Sometimes, just every now and then, I like to challenge myself, to put my body to the test, see what it’s capable of, push my limits. Bec C’s impending 40th birthday provided me with the perfect opportunity to do just that. To celebrate the significant milestone Bec C wanted to trek the Thorsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook Island in Queensland. 4 days, 3 nights, ten friends, a tropical crocodile / sandfly / mozzie and snake infested island – our challenge awaited us.
For some, it was their first-ever hike, the first time to carry a back pack containing all their belongings, including food and shelter for 4 days. For others it was like reuniting with an old friend, one they hadn’t spent any time with since having kids.
People flew in to Townsville from Sydney, Newcastle, Port Macquarie and Darwin. A bus trip to Cardwell 2 hours north, a night in a motel and then we were ready. As dawn shed her final layers and we sped across the glassy water on our approach to Hinchinbrook, the island lay before us, majestically rising from the Coral Sea. She looked formidable, ancient and untouched.
Hinchinbrook Island is part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and it is Australia’s largest island national park. Only 40 people are permitted on the island at any one time. The Thorsborne Trail which runs from North to South (you can also walk it South to North) is 32 kilometres of rainforest, bush, scrub, beaches, boulders, mangroves, steep climbs, rugged descents, and all with Mount Bowen, an ever-present landmark, towering and presiding over the island.
There was a fair bit of this
and quite a bit of this (the billy and tea mugs got a serious work-out),
some of this (the morning and evening yoga sessions saved us all from certain muscle seizure – the joys of having an experienced yoga teacher in your midst),
a bit of this
and thankfully, plenty of this:
I have to be honest, as our departure date for the hike drew near, I was getting nervous. Like Bec C, I had done very little physical preparation. Hearing and reading of the island’s inhabitants only served to fuel my apprehension, and it was with a degree of trepidation that I set off for Hinchinbrook.
Thankfully the nerves were ill-founded. We managed to keep the mozzies and sandflies at bay with a magical potion of bath oil and water. We only saw 1 snake, the goannas were much more common, and there were many more frogs, native rats and even sea turtles than there were crocodiles. In fact, aside from a large splash one night in a dark water hole (heard by one of our party relieving herself – gotta love the bush dunny), there was no evidence of crocodile life. Plenty of National Park signs warning of their presence though: ‘No Swimming: Crocodiles inhabit this area – attacks may cause injury or death’. Enough said. There was to be no ocean swimming.
Before getting on the island, crocodiles had loomed large in our collective imagination, so who would have thought it would be the island’s native bush rats who caused our hearts to race and tummies to hurt from laughing?
On our final night on the island, while we ate dinner, one of these rats broke into Lisa’s pack. It ate through the zip and a section of canvas to get into one of the external pockets of her pack. No, I’m not joking, it ate through a zip!
Lisa discovered the rat while I was at a nearby tent borrowing some clothing from Chantal. It was dark, we were in a rainforest and we all had our head lamps on. Light was bouncing off large glossy leaves and out into the darkness. Suddenly there were squeals and yelps from Lisa, “There’s a rat in my pack! There’s a RAT in my PACK!”
I’ve met Lisa a couple of times now and she strikes me as a very capable, competent, intelligent and rational girl. Turns out rodents are her achilles. We’ve all got one, and who can blame you if it’s rats?
Next thing Bec C is calling out “Linda, Linda, come quick! There’s a rat in Lisa’s pack! We need you! QUICK!”
I turned from Chantal to Linda who was behind me rummaging around in her own pack.
“How come you’re so good with rats?” I asked Linda. I was genuinely perplexed.
With one swift maneuver, she shoved her left hand deep inside a surgical glove, and snapped it high and tight around her arm with her other hand, “I used to work (snap) in a research laboratory.” She muttered her reply, and strode off to save Lisa.
Not wanting to miss the action (but with absolutely nothing to offer), I quickly followed.
“Hold the torch, shine the light into the pack so I can see”, Linda was calm. Someone shone the torch, the spotlight revealing a large, healthy rat, inside a clear, ziplock bag. It had chewed its way through the plastic and was now stuck.
“Oh my god, it’s inside the bag!” I exclaimed.
“It’s actually inside the bag!”, I said again excitedly, in case no-one else could see what I could see.
“Look at that, the rat is IN the plastic bag!” When I went on to repeat it a fourth time, I even started to annoy myself.
Calls of “Get it out!”, ‘C’mon Linda!”, “Quickly, DO something!” I don’t know who said what, but there was a general sense of hysteria. Linda boldly yanked the plastic bag out of the pack and it fell to the forest floor. Then, before our eyes, the plastic ziplock bag started running around in a frenzied state at out feet.
Screams, yells and loud exclamations ensued. “Arghhh!” “Set it free!” “Leave it, leave it!” “OH MY GOD!” “RUUUUUUN!”
Once again, brave Linda intervened. She grabbed the bag, flicked it so that the rat fell free, escaping through the hole it had chewed. His in was his out. He landed with a quiet thud and instead of running away, he made a charge, directly at Linda. She leapt with a scissor kick so high in the air we were all left open-mouthed and the rat disappeared into the night.
We cried tears of laughter and then returned to our respective tents to regale those who’d missed out, of the story of the rat in the pack (and to wonder quietly why Linda had thought to pack a surgical glove).
Thankfully there were no more close encounters of the wildlife kind. On our final day we experienced more spell-binding scenery, diverse landscapes, beautiful bird calls, electric blue butterflies and a waterfall and swimming hole that made you feel like you’d died and gone to heaven. Australia at her best.
We all finished the walk unharmed and with no injuries. We felt that immense sense of achievement that you get when you’ve tackled a beast, when you’ve pushed your body and you discover that it can actually rise to the challenge, it delivers and it doesn’t let you down.
As I farewelled my hiking buddies at Townsville airport (I stayed on to spend an extra night with a girlfriend), I reflected on the salient lessons of hiking. Away from home and your creature comforts, you remember what is really important: clean, fresh, cold and abundant water. If you’re lucky enough to have semi-decent food that fills the hole in your tummy and shelter over your head at night with a warm bed inside, life is good. Friendship is the icing on the cake – it’s a beautiful thing.