Australian Bushwalking Safety Tips & Risks

30 January 2018

One of the joys of the Australian outdoors is bushwalking. Locals and tourists alike enjoy making their way through the unique Aussie bush, exploring its hills and mountains, creeks and rivers, caves and trails.

Knowing how to avoid these ten bushwalking risks is key to safe enjoyment.

1. Bushfire

Allianz Global Assistance Overseas Health - Bushfire in Australia

During dry periods, usually from late spring and throughout summer, the Australian bush is a tinderbox that can go up in flames from a range of causes. It is essential that you make yourself aware of any current bushfire alerts and ask a local authority for information or maps about the terrain you will be experiencing.

You must also seek advice about whether a fire ban is in place, in which case it is illegal to light a fire of any kind, however small. If lighting fires is permitted, then always extinguish yours completely with water. If you find yourself caught in a bushfire, contact emergency authorities immediately and advise of your location.

One of the best ways to do that is to use a GPS-equipped personal distress beacon.

2. Wildlife

Allianz Global Assistance Overseas Health - Bushwalking risks - animals

Australia’s reputation for being home to dangerous and deadly animals is world-renowned. Out in the bush, there are snakes, spiders and insects to be wary of, including mosquitoes which can carry Dengue Fever and Ross River Virus.

In estuarine locations of Western Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland, saltwater crocodiles can travel much further inland than many people think. Even sharks can make their way into canals and rivers and cause unpleasant surprises for kayakers, swimmers and rowers.

Learn what creatures you may encounter on your travels and pack a first aid kit that contains items that will be helpful in case you experience a bite, sting or other injury.

3. The Fierce Sun

Never underestimate the power of the Australian sun to make life miserable when bushwalking, not to mention the danger of skin cancer later in life. It is imperative to wear sunscreen (minimum 30+), sunglasses and a hat as well as other sun-protective clothing because sunburn and sunstroke can sometimes be debilitating.

Don’t forget to reapply your sunscreen throughout the day for the best protection. Avoid walking in the hottest part of the day if possible and instead, find a picturesque spot to sit and take in the scenery.

You can download the SunSmart app for iPhone and Android to access the current weather, UV rating temperature and sun protection times for your expedition anywhere in Australia.

4. Water/food

Allianz Global Assistance Overseas Health - Bushwalking supplies - food and water

It should go without saying that water is the first priority of items to take bushwalking, particularly depending on where you intend to go.

Don’t rely on the availability of fresh water from streams and waterfalls because, depending on recent rainfall or ongoing drought, it may not be where you hope. Even if where you are going has an abundance of fresh water, you may still like to consider looking at gadgets on the market that help you filter it before drinking.

These can be found in camping and hiking stores. In any case, carry as much as you think you will need, and then some, just in case your return is delayed. Also take plenty of food with enough nutrients that will see you through for longer than your planned trip, in case you become lost or injured.

5. Weather

Australia’s weather can be unpredictable so familiarising yourself with the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) website or app is vital. It provides up to the minute weather conditions and alerts for storms, cyclones, snow, hail and heavy rain.

Be mindful that when you set out on your bushwalk, the day may be beautifully sunny, with not a cloud in the sky. But within a couple of hours, a storm could roll in and bring with it flash flooding, hail and hazardous lightning.

Consult the BOM before leaving and take with you any protective items such as raincoats and waterproof gear.

6. Poisonous plants 

Just like many countries, Australia has its fair share of toxic plant life that could make you very sick or even kill you if ingested.

Just when you think you couldn’t possibly need to eat an unknown plant, consider that if you were lost for several days, without food or water, you may be tempted to keep up your energy by picking some colourful berries.

Before you go bushwalking, look up ‘toxic Australian plants’ on the Internet for the area where you will be travelling.

7. Clothing

Allianz Global Assistance Overseas Health - Bushwalking Clothing

Given the changes in terrain that occur during most bushwalks, it’s important to wear clothing that can support your body. Uneven, muddy and slippery ground requires sturdy and even waterproof footwear to protect the feet.

You should also wear or take with you clothing that will keep you cool or warm if the weather changes or you find yourself lost overnight.

8. Injury

The risk of injury when bushwalking is quite high, depending on the location. Walkers often fall down embankments, twist ankles, break arms or legs or hurt their necks or backs.

Being aware of how to apply first aid – to yourself and others – is a good way of preparing for your expedition, and packing a first aid kit with the essentials is smart thinking.

9. Getting lost

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Before going bushwalking, you must advise others where you are going. Tell friends or family but also advise local authorities.

Packing a compass or personal GPS will help to avoid getting lost but circumstances such as heatstroke or sunstroke can disorient you and may make them difficult to use.

For a trip deep into hazardous territory, you may want to consider packing flares or a personal beacon. Avoid venturing away from marked trails unless you are very familiar with the area.

10. Communication

Don’t go bushwalking without some method of communication. This could be your mobile phone or two-way radio and remember, in more isolated areas, a satellite phone may be the only way to get reception.

Take with you the numbers for local emergency authorities and remember that in Australia, 000 is the number to call.

Preparation is key to safe bushwalking

The better prepared you are, the more enjoyable your experience will be and the less likely you will encounter any problems.

Bushwalking is always an adventure but to avoid it becoming a mis-adventure, pay heed to the above advice.

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