Surviving in Australia is definitely more difficult than in other countries.
Here is a list of survival tips from my personal experience of travelling Australia, to prepare you to survive your trip to the most dangerous continent of the earth:
1. Beware of animals that might be poisonous
This one seems obvious, but sometimes you just don’t know what’s dangerous and what is not.
When I was weeding around a lake property for a job in Queensland during my first month in Australia, I was more concerned with snakes and spiders that lurked in the grass than with the cute little toads that where hopping around everywhere.
Guess what? Later my boss told me that they were just as poisonous as the king brown snake that I almost disturbed during her sunbath on a rock.
Lesson learned: Watch out for the obvious predators, but also be wary of any other animal in Australia. Even the innocent looking platypus has venomous spurs on it’s hind legs.
2. Watch out for kangaroos and emus
You might think that the cute fluffy kangaroos will be the least of your concerns in a country full of poisonous spiders, snakes, sharks and crocodiles. But they are a serious danger when you are on the road.
When I first came to Australia and saw the big cars equipped with heavy bullbars in front and the dozens of kangaroo corpses rotting every five meters on the road, I assumed Australians must be savage people who plough the poor kangaroos cruelly out of the way when they encounter them on the road.
It was only when me and my boyfriend were forced to drive after nightfall on a remote outback road that I learned why your car should be surrounded by steel bars in Australia: A huge kangaroo jumped into the side of our car and left us with a huge dent in the car, broken lights, damaged tires and a big shock.
They might be cute in daylight and I feel still terribly sorry for them when I see them dead on the road, but the truth is, that they can be a big danger to you while you are driving. They can jump out from the bush so quickly that you cannot see them coming and when they hit you, they can cause a lot of damage.
So if you buy a car in Australia make sure it has a sturdy front protection and try to avoid driving between dusk and dawn because that is the time where they are especially active and more likely to jump on the road. Also watch out for emus and cows who are just as prone to suddenly jump on the road from the sidelines.
3. Take warning signs seriously
At most rivers and beaches in Queensland and the Northern Territory you will see warning signs about crocodiles and stingers (poisonous jellyfish / stingrays) that advise you to stay clear of the water. Do so!
After a few weeks of fishing at the river without spotting a single crocodile I became careless and stood on rocks and landings close to, or even in the water. A few days later I heard that a crocodile that was over five meters long had been captured at the same spot just after I left. Said crocodile was transferred to a crocodile sanctuary near Townsville, where I could see it in action. I never will stand close to the water again:
Also the warnings about stingrays are there for a reason: We spotted a swarm of stingrays that swam past us in the shallow water of the Cairns Marina while we were fishing for crabs at night. Since they can kill you swiftly with a little poke of their poisonous tail, it is better to stay clear of the water at beaches where they are common.
The same goes for jelly fish infested waters, since the poison of the little Irukandji jellyfish, which is only 1 to 2,5 cm small can kill a person with it’s cardiac arrest inducing venom within an hour. If you get stung by one of those treat the sting with vinegar (there are stations with little canisters of vinegar at most beaches where the jellyfish are common. They look like poles and have emergency signs and the picture of a turtle on the top) and go to see a doctor, even if you are not in pain. The problem with the Irukandji sting is, that you don’t feel any pain until later. So even if you feel fine right after it don’t underestimate the danger and get treated properly. The vinegar destroys the nettle cells stuck to your skin, reducing the effect of the poison if applied quickly, but it cannot neutralize the venom that already entered your blood.
4. Don’t mess with the cassowaries
Cassowaries are big horned ostriches with a blue head that have very strong claws with which they can easily disembowel you when they feel threatened.
They attack jump-kicking you in the belly, so if you encounter one in the wild better hide behind a sturdy object like a tree or a car door that can protect you from the damage of their strong legs.
Cassowaries are a rare species whose population has been reduced to a few thousands. Therefore they are a protected species in Australia. You can encounter them only on Queensland’s Cassowary Coast, where they live in the rain forest areas around Mission Beach.
5. Bring plenty of water
In summer Australia can get pretty dry and hot.
Even in the tropical part of the country where it rains a lot, you will dehydrate quickly because of the heat that makes you lose a lot of water through sweat. You should have at least two liters of water with you for every hour you plan to be outside.
When my boyfriend and me went on a little hiking trip through the jungle that was supposed to take 6 hours we only took two bottles of water because we didn’t want to carry too much weight, but we ended up drinking all of it before we even reached the start of the trail and really regretted not taking more. The hike turned out to be much tougher than expected, which left us totally dehydrated and exhausted at the end.
That was a carelessness that could easily have killed us, as a recent incident shows, where a German couple got lost in the wilderness near Alice Springs on a hot day and died supposedly of dehydration or heatstroke:
6. Don’t invite the bite
If you go hiking in the jungle it is also advisable to bring a strong insect repellent, as the number of mosquitoes is especially high in humid areas as the forest where they like to hide in the shadow of trees.
Even though you might first think of dingoes or snakes when it comes to dangerous animals, you should not underestimate the deadly power of bugs!
