Last weekend I went and checked out a new waterfall with a bunch of mates. Rock jumps and a rope swing on a Sunday, what could have been better?
I won’t name the spot, that’s not the purpose of this article, but it was recently featured on social media and experienced a boom in popularity. In fact, we featured it right here on We Are Explorers. And rightly so, because it’s ex-quis-ite.
Well it was, before everyone showed up.
There was rubbish everywhere. Cigarette butts were trodden into the dirt on the way in. Plastic bags were left under ledges, chip packets dumped in deep holes in the rock and shards of beer bottles strewn across the ground. I even found a thong floating in the water. Despite that being a pretty hilariously Australian thing to encounter, it left a sour taste in my mouth when I realised that it was just slightly more patriotic rubbish.
My mate Aidan had a chat with a local on the day who was from a group of blokes who live up the road. These gorge veterans were game enough to take on the 30 metre rock jump. That’s the one that was 3 times higher than the one that scared me shitless and slapped me silly.
Dylan said (with a few more swear words than I’m game to type) that a busy summer day used to draw 20 people at most. Yet at the time of the conversation there were probably that many in the queue for the rope swing alone. There were easily over a hundred people in the gorge, with many more throughout the area.
Although I’ve never quite understood the mentality behind going to a beautiful location and ruining it, I think dumped rubbish is inevitable once an area becomes Insta-famous. There are always gonna be jerks. So, given the power and privilege to share amazing new spots with anyone on the web, how are we as Explorers to tackle the problem? Well I reckon we roll up our sleeves like we always do.
On this day we took out a small plastic bag full of rubbish. It wasn’t much and between us and the good-looking Brazilians who did the same, we barely made a dent. It frustrated me that if we’d added a roll of garbage bags when we’d been grabbing Bacon and Cheese rolls at Woolies, we could have taken twice as much out, each!
As Explorers and Microadventurers we have to lead by example and leave our precious Aussie bush better than we found it.
In 1982, Broken Window theory outlined the tendency for vandals to interpret broken windows on abandoned buildings as a license to break a few more. The same goes for rubbish. If we get an area clean enough, the masses might think twice about spiking their bottle on a tree (I literally saw this) to save carrying it out.
So what did Dylan think of all these people crawling over his local spot?
Funnily enough he was “just stoked to see people out and enjoying it.” Despite the crowds there was a friendly vibe zinging through the gorge that was in no small way influenced by the remoteness and freedom the spot had to offer.
Yet I couldn’t help thinking that before long the government will step in, throw up “no littering” signs, build a guardrail and put a dollar value on the parking lot. That’s if they don’t close it completely. But it shouldn’t ever have to come to this. We are the custodians of these wild places and preserving their natural beauty starts with us.
So take a roll of garbage bags when you smash out your next microadventure, and check out these other eco-exploring tips:
If you’re drinking, take cans! They’re lighter, crush up when they’re finished and don’t shatter if you drop them.
Sort out your food ahead of time – You’ll reduce the risk of dropping packaging and you won’t spend half your day in a supermarket.
Don’t wash your dishes in bodies of water and lay off the detergent! You’ll only contaminate the water supply for yourself and the animals that live in it. Bury any biodegradable food scraps and use a bit of sand to scrape your plates.
If nature calls, head away from the creek/campsite. Pee is still bodily waste so get at least 60m away from the water (it’s really not that far) so it doesn’t make it back in when you go for a swim at the waterfall.
Always bury your number 2s to a depth of around 15cm, that’s just half of one of those rulers that literally everyone had at school! And if you’re thinking ahead enough to bring toilet paper, bring some ziplock bags to carry out that dirty TP (or the whole deal if you’re in a gorge). It’s not fun but “I don’t wanna” isn’t really an excuse.
Check out these other pieces on how to treat our wild places respectfully.