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I’ve found the perfect long-haul hiking holiday for midlife ‘wusses’

by Staff

On our first day hiking the spectacular Cape to Cape Track in Western Australia, we passed a young couple who, between them, must have been lugging about 40kg of kit on their backs.

Hanging off their fully-loaded backpacks were a tent, sleeping bags, a couple of cooking pans, half a loo roll and a weird concertinaed metal thingie.

“What do you think that is?” my friend Vic asked me.

“No idea,” I said, as I reapplied my lip gloss. “And not sure I care.”

This is what happens to you on a trip called Walk into Luxury. Your nascent princess emerges, and in my case, it took all of 15 minutes. Not that I’m apologising for it. I have done my time backpacking around Europe, sleeping on a Greek beach as the tide came in and in a wind-blown tent at a festival. I have tried and failed to light fires in the rain and paid the unpleasant price for eating half-cooked sausages.

Fiona McIntosh on the Cape to Cape trail

I have ticked off all those “rite of passage” ordeals and now that I’m in my fifties, I have earned the right to never sleep on a yoga mat on hard earth again. Luckily for urban wusses like me, there are an increasing number of ways to enjoy the raw thrill of nature in absolute princess-worthy comfort and there is nowhere better to do this than in the wild reaches of Australia.

Of the dozens of famous walking trails across the country, one of the most breathtaking is the Cape to Cape Trail in Margaret River in the southwest corner of Western Australia. The 76-mile trail meanders along the coast between two lighthouses, Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin, through peppermint tree groves and jarrah forests, through natural rock pools and across empty beaches where the white sand is pounded by the Indian Ocean. When you stand at the top of a cliff, cormorants whirling above you, and look out over the luminous water, there is nothing between you and South Africa.

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With its pleasant Med-like climate, limey soil and sea breezes it also happens to be one of the best wine and food producing regions in Australia, with 90 cellar doors and a slew of swanky restaurants. Margaret River may be a rural outpost, a 2.5-hour drive from Perth, but you are more likely to find snapper ceviche and Japanese pumpkin with chimichurri, wasabi cream and puffed grains on the menu than chicken in a basket.

Which brings us back to our walk. You could lug 20kg of kit on your back and pitch your tent at one of the perfectly nice camping grounds or you could take the bouji option. And I really do mean bouji.

Hikers on Walk into Luxury’s four-day trip

Hikers on Walk into Luxury’s four-day trip

LUKE TSCHARKE

Boutique Australian travel company Walk into Luxury offers a four-day “journey” that includes small-group guided walks along the best bits of the Cape to Cape trail and three nights staying in the Injidup Spa Retreat. I was travelling with my school friend Vic, who had flown in from Melbourne to meet me, and when we slid open the glass doors to our two-bedroom villa, we didn’t quite know where to start. On our private, ocean-view terrace were sunloungers and a heated plunge pool. Inside was a fridge loaded with Margaret River wines and food, an eco-fire for cool nights, underfloor heating, enormous comfortable beds, a double rainforest shower, eco bath products, a spa menu for in-house massages and an all-important washing machine to deal with our toxic hiking kit.

But we were given very little time to enjoy our “let them eat cake” moment as we were rounded up for our first walk with eight others in our group — three couples and another pair of old school friends from Sydney — all in our fifties and all a bit achy and over the idea of “normal” camping.

Over the next four days our delightful guides Marcel and “Fish” (who turned out to be one of Australia’s most esteemed heritage architects) took us on walks that covered 26-miles of highlights from the Cape to Cape Track. Most of the walks were easy, along sandy paths and gentle hills, with a few steeper rocky paths thrown in, but nothing was too taxing.

Canoeing along the Margaret River

Canoeing along the Margaret River

Marcel explained that he would walk ahead of the group as “snake bait” while Fish trailed at the back, creating a sort of snake forcefield in case any of the dugites waking up in the spring sunshine were “feeling frisky”. As it turned out we didn’t see any snakes (cue relief) but none of us was prepared for the dazzling beauty of the landscape. In the warm spring sunshine we walked through some of the richest and most biodiverse flora and fauna in the world. Clusters of pink pimeleas burst from ochre-coloured rocks, tangerine cape tulips, yellow butterfly flowers and crimson desert peas lined the sandy tracks. We explored limestone caves, walked through ghostly petrified forests and past the blackened bones of Manila trees, ravaged by bushfire, but with violent green regrowth bursting from beneath.

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We saw dolphins and breaching humpback and southern right whales in the ocean below, mobs of kangaroos and emus. In the ancient Karri forest parakeets and kookaburras mocked us from above as we trudged the last mile towards our picnic lunch. We were also lucky enough to be walking in wildflower season — the early September to mid-October sweet spot when the rainy season has finished, the weather is sunny but not hot and the trail is carpeted with a psychedelic riot of flowers. Along our walks Marcel and Fish talked about the history and unique geography of the area, pointing out shipwrecks and small coastal settlements as they explained how the indigenous Noongar people lived off the land.

Humpback whales off the coast of Dunsborough

Humpback whales off the coast of Dunsborough

We ended each day foot-weary and the wrong side of glowy, but no matter how many calories we burnt off it was never enough to make up for the avalanche of extraordinary food we were served, from the snapper and slow-roast lamb cooked by Andrea, our private chef at the retreat, to the tasting menu at modern Australian restaurant Yarri in nearby Dunsborough.

