Quite why I got drunk on the Tuesday night, I don't know; the excuse was something about it being my last night in Cairns, and the next thing you know... but whatever the justification, Wednesday morning was a struggle, boarding the 8.45am coach while still quite drunk. I slowly surfaced throughout the day, but there was one good thing: I was out of Cairns, camping again, and looking forward to some good walking.
Cardwell was the little town I stopped in, which is famous for neighbouring Hinchinbrook Island... and the reason that Hinchinbrook Island is famous? It's the biggest island National Park in the world, and it's got a wonderful four-day walking track down the east coast, the Thorsborne Trail. Like a horse to a carrot, I was drawn to the walking track as if my life depended on it, and I managed to book onto the number-limited track by the skin of my teeth, getting the last camping permit and avoiding a wait of four days for the next available slot. Lucky old me; you'd almost think it was fate.
As I walked, I span between two different and quite opposing opinions of Hinchinbrook Island and the Thorsborne Trail:
On one hand, the rainforests in Fiordland are more majestic than in Hinchinbrook; the swimming holes in Karijini are more surreal than in Hinchinbrook; the beaches in northern Western Australia are more beautiful than in Hinchinbrook; the mountains of the Southern Alps are more striking than in Hinchinbrook; the sandflies and mosquitoes of Fiordland and Kakadu are bigger than in Hinchinbrook1; the views over Mt Cook are more stunning than in Hinchinbrook; the weather of the western desert is more reliable than in Hinchinbrook; the walking of the Pyke Valley is more challenging than in Hinchinbrook; the waterfalls of Litchfield National Park are more awesome than in Hinchinbrook; and the transport to and from the track is cheaper almost everywhere else than in Hinchinbrook.
However, walking under the rainforest canopy, trundling along beaches, climbing hills, swimming in clear pools at the bottoms of waterfalls, camping by crocodile-infested lagoons, experiencing rain and shine within minutes of one another... these experiences, all rolled into one walk, are the reason that Hinchinbrook Island is just wonderful for bushwalking. Sure, I've seen 'better' somewhere along the line, but they're just memories now; Hinchinbrook Island was reality while I was walking the trail, and it was just great, which only goes to show that presence in the present is all you need to experience the here and now. Yes, there were drawbacks, such as my A$30 tent I'd bought in Brisbane, which leaked like a sieve2 and made my first night on the trail more like Taka than Thorsborne; but my kit worked well, nonetheless, and I've proved that I can go out, spend very few dollars, and still come up with a survival kit for the bush. (For the record, my tent was A$30, roll mat A$10, stove A$7.50, food A$20, and the rest of the stuff I already had, making the equipment cost roughly the same as the ferries to and from the walk.)
The Rainforests of Hinchinbrook
Suffice to say that while walking through the lovely tree-clad bays of Hinchinbrook, I felt I was well at home, and as the track was easy – just 32km in four days – I found I could spend plenty of time soaking in the atmosphere (literally, on the first day) and revelling in the contrast with Cairns. I'm finding a big benefit of the first opinion voiced above; because of my extensive experience walking through Australia and New Zealand, I can compare and contrast with lot of other walks, and I've grown to appreciate certain areas for what they are. Just as I can look at the sunset and it brings back memories of sunsets all over Australasia, when I walked through Hinchinbrook I thought of Freycinet, Wilson's Prom, Litchfield, Hollyford and others. It adds a whole new dimension to the experience, which is already pretty immense.
And the fact that I developed a stinking cold on the first day (undoubtedly caught in Cairns when my defences were down) which stayed with me beyond the end of the trail, didn't detract from the walk one bit, even if one handkerchief for four days with a streaming nose is pretty gross. In fact, what better place to suffer: a cold, a smog-laden city, or a fresh-air island? Indeed.
One particularly interesting thing about Hinchinbrook is the large number of rats on the island. If you aren't careful, the rats will gnaw through your tent and pack to get to your food – even toothpaste smells like food to them – so the rangers have thoughtfully provided steel boxes at each campsite for you to put your food in. I could see the rats hanging around at night, looking for a feed; big buggers they are, too. And on the subject of food, for the first time in a long tramping career I met not one but two couples who had brought along filter coffee systems. Now, I've seen people with all sorts of teas, but filter coffee? That's something altogether different. I tend to buy coffee in a tube – Nestlé do a tube of coffee, condensed milk and sugar, all mixed together in a tube to which you just add boiling water, which is perfect for tramping – and when I brought it out of my pack and proceeded to make a cup, you should have seen the look of pure horror on the filter coffee drinkers' faces. I'd have probably got the same reaction if I'd proceeded to make a nice, fresh rat sandwich.
After finishing the Thorsborne and returning to Cardwell for the traditional ritual of showering, clothes-washing and reacquainting oneself with life's little luxuries one by one (in this case Vegemite, Coke and cold remedies), I booked into the caravan park for another couple of nights, and settled in to do some writing. It was only then that I thought I might as well take my temperature, more on a whim than anything else; it was 100.4°F, and it's funny how you suddenly feel worse when there's physical proof that you're ill. My cold instantly changed from serious sniffles to full on flu, and I realised that taking it easy was not only a good idea, it was vital, and the first step had to be to get out of that leaky old tent and into a bed.
1 A handy hint, picked up in Shark Bay, that's worth repeating. Take 70 per cent baby oil and 30 per cent Dettol, mix, and smear on your body for the ultimate insect repellent. The sandflies stick to the baby oil and die, and the mozzies simply hate the smell of disinfectant. It worked a treat for me on Hinchinbrook – it beats paying a fortune for normal sprays, and it works better, too.
2 Just to point out how leaky my A$30 tent is, consider this. Dew, which is sometimes quite heavy in the tropics in winter, started to drip through the lining onto my head one morning. I thought it must have been raining, but no: my tent can't even handle dew, for goodness sake. It looks like I'll be saving the 2.5kg it takes up when I head off to Asia, and I probably won't shed a tear, even if I discover the perfect free campsite in some beautiful National Park in Indonesia and don't have a tent. Still, for A$30 it was a wonderful investment to enable me to walk the Thorsborne and, later, Fraser Island, so no harm done.