The times they are certainly changin’, but not in the way that Bob Dylan sang about in his anthemic 1964 hit.
With the almost daily increases in restrictions to our work and social lives in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak, the last thing we should do is gather around, as Dylan suggested.
We don’t, however, have to stay within four walls, and we can, for now at least, take a walk.
National parks across Australia remain open despite some high visitation sites being closed to reduce person-to-person contact. The need to observe and respect social distancing, and reduce the chance of meeting other like-minded people, is motivation to avoid popular tracks in popular parks and instead explore less well-known trails and reserves.
But we need to take precautions in addition to normal bushwalking safety measures: Walk only with a live-in partner or, if experienced and confident, go solo; minimise use of public transport and car sharing; reduce the need to buy fuel by choosing a walk near home; take lunch rather than buy it en route – we can help rebuild struggling communities when the pandemic is over; and don’t share lunches or water bottles.
Of course, it must be emphasised: Don’t go anywhere if you are self-isolating, have flu-like symptoms, are a vulnerable person or awaiting a test result.
Overnight hikers face some virus-specific changes too. In Tasmania, most trail huts have been designated for emergency use only so you need to carry and use a tent, even where you would normally bunk with others under a hard roof.
There are numerous online resources for finding walking destinations and specific trails close to home, including the national park government agency websites in each state and territory. Here you can look up specific parks, find a reserve near you on maps, and read updates on track and park closures. Another great place to start looking is alltrails.com/australia, which describes, maps and gives access details for walking, biking and mixed-use trails.
At bushwalkingaustralia.org, you’ll find links to each state/territory’s peak bushwalking organisation, including Hike West (WA) and Walking SA. Most of these groups have sections that help you find a walk by region, length, degree of difficulty and even whether you can take a dog. This is the place to return to when restrictions lift if you want to join a local bushwalking club, most of which are currently not active except online.
To find a walk in NSW, wander around bushwalkingnsw.com. Also explore wildwalks.com, which categorises hundreds of hikes around the state by park, time taken, and grade, as well as providing digital maps. Here you’ll also find a COVID-19 information guide to reducing your risks.
On the fun and informative Hiking and Bushwalking in Victoria Facebook page, you can ask about walks and post your photos when you return. Search “bushwalking” on Facebook and see what other sites come up.
These unprecedented times will improve. In the meantime, make the most of the outdoors near home and tread carefully.