Campsites and huts

  • Bush huts
  • Hygiene
  • Campfires

Camping is one of the most enjoyable features of the outdoors - a good camp is a place where walkers and skiers can relax and enjoy the peace and beauty of the countryside. A camp is also a place for learning and teaching. It is a place where groups can take in all the details of their surroundings, where stories are told and group members become closer.

Setting up camp

It is best to camp early and so allow plenty of time before dark to pitch tents, settle in and prepare meals. You should not create a new campsite if there is an established or natural campsite nearby. Camp where there is shelter and water. Never cut down vegetation for purposes such as furniture and bedding. Sleep on a mat or your softer gear.

Check the area for potential hazards such as dead trees or overhanging limbs (especially on red gums), and for the likelihood of polluted water, flash floods or the spot becoming a watercourse or a puddle after heavy rain. In electrical storms avoid camping in an open area with one standing tree or on the crest of a hill. If it is likely to be windy, don’t choose a hilltop as you may be blown away. The sides of a valley floor are less windy than the middle.

Campfires, once the only means of cooking food in the bush, are now becoming a rarity. Bushwalkers and ski tourers have seen the degradation of popular campsites resulting from the stripping of almost everything that will burn. Most experienced bushwalking leaders now encourage their group members to use liquid-fuel stoves. They are much more convenient and controllable, and are not very heavy to carry.

Before making a fire you should check to see that it can be lit safely and will not cause unacceptable environmental damage. Make sure that any fire is downwind of tents and well away from them. Observe all fire regulations, and note that in the parks which permit open fires, fire regulations apply all year round. Use an existing fireplace if available, and keep the fire as small as possible for your needs. Unless a fireplace is well established and in keeping with the surroundings, make sure that you remove it before your departure. First collect all unburnt rubbish in your litter bag, and then scatter the cold ashes and unburnt wood.

Bush huts

Many popular recreation areas in Australia are dotted with huts of various types. In bad conditions, the shelter and warmth offered by a hut can be life saving. However, to rely on hut usage is foolhardy in the extreme—you may not reach the hut, you may not be able to find it, or it may be full. Parties must always be equipped to camp away from huts.

In bad conditions it is inadvisable to rely on track notes when locating a hut. Though they can lead you to the general vicinity, such as the snow-pole line, the track end or the cattle yard, they generally cannot help during the last 200 to 300 m. Huts blend in with the environment, particularly under snow or mist conditions. It is best to reconnoitre the hut in fine weather. Look for and record distinguishing landmarks which will help you find it in bad conditions. After heavy snowfalls, it may take up to two hours to dig down to the door. Your trip plan should allow for this.

Huts and parties come in various sizes. A party of six in a hut that can accommodate 30 presents few problems. However, you as a leader may have to organise 30 people to sleep in a hut that is designed for six! Some of the following suggestions may help:

  • Use the fire primarily for warmth, as a fire is a great morale booster in bad weather. Avoid large fires, particularly with wooden chimneys. Cooking and drying of equipment have lower priority, although heating a large container of water on the fire can save stove fuel. Never leave the fire unattended.
  • Use tables for cooking with stoves. If cramped for space, send all but the cook from each group to bed.
  • During the meal, gear may be placed on the bunks.
  • Drying of clothes and equipment is preferably done after the meal. Sleeping bags should have the highest priority.
  • Hygiene is of the utmost importance, especially when the hut is crowded. Water sources near huts are notorious for making people ill—be especially careful about water sources and toiletting. If a toilet is provided, use it. See Chapter 24.
  • Collecting wood and water should be a communal task. Always leave a larger pile of dead wood than was present when you arrived. Do not cut living trees. It is terrible for the environment, and green timber does not burn readily in any case. Leave dry kindling by the fireplace. When using snow for water, ensure that your supply is not contaminated.
Many huts are equipped with log books which serve a multitude of purposes. They provide entertaining reading, a history of the hut and area, and useful comments about various routes to the hut. Most importantly, they should contain sufficient information for search and rescue purposes should the need arise. Even when leaving the hut for a short walk, the following details should be recorded: name of party, size, leader’s and members’ names, intentions for the day, planned route and destination, weather conditions, departure time and the expected time of arrival at destination.

When leaving, ensure the hut is cleaner than when you arrived. Carry out nonburnable rubbish and do not leave food behind, as it attracts rats and possums. Close the door, and replace the snow shovel near the roof or chimney.

Hut ownership varies, and some are privately owned and locked. Only in an extreme emergency would a party consider breaking in. If this occurs, the owners should be informed and the group should offer to repair damage. Other privately owned or maintained huts are left open for general use. Try to contact the owners/ maintainers prior to the trip to seek permission for their use. Other huts may have been abandoned by their owners and may be very dilapidated. Do not hasten their decay—they may still save a life. Where two or more parties arrive at a hut, leaders should confer to ensure that weaker or more needy members in all parties are given first access to facilities.

Hygiene

Do not use soap in water holes or streams as it will pollute the water for animals and other walkers. You should wash away from the stream using water from a water bag or water bottle. Always designate toilet areas well away from the water supply and the next day’s route (see Chapter 24). Before you leave a campsite, check that it is spotless.

Campfires

Fire regulations differ in various parts of Australia, but their intention—to prevent bushfires—does not. Each year, bushfires are unintentionally started by campers and bushwalkers.

All parts of Australia have provision for total fire bans. Be aware of the declaration of total fire bans in the district where you are walking and camping. On an extended trip, this generally means taking a small radio or seeking fire-ban information via mobile telephone. It is prohibited to light a campfire on a day of total fire ban, or to use a portable stove. Most parts of Australia have declared fire danger periods, which restrict burning off and similar activities, although campfires, portable stoves and barbecues may generally be lit during these periods provided:

  • the fire is no larger than one square metre
  • it is completely contained in a fireplace or trench
  • the area for three metres around and above the fire is completely cleared of flammable material
  • an adult is in attendance at all times
  • there is sufficient water on hand in case of an emergency
  • the fire is completely extinguished using water, not soil, before you leave.

If you do light a campfire, ensure it is completely extinguished and cold before you go to bed, and before you leave the site. Wind can spring up during the night and fan any embers into flammable material. Your tent could be the next one to get burned!

Many popular bushwalking and ski-touring areas have restrictions on the use of fires, to preserve habitat and reduce ecological damage. The restrictions designate ‘fuel stove only’ areas in many popular recreation areas. With the ever-increasing pressure on popular outdoor areas, the restrictions can only be expected to increase. In any case, campfires are less convenient for cooking, and are ineffective for warming cold or hypothermic people. If someone or a group is really cold, the best place for them is inside a tent in a sleeping bag, not shivering around a fire in the wind and rain with a burnt front and a freezing back.