How to find parks where I live

how to find parksAt the time of writing this post, it’s late May 2020 and Australia is going through a staged process of coming out of isolation. The world is striving to manage human health needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m seeing and hearing a lot of enthusiasm from people to get out and socialise more, but also to reconnect with outdoor spaces and places. That includes people who haven’t been especially interested in the outdoors before. I think people have become more aware of the role that getting out and about and connecting with the outdoors has on mental health and well-being.

Lots of people have been asking questions about how to find parks where they live, where they can go, what walks are around, how to get to places, what facilities are available in different locations, whether particular trails are suitable for young families or people with mobility issues, how to get started bush walking and so on.

In this article I’m going to begin answering some of those questions. I’ll give you a run down on what types of parks we have in Australia that you can access for outings, picnics, walks, bush walks and other activities. We’ll look at what the differences are between National Parks, State Forests, Regional Parks and privately managed parklands and what sorts of activities can you do there.

I wrote last year about the Goomburra Section of Main Range and in future posts I’ll share information about some of my other favourite parks as well.

What are National Parks?

National Parks and reserves are publicly owned landholdings that are protected and managed by Federal or State authorities. Many National Parks are open for public recreation activities and have infrastructure such as toilets, picnic shelters, campgrounds and marked walking trails. Some National Parks have designated mountain bike (MTB) trails and locations for abseiling, rock climbing, bouldering, and other adventurous activities. There are some National Parks with no facilities and some that are not open to the public.

If you want to know what National Parks are in your area, what facilities are there, what activities you’re permitted to do and so on, you can start by looking up the National Parks website in your state and check the Parks Australia website for information about the National Parks that are managed at the federal level. Here are some clickable links to help you find a National Park:

Queensland
New South Wales
Victoria
Tasmania
South Australia
Western Australia
Northern Territory
Australian Capital Territory
Parks Australia

Visitor Information Centres are dotted around the nation and are a great source of information about the National Parks in their areas.

Regional tourist associations will also have information including accommodation and hospitality options nearby.

Social media groups is another way to find out more about National Parks and other parks as well. Many people love to share their knowledge of different parks so this can be a fantastic way to get first hand information about people’s experiences and to ask questions that you might have. But don’t forget to check with National Parks for up-to-date information as well, especially about current closures. National Parks can be closed for maintenance, bushfires, extreme weather and other reasons so I recommend checking every time before you set out for a visit.

There are entry fees for visiting some National Parks and for camping which you may need to book ahead. Some National Parks have an online booking system for camping, and others are first-in-first-served. In certain circumstances you may need to apply for a special permit well ahead of time if you want to undertake activities such as running organised events or commercial tours.

What are State Forests?

State Forests are publicly owned lands that are designated for multiple uses and which may be managed by your state National Parks, plantation companies or other enterprises. There is a lot of variation in what activities are permitted in each state forest. Mountain biking is popular in some State Forests, as well as walking, bouldering, and 4WDing.

State Forests are also subject to closure for harvesting timber and other reasons, so once again it’s best to check what’s on offer before heading out. My suggestion is to get on the Internet and search for State Forests in your area to find out more. Very generally there are fewer facilities and less infrastructure provided at State Forests than in National Parks so you need to be prepared to be self-sufficient.

What are Regional Parks?

There are lots of other public parks and reserves that are not National Parks or State Forests. Many of these are managed by regional councils or other local authorities so we’ll refer to them here as Regional Parks. They could also be managed through partnerships between different authorities and even with the private sector. Because the management can vary from place to place, you’ll need to look up your local council government website, or contact your Visitor Information Centre or your regional tourist association for more information about what’s around and what you can do there.

I want to give another plug for Visitor Information Centres. They can be a wealth of information about all sorts of local attractions, not just parks. And they should be able to tell you or give you brochures about local marked or signed walks, places where you’re allowed to take your dog, and parks where there are public toilets. Information Centres are often staffed by volunteers who are enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge of their area.

How do I find out about privately owned places that I can visit?

There are some privately owned or managed properties that the public can access for recreation, often for a fee. I’m thinking here about campgrounds, bush retreats and farm properties which allow you to camp and/or use the property for bushwalking, bike riding, climbing, bird watching, photography, picnics and so on. These properties are usually required to comply with certain regulations or have a licence and insurance to allow visitors. Once again you can find out about them through Internet searches; social media groups; Visitor Information Centres; and travel, tourism and accommodation platforms.

