Australia is a wonderful place to explore on vacation. The temperature is enjoyable even in the winter months, and the people are open and friendly. The eastern coast has always been popular, and the western coast and Perth are increasing in popularity. Tasmania is beautiful for walking outdoors, with expansive forests and meandering rivers. A traveler could spend years in Australia, and only see a tiny fraction of all there is to experience. The sunshine, expansive beaches, and natural wonders make it a popular destination for people searching for the vacation of a lifetime. But to return from your trip with your life intact, be sure you do your research ahead of time so you know what dangers may await you in an unfamiliar country.
Australia is traditionally seen as an easy destination, because most of the population speaks English, there is good public transportation, a low crime rate, and solid security in public places. But like most places, there are dangers wherever you go. There are venomous snakes, spiders, and fish, as well as poisonous jellyfish, sharks, and crocodiles. Add that to the natural dangers of intense sunlight and strong currents, and there are lots of things for foreigners to learn about. However, the 20 million Australians who live there relatively unscathed and the Aborigines who have been there for thousands of years say there is nothing for visitors to be concerned about.
Sharks and crocodiles are the most publicized hazards that affect visitors to Australia each year. Several deaths occur each year by crocodile attacks, as well as several fatal shark attacks, so many people around the world think of Australia as a hostile place for unsuspecting travelers. Record numbers of saltwater crocodiles have caused the closure of some sites in the Northern Territory's Kakadu National Park, and sharks are regularly spotted off the coast near Kangaroo Island in South Australia. Bob Cooper, a desert survival instructor in Western Australia, warns tourists to pay attention to posted warnings without venturing into dangerous areas. "It's always well-signposted where crocodiles are and you shouldn't go there," he says. "Shark attacks are usually on people either swimming with seals or people in open areas where it's considered unsafe. For the normal person going for a swim, they are not a consideration."
Australians tend to exaggerate the dangers inherent in their country, but tourists should still be aware of them and use common sense, says Cooper. Although nothing in the wild will come out and bite you, if you invade a creature's territory it will probably defend itself. There are no plants that are deadly unless you eat them, and 90% of spider and snake attacks are due to people provoking them by playing with them or unsuspectedly encountering them. "We have the top 10 venomous snakes in the world but you just leave them alone," Cooper said. "I've been playing with numbers 3, 6, and 10 today myself." Fortunately, anti-venom is very effective and is in ready supply at hospitals.
To avoid unpleasant encounters with creatures in the water, don't swim near seals or at sunset, and never go swimming alone. Avoid all areas that are specifically posted as areas where sharks or crocodiles have been seen. An even more dangerous threat to swimmers is one that you might not even see. The box jellyfish is one of the world's most deadly sea creatures, and it is not the least bit aggressive. There are dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries each year attributed to encounters with box jellyfish, because there is virtually no chance of surviving the venomous sting without immediate treatment. The pain is so excruciating and overwhelming that a victim can go into shock and drown before reaching shore. Box jellyfish are more numerous and closer to shore between October and April, but they are not seen near the Great Barrier Reef.
The blue ring octopus may seem like a cute and interesting creature to pick up for a closer look, because it's only about the size of a golf ball. But its poison is powerful enough to kill an adult in minutes, and there is no known antidote. The only treatment is hours of heart massage and artificial respiration until the poison has worked its way out of your system. The venom causes motor paralysis, so the victim's eyes are fixed with dilated pupils, but the senses of the patients are often intact. The victims are aware but unable to respond. The poison is not injected by a bite, but is contained in the octopus's saliva. Injuries have occurred only when an octopus is picked up and provoked, or stepped on accidentally.
People who intend to handle flowers or plants should always wear gloves because many spiders do bite. Anyone picking anything or shifting or handling rocks should take the same precautions. The funnel-web spider is a large spider, with a body length up to 2" and a total size of 10" or more. The spider burrows in moist, cool, sheltered places such as beneath rocks and in rotting logs, and when disturbed they can bite aggressively and repeatedly. The bite of the funnel-web is dangerous and can cause serious illness or death. Bites are most prevalent during summer and autumn when males leave the burrows in search of females. Most people are bitten on the hand or leg, and the venom attacks the nervous system, producing local pain, mouth numbness, vomiting, abdominal pain, sweating, and salivation. Anti-venom is available, so medical attention should be sought immediately.
A visitor to Australia should know ahead of time about the dangerous creatures that should be avoided at all costs. But according to Cooper, the biggest threats to tourists are dehydration and heat exhaustion. "The big thing that gets to lots of tourists coming to work or visit is the vast distances between places and the heat." A lot of people suffer from no understanding that the Outback areas are remote," Cooper says. "People need to do their homework on survival techniques and not rely on technology because there are areas where nothing [such as mobile phones] works." It can take emergency services three or four days to find stricken tourists, and bodies have been known to lie for a week or more before anyone finds them. Vital tips for traveling in the Outback are to check the mechanics of the vehicle, take plenty of water with you, check road conditions before leaving, and notify local authorities before setting out.
It seems that the most important thing to pack before heading to Australia, just like any other country on Earth, is common sense.