TRAVELLING SAFELY
There's nothing we Aussies love more than to put the fear of God into poor unsuspecting newbies by bragging about just how lethal our country is. Redback spiders, killer snakes, giant crocodiles; we've got them all! But the truth about our wildlife is .. if you leave them alone, they'll pretty much leave you alone. Think about this... twenty million of us call Australia home, and we're still here to talk about it!
THE THREAT OF DANGER POSED BY OUR NATIVE ANIMALS IS THE MAIN CONCERN VOICED BY INCOMING TOURISTS TO AUSTRALIA. LUCKILY, CAIRNS UNLIMITED IS HERE TO DISPELL ALL THE MYTHS AND ENSURE THAT YOU TRAVEL SAFELY IN OUR COUNTRY.
People from around 200 countries have migrated to Australia, making ours one of the most culturally diverse nations on the planet. Australia is a safe country compared to almost anywhere in the world. We have strict gun control laws, low crime rates, and our cities are all well patrolled by police. You should take normal precautions against bag snatching and pickpocketing, although the incidence of such crimes is also low. Political unrest is generally limited to throwing eggs at the Prime Minister while he's on the campaign trail. Aussies are open, friendly people and you will find a warm welcome in Australia, provided you don't criticise our beer (you can criticise our Prime Minister!), and when asked "So, howdya' like our country?", you state emphatically that it's the 'best country in the world!'

But as with any country or region, there are some local dangers that can be best avoided if you are forewarned and prepared. So, as promised, we'll begin with our lovely native animals.

SNAKES

Australia is home to nine of the top ten deadliest snake species on the planet. In fact of the top 25 species, 21 of them are native to our shores. Top of the list is the Inland Taipan or imaginatively named 'Fierce Snake'. The maximum yield of venom recorded from one bite of the Inland Taipan is 110mg. That would probably be enough to kill over 100 people or 250,000 mice. Sounds spectacular, doesn't it? But the Fierce Snake is found only in relatively uninhabited areas of south-western Queensland, so fortunately, not many people get bitten. Following a close second is the Australian Brown Snake. One 14/000 of an ounce of the Brown Snake's venom would be enough to kill a human. How can we live in such a country, you ask?

Well, first you have to understand that snakes are shy animals. They would rather slither away than risk any type of encounter with humans. Also, snakes have a intriguing method of 'measuring' the amount of venom in their bite. Australia's snakes rarely envenom when biting defensively. Since the act of delivering venom is completely voluntary, all venomous snakes are capable of biting without injecting venom into their victim. Such snakes will often deliver a “dry bite” if they are just trying to scare you away, rather than waste their venom. Envenomation occurs in less than 1 in 10 bites.
Of the estimated 100,000 snake bite fatalities worldwide every year, the continent of Australia usually accounts for between one and three of them. Snakebites are believed to have resulted in 38 deaths in the past 24 years in Australia, and of those 38, three were trained herpetologists bitten while handling snakes, five occured as a result of people trying to kill the snake, four were cases of people handling a venomous snake believing it to be harmless, and twenty were bitten after accidentally treading on the snake.
So if you follow a few simple precautions, there is no reason why you should ever come into contact with one of our scaly friends. Firstly, never aggravate any dangerous animal, snakes included. Don't try to capture a snake. Wear substantial socks and boots when bushwalking. Sandals might be cooler in the tropical humidity, but they don't provide any protection. Don't go lifting up large rocks or fallen logs, cause you-know-what may be already be hiding from you under there, and may not be too happy to be found. And finally, IF a snake is within striking distance and you are lucky enough to notice it - don't panic. Stay still, and wait for it to back down.

But if -after taking all the precautions- you are still unfortunate enough to come into contact with a snake, the first-aid treatment is simple: bandage firmly, splint and immobilise. Then, follow these steps:

1. Apply broad firm pressure bandage over the bite and as much of the limb as possible. After covering the bite, continue up the limb and, if you have sufficient bandage, back down again.
2. Immobilise with a splint. On leg- splint in straight position. On forearm, splint to the elbow and support the arm in a sling.
3. Keep the victim still. Bring transport to the victim and take them to the nearest hospital. The emergency phone number in Australia is 000.

DO NOT cut or excise the area or apply an arterial torniquet! Both these measures are now considered to be ineffective and may make the situation worse. DO NOT wash the area of the bite! Medical staff may be able to take a swab of the trace venom to identify the snake species, which will allow them to treat you more effectively.

