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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Bushwalks near Canberra and the virtue of the beaten track

Canberrans are spoilt with access to beautiful bushwalking and camping spots and after a year of isolation and limited travel ACT residents are enjoying the perks of living near national parks on Ngunnawal Country. 

But the bush can be a dangerous place without proper planning when it comes to food, clothing, equipment and navigation. 

Every year police and specialist rescue services receive calls to assist lost, injured or poorly prepared hikers. 

In the last quarter of 2020, two men who failed to return from a hike in Tidbinbilla were aided by ACT Policing. 

When found, the pair had no food and were not dressed for the conditions, which can change suddenly in alpine regions. 

Additionally, there were two searches for separate pairs of hikers in Tidbinbilla, and police responded to an emergency beacon from an experienced hiker who found themselves unable to complete their walk. 

The natural beauty of Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve. Image: Deliriaau, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Why do bushwalkers stray from the path?

In a 2020 Edith Cowan University study, senior lecturer Edmund Goh surveyed more than 300 people in an attempt to understand what motivates national park visitors to leave signposted walking tracks and go off-trail, putting lives at risk. 

On any given weekend at Gibraltar Falls south of Canberra, visitors can be seen rock hopping near the ledge and posing for an Instagram-worthy photo, disregarding safety signs.

Mr Goh’s report said many visitors choose their own adventure because they see others doing the same – in other words, they copycat. 

Despite the fact that walking off the beaten track can damage native flora and contaminate sensitive environments – endangered native orchids in the ACT being one example – the study found that people with strong environmental values saw “nothing wrong with walking off-trail” and did not believe it undermined their principles. 

The research also suggests some walkers abandon the designated path believing that a different route will be shorter or less difficult. 

Appropriate clothing and footwear can be a lifesaver on the trail. Image via Unsplash.

How to prepare for a bushwalk 

ACT Policing Detective Acting Inspector Simon Coady, the officer in charge of rural patrol, said everyone, including experienced hikers, needed to make sure they were well prepared before heading out of town. 

“You wouldn’t go skiing without all the proper equipment so why risk it when heading into the bush?”  

He recommended packing ample supplies, downloading the Emergency+ app and telling a friend or family member the trip destination and return date. 

ACT Parks and Conservation executive branch manager Daniel Iglesias added to that advice and said a phone or a locator beacon was essential, plus appropriate clothing and footwear. 

“Water is the most important thing so bring plenty of it,” he said.

“Once you’re out in the bush, stay on the signposted tracks and keep an eye on the weather so you don’t get caught out.”

Hot and dry weather increases fire danger, and ACT Emergency Services Agency commissioner Georgeina Whelan asked Canberrans to be mindful when it came to campfires. 

“Take caution when camping, driving or planning to light a cooking fire as small fires can quickly escalate into a major incident in hot and windy conditions,” she said. 

Five of the best short bushwalks near Canberra 

There are a huge number of beautiful walks on Ngunnawal Country

Namadgi National Park has an impressive 160kms of marked walking tracks just 45 minutes from Canberra by car, and Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve is full of popular trails. 

Here are a few suggestions for easy bushwalks near Canberra: 

Square Rock

Massive boulders help create a cinematic vista at the summit of this 8.5km hike. 

Allow four hours for this walk which reaches 1400 metres above sea level. 

Yankee Hat

This easy walk through grassland guides visitors to the only currently known Aboriginal art sites in the ACT. 

Carbon dating indicates the Yankee Hat rock shelter was used by Aboriginal people over 800 years ago. 

Allow 2.5 hours for this 6km walk and be mindful not to touch the rock art on this culturally significant site. 

Gibraltar Peak 

Pack your swimmers for this moderate to hard 8km day hike which rewards bushwalkers with stunning views and the opportunity for a dip in the creek that feeds Gibraltar Falls. 

Depending on your fitness levels and how long you spend taking in the scenery, this walk will require between 3-4 hours. 

Booroomba Rocks

Visitors can choose between walks as short as 2.5kms or a more challenging 10.5km hike at Booroomba Rocks. 

Expect a few significant inclines to reach the most impressive views!

Canberra Centenary Trail 

This is a versatile 145km loop that can be broken down into manageable day trips or completed as a week-long expedition. 

The trail is also open to cyclists of moderate ability, for those who prefer to roll rather than stroll. 

The Centenary Trail holds surprises for tourists and long-term locals alike.

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