Want to go bushwalking but don’t know where to start? Here are some tips on having fun and staying safe while exploring Victoria on foot. Plus links to websites where you can plan your trek.
Your first bushwalk should leave you pleasurably weary and eager for more, rather than shattered and vowing you’ll never hike again. So choose a track that suits not just your interests but also your fitness – easy/moderate if you don’t exercise much, moderate/hard only if you’re in good nick.
Victoria abounds with tracks that show off our rugged coast and creased mountains, tall timbers and tiny fungi, our deserts and rainforest. It’s also full of trails leading back through the state’s rich gold-mining history.
Getting from A to B as fast as possible is for Olympic athletes and people trying to prove something. Take time to appreciate the country you’re walking through, looking at the plants and animals close up (within reason) in addition to basking in the views.
Binoculars and a camera on a macro setting add to the experience.
There’s no need to exercise your credit card on specialist hiking clothes first up. Comfortable, loose-fitting or stretchy clothing allowing movement is all you need to get going. Plus a waterproof jacket just in case the weather changes.
Jeans can chafe, especially if sweaty or sandy. They are also dangerously cold when wet, so don’t wear them in mountain environments even on sunny days, because conditions can deteriorate unexpectedly.
Good-gripping runners or sturdy walking sandals will get you through most first walks. Boots can be overkill; thongs provide no protection or support. And ensure that whatever you wear is worn-in, because the pain of blisters from new footwear can turn bushwalking bliss into hiking hell.
Most designated walks are well signed and you’ll often get out and back safely with a downloaded map, or a paper one picked up on arrival. If you choose a hike that ventures further off beaten tracks, though, buy a contour map – and know how to read it.
If tackling an all-day walk, also tell someone where you’re going and what time you expect to return, so they can raise an alarm if you don’t.
Wear or carry something brightly coloured. Camouflage colours make you almost invisible to air and ground search parties. Brighter clothes also show up better in photographs of your day out.
Your enthusiasm or fitness might not extend to carrying a full-spread picnic on a walk but even a bog-standard sandwich tastes delicious outdoors. Always take something to eat, even if just a muesli bar or dried fruit and nuts. And water is essential always – carry more in warm weather.
Group or solo?
One of the joys of bushwalking is escaping life’s everyday hassles – human and other – but walking with a companion or small group is safer than going solo, at least until you clock up some experience and kilometres in your legs. Not all bushwalking clubs require you to attend a meeting or join before rocking up for a hike, either. A great source of information for groups around Victoria is the bushwalkingvictoria.org.au website.
Leave the walk clean for those who follow by carrying out everything you take in, including all food wrappers and scraps, and any unburied toilet paper.
Get good and practical information from bushwalkingvictoria.org.au
And many of the best walks are in our state and national parks – get notes, maps and more from parkweb.vic.gov.au
TOP BEGINNER WALKS
Stroll an 11km loop between boathouses at Yarra Bend, Melbourne.
Tread the high-and-low loop to Ritchie’s Hut on the Howqua River, near Mansfield.
Explore Victoria’s volcanic past at Mt Eccles National Park, near Portland.
Marvel at wildflowers on the White Box Walking Track in Chiltern-Mt Pilot National Park, near Wodonga.
Amble around King’s Billabong on Mildura’s fringe.