Mud, dirt and gears: Australia's love of weekend adventure sports
Whether it's with your partner, mates or like-minded strangers, there's a dirty weekend out there for you.
While there's many ways to get down and dirty, extreme obstacle courses come out top of the list. Starting nearly thirty years ago by ex-soldier Billy Wilson, who initiated the first "Tough Guy" military assault course on his farm in Staffordshire, UKi, it's spawned a US$220 million dollar industry.
More than 1.5 million participants now take part in these courses annually, across Australia, Canada, the UK and USii. The CSIRO and Australian Sports Commission recently identified the rise of extreme adventure lifestyle sports "with inherent danger and thrill seeking", including obstacle racing, as one of six megatrends for the future of the Australian sports industryiii.
In Australia, these adventure events join traditional grubby activities like mountain biking, camping and bushwalking, which are all a great excuse to get off the sofa and into the great outdoors. On average, Australian households spend around $36 a year on camping equipmentiv.
From the Tough Mudder to the Spartan Races, True Grit, Mud Gladiators and the women-only Miss Muddy, the names say it all. Whether you want to travel to Ivory's Rock in Queensland, Margaret River in WA or Lake Mountain in Victoria to enter, the experienced athlete or the newcomer can find an obstacle course to suit themv.
Wading through knee-deep mud, participants scale obstacles that could involve climbing cargo nets, swinging across water on ropes, wriggling through tyre tunnels, avoiding dangling cables or leaping over burning hay bales.
These ultimate challenges push participants to their physical and mental limits, but most don't focus on individual victory, rather on team spirit and camaraderie. Some events such as the Spartan Racevi are tiered for all abilities; starting with a 1-2km kids' race right up to the 42km Ultra race with 70 obstacles.
Mountain biking has long been a popular dirty weekend pursuit, with scores of highly competitive, but also inclusive, fun events held across Australia every monthvii.
Enthusiasts can choose from marathons (60-100kms long), cross country (varied bush and rainforest trails), downhill (a timed, high-speed event over steep challenging terrain) and enduro (a staged event inspired by car rallies and motorbike enduro racing).
In Northern NSW, the popular Misty Mountain MTB Marathon in August takes place inside Mt Warning's 20 million year old volcanic caldera, with participants entering the 60k/40k/20k/11k race, offering a challenge for everyone; from kids, novices, veterans up to elite ridersviii. There are loads more on around the country all year round including the Giant Odyssey mountain bike marathon in Victoria, the Husky100 on the south coast of New South Wales, the Cape to Cape MTB four-day race through the south west region of Western Australia and the Scott Australian 24 Hour Mountain Bike Championships in the ACT.
Camping and bushwalking
Whether you travel by bike, foot or car, Australia has a wealth of over 500 national parks, covering about 28 million hectares. Visitors can immerse themselves in nature - and often mud - to enjoy camping, with sites with showers, power points and cabins - or with minimalist bush toilets.
Choose from a variety of bushwalking trails that take a few hours to complete and offer breathtaking views, historic and Aboriginal sites and waterfalls, particularly in the Blue Mountains or pack your gear and hike over several days, on a self-led or organised trip.
Tasmania is a hiker's mecca, with its popular Overland Track, but also the hidden secret of the South Coast Track; starting at Melaleuca at the island's most south-western tip and reaching 84 kilometres east to Cockle Creek, along deserted beaches, windswept cliff tops and dense Huon pine forestsix.