Bushwalking is a uniquely Australian term, but it is also known as hiking in America, rambling in Britain, or tramping in New Zealand. Whatever the name, it is all about enjoying walking in the natural environment.
Bushwalking has many facets, ranging from a walk in the bush after a picnic lunch to multiple day expeditions in remote and difficult areas. Some will incorporate other activities like rope work or swimming. Bushwalkers are generally interested in the outdoors, and often do other activities that take them into remote areas as well. A common factor in all trips is that there is a goal. People do not just wander randomly around in the bush. They may be visiting a scenic or historic place, exploring a creek valley, experiencing a rainforest, or challenging themselves by getting to some remote location.This section will describe the different sorts of walking activities and general levels of fitness required. It is important to note that the length of a walk is only one factor in assessing your ability to complete the trip. Other factors include:
- the amount of uphill and downhill
- whether the trip is on tracks or though the native bush
- what the ground is like, eg, slippery mud or gravel, scrambling over rocks
So, for example, someone may be able to walk all day on the flat, but struggle climbing 500m over a hill. It is critically important that potential walkers consult the leader well before starting on the trip to ensure that the trip is suitable for them.
Sometimes walks are short because of limited time, limited fitness or the goal is easy to get to. Sometimes they are a pleasant social activity, such as a walk along the coast on a summer evening.
These walks may range in length up to about 10 kilometres and usually occupy an hour or two. Marked tracks in national parks commonly fit into this category, as do most walks in reserves in towns and cities. Commonly, the travel time to the walk is short.
Snacks and drinks are usually taken, but not meals. Sometimes the walkers end up somewhere for lunch or dinner after the walk.
These are typically trips where you will be walking for a good part of the daylight hours. Generally, it should be the only thing you have planned for daytime, and many find it awkward to plan things in the evening because of uncertainty about time of return or physical exhaustion. Bear in mind that travel to and from the walk may add to the time required.
Day walks can range in length from a few kilometres to over 25 km. Longer walks will generally be mostly on tracks, purely because bush bashing (walking through trackless bush) is very slow. Rates of progress of 1 kilometre per hour are common in thick scrub, whereas the average person can walk at least 4 kilometres in an hour on a road or good track.
On a day walk, there will usually be a place where the group meets. This may be at the start of the walk, or a point where car pooling can be done to get to the start. Depending on the group and the length of the walk, the meeting time may be anywhere between 6.00 am and 9.30 am.
Once walking starts, there will usually be a number of breaks during the day, for a picnic lunch, snacks, and drinks. There may also be breaks to catch your breath on strenuous parts. (Bushwalkers commonly call this “enjoying the view”.) You will need to carry food and water as it is unlikely that you will be able to purchase refreshments en-route.
At the end of the walking part, groups may enjoy a snack in the bush before heading home, or some may go to a nearby cafe or pub.
Most of the day walk information applies here too, where the trips last 2-3 days. The major difference is that you will be carrying extra weight, such as a tent, sleeping bag, cooking equipment and food for several days.
Extra care needs to be taken in preparation for an overnight hike, such as warmer clothing for the evening and early morning. On the walk, extra care is required in hygiene and food preparation, and also in avoiding injury as help may not be readily at hand.
These trips also require more self-discipline, as the group must travel together for extended periods. Good humour and tolerance are essential, as is being ready on time when the group is moving off.
These are much longer trips, sometimes lasting months, but mostly around 5-10 days. The Great North Walk from Sydney to Newcastle, if done in one trip, is a typical example. It takes around two weeks to walk the 250 kilometre track. The Great Ocean Walk in Victoria takes eight days to walk 100 kilometres.
Trips like this are physically challenging, as few of us walk distances like this regularly. In addition, we will be carrying a significant amount of weight, more than normal, which will stress even the fittest person. Often there is no easy way out if you decide it is too hard for you.
For trips in the wilderness, you will usually have to carry everything you will need for the duration of the trip. In some places, there may be access to towns where supplies can be replenished. In others there may be road access where food drops can be placed before setting off. The logistics need to be carefully planned, allowing realistic times for walking between drops.