SPIDERS

Redback spiders are possibly the most famous, or inafamous, of Australia's arachnids. Not unlike the Black Widow in appearance, their bite can cause a painful reaction and does have the potential to be deadly. Perhaps you've never heard of the old Australian bush ballad... 'There was a Redback on the toilet seat when I was there last night. I didn't see him in the
dark but, boy, I felt his bite.'
The Redback on the Toilet Seat, Slim Newton, 1972.

We say they have the potential to be deadly because although there have been 13 deaths attributed to the bite of the Redback, the most recent fatality was in 1955, the year before the antivenom became widely available. Redbacks are almost never present in natural surroundings, so they're one species you don't have to worry about when you're bushwalking. The incidence of redback bites in Australia has decreased significantly since the reduction in the number of outdoor lavatories. They tend to be most common on construction sites, and areas where the natural environment has been disturbed, so they're little threat to the average tourist. But if you see a small dark brown or black spider with a reddish orange smear on its back, better leave it well enough alone. Again, if you suspect that you've been bitten, better to seek treatment than wait ot see if it gets worse.

In fact, we have a few other potentially nasty spiders, so maybe just you use your common sense and just stay away from all spiders while you're in Australia.

SHARKS

In the water, there are other problems to deal with. Yes, there's sharks. Biggies, too. But there is a much higher risk of drowning than from being killed by an encounter with a shark. In fact, you're more likely to be struck by lightning. Sharks simply don't see us as a food source, and most attacks on humans are thought to be a case of mistaken identity: a surfer paddling out on his surfboard looks a lot like a turtle from under the water.

Again, if you take care, you can reduce the risk. Don't go swimming way offshore by yourself. Stay in groups. Don't swim with pets or domestic animals, or near people fishing or spear fishing, or with an open wound. And -do I really need to say it- don't swim in an area where sharks have been sighted.

MARINE STINGERS

Jellyfish, in other words. There are hundreds of varieties of jellyfish, many of them completely harmless, some that give you an irritating sting, some that will really spoil your day, and some that.... well, you know. Marine stingers, particularly the Box Jellyfish, which is one of the worst ones, inhabit the tropical waters around Cairns during the warmer months. It is simply not advisable to go swimming unprotected at that time. They're non-aggressive, but if you bump against them, they will release their toxic cells in defence.

Many of the beaches around Cairns have special floating 'stinger net' enclosures, giving you a safe place to swim. Use them!

If you go to our CAIRNS BEACHES page, you'll see which beaches do have stinger protection. You'll find signs at most of the tourist beaches, warning of the potential danger of marine stingers, and in a box next to the sign, you may find a bottle of clear liquid. It's vinegar, the best first-aid available because it deactivates the tentacles. Ice packs can also help to relieve the pain. One more time, if you're stung, seek medical advice.

BLUE RINGED OCTOPUS

This is a strange one. Who would ever think an octopus could be deadly? Well, the Blue Ringed Octopus is a shy creature but it can be dangerous if disturbed. The Blue Ringed Octopus has been found to produce two distinctly different types of venom: one which it uses to stun prey such as crabs, and the other which unfortunately, it uses only to ward off apparent predators, such as humans. Ironically, its flourescent blue rings only become visible when it is about to attack. There is no antivenine, so please, don't go playing with small octopus-looking creatures, and then we'll all be happy.

STONEFISH

As you can see by the photograph, the Stonefish is a mottled brownish grey-green in colour, which gives them camouflage from predators. Unfortunately, looking like an encrusted rock or lump of coral also makes them quite difficult for us to notice and avoid. Reef Stonefish may have patches of yellow, orange or red. They are mostly found in amongst reefs or rocks, which makes sense, given their colourings. They are also non-aggressive, but Stonefish have a number of sharp, tough spines in their dorsal fin which can inject a highly toxic venom if they are trod on. Very hot water (not scalding) can be used to relieve the pain, but medical treatment should be sought. Although the venom causes extreme pain, there have been no recorded deaths from Stonefish since European arrival in Australia, over 200 years ago, and we have since developed an antivenom... just in case.

CROCODILES

On average only one person a year is killed by a crocodile in Australia, in comparison with three deaths from bee stings. But that's no reason to be careless. Of all the dangerous animals discussed above, the crocodile is the only one which will deliberately hunt humans. In Australia, we have two distinct varieties: the Saltwater Crocodile and the Freshwater Crocodile. Just your luck that the area around Cairns and Tropical North Queensland is home to the 'Salties', the larger and more aggressive of the two. Salties can be identified by their rounded snouts as opposed to the narrow snout of the Freshwater Crocodile, but really... if you spot any croc -even a baby- just stay away!

