This horrific COVID-19 pandemic is affecting us all. We're worried about the health and safety of our loved ones, stressed about the changes we see happening to our usual way of life (including, in many cases, loss of income), unsure how long we’ll need to distance ourselves from others, and – on a lighter, but still concerning note – wondering if our local grocery stores will ever have toilet paper on their shelves again when we happen to be there. It’s a terrible time, and we probably need the sense of peace that comes with immersing ourselves in nature – even if just in our own backyards – more than ever.
At this point, recommendations about being outside vary depending on your location in the world, your age, and your condition, and it's important to heed local advice and any restrictions. Thankfully, in Australia (for now, anyway), you can still embrace the outdoors as long as you don’t have COVID-19 or are otherwise required to self-quarantine at home due to recent travels or close contact with a confirmed case. However, even outside, you need to practice social distancing (keeping at least 1.5 metres, or six feet, away from anyone who isn't part of your household).
According to the Australian Government Department of Health's COVID-19 Social Distancing Guidance , COVID-19 is most likely spread from person-to-person through:
- direct close contact with someone while they’re infectious or in the 24 hours before their symptoms appear
- close contact with an infected individual who coughs or sneezes, or
- touching contaminated objects or surfaces (something an infectious person coughed or sneezed on) and then touching your mouth or face.
This guidance recommends staying more than 1.5 metres (six feet) from others if you’re not feeling well (and practicing good hand and sneeze/cough hygiene). However, since an infected person can spread this virus before showing any symptoms, maintaining this distance (or more!) from anyone who isn’t part of your household, whenever possible, is crucial.
I walk and/or run along a beautiful bayside path near my home every day, but my movements now are less straightforward. I give everyone a wide berth, moving onto the grass, at least 1.5 metres away, whenever I can. My route might look strange, but I’m probably getting even more steps as a result, and if someone who may not realise they have the virus sneezes or coughs (or I do), hopefully we’re not going to be infecting each other.
A week ago, my husband and I drove just under an hour north to Glass House Mountains National Park, where craggy, intrusive plugs rise dramatically from eucalypt forests, farmlands, and pine plantations.
Our first stop was 253-metre Mount Ngungun , which, thanks to its brevity (2.8km return) and sublime views over some of the other mountains, has long been one of my favourite area hikes. The views are no secret, though; whenever I’ve visited on a weekend over the past several years, this trail has been well travelled.
I don’t usually mind the presence of so many others here, as I understand the trail's popularity and think the fact that people are being active in the outdoors is a positive thing.
But this visit felt completely different.
Rather than relaxing because I was hiking, I was stressed by how many people we encountered (albeit briefly) at close range: easily a hundred by the time we ascended and descended. In many places, the trail is too narrow to give others much space as they pass – certainly not 1.5 metres' worth.
On the upper ridge, as I steadied myself by gripping rocks, I wondered whether anyone had sneezed on these rocks recently. And how many people had touched them?
My concerns didn't end there. I also worried one of the dozens of hikers near the summit would ask me to take a photo of them with their phone. I’d usually be happy to do this ... but now? My answer would have to be, "I'm sorry, but that's not a good idea."
From the ridge vantage, Mount Coonowrin, Mount Beerwah, and Mount Tibrogargan were as enchanting as ever, but, given my worries, the hike itself wasn’t enjoyable. I’ll definitely head back to Ngungun after this COVID-19 crisis is over, but not before (unless we’re able to go at a much quieter time).
After Ngungun, we drove to the Tibrogargan trailhead and set out on the 5.7km Trachyte Circuit. This hike, which leads through open woodland and heathland between Mount Tibrogargan and Mount Tibberoowuccum, felt completely different. We only saw a few other people, and we were usually able to maintain more distance as we passed one another than was possible on our earlier hike (though maybe not a full 1.5 metres' worth).
The views from the Jack Ferris lookout on Trachyte Ridge – towards the peaks of Beerwah, Tibberoowuccum, Ngungun, and Tibrogargan – were lovely. Finally, with no one nearby except for my husband, I began to relax and feel a bit more peaceful (though my worries about how the pandemic is affecting the world remained).
(The following text has been edited to reflect recent advice.)
On March 22nd, Australia's Prime Minister announced we should avoid all non-essential domestic trips; the following day, Queensland's Premier sent a clear message for Queenslanders to stay in our own suburbs. Given this, I’ll be sticking very close to home, embracing nature and the peaceful feeling it brings by paddle boarding on Moreton Bay when I can, stargazing in my backyard, and walking and running along the water (in my suburb) in anything but a straight line. And I'll be giving anyone sharing these outdoor spaces plenty of room when they pass ... along with a smile, which comes easier for me right now when others keep their distance.
Be safe, be well, be kind, think of how your actions might affect others, practice serious social distancing behaviours, stay connected to your family and friends in other ways, wash your hands often and thoroughly, and choose your outdoor adventures wisely.