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Walking in Winter

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by Gina Woodward, Great Walks of Australia

Marking off the Winter Solstice and watching the days start to get longer is a nice reminder to ourselves that walking in winter is one of life’s great joys. The air is still crisp, the light is so magical for capturing photographic moments, the flies are much sleepier, and the cool nights make for great sleeping weather.

Clear night skies in the outback offer an insight to the galaxy and are a true privilege. If you’ve never experienced an Australian outback sky, then taking in this on one of the Great Walks of Australia is a special way to experience such a breathtaking sight.

Stars as dense as they are in the Milky Way appear right down to the horizon and in each direction you look the intensity of the stars can overwhelm you. When you are a city dweller and the odds are against you due to all the artificial light in your surroundings, letting yourself succumb to the moment you first set your eyes on an outback night sky will truly transform your life.

It’s these inspiring moments, the transformative moments when you take yourself out of your everyday, that make all the difference to your holiday – they form the experience. One that you get to take home and call on whenever you need it.

During the winter months, the walks in the Great Walks collection that may transform you and the way you go about your daily life include Classic Larapinta Trek in Comfort, in the Northern Territory; Scenic Rim Trail in Queensland; and The Arkaba Walk and Murray River Walk, both in South Australia. Two of the Tasmanian Great Walks, Maria Island and Cradle Mountain Huts, also offer alternate versions of their Great Walks member walks during these months. Each walk is unique.

In South Australia’s Flinders Ranges, The Arkaba Walk is a four-day private hike through ancient landscapes and a 60,000 acre private wildlife conservancy. The winter is a beautiful time with spectacular sunrises and sunsets, plus cold nights and brilliant edge of the outback skies. Roaring campfires at night and glasses of South Australian wine are a fine way to celebrate and stay warm, whilst the carpet of green across Arkaba’s spectacular and diverse topography, as painted so beautifully by Hans Heysen, is a sight to behold. So many catch your breath moments await each walker.

With surface water in the creeks following winter rains, the wildlife is abundant as food is plentiful too. Emus begin laying eggs from August onwards so there is plenty of wildlife activity including sighting of Red and Grey Kangaroos, Euros, Yellow-footed Rock Wallabies, numerous reptiles and birds including Spotted Nightjars, Horsfields Bronze Cuckoo and Stubble Quails – some of the new bird species found at Arkaba following the initial conservation work undertaken through to 2012.

Since 2009, much work has been done to change the face of what was a working sheep station from 1851. The team at Wild Bush Luxury, operators of the Arkaba Walk, have put into place several successful conservation programs across the property, focusing primarily on feral species eradication and reversing the impacts of years of livestock grazing. The wildlife has returned and are now happily flourishing in their home overlooked by the Elder Ranges and Wilpena Pound. Seeing wildlife in their native surrounds is another one of those moments to be treasured.

On the Murray River Walk, a four day walk experience with lodgings on a houseboat, it’s a hive of activity in the winter months. A time where Black Swans are pairing and building rafts to nest on, Red and Grey Kangaroos move to the river’s edge to graze on the plains, Darters use the sun to dry their wings before their next dive for fish and Stripey Emu chicks stay close to their dads as they discover the speed in their new legs.

The flowers are also on display with Showy Daisies blooming beneath flowering River Box trees, Wild River Lily flowers appear on sandy lunettes after the rains, and of course new saltbush leaves, samphire and native river mint are foraged to finish up on the dinner plates. Ending the day with a hot shower, three course meal and some riverside campfire tales makes for a wonderful winter walking experience.

In the Red Centre of Australia on the six-day Classic Larapinta Trek in Comfort by Australian Walking Holidays, it’s not only prime night sky viewing thanks to less humidity and clear skies, but it’s also a great time for birdwatching. From July, the birds are in full breeding plumage. Alice Springs and its surrounds the perfect spot to bring out the binoculars and zone in on Western Bowerbirds, Whistling Kites and Wedge Tailed Eagles. Again, more campfire moments, shared travel stories and laughs over wine offer transformative experiences for travellers.

It’s easy to forget sometimes that Queensland has winter too. On the Scenic Rim Trail by Spicers, the nights are cool and the days are pleasantly warm, fantastic conditions for being out and about in nature. Spicers Peak Lodge is Australia’s highest non-alpine lodge at 1100m so you’ll certainly know it’s winter up there.

Cooler temperatures are great for walking and the night time atmosphere with a glass of red wine and crackling logs on the fires, both indoor and outdoor, is friendly and warm. The hot tubs at Spicers Canopy and Spicers Peak Lodge are truly tempting and offer that much needed post hike relief for weary limbs. Many of the animals in this conservation area start to get a little more active in August with the impending Spring and breeding season ahead.

Come Spring many more of the Great Walks return to operation including Seven Peaks Walk by Pinetrees on Lord Howe Island, NSW and Walk into Luxury’s Margaret River Cape to Cape Walk in Western Australia. September is a big month for walking, whales and wildflowers too. In October, the remainder of the walks in the group, in Victoria and Tasmania open again for business and our winter walks close for another season. The changing of the seasons, across the country and as experienced through all our walks, is also special to experience. Sometimes in the city we can forget about what season mean apart from grabbing a jumper or turning on the heater.

Many guests that talk about their Great Walks of Australia experiences often refer to moments, to what transformed them, and on reflection, what parts of each experience they refer to in their daily lives. Was it the delicate details of the wildflowers? Did they meet eye to eye with some friendly wildlife and share a moment? Did they spot a bird they’d never seen or share a fireside story with a stranger? Were they surprised by their ability to switch off their device and manage without it or did they embrace their natural curls and secretly not miss their hairdryer? Whatever their moment was, it is their own to embrace and their own to remind them to get outside their comfort zone and explore something new when the time arises. Exploring on foot brings a whole new meaning to a place, whatever you call it – walking, trekking, hiking, bushwalking or tramping, it’s a great way to discover in-depth the place you have chosen to explore with your guide and some new friends.

If you want to experience this, a transformative holiday, a moment in time that changes you, then the next step is yours… www.greatwalksofaustralia.com.au

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