A country as large and diverse as Australia is just brimming with landscapes to explore, trails to be hiked, and campsites to relax in. But there’s no denying that there is some scary shit in them there bushes.
Since arriving in this beautiful land five months ago I’ve put my best foot forward everywhere from the outback to the bushlands of New South Wales. What I’ve learned along the way is that yes, there are some things to be afraid of – but only if you’re not prepared.
On the Overland Track in Tasmania I saw two HUGE Tiger Snakes and what I think was a Red Belly, right in front of me on the trail. I was actually a lot calmer about the situation than I thought I would be and by the third snake I barely batted an eyelid. Instead, I calmly announced to my go-to hiking girl Joelle to stop for a second to let it to pass.
Despite my calm demeanour, it’s worth remembering that many snakes in Australia are extremely poisonous and some (including the Tiger Snake) can be fatal if they bite you. They can be found year-round, but particularly in the summer when you’ll find them basking lazily in the sunshine.
- Invest in some gaiters: I upgraded my gaiters from the cheapo ones I brought in Go Outdoors back in the UK to these ones from Sea to Summit. Well worth the investment as most snake bites happen around the ankle area and these offer good protection.
- Walk loudly: Snakes can’t hear, but they can feel vibrations through the ground. Walking heavily (particularly when walking off-track) is your saving grace as they tend to slither off when they feel you coming. Use your walking poles to add some extra oomph.
- Carry a compression bandage: You should never scrimp on any first aid item, but this is particularly true when it comes to compression bandages. If you’re bitten it could make all the difference.
- Back away slowly: If you do see a snake, back away slowly and give it a wide berth. The first one I saw I got all excited and went poking around in the grass so I could see it again. I know. I question my sanity sometimes too.
This was a real shock to me as the idea of there being a bushfire back in the UK is almost laughable. But it is a real threat here, and one that needs to be taken seriously. The first time I really became aware of the situation was on a three-day escape to Pittwater YHA, north of Sydney. Only accessible by boat, I was proper psyched up for 72 hours of exploring. But alas, it wasn’t to be. Thanks to the 37-degree heat, a total fire ban was in place and the entire national park was out of bounds.
- Check before you leave: Always, always, always check the fire status before you set off for a hike. The Australian national parks websites are fantastic resources and most have alerts and updates. If you’re in New South Wales (where I am) visit this website or download the ‘Fires Near Me’ app. If there is a total fire ban do not go. It’s as simple as that. You’ll also see signs around national parks with the latest fire danger rating.
- Know what to do if the worst happens: If you’re caught in a bushfire you need to know what to do. I’d recommend this post from Lotsafreshair (plus, follow her, her blog is amazing).
- Getting lost
Now this can happen anywhere without the right route planning or preparation, but thanks to the harsh elements of this country, Australia is a particularly bad place to get lost in. And it happens more than you think. In fact, just last week there was a story about a Dad and his son getting lost in Tasmania for three days. Thankfully they were found alive, but they were very, very lucky from what I read.
- Do not overestimate your abilities: If you do not know how to navigate (no – following Google Maps doesn’t count) then do not go off track. There are plenty of amazing, well-marked and maintained trails that you can explore with relative safety. Hiking is one of my main passions in life (as my Instagram shows) but I have minimal navigational skills and as such am very careful with the routes I try, especially when hiking solo. I’m currently saving up for a navigation course with the Australian School of Mountaineering, so hopefully I’ll be solo hiking off track before the year is out.
- Invest in an EPERB/PLB: An Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon or Personal Locator Beacon is quite an investment, but one that will keep you safe no matter what. A lot of national park offices also hire EPERBs(sometimes even for free!), so make sure you phone and ask before setting off.
- Leave your plans: Always tell someone what your route is and when you plan to be back. Make sure they’re taking you seriously when you tell them, and explain who they would need to call to raise the alarm.
- Spiders and other creepy crawlies
This was the one thing I was absolutely terrified of when I set off on my first hike/camp in Australia. To be honest, it still freaks me out even thinking about the spiders that are out there lurking. I’ve had one encounter which was some weird-ass orangey-brown spider that crawled out of my tent lining when I was packing up my tent on the Great Ocean Road. But the good news is (please don’t let this jinx me) I’ve yet to have any real scary moments.
- Check your boots: This is something I’ve been told which I’ve got into the habit of doing in case I get any overnight visitors. I actually keep my boots in the tent to be extra safe! If you leave them outside the tent, cover the tops with a pair of socks.
- Beware of leeches and ticks: Far more likely than a spider, leeches and ticks are found all across Australia. This article from Australian Traveller explains how to avoid leeches, and how to get rid of them. And this article from Bushwalking NSW explains how to get rid of ticks.
- The weather
Australia is sunny and bright all year round, right? WRONG!! While the summer months are really bloody hot (like, proper, proper hot), the weather can still change quickly, especially in the other seasons. Clouds do come rolling in. Rain does pour. Snow does fall. Winds do blow a gale. Visibility does get impaired.
- Remember Australia is massive and has a million micro climates: The weather from one state to the other (even at the same time of the year) varies drastically. I had to buy emergency thermals from the Tasmania Overland Track visitor office as it was so cold. Five people’s tents were broken in gale force winds when I hiked Australia’s 11 highest peaks in the Snowy Mountains (or tried to – but that’s a story for another day). I camped in the Daintree Rainforest and it was 30 degrees overnight yet rained for 12 hours straight.
- Check the weather forecast: See above if you need any more persuasion. Check and always prepare for the worst. Inclement weather impacts even the best navigators.
- Beware Australia’s evil UV levels: In the words of Baz Luhrmann, ‘wear sunscreen’. In the words of my humble self, “make it the strongest sunscreen you can find.” Australia has one of the highest UV indexes in the world, and matching levels of skin cancer. Even if the sun isn’t out slap on the sunscreen and reapply regularly.
For all the scary things out there, I wouldn’t stop hiking in Australia if someone paid me. This country is one of the most beautiful, exciting places I’ve set foot in and I’ve only just started to explore. What are your experiences hiking in Australia? Let me know in the comments below.