Nov. 22nd, 2021
Walking. It is life’s second major milestone right after learning to say our first word. Walking holidays take this simple pleasure and combine it with being outdoors to create an enjoyable experience that is good for your health while enriching the soul. Australia is the land of the Walk About and one of their most stunning treks is a five-day hike through pristine woodlands and from peak to peak around a primordial mountain range. And forget about roughing it with your bulky backpack, leaky tent, and chowing down on hot dogs and beans. This is the Spicers Scenic Rim Trail and a first-rate five-star experience from the first step to the end of the trail.
The Spicers Scenic Rim Trail takes place at 3500 feet high atop a caldera, a curved mountain range formed from a 30-million-year-old extinct volcano. This is the South East Queensland high country and treks through Australia’s Great Diving Range and the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Gondwana Rainforest. Although the trail is only 90-minutes from Brisbane, it is pristine and crosses through 100,000 square miles of parkland, state forests, and national parks that, up to a few decades ago, were only known to aboriginal people and loggers. No matter what the terrain or elevations hiked, the entire time on the trail is simply fascinating.
Spicers Retreats define their style of hospitality as relaxed luxury so forget about any ideas of roughing it in the woods. Although the walk may be rigorous at times, once at the campsite each night there’s nothing but pampering that awaits. Warm towels, canapes, and sparkling wine signal the end of the day’s hike and the beginning of an evening of recuperation in their uber-comfortable eco-luxury accommodations. Expect chef-prepared gourmet meals as well as quality time around campfires getting to know fellow hikers. Everything is taken care of along the way and guests only carry a day bag with food and water as their luggage is portered for them from one campsite to the next. And this is not a big group tour kind of experience. Groups are kept small to only about a dozen hikers at a time to ensure the quality of the experience for all.
The Spicers Scenic Rim Trail is part of Spicers Retreats, a collection of relaxed luxury properties throughout Australia that range from private homes, lodges to retreats. Creating the Scenic Rim Trail was not an easy feat to pull off. It is the passion project and fulfills the vision of Spicers Retreats owners, Graham and Jude Turner, tree huggers themselves who also know how much Australians and international travelers love great walks and being immersed in nature. They set out to share the gorgeous nature of this part of Australia while connecting their Hidden Vale and Peak Lodge properties. The ecotourism project took 20 years to realize and has now also created a wildlife corridor protecting the habitat of 500 endemic animal species, 250 bird species, and countless indigenous flora and fauna.
A key aspect of the Turner’s strategy is to create community awareness of the need for conservation as well as the plight of endangered species. The Turner Family Foundation along with the University of Queensland built the Hidden Vale Nature Center which is a multimillion-dollar rehabilitation and education center where visitors learn about the wildlife of the area. The center rehabilitates and breeds endangered animals, such as the Mahogany Glider, white checkered wallabies, and Australian king parrots.
Part of the Scenic Rim Trail experiences includes a visit to the center where staff rangers share information on the animals that hikers may encounter on the trail. From there is a short ride to a eucalyptus forest to join researchers in the field on their daily koala monitoring, checking in on rehabilitated and reintroduced koalas that suffered through the recent forest fires that devastated Australia. Hiking through the trees, guests spot the furry animals high above in their natural habitat.
The Spicer’s Scenic Rim Trail is a 40-mile walk that takes place over five days as hikers traipse up into the mountains and then from peak to peak along the way. The journey begins at the foothills of Queensland’s Main Range National Park and often covers rugged and untrampled terrain and is sure to put one’s fitness to the test. The Scenic Rim is made of forty peaks that dot the mountain range. During the five-day hike, the fortunate few visit a handful of peaks beginning with Mount Mistake in the north and culminating with views over Cunningham’s Gap in the south.
This is the definition of going off the beaten path. The hike itself is challenging but doable for most with a decent level of fitness. Many of the trails involve hiking up steep gravely trails only made bearable by switchbacks to reduce the angle of the climb. Walkers ascend to the ridge up a steep rocky trail through dry sclerophyll (eucalypt) forest that culminates at the Mistake Mountain Range. Not for those who suffer from vertigo, hikers can opt to take a section of the trail that ascends via a 130-foot ladder on a 90-degree cliff face. Hikers are harnessed for safety yet the views from the top and along the way make it all worthwhile. The reward for the day is a lunch at the edge enjoying the meal as well as the accomplishment while looking over the valley that you and your fellow hikers just climbed.
