A meander through the Aussie bush sounds like the perfect Sunday activity, but for a newbie walker, it can be hard to know where to begin.
Faced with hundreds of trails to choose from and hiking boots you’d have to re-mortgage your house to afford, we knew it was time to turn to an expert.
Whether he’s trekking in Nepal or bashing through the Blue Mountains bush, there’s not much about bushwalking that doesn’t capture Bruce Henderson’s imagination.
Armed with a Survival First Aid KIT, a love of nature and a hearty smile, we sat down with Bruce to get his hot tips for budding hikers.
SURVIVAL: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Bruce. First up - how long have you been an avid bushwalker for?
BH: As a child and a teenager, I spent a lot of time in the bush; however, due to study, marriage, kids (and kids sport!), my time in the bush diminished until about 10 years ago.
SURVIVAL: So, what was the ‘a-ha!’ moment that made you take up hiking again?
BH: Perhaps it’s a strange answer, but first, it was separating from my wife, and then a friend asking me to join them on a camping trip.
I had a fantastic time with a great group of people, and this re-ignited my passion for the outdoors. In my experience, the bush is a great place to forget the world and one’s troubles.
There is also a camaraderie – a bond – that you find when you venture into the bush with a group. People from different backgrounds all appear similar and friendly, and strangers say ‘hi’ and are always prepared to assist you if you have a problem. The bush is the great leveller.
SURVIVAL: When you’re new to a hobby, it can be hard to know where to begin. Can you share some of your favourite local tracks to walk in Australia, as well as those further afield?
BH: That's a difficult question, as I live in the [NSW] Blue Mountains, and we are blessed with many beautiful walks.
For beginners visiting the [Blue] Mountains, I love the Charles Darwin Walk. It’s a moderate, two-hour - or six kilometre - walk that’s easily accessible from Wentworth Falls train station and has spectacular views of the Falls and the Jamison Valley.
Another popular local walk is Grand Canyon, which is a recently renovated walk at Blackheath in the Blue Mountains.
My favourite Sydney City walk is the popular Taronga Zoo to Balmoral Walk – a three-hour walk along the Harbour, it passes several historic gun emplacements that date from the early settlement.
Further afield, I have been fortunate enough to trek in Nepal. It’s another favourite, and a destination I’d highly recommend.
SURVIVAL: We’ve picked our destination. As hiking first-timers, what vital equipment do we need for our walks?
BH: Flippant me would say, ‘a smile and the desire to immerse oneself in nature!’
But on a serious note, I keep a day pack with a couple of key pieces of kit, including:
- A quality First Aid KIT, which includes a snake bite bandage. My life, comfort and safety are worth more than a cheap eBay kit.
- A Personal Locator Beacon, or PLB.
- A whistle – specifically, the plastic, pea-less type. I have one on the outside of every backpack I own. Three blasts of a whistle - or three blasts of a horn, three fires, etc - is the universal distress signal.
- A lightweight water- and wind-proof jacket.
SURVIVAL: What other gear do we need to spend up big on, and where can we afford to skimp?
BH: For top dollar, I’d say footwear. Buy quality. Blisters and uncomfortable footwear will make your walking experience hell!
If you’re inexperienced in selecting hiking footwear, I highly recommend going to a specialist outdoor shop where they know how to fit footwear properly. You may pay a bit more; however, proper fitting boots are an investment in your comfort and safety – hence, they’re well worth a few extra dollars.
In the bush, I also wear activewear tops. These wick moisture away from you and are cooler and more comfortable than cotton t-shirts. I buy these quite cheaply from stores like Aldi, rather than expensive, branded ones from outdoor shops.
SURVIVAL: Let’s talk safety. Have you ever encountered snakes along the tracks, and if so, how did you deal with them?
BH: Yes, I have encountered snakes, but never a particularly aggressive one. In my experience, snakes tend to slither off before you get too close to them.
Firstly, I wear appropriate footwear and clothing - my personal preference is high-cut boots and 'zip-off' long trekking pants. Unlike jeans, they are light, not too hot, dry more quickly if wet, and tend to have more accessible pockets. Being loose in the legs, if a snake strikes, there’s also the potential of the bite hitting the fabric rather than me.
As general advice, when you’re walking in the bush, you should always look ahead and watch where you’re stepping. Where possible, step on logs rather than stepping over them; snakes can be under or next to the log but take care the log is not wet and slippery.
Before you begin, you also need to learn how to treat a snake bite, and always carry an appropriate First Aid KIT with a snake bite bandage. Practice the bandaging technique before you set off.
SURVIVAL: Now we’ve got the hiking destination sorted, as well as our safety equipment and outfit. What's the best time of year to head?
BH: Spring and autumn; however, if you choose appropriate tracks, one can hike during most of the year.
In summer, I choose heavily shaded tracks, and won’t venture out if the fire risks are too high.
Just prior to commencing the walk, I always check the Fires Near Me app, which gives details of any fires in your vicinity.
SURVIVAL: Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom, Bruce – we’re ready and raring to go. As we finish lacing our boots, do you have any other tips or tricks you’d care to share?
BH: Particularly in cooler weather, make sure you start the walk feeling a little cool. Many people walk with too many layers on, which causes them to sweat before they think about taking layers off, and then they get a chill.
I also carry a ‘sit mat’ with me - it’s a piece of foam that’s about 300 mm x 200 mm, and it serves many purposes.
It keeps your bum dry if the ground is a little wet when you’re stopping for a break, and it keeps my pants a little cleaner – well, I am a mere male who does his own washing!
It’s also more comfortable than sitting on the ground and provides me with some much-appreciated protection from biting things.