Crocodiles are a genuine threat in Tropical North Queensland, and it pays to keep this in the back of your mind. They are a predator and they do view humans as food. Unlike the other dangerous animals discussed above, you don't necessarily have to disturb a crocodile to be at risk of attack; it will attack you if it can! DON'T swim in saltwater creeks or tidal rivers, DON'T camp near riverbeds or leave food or rubbish around your campsite. A crocodile will launch itself out of water like a missile, with no warning, so keep yourself, children and dogs well away from the water's edge in croc zones. If you do come face to face with a crocodile, run away in a straight line. Crocs will outrun you for about ten metres, after which they will run out of energy. They will outswim you all day long.

Almost all fatal crocodile attacks in Australia over recent decades have been the result of carelessness. In one instance, a young guy left a party to wash his face in the Barron River, only to find a croc waiting for him. He was incredibly lucky, and escaped with just lacerations. There was a well known case just north of Cairns, when a group of revellers decided to go for a late night swim in the Daintree River. They were all locals, and well aware of the dangers. A forty year old woman suffered a fatal attack that night.

So let's say you're driving your rental car in Tropical North Queensland, and your engine starts to overheat. You check the radiator and sure enough, you're low on water. You have a water bottle, and there's a small river nearby. Maybe you could just go and collect some water...

KANGAROOS

Although we must remember that kangaroos are a wild animal, and can attack quite ferociously if they feel threatened, the biggest risk posed by our giant macropods is to motorists. Kangaroos can travel at almost sixty kilometres an hour over short distances, and can cover over ten metres metres in a single bound. An adult red kangaroo can grow as tall as two metres and weigh up to eighty kilograms. They are a formidable obstacle if struck by your little rental car at high speed. And it's no fun for them, either!

Some of the roads around Tropical North Queensland are particularly hazzardous for kangaroos. The best way to prevent an accidental encounter with a roo is simply to be vigilant. Drive slowly, especially around dusk and dawn when the roos are out feeding, and watch the road ahead.

When approaching a kangaroo, in the wild or in a wildlife park, take care. It's rare for the usually docile animals to attack humans, but they will if they are threatened or bothered. A kangaroo has a strong spur on each of its powerful back legs, which it can use to slash attackers... don't let it be you!


BIRDLIFE

"Don't tell me even the birds are dangerous!" I hear you scream. Well, yes and no. Australia's largest land animal is the Cassowary, a flightless bird not too dissimilar to an emu or an ostrich, but with a heavier build. Cassowaries are found only in parts of Tropical North Queensland, and clearing of rainforest areas has divided their population into several small fragile remnants. They are now a protected species, and it is believed that there are only 1500 remaining.

These birds can stand almost two metres high, and weigh up to 80 kilograms. They have powerful legs and feet that enable them to run up to 30 kilometres an hour and jump as high as one and a half metres. Its plumage is largely black, except for a red collar and a blue head, topped with a tough keel shaped plate that is supposedly useful for chasing through the dense rainforest.

A Cassowary's feet are equipped with sharp claws and the inner toe is formed into a long dagger-like claw that can be a formidable weapon. They are easily provoked and will protect their nest at any cost. Stay well clear of this animal. If you happen to encounter a Cassowary do not run from it, face the bird and just back away slowly. By jumping feet first the sharp claws on its inner toes can easily rip flesh. Humans have been killed by cassowaries, but as with KANGAROOS, they pose a far greater threat -to themselves and to us- as an obstacle on the road than from a direct attack.

Springtime in Australia is also known as 'magpie season'. The Magpie is a native species of bird, very different to the British Magpie. Australian magpies defend their territory quite enthusiastically during nesting season by swooping and sometimes pecking any perceived predators. Normally, Magpies are defending against real predators like cats and larger birds but some of them also attack cyclists and pedestrians. The magpies nesting season in Queensland is from early August to late November. While their territory can be as large as a few hectares, they will normally only attack within about a hundred metres of their nest site.

The bird's intention is to drive the perceived intruder away from the nest, not to cause injury. Leaving the area quickly almost always stops the swooping. Unfortunately, they tend to swoop from behind, and unless you know to recognize the characteristic squawk, you will not receive any warning of their first strike. Wearing a hat and sunglasses or carrying an umbrella will help prevent injury. Magpies seem to particularly detest cyclists, and bike riders should dismount and walk through the territory; that is if you really have to pass that way.

It is commonly believed that Magpies won't swoop if you are watching them, and if you find yourself under attack, you should turn and 'stare them down'. However, if you have ever seen a magpie's strong, sharp beak close up, you may be reluctant to expose your baby blues in his direction!

