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Inspiring and educating our community about the importance of a relationship with the outdoors is fundamental to Kathmandu. We are lucky to call New Zealand our home – a place like nowhere else on earth. Turquoise glacial waters flow down from darkly-cloaked mountain tops that are often only a short drive from some of the country's largest cities. For this reason, Kiwis have a relationship with their backyard like almost no one else. Meanwhile, across the Tasman in the country where we opened our first store in 1987, a vast continent of endless sienna deserts, ancient rainforests, and awe-inspiring coastlines beckons those from around the world to explore what Australia has to offer.
Hiking is the single-most popular and treasured way that our community interacts with the natural world. It far outweighs any other activity, perhaps because we all appreciate the way in which slowly passing through natural environments gives us a chance to refresh and reconnect with the world around us, doing our body and minds untold benefit.
But this connection is made harder by increasingly volatile and extended fire seasons, especially in Australia, where during the summer of 2019/20 news media reported over 7.7 million hectares of land had been burned by the end of January of that season (February is seen as one of the most dangerous periods of Australia's fire season).
During this season, all national parks on the New South Wales South Coast were closed, as were the famous alpine Kosciuszko National Park and nine national parks in the southern state of Victoria. Fire is now making a real and measurable impact on our ability to experience nature in the ways that benefit us most. In 2019, a team from Griffith University extrapolated study figures from 20,000 people and found that, while Australia currently spends about 10% of GDP on mental health, if national parks didn't exist and people had no access to these natural environments, that cost would blow out to approximately 17.5% of GDP. In other words, the team found that Australia's national parks were worth $145 billion to the country's economy.
There are some key ways you can continue to enjoy a relationship with the outdoors through hiking without significant risk of encountering fires. The most obvious and best way is to hike outside of peak summer periods and fire seasons, and to consider hiking during winter. To help keep you safe when out hiking during those hotter months, we have listed some ways to stay fire-smart in the outdoors and what to do if you do encounter fire during a hike. This information draws from expert advice provided by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Being fire-smart starts at home; before you load up the car and hit the outdoors.
Once you’ve worked out where you’ll be, let a family member or friend know your plans. Give them the exact details of the location you intend to be, the direction you’ll be heading, who you are with, what equipment you have and when you expect to be back.
If you’ll be hiking in a remote part of a national or state park, talk to the rangers as well when you arrive so they also have those details logged.
It might seem unnecessary, especially if you’re only planning a short day hike, but if something does go wrong unexpectedly you’ll be thankful that somebody can tell the authorities of your approximate whereabouts.
In the leadup to your adventure keep an eye on the fire conditions so you can make an informed decision about whether it safe or not to go ahead with your plans. If the fire danger rating is rising, and the weather looks like it will be hot and windy, it might be time to reconsider your trip.
Now that you’ve laid out your plan for family and the authorities, it’s time to be ‘in the moment’ when it comes to being fire-smart.
Once you’re in the outdoors, chat with park rangers and other hikers to see how conditions are. Keep an eye on the weather and be ready to react if you see smoke, increased or changed wind direction or intense heat.
Also make sure you adhere to any fire bans that may be in place. This may include not using gas cookers if the fire danger is high.
If conditions start to deteriorate or you receive a warning about an imminent fire threat, be prepared to abandon your hike at a moment’s notice and evacuate to safer ground.
This doesn’t mean you should wait until something is wrong to formulate a plan. Rather you should be acutely aware of what exactly you will do in case of emergency before you start your adventure, and be on the lookout for any potential changes to the route as you move deeper into the outdoors.
Bushfires can grow and move extremely quickly, and if you find yourself in a dire situation, it’s important to know exactly what to do to protect yourself and your party.
This advice has been informed by bushfire rescue experts at NSW National Parks and Wildlife Services. Memorise these steps and follow them in case of emergency.
If you are driving and come across a fast-moving fire, this is how you should act.
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