A trio of welcome swallows is swooping and looping through a series of aerial acrobatics in front of the verandah on which I'm resting my weary legs.
Envying their agility and grace, I’m contemplating the mountain from which I’ve descended an hour or so earlier. The double hump of Mount Mitchell looms before me and I’m somewhat amazed to look back at where the day has taken me.
It started with a 5km bushwalk to the top and ended with a waiting glass of champagne. The extinct volcano that forms part of south-east Queensland’s aptly named Scenic Rim has provided the first challenge in a three-day guided walk that’s opening up new areas of this ruggedly beautiful part of Australia.
We’ve started in the foothills of Main Range National Park, taking the walking trail from Cunningham’s Gap through the rainforest. It’s damp underfoot, mossy and sometimes slippery; but watching my feet provides the unexpected bonus that I don’t miss the profusion of fungi in oranges, reds, browns and creams on the forest floor and on fallen trees.
As we get higher, glimpses of the panorama to greet us at the top get more frequent and we learn from guide Alistair Oakman the stories of those who forged the first trails through the area.
Standing at 1168 metres, with views of the Fassifern Valley and the sweeping arc of the mountains of the Scenic Rim, we learn that Mount Mitchell was named by explorer and botanist Allan Cunningham in 1828 in honour of the Surveyor General, Thomas Mitchell. He named nearby Spicers Gap and Spicers Peak for Queensland’s superintendent of convicts, Peter Spicer, who saw the peak while tracking escapees.
Undertaking the Spicers Scenic Rim Trail walk, run by Spicers Retreats, our small party is soon leaving the national park trail, our downward path taking us onto private land, the 2800-hectare nature reserve of Spicers Peak Station. The sheep and cattle station is home to the 10 permanent tents of the elegantly comfortable “glamping” experience, Spicers Canopy.
Our descent is a less travelled path, unformed for the most part, with a guiding rope to help control on descent on steeper land through eucalypt forest. A couple of creek crossings negotiated, by late afternoon we have walked 13km and are crossing open farmland with the welcoming sight of the tented camp and small lodge before us.
Dawn breaks in a scarlet blaze behind the mountains as we prepare for our second day’s walk, a four-hour 6.5km loop exploring Millar Vale and Oaky creeks, believed to have been part of an indigenous trading route through the Great Dividing Range from inland areas to the coast. We criss-cross the shallow waterway, pausing to watch bounding red-faced wallabies and spot tiny electric-blue kingfishers. A couple of awkward rock-face scrambles provide the first real physical challenges – for me, at least – and by early afternoon we’re back at our lodgings.
A 4WD expedition through farmland and into the abutting Spicers Gap Regional Park offers a shorter afternoon walk, the 1.6km walk along an 1840s dray track, remnants of the bluestone roadway still evident underfoot. Much of the track is lined with towering Xanthorrhoea grass trees (called ‘black boys’ by the early settlers for their dark trunks and spear-like spikes) and the chime of bellbirds rings in the clear air.
At Governors Chair lookout we take turns perching on the large rock on the edge of the cliff face overlooking the Fassifern Valley, reportedly a resting place for early governors when journeying through Spicers Gap.
On the final walking day, the path leads into Main Range National Park and through the rainforests of Spicers Peak. The rigours of scaling a rocky ridge are rewarded by the profusion of ferns and epiphytes, native orchids, banksias and ancient Hoop pines.
Comfort completes each day’s walk at Spicers Canopy, with a log fire, hearty home-style meals with wine, and beds warmed the old-fashioned way by hot water bottles in soft wool covers. On day three, after 10km, a greater reward awaits: the luxury Spicers Peak Lodge where bathtubs, and a gourmet degustation dinner await.
On our final morning, there’s an optional walk to Ryan’s Lookout on offer. No-one in our group takes it up, the lure of a leisurely breakfast and the day spa too hard to resist.