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Walk this way

Cape to Cape track with Walk Into Luxury

By Fleur Bainger

“I think I actually drooled on the table,” guffaws my friend in an uncharacteristically candid moment. She’s a TV reporter who always looks and acts impeccably, and is not prone to such louche admissions. But floating in a post-massage state of zen, she’s completely forgotten herself.

Her relaxed demeanour is a worthy reward for the morning’s toils. The two of us are hiking the Cape to Cape Track in Western Australia’s Margaret River, but not the way most people do it. No heavy backpacks, wispy mattress rolls or tent pegs for us. And certainly no stone-ringed campfire or tinned soup.

We’re doing it in style. As the day ripens, we’re trekking boulder strewn hills, tall tree forests and sugary beaches, before shifting gear and being pampered with luxe massage treatments and five-star digs in the afternoon, chased by degustation dinners as the sun dives towards the Indian Ocean. It makes me wonder why I never mixed nature with nurture before?

Our pimped promenade is delivered by Walk into Luxury tours, the dreamy wine region’s newest entrant. The outfit is the brainchild of a luxe travel junkie stuck in a lawyer’s body, Nikki King, and her devoted draughtsman husband, Adam. King’s long-held dream was to create an experience that mirrors the way she and her spouse love to travel: activity laced with luxury, where all you have to do is turn up. The result is a multi-day, all-inclusive escape where everything has been thought of, right down to the locally made rocky road in our picnic packs.

“It’s pretty awesome when you’ve had a big day and you can end it somewhere lovely with a glass of wine,” says Nikki, when we meet at breakfast to go over our trail map. “You’ve been outdoors in the fresh air but you’re still getting pampered a bit. It’s really making the most of a holiday.”

We set off wearing brand new WiL backpacks filled with a water bladder, locally sourced gourmet goods, a first aid kit, track guidebook, GPS and sunscreen. The GPS is preloaded with text messages such as “Help, I’m lost” which are sent via satellite to the WiL team, who are on call to assist at any time. It’s a reassuring way to hike guide-free, though that option is also available should you wish.

We leave at the very civilised (and rather un-hiker-like) hour of 10am, bidding farewell to Smiths Beach Resort, where we spent the previous afternoon strolling on the sand and splashing in the waves, then dining on confit duck and swilling local wines at the excellent on-site restaurant, Lamonts. We pick up our section of the 135-kilometre Cape to Cape Track right out front, following it around a corner to face a far more rugged stretch of eroded rocks and coastal scrub. The terrain is challenging enough: steep ups and downs and spots of boulder skirting, but the 6.75-kilometre chunk is tempered with a reviving dip in a crystalline rockpool and sweeping views over endless granite and limestone headland. 

By the time we arrive at Injidup Spa Retreat, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World and only a short diversion from the track, our snack pack is empty. No matter: our luggage has been transferred and lunch and canapés await in our ocean-facing villa. There’s even non-alcoholic grape juice by Voyager Estate chilled to quench a post-hike thirst, and more of that fabulous Margaret River vino has been slotted into the fridge. Though we barely deserve it, we dutifully trot to the spa for a muscle-soothing rub down, emerging an hour later with a new glow. There’s time to test out the villa’s private plunge pool and watch the sun set over the ocean before a chef arrives to cook and deliver a three-course meal to our dinner table. It’s the detail that makes the difference, and nothing has been left to chance.

Morning sees me sleep in while my buddy jogs along the isolated beach below. She spots a pod of dolphins playing in the surf and returns with animated eyes and a wide grin. “It’s been a long time since I’ve gone to the beach and not seen a soul,” she enthuses. Soon, the hiking boots are laced up and our freshly filled day packs are strapped on. This time we’re chauffeured past Margaret River’s vineyards to a sky-scraping karri forest, where we trace the dirt track like ants on a path. Pale, solid trunks as straight as rulers hem in the route, their canopies catching the sunlight. It’s meditative, with a soundtrack of birdsong, wind and rhythmic leaf crunching.

When our driver arrives I lament leaving it, but not for long – we’re soon settling in to one of the gastronomically blessed region’s best foodie experiences: lunch at Wills Domain. Broome bugs and foraged herbs are followed by tasty heirloom tomatoes on pine nut granola, then blush lamb sprinkled with dates and chickpeas, rounded out with house-made sorbet, figs and sugar encrusted fennel. With our hiker’s appetite, we polish off the lot – along with the matching wines.