We have a saying in Australia that it's impossible to maintain your dignity while being swooped by a Magpie! The best protection is to simply avoid known magpie swooping areas at that time of year. And understand.. they are only trying to be good parents!

SAFE SWIMMING

Too many tourists drown on Australia's beaches every year, mostly because they don't heed the warnings. The long strips of beach common on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, in southern Queensland, have extremely strong "rip tides" that most people are unable to detect or handle. This is why we have lifeguards on the beaches, and flags to designate the safe (patrolled) areas for swimming. Beaches are only patrolled during certain hours, so if the flags aren't up, then there's no one patrolling -and you shouldn't swim.

The tropical waters in North Queensland are protected by the Great Barrier Reef, and are generally quite calm. But still, it's worth following the safety precautions. In 2003, a Cairns man was awarded the Governor's Bravery Award for saving a young boy from a strong current at Yorkey's Knob, just north of Cairns City. The boy's father was swept away by the current, and his body was found two days later. Most Cairns beaches are patrolled by professional lifeguards. If you visit the Cairns City Council's website, you can find details of the services offered on each beach.

DRIVING IN AUSTRALIA

Despite the vast distances between towns, and the relatively small population to fund the cost of road infrastructure, Australia's roads are among the safest in the world. Since the late 1960's, the number of fatalities per year has continued to decline significantly. By the dawn of the 21st century, the number of road fatalities had decreased to less than half the 1970 rate. In proportion to the increasing population, the trend is even more dramatic, with the 1970 rate of almost 30 road deaths per 100,000 population now reduced to between 8 and 9.

Australian motorists -these days anyway- tend to travel at a much slower average speed than their counterparts in Europe or the US. The maximum national speed limit is 110 kilometres per hour, with many highways still adopting the older 100 kph speed limit. If you drive at over 120 kph, you will be overtaking almost every vehicle on the road. You will also very likely be stopped by the police and find yourself with a heavy penalty. It is this police crackdown that has been credited with reducing our road toll so significantly.

Weapons that the police now have to battle the road toll include random breath testing, compulsory breath testing on drivers involved in an accident, nationally consistent 0.05 driver blood alcohol limits, mobile radar systems, speed cameras and red light cameras, mass public education and media campaigns, and increased penalties and loss of licence for repeated infractions.
The wearing of fitted seat belts in motor vehicles (even if you're a passenger in a taxi!) and the wearing of protective helmets by motorbike riders and their passengers is compulsory. In 1992, the state governments brought in legislation making the wearing of bicycle helmets compulsory. At that time no other country had compulsory wearing of bicycle helmets. Using a mobile phone while driving is also illegal.

Australia is a big country, and our low population density in some outback areas makes for long driving times, often with 'nothing much' in between, except the occasional passing ROAD TRAIN. Here are some indicative travel times between capital cities and around Tropical North Queensland:

Perth to Adelaide: 30-32 hours (approx. 2700 kilometres)
Adelaide to Melbourne: 8-10 hours (approx. 750 kilometres)
Melbourne to Sydney: 12-14 hours (approx. 1100 kilometres)
Sydney to Brisbane: 11-13 hours (approx. 1000 kilometres)
Brisbane to Cairns: 20-22 hours (approx. 1700 kilometres)




Cairns to Cape Tribulation: 2.5 hours
Cairns to Cooktown(Coast Road): 5 hours
Cairns to Port Douglas: 1 hour
Cairns to Kuranda: 40 minutes
Cairns to Palm Cove: 30 minutes
Cairns to Innisfail: 1 hour
Cairns to Atherton: 1.5 hours
Cairns to Townsville: 4 hours
Cairns to Cardwell: 2.5 hours
Cairns to Tully: 2 hours
Cairns to Mission Beach: 2 hours


Major highways are well serviced, but anyone leaving sealed roads anywhere in inland Australia is recommended to take advice from locals, carry sufficient spare fuel, spare parts, spare tyres, matches, food and water (minimum 10 litres per person per day). It is recommended that you advise a friend or relative of your itinerary, and even register your itinerary with authorities. Stranded motorists can -and do- die in Austrlia's outback every year, usually because they wander off to try to find help. Authorities strenuously advise that you stay with your vehicle, as you will be much more likely to be found.

The Captain Cook Highway north of Cairns is now sealed all the way to Cape Tribulation, and previous restrictions regarding the driving of rental cars on this stretch have now been lifted. The road from Cape Tribulation to Cooktown is unsealed and is suitable for four wheel drive vehicles only. If you are planning to leave the major highway network, especially in the northern regions of Australia (and even moreso during the wet season between December and April, when some regions receive over 80 percent of their annual rainfall -up to 450mm per month!) be sure to check the current ROAD CONDITIONS.

