Bushwalking for beginners

Bushwalking is one of life’s simple pleasures, an environmentally-friendly means of enjoying natural and cultural wonders which exercises you, yet doesn’t require the wearing of Lycra.

Only on foot can you picnic among golden paper daisies or overlook mountain ridges painted in softening shades of blue. And walking doesn’t get any better than in Australia. Few countries have the diversity of landscapes, plants and animals, or as many great walks for beginners and hardcore hikers alike.

Step gently into the bushwalking world and you need heed only one warning – it’s addictive.

Which walk:

– Choose one featuring something of interest, gold mining history, birds (take binoculars), wildflowers or geology, perhaps. Distractions from the physicality of what you are doing make hills less steep and distances shorter.

– Set achievable goals. While a flat-ish 4 km will challenge some first timers, those used to walking for exercise at home might step up to an undulating 6 km. Map profiles give an idea of the ups and downs.

What to take:

– Fun walking = appropriate footwear. Heavy-duty hiking boots are often unnecessary but thongs are dangerous. What you wear should have good tread and not shift on your feet (blisters are the enemy of bushwalkers). Hiking sandals are a great option on walks involving water.

– Carry a refillable water bottle, muesli bar and rain jacket in a day pack – just in case.

– Hiking poles assist with balance on rocky ground and creek crossings and ease knee impact on descents. Working them can also prevent the sausage fingers some walkers suffer. One pole or two? Only by experimenting will you find what suits.

Three great beginner bushwalks:

Glenelg River Gorge, Victoria
Walks don’t get more spectacular than this flat leg of the long-distance Great South West Walk. Following the Glenelg River’s cliff line, it gives jaw-dropping views of the river snaking towards the sea at Nelson, 5 km down the road. Follow the trail until you’ve had enough, remembering that your car is behind you.

Dove Lake, Tasmania
There are more climbs than you would expect on a lake circuit but with craggy Cradle Mountain on your shoulder this walk is a stunner. The 6 km loop, in World Heritage Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, takes you from sandy beaches to ancient forests and through stands of crinkly-leafed beech trees.

Great North Road, New South Wales
Labelled a folly even before its completion in the 1830s, the convict-built Great North Road, in Dharug National Park, north of Wisemans Ferry, is one of colonial Australia’s great engineering feats. Walk from the Hawkesbury River up Devines Hill (4 km return), marvelling at the great buttressed walls.

For information about all aspects of bushwalking and links to state organisations visit www.bushwalkingaustralia.org