Vic and I celebrated our last night in our favourite spot (the heated plunge pool) with a glass of local blanc de blanc in our hands as the setting sun cast its rosy glow. Honestly, what is the point of growing old if you can’t do something like this?
Fiona McIntosh was a guest of Visit Australia (westernaustralia.com) and Walk into Luxury, which has four days’ all inclusive from £1,845pp, including winery visits and transfers (walkintoluxury.com). Fly to Perth

More great Australian walks

Seven Peaks Walk, Lord Howe Island, New South Wales

Traverse the extraordinary, Unesco world heritage-listed Lord Howe Island, a tiny gem marooned in the Tasman Sea, 600km east of Sydney, which is so exclusive that only 400 visitors are allowed there at any one time. The Seven Peaks Walk is a challenging five-day hike through subtropical palm forests, along sea cliffs, and to vast sandy beaches where you can swim with reef sharks and turtles. Pinetrees Lodge offers a Seven Peaks Walk package including five days of guided walking and snorkelling trips.
Details Six nights’ all-inclusive at Pinetrees Lodge from £2,684pp, including island airport transfers (pinetrees.com.au). Fly to Lord Howe Island via Sydney

Three Capes Walk, Tasmania

On the Three Capes Trek near Port Arthur in Tasmania

On the Three Capes Trek near Port Arthur in Tasmania

GETTY IMAGES

Tasmania is undoubtedly the walking state of Australia, with milder summers and extraordinarily untouched and varied landscapes, from mountain peaks to beaches. Great walks include Cradle Mountain, the Bay of Fires and Freycinet National Park, but the classic is the Three Capes Trek, passing through 30 miles of raw, coastal wilderness. A moderate four-day guided walk, staying at the only private lodges along the trek — simple but comfortable accommodation with outdoor hot tubs, private cooks and Tasman wine on tap — can be booked through the Tasmanian Walking Company.
Details Three nights’ full board from £1,747pp, including guiding and a boat transfer (taswalkingco.com.au). Fly to Hobart

Larapinta, Alice Springs, Northern Territory

Euro Ridge on the Larapinta Trail

Euro Ridge on the Larapinta Trail

ALAMY

Go straight to the dusty, red heart of Australia on one of the world’s most famous desert walks, which runs for 143 miles along the spine of the spectacular West MacDonnell Ranges near Alice Springs. Vast flood plains, skyscraper gorges, watering holes and incredible birdlife are part of the experience. The Larapinta Trek in Comfort trip features guided walks over six days, three-course meals and wine each night, with hot showers and a firepit for post-walk chinwags.
Details Five nights’ all-inclusive from £1,796pp including guided walks, camping equipment and transfers (australianwalkingholidays.com.au). Fly to Alice Springs via Sydney

Kimberley Walk, Western Australia

Bungle Bungles in Purnululu National Park

Bungle Bungles in Purnululu National Park

ALAMY

If you won’t settle for anything less than knockout luxury, then look no further than this four-night, five-day guided walking trip in far northwestern Australia. Crossing through the extraordinary ochre gorges, waterfalls and thermal springs of the Kimberley Ranges, you’ll enjoy helicopter rides over the Bungle Bungles and an exclusive bathing session at Zebedee Springs thermal pools, with champagne, after hours. Walking groups stay at the famous El Questro Homestead in absolute style, with an open bar, sunset drinks on top of a gorge and a private clifftop dinner thrown in.
Details Four nights’ all-inclusive from £6,253pp, including private guided excursions, transfers and park permits (walkintoluxury.com). Fly to Kununurra via Perth

The Scenic Rim Trail, Queensland

Walking along Scenic Rim Trail

Walking along Scenic Rim Trail

ALAMY

On a Spicers Scenic Rim Trail trek, you’ll hike through Unesco-listed national rainforests, over peaks and through gorges rich with wildlife during this spectacular walk in southeast Queensland. Starting near Brisbane, the trek’s effort level is “challenging”, but you can choose between two and six-day guided itineraries. Either way your group will stay at stylish glamping sites and eco-cabins along the way. This is sustainable yet souped-up glamping (scented face towels, grazing platters, proper beds and great wine).
Details Two nights’ all-inclusive from £1,330pp, including guiding and luggage transfers (scenicrimtrail.com). Fly to Brisbane

The Twelve Apostles, Victoria

The Twelve Apostles sea stacks

The Twelve Apostles sea stacks

GETTY IMAGES

The raw and wild coastline of Victoria, with its soaring cliffs, surf-pounded beaches, redwood rainforests and fern-filled gullies, is a must-do after a stay in nearby Melbourne. And the new Twelve Apostles bush-walking trail, which ends at the famous sea stacks, is an extra enticement. Spot kangaroos, emus and echidnas along the way on Australian Walking Company’s four-day guided walk. Along the way you’ll be put up in lodges with great food and wine, rainforest showers and a much-needed foot spa.
Details Three nights’ all-inclusive from £1,227pp, including return transfers from Melbourne, park fees and vehicle support (auswalkingco.com.au). Fly to Melbourne

For more walking holidays in Australia visit greatwalksofaustralia.com.au

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