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“NOT all those who wander are lost.”

It’s a popular line – written by JRR Tolkien for his fantasy trilogy The Lord Of The Rings – that frequently appears in memes posted by philosophical adventure-seekers on social media. But for those who venture into the unknown to explore the natural wonders of the world, and are unable to find their way out, it can quickly lose its shine.

The Land Down Under might be best known for its pristine beaches and spectacular coastline, but its expansive outback desert plains, wildflower-dotted mountains, lush rainforests and untamed bushland also attract their fair share of visitors.

Far from the sounds of cars screeching through city streets and the constant banality of general chatter, the great outdoors is often a welcome escape for those in search of solitude. The country’s beguiling bushland is particularly difficult to navigate and subsequently attracts others who come to challenge themselves. It’s those very things that can also work against hikers – and in favour of drug lords and killers who operate within the dense and rugged terrain.

A news.com.au investigation has revealed that bushwalkers go missing in Australia almost every day. Most are eventually found safe following a bout of misadventure. But in the worst cases, some vanish without a trace – never to be seen again.

Last year, the dead bodies of several bushwalkers were found in national parks throughout NSW and Victoria, following extensive searches. Among them was that of Melbourne man David Occhipinti, a 35-year-old hiker who had embarked on a 10km walk around the gorge’s circuit track on December 10. During the hike, Mr Occhipinti posted images of himself on his Facebook page at the scenic western lookout and Blackwood Pool, and Picnic Point at the park. He failed to return home as planned and his body was found the next day at the base of the gorge.

But for those still seeking answers about what happened to their missing loved ones, the search continues long after the official one is called off, with many carrying on private investigations. It’s a gruelling and heartwrenching process, but one that allows them to hold onto the sliver of hope that their loved one may someday been found. Sasoon Simonian, whose brother Sevak vanished in the Blue Mountains after setting out on a trek in 2014, told news.com.au his greatest wish was for “everything to go back to normal”.

Originally Published by The Queensland Times, continue reading here.

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