Your mental health will thank you for it!

I hope this article has given you some helpful information about how to find parks in your region and what the differences are between National Parks, State Forests, Regional Parks and privately managed park lands. All of these parks offer a different range of outdoor experiences and activities. It’s absolutely vital for your mental health and overall well-being to get out, to be active and to connect with nature. And my aim is to help you to do that in ways that are safe and health-giving as well as good for the environment.

Listen to the audio version of this blog on the podcast!

You can listen here to the audio version of this article on the Outdoors is my Therapy podcast, or find it on your favourite podcast player and remember to subscribe so you won’t miss future episodes about places you can go to get your outdoor therapy!

Daisy Spoke

Discovering mountain biking as life’s ultimate parallel universe in her middle age, Kathryn Walton shares information and reflections in ‘Daisy Spoke’ that inform, inspire and empower women to a healthy and active lifestyle.

How to have an outdoors staycation

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In this article, I am going to share some ideas with you about how to have an outdoors stay-at-home holiday (or staycation) during isolation.

Isolation means holidays will be different this year

With much of the world practising various levels of isolation to protect themselves and everyone else from covid19, we’re all facing having our next holiday at home. Not only at home, but without even travelling away for picnics, bushwalks and day trips; no friends coming over for a BBQ and game of backyard cricket; no fishing expeditions, group rides or sleepovers.

If you’re anything like me and my family, you may not have ever had a home-based holiday that didn’t involve trekking from place to place, taking in a different mountain bike trail each day, or meeting friends for outdoor adventures in a National Park.

New experiences are simply adventures in disguise

So, being at home and not having the freedom to travel and socialise in person might be a new experience for you too. And new experiences are simply adventures in disguise! This is the perfect opportunity to create glorious memories in new and unexpected ways.

Here is a list of outdoors and nature-based mini-adventures that you can have right on your doorstep ….. literally! Many of these activities are family-friendly and suitable for most people if you are feeling well. If you’re a bit under the weather, I think you’ll find something here too if you take it at your own pace.

wild flowers in background with text that says adventures are for everyone

20 staycation mini-adventures to have on your own doorstep

  1. Backyard Picnic – Pack a delicious picnic for your family or house mates, grab some card games and a few books, spread the picnic rug in the backyard, put up your sun shelter or umbrella, sit back, relax and enjoy your picnic.
  2. Nature Craft – Collect nature items from your garden and craft them into a nature collage or arrangement. Search the Internet for ideas if you need inspiration.
  3. Sunset Wind Down – Set the alarm for half an hour before sunset, grab your favourite pre-dinner drinks and nibblies, and get outside to enjoy the colour show.
  4. Star Gazing – Prepare for an evening of star gazing by researching what you might expect to see in the night sky where you live. This is best done on an evening around the new moon phase, minimal light pollution, and a clear sky. Check out the apps that help you get the most out of your astronomical adventures.
  5. Sunrise Captures – Set the alarm for this adventure too if you’re not an early riser. Make sure you’re outside well before dawn to watch the sun greet the new day. Why not make it a regular adventure and capture the moments in photographs!
  6. Herb Gardens – Plant some herb seedlings or seeds in the garden or in pots. Seedlings might be ready for you to use in a holiday cooking adventure within a couple of weeks.
  7. Make a Movie – Use the video app on your smart phone or camera to film a documentary about your backyard or park if you are permitted to go there.
  8. Outdoor Dance Party – Create a playlist of your favourite music, put together some party food, and groove and move outside. If you have close neighbours you could invite them to join the fun ….. while they stay on their own side of the fence of course, and no sharing of food either. And as always be considerate of the noise level and timing of your dance party.
  9. Outdoors Yoga and Meditation – Take your indoors practice into the outdoors for the added benefit of fresh air, Vitamin D and all the goodness that nature has to share with you.
  10. Cubby House – Grab some old sheets or blankets and throw them over the top of the clothes line, the laundry trolley or other structure that’s suitable. Grab a good book, some board games or a picnic lunch and relax for the afternoon.
  11. Bushcraft – You’ll need some milled timber that you might have lying around in the shed or some sticks in the garden, as well as some rope or baling twine. Tie the sticks together into a tee-pee, chair, table or other construction that sparks your interest.
  12. Backyard Spotlighting – Spend some quiet time in your own yard after dark getting to know the night creatures and noises that often go unnoticed. Your eyes will adjust to the dark after a few minutes, but if you use a torch, take care to respect your neighbours as well as the wildlife that might be startled by the light.
  13. Outdoor Movies – Take your laptop outside either during the day or evening for an outdoor movie experience. Add to the atmosphere with popcorn and chocolate coated ice cream!
  14. Mindful Walk – You can use a mindful walk in your own garden to ground yourself and bring a sense of stability into your day. As you slowly walk around, observe how each step feels right through your whole body. You can do this in bare feet or wearing shoes.
  15. Working Bee – This is a great time to knock over that backyard job that seems to keep getting put off. Call your family or house mates together for a working bee followed by a celebratory shared meal. Don’t forget the before and after photos!
  16. Adventure Gear Check – Your staycation might be a timely chance to pull out your adventure gear and check it over – backpacks, panniers, hydration systems, sleeping bags, tents, boots, stoves and so on. Do you need to de-clutter? Upgrade? Repair? While you’re at it, you could set up the tent and camp out in your own yard for the night.
  17. Knotting – Grab a knotting book, You Tube tutorial or an app and get outside while you practise knots that come in handy on your adventures that take you further afield from home.
  18. Obstacle Course – Set up an obstacle course or an exercise circuit in your yard, and then get to it! You can create games and challenges using a stop watch, timer or a playlist of music.
  19. Birdwatching – Use a bird identification book, app or the Internet to identify the birds that visit your neighbourhood. You can record these in a journal or using one of the apps like eBird that has built-in data collection.
  20. Make-Your-Own-Adventure – Get your family and friends to help brainstorm mini-adventures that you can have without even leaving home. Perhaps you could connect in virtually with each other mid-adventure for a shared meal and a few laughs?