Clutching cellar door purchases, we emerge to see another driver waiting to whisk us away on the three hour trip to Perth – though if we were time poor there’s also a private jet (a 25-minute trip) or chopper (45 minutes) option. Perhaps that’ll be next time. Then I’ll be the one drooling.

 

Walking the Cape to Cape Track | Walk Into Luxury 

 

Scenic Rim Trail by Spicers

By Tim Morrell

Several years ago a new word, glamping, became part of the vocabulary of travel. It means glamorous camping in a five-star tent; one with a polished timber floor, bedside lights and handsome furniture. 

I have discovered the need for another new travel term, pretend hiking, or “piking”, which is how you travel between glamping sites. There’s none of that nonsense about lugging your equipment, food and accommodation along with you. There are people to take care of all of that. This highly civilised escape from civilisation is offered by the Spicers group of hotels, which owns six luxurious properties within a two-hour drive from Brisbane (plus one in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales). The company’s fully accompanied walk along the Scenic Rim Trail is one of Australia’s great bush walking experiences.

Spicers hotels are definitely a collection rather than a chain. Each property is small, elegant and distinctive. Before being driven off to the start of the trail, hikers from out of town can choose to stay the night at Spicers Balfour Hotel, a large inner city Brisbane house converted to an intimate and chic urban hideaway, with leafy surrounds and a terrific little guests-only bar in a rooftop aerie.

The first stage of the trail takes you to Spicers Canopy, which the company describes as an eco-luxury tentsite. I would describe it as a sprawling one-room farmhouse with guest pavilions. After a day’s walk guests warm up with wine and canapés around the massive stone fireplace that dominates one end of the room, before transferring to the long table at the other end for a splendid dinner prepared at the surrounding kitchen counter by hosts Ryan and Finley.

It’s only a few steps from the table to your tent. The site is compact, but the tents are oriented in such a way that you look out over a deeply calming view of cow paddocks to the Great Dividing Range with no sign of other humans for miles. Tents are open on the side facing the mountains. You can close the tent for privacy, but none of us did. We all wanted to lie in bed watching the sunrise.

Mornings are the only time when some campers may feel closer to nature than they really want to be. Nobody looks their best before breakfast, striding in a bathrobe through the dewy grass to the shower, but it’s all part of a healthy outdoor experience at Spicers Canopy. Guests can spend the day peacefully exploring the local hills and valleys on a walking circuit that adds an extra six and a half kilometres to the 23 kilometre long main trail. This additional walk takes you through dense rainforests and creekside micro environments with their own specific flora and fauna. 

The following day you trek from Spicers Canopy to Spicers Peak Lodge. Serious hikers will not be disappointed. Less sturdy participants can take a somewhat easier alternative to the usual track, and genuine pikers (like me) can be picked up in a four-wheel drive vehicle when the going gets steep and tough.

I was particularly impressed with the way this unexpected situation was handled. When I called it quits James Pearce, the hotel’s manager, who was guiding us promptly put a call through to the charming Ryan and Finley, and I enjoyed a gentle solitary stroll back down the hill to meet them, stopping occasionally to listen to the bellbirds. Instead of walking to Spicers Peak Lodge I was driven, and missed out on seeing the expansive view of the coastal plains from the top of the Dividing Range.

The Spicers Scenic Rim Trail can be adapted to a variety of fitness levels, but it’s demanding and you’ll need to be in quite good shape. I would strongly recommend discussing this with the management before doing the hike.

I didn’t actually earn the extravagant reward of a night at Spicers Peak Lodge at the end of the trail, but despite being racked with guilt I was nevertheless able to have a truly sensational time there.

The hotel is repeatedly named the state’s best luxury accommodation in the Queensland Tourism Awards. The staff combines relaxed sociability with the level of service that instantly identifies a top hotel. The generous suites and private lodges are decorated in comfortingly warm tones of caffe latte and have exceptionally big baths for weary hikers and shameless hedonists. They also have functioning fireplaces facing your bed and a stack of logs on your private verandah. The food is astonishingly good. I had the delicious degustation menu with paired wines, which provides diners with a sense of adventure and discovery.

The whole experience will appeal to the kind of people who are sensitive to natural wonders, but whose conversation extends beyond geological timelines and different species of moss. Your walking companions are therefore virtually guaranteed to be good company, and the surroundings are hard to beat.

 

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