Diseases like Zika, Malaria and Dengue Fever can be transmitted by the bite of these little pests, so be careful not to fall victim to their attacks. If you sleep in your car or a tent, put up a mosquito net around you. Use repellent on your skin and keep mosquitoes away from your living areas with mosquito – coils and citronella oil.
7. Protect yourself from the sun
I always bring a light rain jacket when I go for a hike in jungle areas or areas where I am exposed to strong sunlight, because it saved me many times from very aggressive bugs and sunburn. A hat should also be worn whenever you go outside in Australia, because the strong UV-rays will quickly burn the skin on your face and head, even through your hair and you should always use lots of sunscreen.
On my first day of doing farm work in Yungaburra I made the mistake to wear a tank top for work. Even though I used a lot of sunscreen in the morning and thought I would be save, it was washed away by my sweat during the first few hours of work and I got the worst sunburn of my life!
A hole layer of skin peeled off of my back on the same day, only to reveal more burned flesh underneath that peeled off for days after that and caused me a lot of pain in that first week. Ever since I wear long sleeves if I go outside for more than an hour, even though it is hot. If you wear something white it is more bearable and once you got burned, you will appreciate the protection, trust me.
Sturdy shoes are also advisable if you go anywhere near the deserty inland areas, because there are thorny shrubs that will pierce your feet if your soles are not thick enough.
8. Watch out for hungry birds
If you go camping anywhere in Australia, beware of hungry birds! I am not kidding!
Those guys are just as eager to eat a nice steak for dinner as you are, so make sure to have either some kind of roof over your head while you are cooking (look for BBQ – areas with a roof) or wear a hat and sunglasses to protect your eyes and head from their beaks when they attack and have a stick or something nearby to shoo them away.
From the first day I entered Australia I have been surprised about how aggressive some birds are. In one hostel in Cairns I got a attacked by a hawk that had chosen the pool as its personal waterhole and didn’t allow anyone to go near it.
When I went to a park in Cairns the day after that I accidentally passed by near the area where some seagulls where nesting and they chased me for twenty minutes, trying to peck at my eyes and charging down on my head repeatedly, which gave me a good fright. I actually ran so fast that my sandals broke and I had to hobble back home with holes in my cap and my feet getting burned on the hot asphalt. Not a good day.
At Alligator Creek, which is a popular camping spot near Townsville we spent one night trying to cook while a big swarm of kookaburras sat on the trees around us, making scary noises and coming closer and closer to our table, waiting for a chance to grab our meat and fly away with it.
We had read in some reviews of the place that people before us had had their dinner stolen by them, so it was hard to relax while having them around. We ended up eating in the car, because it felt saver to have a roof over our heads.
The turkeys on the other hand are quite nice. Even though they are big and go eagerly for any food that is left on the picnic tables, they always went away peacefully after my boyfriend shared a few spoons of pasta with them.
At another resting area on the roadside where we attempted to make some pasta and chicken, a bunch of hungry crows launched an attack on us, so watch out for those guys as well when you are cooking outside!
9. Be prepared for bad road conditions
The roads around the coast are better than the ones that go further inland, but wherever you drive, be prepared for emergencies. Bring plenty of water in case your car breaks down, since you will probably have to wait in the heat for hours before anybody passes by to help you.
Australia is a big continent and distances between towns are much bigger than in Europe. It often takes between two or five hours to reach another civilized haven, so make sure you have everything you need to fix your car right with you, as you will not be able to walk anywhere to get help.
Keep a jerrycan of spare petrol in case you have to take an unexpected detour and always have one or two spare tires, as the roads will claim one sooner or later. Also always have a car jack with you, since there are invisible holes in some dirtroads that are filled with so called “bulldust”, which is very fine sand in which your tire sinks as easily as in water.
We thought with our powerful 4WD nothing could happen to us, but then we ended up in this situation:
We got free using our car jack to lift the wheel in the hole until we could put some bricks and wood under it that we found on the roadside. We built a little bridge under the tire so the car could roll out of the hole, but without the jack we would have been in trouble, being stuck in the desert at 40C degrees with no phone reception and the next town more than 200kms away.
The lack of reception is something you should always consider before leaving a city. Make sure somebody knows where you are headed to, so they will come looking for you, if you don’t arrive at your destination. In most remote areas people are also equipped with walkie – talkies to be able to contact other drivers in the area to call for help when their car gets stuck.
The most important thing if you get stuck on the road however, is to stay with your car instead of trying to walk back to the city. The chances of getting help are much higher if people can see you from the distance with your car. Walking alone along the street can be very dangerous, not only because of speeding cars, but also because of weather and wildlife. And if you get lost in the bush, the people who come looking for you will hardly be able to find you quickly enough without tire tracks and a big vehicle that they can spot from the helicopter.
10. Check for snakes and spiders
One thing that is good to do in almost every country with venomous insects like spiders or scorpions is to check your shoes before you put them on. Shake them or step on the top first before you slip into them, since insects and scorpions like to hide in them and will bite you when you put them on.
Also be careful when you lift big things like rugs or metal plates from the ground, as snakes like to lie underneath them. Always lift it from one side first and stand behind the part that stays on the ground, so that the item is between your body and the snake, so that the surprised animal can run away from you and does not end up biting you because you block its escape route.
Read also: Australia’s Most Venomous Snakes: A Guide