Australia is a continent of many contrasts. From desert to coastal, rainforest to alpine peaks, grassy plains or gum tree wilderness there are so many opportunities to get out and explore the great outdoors. Much of Australia’s wilderness is protected in over 500 National Parks. Over 28 million hectares of land is designated as National Parkland, accounting for almost four per cent of Australia’s land areas. Above that, a further six per cent of Australia is protected and includes State Forests, Nature Parks and Conservation Reserves. So that human activity in the parks can be controlled, but still accessible, there are a thousands (it’s a big country!) of walking trails to suit all experience levels. Getting out on foot with your children is a fabulous way to explore Australia’s many landscapes and unique flora and native animals.
Here are 10 tips to get you started, Bushwalking with your children…
- Baby steps – Start Small. Unless your children are young enough and light enough to carry, start on easy walks of around 1 hour, (especially if it’s a warm day). Little legs tire easily, and all the fun can quickly be overshadowed by whining if you push them too hard to start with. The idea is to start small, build their interest and fitness then move on to slightly longer trails next time.
- Always check the weather forecast. Children have a much lower tolerance for heat and cold, and Australia has plenty of both! Heading out on a long walk in the middle of the day in the heat of summer is not only going to make the walk harder for your children, it can be downright dangerous! Heat Exposure is very common in Australia and can be deadly.
- Dress Appropriately. A hat, good walking shoes, breathable long sleeved shirts and trousers are a must. The sun will burn in winter and summer here Downunder. Protect your skin with clothing and High Sun Protection Creams. Often the uncomfortable red, burning skin isn’t even obvious until after you’ve been out for the day, and you can burn in as little as 10-15 minutes here. Snakes are not something we just joke about to scare tourists, if you are out bushwalking on a warm day you may very well encounter one, (and yes most of them are deadly, that’s not a joke either!). Long trousers and closed, proper walking shoes will help protect you should a snake pop out to say hello on the trail.
- Carry water. Even on a short walk it is important to stay hydrated. The recommendation is 4 Litres per person, per day, so if you’re only headed out on a short walk of an hour or so, a drink bottle each should be fine.
- Carry healthy, dry snacks or a piece of fruit. Even on our mid morning walk of just over an hour recently, my two children requested a snack along the way. Happy children are fed and watered! Pop a Trail Bar or a Banana (or both) in your bag so that the inevitable “I’m Hungry” can be dealt with immediately.
- Go to the toilet before you leave! The Universal Mother’s motto never goes out of date. Whilst my 7 year old son wouldn’t fuss about relieving himself of all the water he’d been drinking behind a bush, my 11 year old daughter certainly would! Sometimes the “Bush Wee” as Aussie’s call it is, inevitable, but hey, if there is a toilet block in the carpark, get them to have a try!
- Stop to the smell the
roses, Gum Trees! Take it easy, it’s not a race. Bushwalking is about exploration. If you’re not rushing them, your children will notice more of their surroundings than you’d expect. Stopping to throw stones into the creek, pick at the sticky sap from a tree with a stick, or look at birds and animals is the best part! With my children, sometimes it feels like we stop every 20 steps, but that’s OK, if we’re only on a short trail then there’s no need to hurry them along.
- Learn to use a compass. Even though we stick to the tracks, which are well sign posted in the National Parks, using a compass will make the children feel like real explorers! My son dreams of being Indiana Jones, and he recently carried his bag of tools and notebook on a short walk. At seven he can confidently use his compass and got his magnifying glass out many times to take a closer look at pretty rocks or interesting bugs.
- Download, print and take the map. Again, even though we were on well sign posted tracks, carrying and referring to the map helped engage the children, and added to the explorer appeal. It was also useful for a lesson on map reading, and identifying other walks in the area that we’d like to explore another day.
- Carry a First Aid Kit. OK I’ll fess up here and say that I didn’t actually carry ours with us on our recent walk, but it was in the car. Since, ours was a circular 1 hour looped trail that began and ended at the carpark, I figured I’d never be more than half an hour (walking pace) from the First Aid Kit. We were also still in mobile phone range 😉 But you get my point, have one close!
We recently went for a bushwalk in the Para Wirra Recreation Park, north of Adelaide. It was a lovely day, sunny and about 23C. Para Wirra also has excellent picnic areas, with coin operated barbecues and a playground. We were lucky enough not to encounter any snakes, disappointed not to see any Kangaroos, but we did get nice and close to an Emu 🙂 There is a lake in the Park, but swimming is not permitted in it…. maybe it’s full of Tiger Snakes… Ha ha! Just joking!