Foreigners planning to drive in Australia can find more information HERE

Just watch out for KANGAROOS!, and remember to drive on the right side of the road. I mean... the left side!

HITCHHIKING

Hitchhiking in Australia, although not as common as it once was, is still relatively safe and is a great way to get from place to place inexpensively and to meet local people. Of course, there is an inherint potential risk in accepting a ride from someone you don't know. But the statistics show that a hitchhiker is far more likely to come to harm as a result of a road accident than from foulplay on the part of the driver.

There are a number of tricks to making your hitchhiking more successful, and also reducing the perceived risks and dangers. If you want to know more about hitchhiking in Australia -and particularly in Tropical North Queensland- please visit our HITCHHIKING page.

HEALTH AND DISEASE

There are no special vaccinations necessary for travel to Australia. There is no risk of Malaria in Australia, nor is there any risk of Yellow Fever, Polio or Rabies. It is recommended to use insect repellant to protect against mosquito borne diseases such as Ross River Fever, so named because it was first detected in the Ross River area near Townsville, in North Queensland. Infection is more common in rural areas, and along river systems. Symptoms of an infection include a rash, fatigue, and a fever with severe pains in the joints and muscles. It is not life threatening, but under certain circumstances these symptoms may continue for several weeks and months. Well worth avoiding; and since it is mosquito borne, if you protect against the mozzies, you protect against the disease.

Mosquitoes are most active soon after dusk and just before sunrise, and they thrive in areas of stagnant water such as swamps, gutters, ponds, puddles, and water tanks. Using effective repellant, and wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, especially in the evenings and early mornings, helps prevent mosquito bites. Repellants containing at least 20-35% DEET (N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide) or 20% picaridin (Bayrepel) are more effective, but do not expose these chemicals to the eyes, mouth, or open wounds. DEET may also be applied to clothing. Don't sleep with the window open unless there is a screen, or you can use use a mosquito coil, which fills the room with insecticide through the night. If camping, make sure you have mosquito netting, preferably impregnated with insect repellent.

DEET is a very strong chemical, and it is not recommended to use repellants containing high concentrations of DEET or picaridin on children less than two years of age. If necessary, it may be applied to children's clothing. Permethrin is an alternative repellent, but it should only be applied to clothes.

Wearing boots and socks and using insecticide on your clothes when in forested areas also helps protect against biting ants, leeches and ticks. Ticks usually get brushed onto your feet or legs as you pass through the forest. If you've been in the forest, check your body for ticks at the end of the day. Be particularly vigilant about searching your children. If you find a tick on your body, remove it immediately. You can dab the tick with some insecticide, and carefully pull the tick out with tweezers, ensure that the head is removed. If you experience any symptoms such as severe headache, fever, sore joints, breathing difficulties, or an unusual rash, consult a doctor.

QUEENSLAND, THE SUNSHINE STATE


Another danger faced in Queensland comes from one of the things that draws so many people to our fine state. The sun. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in Australia, and Australia has the highest instances of skin cancer in the world, partly due to our outdoor lifestyle, but also as a result of the depleted ozone layer over our heads. The sun's harmful UV rays are simply stronger here than in the northern hemisphere, so we have a simple message for you:

"Slip, slop, slap!"

In other words, "Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat!" These days, UV resistant swimwear is also widely available in Australia, providing maximum protection against sunburn. It is particularly recommended for children and for those with fair complexions, and is available in adult sizes.


TRAVEL INSURANCE

The staff at Cairns Unlimited have been to dozens of countries all over the world, and we don't consider Australia more dangerous than any other country. Every country and region presents its own risks, and risks of illness or accident or theft of belongings exists everywhere. We strongly believe that Travel Insurance is an integral part of any trip, an expense that should be factored into your budget right from the start, along with airfares, accommodation and beer!

And it's important to know who to trust with your Travel Inurance needs. That's why we only recommend World Nomads. World Nomads Travel Insurance is an established, trustworthy provider, underwritten by Allianz, the largest insurers in the world. World Nomads provide 24 hour assistance anywhere on the planet, and you can buy your policy, extend your cover, and even make claims... all online! But that doesn't mean you need to pay a fortune. World Nomads specializes in online Travel Insurance -it's all they do!- and their super low premiums reflect that.

CLICK HERE to discover how much you can save with World Nomads.


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REMEMBER, MILLIONS OF TOURISTS VISIT OUR FAIR COUNTRY EVERY YEAR, AND THEY KEEP COMING BACK!