There are certain things we're likely to prove to ourselves… about ourselves… on a four-day hike. Especially if that hike takes you 50 kilometres up-and-down an extinct volcano, through Earth's oldest rainforest.
My greatest achievement on it, however, may be that I work out a system to filter the chocolate buds from the scroggin mix I'm given each morning, so I never waste my time eating nuts and dried fruit. "No-one loses weight on these tours," guide Sonya Underdahl tells me.
Life is hard… work can suck: why make holidays just as intolerable? Some choose to suffer – then there's the rest of us who prefer the chocolate in the scroggin mix. It's not that we don't want to feel satisfied achieving something we didn't know we were capable of; we just want to be really, really comfortable doing it.
Which brings me to the Gold Coast Hinterland. I'm here as part of a four-day hike between two of Queensland's most iconic eco-retreats, Binna Burra Lodge and O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat. I'm balanced on the edge of a volcanic caldera teetering above green valleys below – and that's just what I see from my spa bath. There are no tents on this tour, I'm staying at Binna Burra's Sky Lodges, two-bedroom condos cantilevered on an escarpment above the Coomera Valley.
With two guides for a maximum of 12 guests, each day we have an easier hiking option should we opt for more Jacuzzi time. I'm opting for the tougher hikes, but then, you should see what I see. Rainforest hikes tend to bore me – all that forest canopy and mud – but this one's different. On my first hike, we wind our way through thick rainforest, then eucalypt forest, then open heathland before tramping back into misty forests of 2000-year-old Antarctic beech trees, past waterfalls, then out along a trail high above the valley below.
It's not easy, but it's not too taxing either. And when it's done, we get to talk about it all outside Binna Burra's historic cottage, around a fire-pit staring out over the Gold Coast.
Binna Burra's 90-year-old lodge burnt to the ground three years ago, but the Aussie bush is a more resilient beast, you can barely see damage to the forest around it. We spend another day here walking, gorging on muffins and scroggin, preparing ourselves for the main attraction: tomorrow's 21.4 kilometre hike to O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat.
I'm up early for it, filtering the chocolate, I'll need the sustenance. Today's hike takes us some way along the Border Track that cuts between NSW and Queensland. We're walking through the largest remnant of ancient sub-tropical Gondwana rainforest left on the planet, with views across to the volcano that created all this – Mt Warning (Wollumbin). It's so clear today I see beyond it to Cape Byron. My guide tells me hiking here is more like time-travelling – through 50 million years of evolution. But I seriously doubt time-travelling gives you sore quads. There's barely another hiker on the trail, just the sounds of 230 bird species – the largest collection of sub-tropical birds in Australia.
Eight hours later, I walk straight into O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat, to a roof-top bar with a balcony overlooking the Macpherson Ranges, in time for sunset. Queensland tourism pioneer Bernard O'Reilly put this place on the map when he hiked deep into the forest to rescue the survivors of a plane crash here in 1937, long after the search was called off (Jack Thompson played him in a 1980s mini-series). Descendants of the same family still run this retreat deep in World-Heritage-listed Lamington National Park.
The last day's just an hour-or-so easy hike – a few kilometres in-and-out is a stroll after yesterday's marathon - then we finish with a celebratory lunch at a winery down valley, toasting our newly acquired hiking credentials. We mightn't have circumnavigated the national park, or camped in a tent when the temperature hit single digits, or scaled sheer cliffs without rope; but I had some lovely baths, ate some mouth-watering muffins and saw some pretty sweet scenery along the way.
Fly to the Gold Coast with Virgin, Qantas or Jetstar, then take the bus, an Uber or taxi to meet guides for departure at the Meriton Suites, Broadbeach (consider staying the night before the tour as pick-ups occur at 7.30am).
Hikes include three nights' accommodation, all meals, national park fees and transfers from Broadbeach from $2249 a person. See lifesanadventure.com.au
Craig Tansley travelled courtesy of Life's An Adventure.