weather reports as the weather in some areas is changeable and may prove unfavourable for long walks.Some seasons are renowned for their heat and cold spikes and heavy rain in some districts can make areas dangerous.
On the Day
Start early in the morning in the summer, or when the chance of frost has passed in the winter.Advise people with whom you are staying that you are going on a walk and let them know where you are planning to walk.
Expect to encounter rocks and slopes if you walk in a hilly terrain.Sandy areas too may prove treacherous so walk carefully and at a steady pace. The fragile sands found in coastal and sand plain districts are similar to those of a beach so hikers will tire quickly if they strive to "conquer" the landscape. Pre-planning is a useful tool if you intend to stop at a scenic point for lunch or spend time painting, photographing or simply admiring the landscape, so you should gauge how long it should take you to get there at a slow and steady pace before you leave.
Treat any animal, reptile or insect you see with respect and caution.Not all Australian animals are deadly, but even the ones that aren't can ruin your day if you get bitten. If you wish to observe them, approach quietly and give them space. In well walked areas, or districts that are close to towns, larger reptiles and animals are rare. You are more likely to see reptiles in the summer when they are active, but you may occasionally see one in winter sunning itself on a rock.
Observe any interesting flora.Ideally do not touch them if you don't know what they are, for they may have small thorns or spines and / or have pollen or sap that can be irritating to the skin. Not all Australian flowers have perfume, but many do, including aromatic oils, so if you intend to smell them, do so carefully if you suffer from allergies. Be mindful that it is illegal to remove plants from a National Park.
Enjoy the landscape.Be it waterfalls, striking rock monoliths or the peace and quiet. If you intend to sketch, paint, meditate or do some other activity such as bird watching, it is recommended that you visit on a quiet day (such as a weekday) when you are less likely to be disturbed.
Keep an eye out for animal tracks.Generally, tracks are not always visible and Australia does not have many large predators such as wolves, bears, lions and tigers. But snake tracks can advise you to be alert. Most snakes and reptiles will move away from you if you make heavy stamping noises, but some snakes and lizards (called Goannas) can be aggressive and have been known to chase people.
- Most wild animals will avoid humans but you may see them on your walk, particularly if you are walking deep into the outback areas. If you particularly wish to see larger animals such as Kangaroos, larger marsupials or reptiles it is highly recommended and much safer to visit a zoo or native animal sanctuary.
Remove all waste that you bring in to National Parks as there are very high fines for careless littering.Many bush fires have also been caused by stray cigarettes and cooking fires that have cost lives.
In an Emergency
Contact people you know or call an Emergency Service Number.In Australia, Dial 000 if you have a phone signal. Take special note of your starting point and the landscape and any landmarks along the way so that you can be clear when describing your location. Aim to locate yourself in a place where you will be visible from land and sky. In the outback a helicopter or the Royal Australian Flying Doctor Service may be your rescuers. If it is too hot to be in the sun, then use a landmark, your tent, or some high visibility clothing laid out for them to see. Common problems hikers experience are:
- Dehydration or heat stroke. Symptoms often appear as headaches, fatigue, dizziness and feeling lightheaded. Rest in the nearest shade that is free from signs of animals. Drink water. Do not continue your hike until you feel safe to do so.
- Sprained ankles and similar injuries. Wrap in a bandage or manufacture a bandage from existing clothing, a suitable fallen branch may suit as a splint, but you would be wise to pack for such contingencies if you are a long way away from other people. Slips and falls are very common with inexperienced or hasty bush-walkers, so it is recommended to be careful where you tread at all times.
- Cuts and grazes. These are very likely when walking through dense scrub. All scratches should be treated with an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory cream. To avoid infection, always apply a band-aid after treatment. If the climate is suitable, wear jeans and long sleeved cotton tops as robust fabric is far more resistant to scratches.
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