It’s not about coping – it’s about turning it into an adventure!

There will be many of us having a staycation over Easter and later in the year while we’re in isolation. It’s not a matter of learning to cope with it. It’s a matter of making the most of every opportunity to turn the moments into adventures and wonderful memories.

What will you do to have adventures on your staycation?

It’s over to you now – which of these mini-adventures are you going to try out first? What other ideas do you have for making the most of your staycation? How will your staycation strengthen your well-being?

bushwalking boots

You can listen to this article on the Outdoors is my Therapy podcast!

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Discovering mountain biking as life’s ultimate parallel universe in her middle age, Kathryn Walton shares information and reflections in ‘Daisy Spoke’ that inform, inspire and empower women to a healthy and active lifestyle.

How to keep exercising outdoors in the drought

“How CAN you keep exercising outdoors in the drought????”

I’m writing this blog post because over the past year lots of people have said they just don’t know how I can keep exercising outdoors in the drought. We typically think of nature as nurturing and health-giving, a place of solace and retreat. Being confronted by a shockingly dry environment with frequent bushfires, brown landscapes that used to be green, National Park closures, and dry waterways, it’s clear that nature has a shadow side as well.

flowers before the drought

“It’s REALLY tough!”

To be completely open, I’ve also questioned how I can keep exercising outdoors in the drought. The whole climatic situation has been tough. Really tough! The ripple effect of the drought has swept up farmers, wildlife, local businesses, ‘town’ people, and those in the cities. We’re all affected in various ways either directly or indirectly. There’s a pervasive and damaging sense of hopelessness, and like any emotion, it’s contagious. Yet a sense of hope is exactly what we need to survive difficult or traumatic situations. Where there’s hope, there’s life. Without it, we spiral into a self-fulfilling doom and gloom mentality.

Exercising outdoors has been very confronting. I can’t walk on my home trails without seeing or smelling death. The brown dust colours my view as if I’m looking through a sepia filter. Ticks are in plague proportions. Swarms of good ole slow country flies are driving me nuts. The heat is unbearable. And there’s not enough water for washing your hair after a workout.

My stress tank is overflowing! How about you?

My connection with nature runs very deep, as does my yearning to be active. But in this tough time, I also came down with shingles. My stress tank began to overflow. I had to do something differently. Bushwalking and bike riding whilst constantly thinking about the drought and feeling unwell was contributing to the stress.

So what CAN you do when being in nature is SO stressful?

