10 ways to travel Australia gently

Travelling Well | Mark Trengove | Posted on 17 October 2017

Australians are blessed with world-class natural wonderlands. Here are 10 ways to ensure the great outdoors stay that way during your travels.

Australians love exploring their country by road, and the increased popularity of four-wheel-drive SUVs means we can get further off the main routes to experience more remote natural areas, whether they be in the outback, the mountains, the forests or along our vast coastline.

While visiting these areas is rewarding, our presence can have an impact on native flora and fauna. Here’s how to help enhance your experience while lessening the human footprint on the Australian bush

Traveling in Nature

Plan ahead as much as possible

Working out where to go and what to take is easy, but you also need to be aware of local conditions. Choose a safe time of year to visit. Make sure you can easily access the area you want to go to, understand the chance of fire, flood or blizzard, whether you have mobile reception with your carrier, and any local by-laws that apply.

You should have contact numbers on your devices, for the likes of parks managers, wildlife carers and emergency services. Ensure your vehicle is well prepared, and be ready to be flexible if, for example, a road ahead is closed. Be sure to set realistic timeframes for travel, allowing for rough or winding roads. And stay current by talking to locals and other travellers.

A little research into the ecosystems you are about to visit will also enhance your experience.

Girl enjoying nature

Have all permits in order

Ensure you have appropriate permits and/or permission for travelling in certain national parks, indigenous managed areas and pastoral properties. Generally, you don’t need a permit to travel on a public road through pastoral land. Leave gates as you find them and take care not to stress stock.

And if you see official signs or warnings, they exist for a reason.  Obey them.

Fishing may be acceptable. Ensure you have permits, obey regulations and fish responsibly by not taking take any more than you need. And clean up afterwards.

Stick to the driving tracks

Stick to tracks designated for travelling. Leaving tracks can cause compaction and wheel ruts and damage vegetation. Wheel ruts may not repair, and in some ecosystems such as coastal saltmarsh they can alter tidal patterns and damage larger areas. Birds, such as the endangered hooded plover which nests on sandy beaches, are especially vulnerable.

So stay on tracks marked on your map and know where they go. Other tracks may be for park management or fire vehicles, and should be avoided. They probably won’t lead anywhere interesting anyway.

Don’t spread weeds and diseases

Going off-track can spread weeds and disease and damage habitat. To avoid spreading weeds, wash your car and camping gear before the trip and put it through a carwash as you travel. If you find any seed attached to you or your vehicle, either burn it in a hot fire or put it in a bag to be disposed of responsibly. Native plants can also become weeds when established beyond their natural distribution.

Some areas are quarantined due to weeds or damaging pathogens (such as Phytophthora cinnamomi or root rot fungus), so follow directions in these areas. In areas with Phytophthora cinna­momi, walking may be allowed. If so, clean your boots before and afterwards (detergent is best but even brushing off soil will help) and avoid walking in wet areas as the spores are water-borne.

Be aware that picking wildflowers or taking native flora is illegal.

Pick your travel times (and avoid wildlife on the roads)

Help to preserve native fauna by not driving at dawn, dusk and overnight, as there’s a great chance of wildlife being on the roads. If you can’t avoid travelling at these times, slow right down and keep an eye on the roadside vegetation. Kangaroos are social animals; if you see one, there will probably be more nearby and their reactions are unpredictable.

But encounters when you’re not on the road are very rewarding, so in your planning allow time to pull over and observe wildlife. Get out and walk, sit and listen. Bring binoculars. The most memorable experiences are often unplanned – seeing an echidna train, for example.

At all times, try not to disturb wildlife. They have their own natural food, so feeding them is not appropriate.

Going to the toilet in the bush

Be responsible and dig a hole when it comes to toileting

If you are caught out, bury your poo away from water or low-lying areas. (Dig a small hole 30 centimetres deep and cover it back the way it was.) In dry environments, toilet paper won’t break down so is best burnt. Make sure the fire is properly extinguished.

Don’t bring pets into national parks

Pets are not allowed in national parks, many conservation parks and nature reserves. They will often impact on wildlife even where they are permitted. Some native species are sensitive to the smell of pet faeces and can be put off breeding. Keep pets quiet and under control at all times. Clean up pet faeces responsibly. Consider leaving pets at home, or use a pet boarding service.

Enjoy a swim (but don't pollute the waterways) 

Enjoy a swim but not a bath; soap or detergent will pollute the water. The same goes for stock troughs, which wildlife also use. Don’t camp immediately next to streams and wetlands as you may impact on wildlife or cause pollution.

Know when and where it’s ok to camp and light fires

Know in advance if it’s okay to have an open fire, as it is often not permitted. Even where it is allowed, it can be detrimental to the environment. In drier climates especially, it can take decades for dead timber to accumulate. That wood is habitat and integral to the nutrient cycle, so if you do have a fire keep it modest. It’s best to bring your own camping stove.

Take out all rubbish, including food scraps. Leave no trace of your campsite.

Respect culturally significant sites

Sites of cultural significance are protected, so do not remove artefacts. Try to understand and respect local cultures.

Also, buy local if you can and support worthy causes. And offset your carbon emissions.