Remember when bushwalking was all about dehydrated meals and sleeping on the ground? When the only way to do a multi-day hike was to pore over a bunch of topographic maps for weeks before setting off, plan where you were going to pitch your tent each night and draw straws to decide who would carry the poles?
Don’t get me wrong. I love the freedom of DIY hiking, but it comes at a price: heavy packs, crouching over a camp stove after a long day on the trail, all those decisions…
Besides, there’s now another way. My first gourmet guided hike was the Maria Island Walk, off Tasmania’s east coast. It was a revelation to walk for four days along beaches and forest trails carrying only a daypack. On top of that, I got to sleep in a cosy canvas-sided cabin each night and dine like a queen.
I can still remember one of the dinners: a three-course MasterChef-worthy meal involving bruschetta, scallops and a summerberry pudding with King Island cream, all served on real china at a candlelit table under the trees.
This was camping as I’d never experienced it before, a way of walking that opened up Australia’s wild places to people who had never slept in a tent (and have no intention to) while still appealing to keen hikers who don’t always have the time or inclination to arrange their own hikes.
Then there was the six-day Larapinta Trek in Central Australia, where I’d dawdle at the back of the group, all the better to learn from one of our two guides about the flowers and birds we were seeing and the rippled rocks under our boots, which once lay under an inland sea.
There was no rush, she said, and I’ve found the same on other guided walks: you’d all set off together each morning, but before long everyone would find their own rhythm, walk at their own pace. Besides, you’re not covering great distances: 12-14 kilometres is the average length per day in the Great Walks of Australia collective.
Relieved of chores and decisions, you also get to immerse yourself in the simple act of walking. You don’t need to know where you’re going or how you’re going to get there. Just put one foot in front of the other and enjoy where you are.
Another reason there’s no rush, of course, is that your guides take care of dinner when you reach the camp (or lodge). On the Arkaba Walk, in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges, that means there’s time for a cup of tea – or a hot shower.
If there’s anything better after a scorching outback day than washing the dust off while gazing at nearby river red gums, it could be this: having an unscheduled wildlife encounter from a rustic-chic shower stall. Still dripping and wrapped in a towel, I watched a goanna crash-tackle a rabbit and devour it head-first, right there in the long grass beside my hiking boots. Even our guides said they’d never seen that before.
Another bonus of this kind of walking is that it often gives you privileged access to places ordinarily off-limits. On the Arkaba Walk, that’s Arkaba Station, a former sheep property (now a conservation reserve).
On the Cradle Mountain Huts Walk , we sidestepped the hordes on Tasmania’s popular Overland Track, striding past the public hut each afternoon before ducking down secret boardwalks leading to our very own Hansel-and-Gretel wilderness cabin.
Inside there were creature comforts – hot showers, a drying room (for rain-soaked hiking gear), reading nooks and a small library – but the best thing about arriving at each of these private huts was being greeted by the aroma of fresh bread and just-brewed coffee, prepared by one of our guides who had walked ahead.
For luxury is often in the details, thoughtful touches you could never experience on an independent hike: warm-water footbaths to soak our tired toes after a day on the Twelve Apostles Walk lanterns hung in the trees over our dinner table on the Arkaba Walk; outdoor hand-washing stations we shared with magpie-larks preening themselves on the Larapinta Trek.
Much as I still love DIY bushwalks, I’ve come to realise that gourmet guided walks offer their own kind of freedom. In an age when most of us have far too much going on in our heads, it’s liberating to unplug our devices, go with the flow and let someone else take care of logistics. To experience the natural world feet-first, eat well, sleep soundly and breathe deeply, relaxing from the inside out.
Put simply, this kind of walking is hard to beat, a reminder that true luxury is something money can’t buy: time spent in Australia’s wild places without a care in the world.
For more information, visit Great Walks of Australia.
This feature was created by Australian Traveller and supported by Great Walks of Australia.