Australia can be a rough country, and visitors, like residents, are expected to take responsibility for themselves. Common-sense precautions are generally all that’s required, but be aware of the following challenges:
Kangaroos: In southern Victoria you might find yourself golfing with a kangaroo. Fore! While golf partners themselves don’t constitute a hazard, inattention does. Remember to be aware of your surroundings at all times, even in the most “civilized” situations and locations.
Impact: This touring truck comes equipped with a “Roo Bar” for protecting passengers from sudden impact with a kangaroo, which can be a particular hazard when the creatures decide to cross major roads at night. When you’re driving fast, impact with a large animal can do serious damage to a car or truck — and its occupants — so be sure to hire a properly-equipped vehicle for Outback explorations.
Cliffs: Check out this sign, which vividly depicts a person falling off a crumbling cliff. In the U.S., we’d build big fences to protect ourselves from ourselves, but Down Under they feel that simply posting a reminder is quite adequate. You won’t find Aussies trying to sue each other for their own mistakes like we do in the States, either.
Crocodiles: freshwater, saltwater, in the water or out of the water, you just do not want to tangle with a croc. The “freshies” are supposedly safe, if you listen to the locals, and we did actually swim near some on a very hot day in Litchfield Park — but I don’t recommend it.
“Salties” or salt-water crocodiles should always be considered dangerous, and — despite their name — can be found in brackish coastal waters, tidal rivers, billabongs, swamps, and even up-river in fresh water, as well as offshore. Even large crocs eat mostly small prey, such as turtles, lizards, and shore birds, but occasionally buffalo, livestock, wallabies and the like fall victim, and some humans are injured and killed every year by salties because of foolhardiness or simple lack of awareness.
Box Jellyfish are carnivorous sea creatures, pale blue, transparent — almost invisible in the water — with highly toxic, fast-acting venom . . . made all the more dangerous by the fact that they swarm in shallow tropical waters during the late summer, which is their spawning season and our swimming season. Signs urge taking vinegar to pour onto a sting (vinegar deactivates the remaining stinging cells), but it is far better to avoid these creatures altogether, as contact can be excruitatingly painful, and can cause cardiac arrest within minutes.
Floodwater can arrive surprisingly quickly due to flash flooding and tides, rendering crossings impassable and autos inoperable, inundating steep gorges, and separating bushwalkers from their vehicles. Pay close attention to posted warning signs; they indicate serious danger.
Lack of water: While too much water, too quickly, can cause cause flooding, it’s also true that much of Australia suffers the hazard of too little water. Many people succumb to heat stress each year, and it’s important to be very well prepared before hiking in remote areas. Let others know where you’re going, carry a map, reduce your activity during the hottest part of the day, and don’t simply carry plenty of drinking water — you’ll need to actually drink it!
Cradle Mountain, in the northwestern part of Tasmania, is a magnificently beautiful and popular bushwalking area, but hikers are warned that the “risk of death from exposure is an ever-present hazard,” since the area is so remote and the weather is unpredictable. Mud, heavy rain, and snowfall can make the area impassable, even in summer months.
The “Wait-a-While” plant, also called Lawyers’ Cane — because once hooked by the thorns on this plant, one is as irretrievably entangled as if involved in the legal process — is only one of the treacherous plants that flourish in Queensland’s rainforest. It starts out looking like a small palm tree, then grows long, wiry “tendrils”which are decidedly not tender; they’re lined with rows of sharp barbs. If you brush past one, it grabs your clothing and holds on tightly until you back up and remove it. (This photo shows a plant in the intermediate stage between “tendrils” and “viciously sharp barbed hooks.”) The plant has even been known to snag and pull people off horses and motorcycles as they ride by.