The outdoors can be a spooky place. Without the safety of four walls and a doona to hide under, things that go bump in the night feel frighteningly close, impossibly real, and damn near inescapable.
I gathered a bunch of the We Are Explorers staff and contributors and squeezed out their most blood-curdling, spine-tingling, hair-raising experience in the bush.
Tip Toeing Around – Sophie
I was hiking with my Mum, minding my own business when I spotted a toe on the path.
You know when something’s so freaky you just ‘nope’ your way out of it? So I just decided to keep walking, I didn’t want to know about it. Because what then? What if someone was watching in the woods, and they knew that I knew about the toe? But then I felt bad. Like, if it was a toe, I should probably report it, you know? Maybe some poor sod had been missing for weeks and vanished without a trace.
So I turned around, ‘Mum, I think there was just a toe on the path’.
We backtracked the few metres and I pointed out this pale white-pinkish thing with what looked like toenail on it.
Mum gingerly picked it up between leaves and inspected it, and it sort of came apart. A fungus? Mushrooms can look weird. But since when do they have toenails?
We didn’t really agree it wasn’t a toe, just kind of put it back down. We didn’t say anything anymore, and the only sound in the quiet woods that afternoon was two pairs of quickening footsteps and thudding hearts…
A Lone Wolf – Alex
I was on a solo road trip through the NSW New England Highlands. I was en route from Brisbane to Gibraltar Range National Park which sits halfway between Glen Innes and Grafton. Very remote area, no service for the majority of the drive and deep in dense, Gondwana rainforest.
It’s normally a beautiful drive, but this particular trip was at 1am after a whole day of driving. I was cruising along the Gwydir Highway, not having seen another car for an hour, when I spot out of the corner of my eye an animal. Initial instincts were to slow down, expecting it to be a kangaroo. Instead, I see a dingo. I slowed right down to get a closer look as I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
A lone dingo wandering along the highway at 1am – I didn’t even realise there were dingos in the area and I was intending to camp in the park. As I slowed down to get a closer look, it came up to my car. I kept the slow roll going before pulling away, and it started to run alongside the car. Let’s just say I was out of there pretty quickly. The next morning I was on high alert when waking up for my sunrise hike. I never did see another dingo in that park…
The Final Floor – Sian
In a mostly forgotten town in the Italian Alps, I was struck with the need to know what was in the attic of an old abandoned restaurant I found.
I chose a popular hike in the town and was wildly underprepared. I couldn’t make it 10 metres up the icy path in my Doc Martens. So I improvised and walked around the outskirts of town until I found a path that looked promising. I climbed up into the snowy forest and at the top of the mountain there it was, the Ristorante Paradiso.
The building stood four stories tall with vines spilling out the broken windows. I crept up to an opening on the third floor and peeped in. Silence. I hesitated for a moment, then crunched through the broken glass and entered.
There were old bed frames, pizza ovens, smashed bathrooms, gaping holes in the ceilings. On the third floor there was a Blair Witch-style hanging mobile in one of the rooms. Very creepy.
I started to freak out and felt the hairs stand up on my arms like something was watching me. But I needed to see the final floor. The attic.
I climbed up the last flight of stairs and froze as soon as I got to the top. A noise. I took a few steps further to see deeper into the dark and I felt the floor start to give way under my feet and an overwhelming sense of doom.
I immediately leapt down the staircase until I was outside looking back at the building. And as I looked up to the window at the top, I saw something move between the gaps in the shutters.
What the hell howls in the Aussie mountains? – Amy
In the middle of winter in a near-empty campground in Kanangra Boyd National Park, my mates, Alex and Dakota, and I are settling in for a night of beers around the campfire. Dakota walks off through the darkness to grab some more firewood, when off to the west comes a long, faint howl.
Alex and I look at each other and exchange slightly nervous smiles. 30 seconds later, another howl, noticeably louder and incredibly closer.
‘What the hell howls in the Aussie mountains?’, I ask.
‘Wild dogs’, Alex says, with little hesitation and a lot of worry.
Out of the night, Dakota comes trudging back. ‘Did you guys hear those howls?’
‘Yeah, I think we should probably pack up’, Alex insists.
‘Really?’, I question as one, two, three more howls interrupt me, closer than ever.
We scramble around the campsite in a panic, chucking a bunch of stuff in the tent, before running to my station wagon where the backseats are down and all pile in, locking the doors.
‘I didn’t even realise there were wild dogs around here’, I query, catching my breath.
‘I didn’t want to mention this before,’ Alex says, ‘but I’ve heard some pretty gnarly stories about wild dogs.’
He details multiple tales he’s heard from locals about wild dogs slyly working in packs to encircle and terrorise farmers, even using one of the dogs as an injured ploy to attract farmers before attacking them.
We sleep the rest of the night in the car.
Feature photo thanks to Moritz Lino