Waterfalls are mostly well managed for safety, with local risks displayed by local signage and
indicated by protective barriers. Please observe these signs and barriers, and make your own assessment of
risk independent of anything presented on this guide. Conditions can vary markedly from waterfall to waterfall,
and can change rapidly at individual waterfalls in response to rainfall.
There is always the temptation to get as close as you possibly can to a waterfall, or to try to reach
that special spot where you think you will get the best view. Remember to think first before you move, identify
hazards and assess the risks, including the risks of serious injury or death. The likelihood of getting medical
attention quickly at many waterfalls is low.
In addition to any specific advice that may be available from local jurisdictions, some of the
risks to be mindful of at waterfalls include:
- risk of drowning
by getting too close to the water;
on wet rocks, loose rocks or steep slopes;
- an attack of vertigo
by getting too close to a waterfall edge;
- Beware of animal hazards
, such as crocodiles, snakes, leeches, ticks, etc. Animal hazards are generally site specific, so heed warning signs and research local swimming safety information
if you are visiting an area where you do not know or understand the local animal hazards. Light coloured clothing is recommended for areas with march flies, mosquitos, ticks or
leeches, so that it is easier to see these animals when they are on your clothing;
- Use a sunscreen
to avoid sunburn and skin cancer;
- Use an insect repellant
, particularly if you are travelling into bush or jungle;
- Avoid swimming directly under waterfalls
. Any debris flowing over the waterfall could cause injury if it hits you from above. At many larger waterfalls, water turbulence at the base of
the waterfall under cuts the rock face, creating a rock ledge (sometimes submerged and not visible from the surface) and undercurrents that can both push you under the water and jam you underneath
the rock ledge. Over my time documenting swimming holes, several people have drowned as a result of being sucked under large waterfalls.
- Be extra careful when it rains
. After heavy rain, rivers can swell quickly. Roads can be cutoff and washed away, so if the
weather is wet, take extra care and seek advice from emergency services in your local area;
- Be extra careful during bushfire weather
. Seek advice from emergency services in your local area during days of high fire danger. If you sense any
fire danger, act early and act quickly, as fire can move very fast. Plan alternative exit routes in remote areas before you visit your waterfall; and
- Above all, use your common sense
. Conditions can change rapidly. Continually re-assess the risks and act accordingly, which may include deciding not to visit.
In addition to the above checklist, do your own independent safety planning and risk management before you visit your waterfall.
If you don't view a waterfall safely, it could be the last one you ever see, so be safe and enjoy as many waterfalls as you can.
© Brad Neal 2020. All rights reserved.