Water - Great Ocean Walk

Can you drink the water on the Great Ocean Walk?

Is the water safe to drink or do I need to sterilise it just to be safe?

Ensuring adequate drinking water supplies when planning a hike is always a high priority. This post attempts to analyse the availability and quality of drinking water on the Great Ocean Walk in the Otway National Park.

We have been moved to post this information because on our recent camping trip to Blanket Bay we were disturbed by the number of Great Ocean Walk hikers who were scared to drink the water that is provided at each campsite.

Photo by Span

It seems to us that it is risk management ,by Parks Victoria, gone mad and that they are unnecessarily cautious in warning hikers on the GOW. This especially relates to visitors from overseas who are unfamiliar with conditions in Australia. e.g a German person would find it incredibly difficult to ignore a sign, as on each tap along the walk, stating "DO NOT DRINK THE WATER - UNTREATED" (or some such statement)

The Great Ocean Walk website, managed by Parks Victoria, has the following information regarding drinking water:
Bring water
Please carry an adequate supply of drinking water with you. Drinking water is not available along the track. Tanks at campsites hold untreated rainwater. Use it wisely.

Is there water available along the walk?
Untreated rainwater is collected in tanks located in the Great Ocean Walk hike-in campsites and is available for hiker use. This water is not suitable for drinking unless treated. There are a number of different methods that hikers can use to treat rain water, such as filtering and boiling or adding sterilisation tablets. For further information, please refer to the Parks Victoria Park Note entitled ‘Water-make it safe to drink’ (see http://www.parkweb.vic.gov.au/).

At Blanket Bay, untreated rainwater is available for Great Ocean Walk hikers from a tap in the car-based campground. This water is not suitable to drink unless treated.Whilst the water level of each campsite tank is checked on a regular basis by Park Rangers,Parks Victoria cannot guarantee that rainwater will always be available at each campsite.

Hikers are responsible for their own water requirements. In periods of warm weather,hikers will need to carry extra water. There are a number of potential water drop sites along the walk, where water containers can be dropped off by 2WD vehicle and discretely hidden in vegetation for intended use along the hike. All containers should be recovered and removed following the completion of your walk.

Ok, all good advice then. Yes, the water is untreated, yes it comes out of tanks following collection off the roof of the shelters along the walk, and yes it does not meet World Health Organisation guidelines (as it is untreated)

So the question remains, is rainwater from tanks unsafe to drink?

The following information is sourced from the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines published by the National Health and Medical Research Council and relates to the collection of rainwater for drinking.
Rainwater systems, particularly those involving storage in above-ground tanks, generally provide a safe supply of water. The principal sources of contamination are birds, small animals and debris collected on roofs. The impact of these sources can be minimised by a few simple measures: guttering should be cleared regularly; overhanging branches should be kept to a minimum, because they can be a source of debris and can increase access to roof catchment areas by birds and small animals; and inlet pipes to tanks should include leaf litter strainers. First flush diverters, which prevent the initial roof-cleaning wash of water (20-25 L) from entering tanks, are recommended. If first flush diverters are not available,
a detachable downpipe can be used to provide the same result.

The quality of water from rainwater tanks can be affected by roofing and tank materials, paints,atmospheric contaminants, leaves, dust, and animal and bird droppings. However, providing that the system is reasonably well maintained, rainwater can generally provide a safe supply of drinking water.

Finally, enjoy the walk and look forward to a beer at the end, at least you know you will only get a headache!

In conclusion

  • The shelters and rainwater collection systems in place at all the shelters on the Great Ocean walk meet many , if not all, of the criteria recommended by the NH&MRC.
  • We have been drinking the tank water at Blanket Bay for over 10 years ago with no ill effects.
  • We drank the water (without treatment) when we completed the walk in 2007 with no ill effects.
  • We would drink the water next time we do the walk.
Photo by by pepewk - Boracay Relax Time

Related Posts on the Great Ocean Walk
Blanket Bay hikers shelter
Our Hiking Blog goes "lightweight" at Blanket Bay
Great Ocean Walk - the start
Marengo to Blanket Bay
Blanket Bay to Cape Otway Lightstation
Lightstation to Aire River
Aire River to Joanna
Joanna to Ryans Den
Ryans Den to Devils Kitchen
Devils Kitchen to The Gables


Maple Kiwi said...

Geez, almost all of New Zealand's back country huts use a rainwater collection tank to supply drinking water to trampers. I've been drinking it without additional treatment for several years with no ill effects.

There are warning signs here, but they are more moderate. They say something like "Although the water provided is generally safe to drink, you may want to boil or otherwise treat it for your own safety."

Sure beats drinking straight from a stream or river, which I see people do way too often! You don't know what might be in that stuff!

Frank and Sue said...

Hi Michelle,
Hope the book sales are going well.
I totally agree that the Parks people are going over the top.

That is why I posted about it and actually did a bit of research to back up my claims.

In Tasmania we just hold our water bottles under a running stream and drink the water....liquid gold

Keep well

JP said...

Hi Frank

I noticed this same thing last time I went up the Bungalow Spur to Feathertop - the tank water at Federation Hut has the same sign, as does the spring located just off the track at the old Feathertop Hut Site. I've been taking water from that spring for years without ill effect.

I wonder if the 'risk assessment' compared the risk of contaminated water with the risk of de-hydration?

Anyway, regardless of this, sounds like you had a good camping trip.

Frank and Sue said...

Hi JP,
Thanks for the comment. Think I would rather risk a guts ache that be dehydrated, especially up in the area where you mentioned.
Great camping trip...beats working!! Have you done the GOW?

Ken said...

In NSW the parks people have a policy that unless the water is tested, they will advise treatment. This makes it difficult to know if there is known contamination. Much better if they state that it is unknown and then everyone can make up their own mind.

BiteTheDust said...

Good post. people are far too fussy about the water these days. Out here our water varies quite a bit between communities.
The comments about the Federation Hut and the spring at Feathertop brought back old memories. I haven't walked there for 20 years. We got all our water then from the springs and creeks

Amanda said...

Hi Frank,

PWS in the Northern Territory does the same. They take precautions, even at places like Ormiston Gorge where the rangers drink the SAME water in their houses as tourists are being warned not to drink.

Obviously, us NT locals are made of tougher stuff than that tourist mob!