The walk follows well-marked trails accompanied by the guides that are there for help and safety. Each day requires some exertion during the uphill sections of the trail that brings out the moaning, groaning, and whinging (Australian for complaining) from especially the less fit hikers. But each challenge is always met with a well-earned reward. Beyond the feeling of accomplishment, the views, wildlife encountered or the sheer pleasure of being surrounded by nature makes it more than worthwhile.
There’s no heavy backpacks or gear to bring, all of that is portered each day from one “campsite” to the next. Hikers bring their supply of water, catered lunch bags, and snacks in a provided backpack. Walking sticks are also provided. Throughout the day, guides pause for breaks to allow others to catch up, to share some knowledge about the wildlife or fauna encountered, or for morning tea and lunch.
Each day presents a new set of adventures, thrills, and wonders to behold. First and foremost, nature is as beguiling as it is breathtaking. No matter the time of day or point along the trail, there’s always something special, memorable, and, at times, even magical that awaits.
The trail goes through diverse sub-regions with the landscapes that change almost by the hour from dry rocky terrain to lush fern valleys complete with babbling streams. Former logging regions are explored with their remaining Red Cedar, Hoop Pines that transitions into the Gondwana rainforest. This is a 180-million-year-old forest awash with towering carabeen trees with massive base roots, staghorn ferns, and orchids rooted high above in trees while predatory strangler fig trees wrap their vines around host trees to one day kill them and take over. In a tropical forest, there is a constant competition for the life-providing sunlight that you see play out in front of you as sickly trees fall and are consumed by termites, moss, and fungus. The natural beauty of the forest is ethereal, spiritual for many, who appreciate the miracle of nature as manifested in this constantly evolving ecosystem.
Our guides are a living encyclopedia and share countless bits of information about these Jurassic Park-like forests. One fascinating fact is that there is a communication network of fungi connected to the base of the tree roots. It is a living and interconnected system that communicates through the forest and for miles sharing information on drought, fire, and other conditions. We see for ourselves that the forest is actually a living organism that is mesmerizing as much as it is beautiful to behold.
And we are not the only ambulatory creatures of the forest. This diversity in the landscape creates the perfect habitat for wildlife so there are snakes, reptiles, insects, and other sorts of creepy crawlers. The birdlife is abundant and offers a twitcher’s dream with over 200 species many of which are endangered such as the eastern bristlebird, the black-breasted button-quail, or the Albert’s Lyrebird with sadly only 7000 left in the wild. The company of birds is what most will remember from the sightings of wedge-tailed eagles and peregrine falcons soaring above the escapement in search of prey to the shrill crack of the lovelorn eastern whip bird that pierces the silence of the forest. Beyond the plentiful birdlife and reptiles, there are Eastern Grey kangaroos as well the endangered Brush-Tailed Rock-Wallaby.
As the days go on, solace in the woods is something to be cherished. For most of the trip, you barely see anyone else. It’s as if the trail and the entire forest are yours and your fellow hikers. At times, guides urge guests to spread out on the well-marked trails, spacing several minutes between hikers so they can feel alone with their thoughts and nature. It is a time to self-reflect, for others to meditate, or to find peace without the distractions of other hikers. The Japanese call it shinrin-yoku or forest bathing where they benefit from the smells of the forest, being enveloped in the jungle, and breathing in the oxygen-rich air. It’s been scientifically proven to lower blood pressure, stress levels, and heart rate. Beyond that, just the sense of wellbeing felt by all was undeniable and all were grateful for the experience.
