The air hung thick with smoke and the TV shouted the same headlines. This has been the worst bushfire season in NSW to date, with more homes lost and land alight than ever before. Experts say, get ready for the new normal.

In such conditions it can be hard to know if it’s safe to bushwalk, and if it is, where to go.

But for those who suspect that an air-conditioned indoors life is not the answer, this is how and where to walk in bushfire season.

Let’s start with the obvious: always defer to that day’s conditions in the specific area you plan to explore. The information here is of a general nature. Trust the authorities, seek out official travel advice, and do what they advise to stay safe. There are links to all these sources, and more, below.

And another note: this is written during the unprecedented bushfire crisis of 2019/20, though much of the information remains relevant at times of higher risk.

The official “Bush Fire Danger Period”, as the bushfire season is called, runs from 1 October to 31 March but can vary due to local conditions.

  • Planning Where to Walk
  • What to Do the Day Before Your Walk
  • On the Day
  • When to Take Extra Care
  • If the Worst Happens
  • After Fire, When is it Safe to go Back
  • How You Can Help

Planning Where to Walk

The size of the devastated land is mind-boggling: at the time of writing, nearly 5 million hectares – an area larger than Denmark – has been destroyed in New South Wales.

Remember, Australia is big. Like, big big. So not everywhere is on fire, nor has been burnt, nor is at risk. (This map puts it in perspective.)

Sydney has not been directly impacted. Put simply, there have been no bushfires in Sydney (smoke is another matter… see the section on “When to Take Extra Care”).

If Walk is Already Planned

In the 2019/20 bushfire crisis, Sydney walking trails remain unaffected (although do final checks as per below, before starting to walk).

In the lead-up to your walk, check if your plans can remain or need to be changed.

** Has the general area been fire-affected? See Destination NSW’s regional guide.

** If your walking track is in a national park, is the national park open or are there track closures? Check the NPWS website or app for alerts.

** Or does the walking track go through State Forest? (Not relevant to Sydney itself but notable for the wider region, such as sections of The Great North Walk). Check for Forestry Corporation closures.

If all looks fine, keep your walking plans intact. If not, find another walk. Either way, remember to check again the day before your walk.

If Still Choosing a Walk

Bushfires – like floods – are a standard risk in Australia. Which means in a typical bushfire season, stay alert but not alarmed.

But if there is any reason for a real or perceived increased level of risk – and you lack the highly specific knowledge of a very experienced bushwalker who has repeatedly walked in that same area – err on the side of safety.

Choose a walk that:

  • Is easily accessible (as in, you, and others can get in and out easily). It should have plenty of exit points.
  • Allows two-way communication such as mobile phone reception and wi-fi.

More information coming soon (Monday 20 January 2020)


Tara Wells is a freelance journalist who is delighted to combine her love of hiking – and Sydney – with storytelling.

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