Preparing for a trek on the BNT
There are so many different ways to prepare for a trip on Australia’s Bicentennial National Trail - this is a guide only and aims to outline some important points. I can only write about what we have done and how we prepared ourselves. Also, I am limited in time and words, so this is by no means a complete guide to preparation for the BNT – just a snapshot of some of the things that we consider to be most important, and have helped us along our journey.
Know about the BNT
Make sure you are familiar with the BNT and what it is. It sounds like a silly point to make, but it is one of the most important things you can do. Also, make sure you register your trip! It is crucial that organisation knows who is out on trail at any certain time.
Knowing where you are going, how far between towns, what the climate is in the area you are heading and what time of year is the best time to travel can be lifesavers – literally! Familiarise yourself with the rules of the BNT. You will be trekking through public land, private land, national parks and state forests to name a few – the rules of the BNT have been set up to ensure that there are no problems for trekkers and to support the people who are supporting the BNT by providing campsites or allowing access onto their properties.
Contacting the section coordinators is the best thing you can do and a must. They know each section of trail and will be able to provide you advice on their area. The other way to gain information about the trail is to talk to previous trekkers – most people have a blog or Facebook page where they post updates about their trips and we have gained some invaluable information by talking to other BNTers. When about to travel through each section, the local landholders are an invaluable source of up to date information about the area you are exploring.
To travel along the BNT, you need to use a combination of the BNT produced maps including the updated notes, the markers on trail, topographical maps and common sense. The trail is ever changing as our society changes, and the people at the BNT are constantly working to make sure the trail takes the best and safest route there is. Because of this, many trekkers (ourselves included) express frustration that the books are not 100% accurate (make sure you check your updates!) and the markers might be in the darndest places. But if you use all four tools mentioned before, you will be able to follow the trail with minimal problems and frustrations.
There is 5330 kilometres of trail and having a fully arrowed trail is almost impossible. We have heard of people removing markers, turning them the wrong way and even cockatoos taking a liking to the markers and pulling them off trees. We use the markers as a confirmation that we are on trail at this particular point, but where we go from the marker is our choice! I have to admit that when you are travelling through the bush and stumble on a marker, it is a great feeling to know you haven’t gone far wrong!
GPS is a valuable tool to use on trail and there have been many articles written on how to use it and what programs to use. If you are going to be using GPS, make sure you know how you are going to recharge the device – and if you lose your GPS, make sure you know how to navigate old school – with a compass and a map!
|Australia's premier long distance trekking route, the Bicentennial National Trail, stretches an incredible 5,330 kilometres (3,311 miles) from Cooktown to Healesville. The BNT was created with the USA’s 3,500-kilometre Appalachian Trail in mind, but this one, over five million footsteps in length, is the longest in the world. it crosses coach roads, stock routes, brumby tracks, rivers and fire trails and is inaccessible to vehicles at many points along the way. It is the longest marked, self-reliant trail in the world.|
Know your gear. Researching and trialling is the best way to pick your gear. Knowing what materials you are using and why you have chosen that particular material is very important. Over a long period of time on the trail, you will be amazed at how quickly your equipment will wear out, so knowing how to care for your gear and do emergency fixes is imperative. We carry a repair kit and are constantly doing preventative maintenance every few days to help reduce breakages. Weight is a big factor for walkers, bikers and horse riders , so weighing everything and choosing lightweight gear will stand you in good stead – the longer the trip the lighter the gear must be! If you haven’t used it in the first 2-3 weeks, get rid of it (unless of course it is your emergency gear!). We have managed to keep our gear light by having people at home who can post gear to us if we need it, For example, if it’s starting to get a bit cold, we can have our winter gear sent to us. Remember, on a trip like this, you only need the necessities.
Be prepared to make changes – all the weekend trips in the world won’t prepare you or your horses for the length of this trip. Troubleshooting and problem solving skills are a must!
List of Equipment Used by the Long Riders
Make sure you take enough food! Whether you decide to dehydrate food yourself, buy dehydrated food or purchase food at each town you are going through, planning times between resupplies and organising food drops ahead of you will ensure that you don’t run out of food. We carry an emergency two day supply of food at all times. It seems silly to talk about checking the weather in the food section, but knowing what terrain you are going through and what the weather is doing at the time might just stop you from getting caught in between rising creeks and going hungry! In drought affected regions, it is a good idea to learn how to “divine” water. There are many creeks/rivers that we turned up at which had no water in them, but by looking in the outside bend of the river, and looking for stock and tracking cattle pads, we were able to drink ourselves and our horses every day.
List of Food Carried by the Long Riders
If you are taking animals with you, you have to know how to care for them. Picking the ‘right’ horse/donkey/camel will make your life easier and ensure you get to the end! Knowing how much feed you need to give them, how to care for their feet and what to do in the case of rubs or saddle sores is paramount. You will be judged on the condition of your animals and what you do to take care of them; and this judgement will determine how much help people are willing to give you along the way! The trail has the best bush telegraph I have ever encountered, so don’t be surprised if the public knows who you are, the name of your horses and their condition before you even get there!
Make sure that you and your animals (if you are taking any) are ready to head off on the journey, whether you are just going for a week or attempting to complete the whole trail. Weekend or week trips are a good idea to start you off. Being 100% physically fit doesn’t matter, but having some level of fitness to get you out of emergency situations is important. If you are starting up in Queensland, the roads are fairly flat, and you and your animals can shorten the days, take rest days and work yourselves up to optimal fitness. Starting in Victoria is different story - you are straight into the mountains.
All the previous sections I have mentioned will help you to avoid these emergency situations, but all the planning in the world can’t completely prevent it. We carry a full first aid kit for both us and the horses – we have developed a great relationship with our vet over the years, and they are happy to help support us through our journey. Knowing how to use the first aid kit also helps, so making sure you have done a first aid course is essential.
There is limited phone reception along the trail, so we carry a PLB and a Satellite phone so we can let someone know where we are every night. Leaving a copy of the books behind so they can track your progress and know where you are is a great idea. There are many other great options on the market, so do your research and pick the best one for you.
Being prepared will ensure that you have the best experience on trail. For an almost comprehensive list of gear we have taken on the trip, have a look at our blog. Additional information is also accessible via Facebook by searching life on the trail.
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