In other areas, the trails run perilously close to a drop-off and into the abyss while offering an endless view of the valleys, distant mountains, and vastness of the plains. One of the many unique sections of the trail was appropriately named the Valley of the Giants, a forest of enormous yellow carabeen, Bangalow palms, black booyong, and rosewood trees. Another area explored, the Dalrymple Creek, seemed straight out of a scene from Avatar, an enchanted forest with a moss-covered ground, hanging palm lilies, jungles of wonga vines, cool volcanic boulders, and a gushing stream of crystal clear water. There, hikers spread out for a bit of sunbathing on the massive rocks while others sat lost in their thoughts while looking up through a sea of ancient eucalyptus trees, elsewhere others dipped their feet in the refreshing water. No one dared say the cliché out loud, but all thought to themselves that this surely must be paradise.
Especially at sunset or for the sunrise, to say the views were surreal would be an understatement. One of the most thrilling lookouts was at the end of the trek with the incredible panoramic views from the Bare Rock Lookout. The barren peak is made of basalt stone and juts into the clouds like an altar. From this pulpit, hikers were able to see the ridgeline of the trails that they’d hiked over the past few days. A sense of melancholy overtook the hikers who knew that their journey was drawing to a close. After some time with our own thoughts and these unbelievable views, a group photo seemed most appropriate. Although this wasn’t the end, it did feel somewhat like a finale, and it was spectacular.
There is no roughing it by any stretch of the imagination during the Spicers Scenic Rim Trail experience. The end of the hiking day is signaled by the welcoming smile by their host, waiting with a warm towel to refresh and wipe off the trail grime. Moments later at dusk, hikers take in the view from a lookout platform over the amazing vistas of the valley while reflecting on the day’s adventures and their own little personal victories. The experience is made all the more delicious by the accompanying glasses of sparkling wine and gourmet canapes.
The trek goes from one peak to the next along the Scenic Rim and covers around eight miles or so each day. The lodges are strategically located along the trail and when it’s time to settle in, each night offers nothing less than pampering perfection. All the accommodations are different, luxurious without being over the top fancy, and offer a rustic elegant décor ideal for enjoying the surrounding nature. As Spicers Retreat’s motto is a relaxed luxury, that’s just what you’ll get.
Spicers Hidden Vale
Before the hike, the first night is at the Spicers Hidden Vale, a lovely country estate set on a historic 12,000-acre former cattle station and one of the top five-star country retreats in Australia. The sublime views overlook farm paddocks, pristine bushland, and mountain ranges that the group will soon explore. The Queenslander-designed country cottage offers wide sweeping verandas, a pool surrounded by well-groomed gardens while indoors guests relax in the plentiful lounge areas with country chic décor in front of a large hearth fireplace. The retreat is also home to one of the top restaurants in Queensland as well, Homage at Spicer’s Hidden Vale. After welcome cocktails, guests settle in for their first long table dinner and enjoy exquisite gourmet dining on locally sourced modern Australian cuisine. The meal somehow felt like the first day of summer camp, getting to know each of the fellow hikers with friendships to be formed over the next days that are sure to last far beyond the last stretch of the trail.
On the second night, the trail ends at the Spicers Mount Mistake Farmhouse. At the edge of the mountain rim and forest are a clearing, cattle paddock, and large home atop a knoll. The chalet-style lodge offers seven ensuite bedrooms and a large common area complete with comfy couches and a hearth fireplace with a crackling fire. Most guests decompress on the nearby lookout deck with a glass of wine or the predinner cocktail of choice, G&Ts made with Australia’s Four Pillars gin. Just after dusk, guests continue getting to know each other around an outdoor firepit relaxing and massaging their tired feet and sore limbs before hot showers and another fabulous long table dinner. Later that night, they’ll wander off before bed to look into the clearest pitch-black night and take in the brilliant sea of stars while searching for planets and constellations.
Accommodations on the third and fourth nights are in Spicers purposely built Timber Getters and Amphitheatre Eco Cabins. These are the crown jewel of the Turners’ vision and a triumph of an architectural and engineering genius and sustainable ingenuity. The lodges were constructed with minimal damage or disruption to the land, on former forestry camps, and without tearing down any old trees or using cement foundations. The eco-lodge lies upon demountable platforms as well and can be dissembled with practically no impact on the forest. Beyond that, every effort possible was taken to make these lodges as environmentally conscious as possible made with carefully sourced and recyclable building materials, low water-use toilets, and timed showers. The Turners’ eco-pods are proof positive that luxury travel can be done ethically and while focused on conservation.