You have to put your creative thinking hat on to find a solution when things get tough. What worked before is no longer effective. The questions people keep asking me (and that I wanted solutions for too) are:

  • How can I reconnect with the side of nature that heals and nurtures and teaches?
  • How can I enjoy my time outdoors without feeling overwhelmed?
  • What mindset shift do I need?
  • What actions do I need to take?
  • How can I keep exercising everyday?
exercising in the drought
Exercising in the drought has it’s challenges

So I set you to explore this new territory and experiment with the possibilities!

Here are 6 solutions that I’ve discovered. I hope they work for you too!

1. Podcasts

If you haven’t got on the bandwagon yet, then you really need to! Podcasts are audio shows, a bit like a radio show, that you can either stream from the Internet or download onto a device to listen to later. I download episodes from my favourite shows onto my phone, plug my ear phones in, and listen to inspiring, energising interviews while I walk. Instead of focusing my attention on my surroundings, I lose myself in the show and arrive back home with excitement for life and new ideas to put into action. Watch out for a future blog post about my favourite podcasts suitable for Android or Apple.

2. Set an Intention

Before heading out on a walk or ride, I often choose an intention – something I want to focus on or get out of my experience. This is a personal choice, so it can be anything at all. Some of the intentions I’ve set for myself go like this:
“Today I will notice new growth”
“Today I will focus on the sensations in my legs”
“Today I will find fun”
“Today I will discover colour”
“Today I will notice sounds”

3. Mindful Walking

With mindful walks I like to focus on one sense at a time and when I notice my mind has wandered away from my body, I gently bring it back to rest on my senses. I’ve especially enjoyed focusing on my sense of hearing – noticing the many different bird calls, the sounds of the breeze in the trees, my footsteps on the ground, insects buzzing around, wallabies bounding along. I usually focus on one sense for a few minutes, then move onto another one. With my sense of touch, I focus on how it feels to have clothes on my skin, feet in my shoes as I take a step, muscle movement, sunscreen on my face, leaves brushing my skin. When I focus on my sense of sight, I challenge myself to find colours and light and patterns that I don’t normally notice. You can also use a meditation app with a guided practice for mindfulness of walking.

4. Photography

I’ve discovered that taking photos along the way really helps me to bring my attention to the beautiful things. Sometimes I combine photography with an intention or a mindful walk so that I can collect images that bring me joy, and at the same time it helps my brain to collect evidence that there is hope.

5. Make it Social

Walking or riding with other people can be really helpful because the focus is on that invisible connection between myself and someone else. Give me a deep and meaningful conversation with a friend any day, plenty of laughs, a chance to debrief the stuff of life that drives me crazy, and to celebrate the rest. Sometimes, too, there’s a sneaky competitive edge that sees me running or riding faster when I’m with others. Inevitably that ends up in a heap of laughs too, gasping for air, heart pounding out of my chest, and the satisfaction that I’ve done my weekly interval training.

6. Mix it up

I’ve always said “I’m not a gym person”. I’ve built a business and identity around my outdoor adventures. BUT, being unwell and being in the drought has helped me re-set my rigid thinking about exercise. Instead of going outdoors everyday, I went to an aqua class with a friend, did loops of the river walk in town where it’s a bit greener, and took up an irresistible offer to join a gym. I’ve extended the variety of exercise I get which is a fantastic thing! It will help me enjoy and have greater success with my outdoor adventuring which I’m still doing at least a couple of times a week. Going to the gym also gets me focusing on my sadly neglected strength training (one of those things I really ‘should’ be doing at my age!), all whilst staying out of the flies and heat. I get to make new friends and pace myself sensibly (sort of) as I recuperate. At home I’ve also begun a more regular yoga practice – something I’ve been wanting to do but it’s been a lower priority until now.

To Sum Up: Choose Your Focus!

It’s really all about CHOOSING WHAT YOU FOCUS ON. When we feel like we have What's my plan of action to deal with this issue?no control or influence over a situation (like the drought), it’s important to push the pause button, think about it creatively, and choose your focus. Like many people, I’ve struggled with exercising outdoors in the drought. The ideas I’ve shared in this article have made a huge difference to me, my mental state and my physical health. My hope is that they help you too.

Let me know what works for you! Have you got some other ideas to share with our readers?

Daisy Spoke

Discovering mountain biking as life’s ultimate parallel universe in her middle age, Kathryn Walton shares information and reflections in ‘Daisy Spoke’ that inform, inspire and empower women to a healthy and active lifestyle.