Enjoy the eclipse. But watch out for Australia's killer critters

Click to follow
The Independent Online

As thousands of people prepare to converge on a string of tiny Outback towns next week for a total solar eclipse, Australian authorities are warning of a multitude of hazards, from sunstroke and sharks to snakes and poisonous spiders.

As thousands of people prepare to converge on a string of tiny Outback towns next week for a total solar eclipse, Australian authorities are warning of a multitude of hazards, from sunstroke and sharks to snakes and poisonous spiders.

Officials are concerned that hapless foreign visitors unaccustomed to the harsh Australian interior may fall victim to extreme heat, dangerous driving conditions or venomous wildlife. They also fear that they may trespass on sacred Aboriginal sites and pollute the cattle industry's precious waterholes.

Up to 50,000 are expected to descend on the Outback on 4 December to view the eclipse, with most heading for the small community of Ceduna, on the South Australia coast. The rest will be scattered between isolated towns in the state's Flinders Ranges, such as Andamooka, Lyndhurst and Leigh Creek, where mid-summer temperatures reach 50C.

The eclipse will begin over the Atlantic Ocean, west of Africa, and cross over Angola, Mozambique and the Indian Ocean before making Australian landfall at Ceduna, 500 miles north-west of Adelaide.

A mixed crowd of stargazers, scientists, sun-worshippers and the plain curious will witness it in Australia, with the best viewing forecast for Ceduna, a fishing and farming town that falls directly under the path of the total eclipse.

As ever, eclipse-watchers have been told they could suffer permanent damage to their eyes if they look directly at the sun. But authorities have also warned of extra risks for people wandering in the Outback. "We don't want to send them home in body bags," said Fraser Farrell, of the Astronomical Society of South Australia. "You can quite easily die out there if you have bad luck." The warning was echoed by Rob Curkpatrick, of Ceduna District Council, who said: "We're talking about some of the most inhospitable terrain in the world."

The Outback is roamed by 21 of the world's 25 most poisonous snakes, including the Desert Death Adder and the deadly King Brown Snake. It is also home to a host of venomous spiders such as the feared Redback, a close relative of the Black Widow which has a habit of lurking under lavatory seats. Eclipse-watchers who fancy a cooling swim off Ceduna may also be taking their lives in their hands; the Great Australian Bight – the wide curve of coast on which the town lies – is one of the continent's most shark-ridden stretches, patrolled by various species including the man-eating Great White.

Even driving can be dangerous. Motorists who wander off main roads can get lost, with sunstroke and dehydration real hazards, while kangaroos have a habit of leaping out in front of cars – particularly at dawn and dusk – and can cause serious damage. Ceduna, home to 3,500 people, has set up tent cities to accommodate visitors. Traffic jams are expected in the skies as dozens of aircraft fly in. Totality will occur an hour before sunset, offering spectacular views of the still partially eclipsed sun as its sets over the water. Those who do arrive – and survive – are promised a remarkable sight.

King Brown Snake

The eclipse zone – "some of the most inhospitable terrain in the world" – is roamed by 21 of the 25 most poisonous snakes on the planet

Great White Shark

The Great Australian Bight – the curve of coast on which Ceduna lies – is one of the country's most shark-ridden stretches of water

Redback Spider

Visitors to Ceduna are advised to check under lavatory seats, where the venomous arachnid is known to lurk

Comments