Of the hundreds of bushwalks that I have done so far in my life, the night walks really stand out. Even the most familiar terrain feels and sounds different once the sun sets, especially if you plan ahead and know where to look.
My own story with the dark
It was the night of my 12th birthday. Mum was in Switzerland and I was with Dad in Manteigas, Serra da Estrela, in Portugal. I spent all day waiting for my birthday present and nothing. The sun set and Dad drove me up to the mountains to a place called Penhas Douradas, stopped the car and told me that I was about to get my present – a nocturnal bushwalk from Penhas Doradas to Manteigas.
I simply lost it then! My birthday falls in the middle of winter, everything was covered in snow and by then I was terrified of the dark. How could this be real? My Dad wanted me to walk through the forest, under the stars in the middle of winter for my birthday. From memory, I whinged for about half an hour!
Little did I know that I would be forever grateful – that January night bushwalk stopped my fear of the dark and that emotional roller coaster stayed with me forever.
I remember how special it was to see the snow glow with the full moon, how our eyes get used to the dark and we barely needed our headlamps. But most of all, how thrilled I was at the end – truly stoked!
Why take your kids on a nocturnal bushwalk
Kids love these nocturnal adventures. Not only do night walks mean staying up past their bedtime, but the thrill of something special awaits. A whole other world of wildlife comes alive after dark. Possums, owls, foxes, are just a few.
It also shows children that with the right preparation can enjoy the dark in a safe manner and use their senses in a different way.
“It was a massive adventure, mum, it really was! I was scared because the trees were moving and there was shadows, but I held Dad’s hand and it was ok. Remeber that we even walked without a torch for a while.”Noah (3 years old)
Here are some basics to get you started:
Engage Your Senses
This is something that we also love to do when we are bushwalking. Keep your eyes and your ears, your nose and your hands open. The night sky opens itself up to all sorts of sounds that you aren’t familiar with in the daylight.
Track Nocturnal Animals
While out on your nocturnal walk, keep a lookout for nocturnal animals. With Noah, we did a bit of research first about what local nocturnal animals were in the area – which sparked a valuable and fun conversation about what it means to be a nocturnal creature, how they use their senses differently from other animals and how they live in harmony with diurnal animals.
During our nocturnal walks, we have spotted so far, possums, snakes, fireflies and glow worms.
Read more about our Glow Worm adventure here.
Don’t try a new trail
Going for bushwalks with your kids at night is an adventure in itself, so don’t try venturing in new lands – stick with a trail that you and your kids know well!
This way you will minimise the risk and you can better predict what you can expect. Make sure you stay on the track, not just to protect the natural environment but also to protect you and your kids.
Seeing your favourite trail under the light of just the moon may offer a whole new experience to enjoy.
Noah found it interesting how different the night shadows were with the moonlight compared to the shadows from the sun. The sounds were different and so was the wildlife.
Embrace the darkness
Your eyes may take 30-45 minutes to get acclimated to the darkness, and once they are, any light can disrupt that acclimation.
We started our bushwalking without turning on our headlamps to let our eyes adjust to the darkness.
The big full moon brightens our path for most of the way and we ended up just using our torches to spot wildlife.
While you should encourage your children to embrace the dark, make sure you have also plenty of light with you, preferably one with a red light option to protect your night vision.
Don’t disrupt wildlife
Be mindful and admire the nighttime animals from a dark and respectful distance; don’t disrupt their livelihood.
Slow down and pay close attention to your surroundings to keep yourself and the animals safe.
Pause and Listen
Hear the chirp of the crickets, the peep of the frogs, the snap of the twigs. Try sitting still, without talking, to take all of this in. Nature puts on some unique displays at night. Look for these the next time you explore after dark.