But again, there’s no roughing it here. The main lodges have a Scandinavian chalet-inspired décor with blond or dark wood design elements, a cozy sitting area with a fireplace, an open gourmet kitchen, and long tables for those delicious homestyle gourmet meals to come. The seven treehouse-like eco pods are set on platforms 15 feet above the ground, connected by a suspended walkway, and spread out for privacy. Indoors the amenities include uber comfy king-sized beds, sitting areas with day bed, and its most exquisite feature, a motorized louver wall that opens onto a terrace overlooking the woods. Guests share two large bathrooms pavilions with eco facilities and showers. Forget your dodgy camp showers, this is eco lux with hot showers and good water pressure as well. Guest drift off to sleep listening to the croak of the Fleay’s barred frog (endangered) and wake to the rising chorus of chirping, cooing, and warbling of the birdlife signaling the dawn’s break.
Beyond the ultra-comfy bedrooms, each night offers sustenance for trail-weary bodies with wholesome, nutritious and savory meals. Prepared by a private chef, dinner could best be described as haute homemade with fresh and locally sourced paddock and farm to plate dishes without too much fuss or fancy techniques. Just delicious healthy meals served family-style, with a copious flow of regional wines and enjoyed over lively conversation with your fellow hikers.
Throughout the experience, the engaging staff ensures that all feel well taken care of and looked after. The staff is comprised of a team of professional guides who know their stuff and stop frequently to point out interesting facts about the flora and fauna and wildlife we encounter. In particular, they’ll point out bush tukka or food that the indigenous tribes use as sustenance throughout the forest.
Back at camp, our host is more like a den mother, looking after her cubs and making them feel tended to and well cared for. A favorite drink is remembered after the first request as is the type of tea or coffee you prefer each morning. Beyond that, the feeling of not worrying about anything runs through the experience from the moment you arrive until you sadly return your car at the trail’s end. Part of that is the porterage, luggage is dropped off each day and magically appears in your accommodations each night.
The last night of the trip ends with the excitement of completing the forty-mile trek but also a bit of melancholy knowing that, like this experience, all good things come to an end. And this was a good thing. The last night ends at Spicers Hidden Peaks Cabins, which sits in the shadows of Mount Greville and surrounded by grasslands and grazing cattle. This is a day of triumph complete with the celebration dinner. Before dinner, guests are welcomed to a bit of extra pampering and kick off their dusty hiking boots and soak their worn out feet in a foot tub while sitting around a fire pit. There, sitting in front of the fire, they reflect on the journey with a glass of bubbles toasting the good life with their trail mates.
The experience ends as it began, with the motley crew of fellow hikers, this time around a long oak communal table sharing a hearty country-style meal prepared for the last time by our private chef. The meal is delicious not only for the cuisine but for conversation shared with now good friends. Later all retire to the terrace around a fireplace for a nightcap and some more conversation laced with laughter about the mishaps and adventures of the hike during the days just past.
The restful night is in the Spicers Hidden Peaks Cabins, six rustic six handcrafted timber slab cabins, complete with fireplace stoves and a western-style deck facing the mountains. As if to say goodbye the morning’s silence is broken by birdsong and their beautiful display of their brilliant colors.
After a hearty barbeque breakfast, your fellow hikers give their fare-thee-wells and hugs goodbye, promising to stay in touch. As one last touch of opulence, there is an optional helicopter ride back to the start of the trail at Spicers Hidden Vale. From the clouds above the trail, guests relish the peaks, escapement, and scenery of the 40 miles that they’ve just covered over the past five days.
There’s nothing like a walking holiday while being immersed in the untouched nature of Australia’s Scenic Rim. Thanks to the vision of Jude and Graham Tuner, the Spicers Scenic Rim Trail allows an exclusive group to experience some of Australia’s most spectacular and undiscovered landscapes. This is one of those good for the soul life experiences that all are sure treasures just as you’ll cherish each place, experience, and step along the trail until the very end.