Stillness, serenity & champagne

Published in Luxury Travel, Issue 48, Spring 2011

Jane O’Sullivan goes for a gentle potter through the Queensland bush to find seclusion, peace and stillness.

Our first wildlife sighting comes quickly. We’ve only taken a few steps when a grey kangaroo skips across our path. The second is just as sudden; there’s a yell and we pull up sharply in front of a red-bellied black snake. He’s clearly a very sleepy chap but we give him a wide berth just the same. From there the walk into the Spicers Canopy campsite is a gentle meander along a creek bed. It’s quiet, cool and peaceful and thankfully we don’t meet anymore poisonous critters. We arrive to a spread of freshly baked pumpkin scones and blueberry muffins. Afternoon tea segues into pre-dinner drinks. We sip champagne as the sun sets behind us, casting our view of surrounding mountains Spicers Peak and Mount Mitchell in an intense orange glow. Pre-dinner drinks then segue into a three-course dinner with a main of Mooloolaba prawns on a bed of buffalo mozzarella and basil ravioli. The chef used to run the Blue Angel restaurant in Noosa and the fare is a long, long way from camp stew and damper. The night ends around the firepit, toasting marshmallows and nursing brandy nightcaps under a star-filled country sky.

Spicers Canopy is about an hour-and-a-half from Brisbane in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range. Because of the elevation, it’s a couple of degrees cooler than the city. When I finally retreat to my tent I find a hot water bottle tucked between the sheets to keep the cold at bay. There are eight more-or-less permanent tents at Spicers Canopy, all with proper double beds, armchairs and a little verandah. It’s still camping, but it’s a whole lot more comfortable than I remember. The tents fan out around the one permanent building which serves as the central lounge and dining area and which also houses a drying room and three bathrooms. These hotel-standard bathrooms are blissfully clean and warm and there is what seems like an endless supply of hot water. Only the most grizzly non-camper could complain.

The next day we amble down to a nearby waterhole, a deep pool flanked by a sandstone cave, before setting off on the walk up the mountain to the Spicers Peak Lodge. It’s not a long walk but, as the name suggests, the lodge is on the top of a mountain so it’s an uphill climb most of the way.

It’s still fairly easy, however, and suitable for a wide range of fitness levels because there are plenty of opportunities to stop for a breather or have a snack along the way.

Our guide Clancy talks us through the history of the Spicers Peak Station and tells us a little bit about the flora and fauna of the nature refuge. It’s well-maintained land and also home to several hundred head of cattle as well as natives like bandicoots and wallaroos. I’m particularly impressed with the wallabies. With their chunky bodies and stubby t-rex arms they don’t have quite the same grace as the roos and we often hear them thunking away through the undergrowth alongside us.

As we climb higher the bush changes. Grass trees sprout up everywhere – many in flower – and we pass one shaggy bunyip of a tree that Clancy tells us is 600 years old. It’s amazing to think of it standing sentinel through so many years of history, and saddening too when Clancy tells us that the Indigenous culture in the area is now all but gone. Finally we crest a ridge and dip over onto the lee side of the mountain. The temperature drops instantly and the bush turns from yellow to green. Clancy suggests we spend the next hour doing a silent walk so we spread to walk by ourselves. It’s private land so there is no chance of stumbling across other hikers. I feel blissfully alone. After awhile I drop my pack and  sit, watching the bush stir gently in the breeze and listening to the crystal ring of bellbirds singing out across the hill. It’s the calmest and stillest I’ve felt in weeks.

It’s early afternoon by the time we reach the viewpoint near the top of Spicers Peak. We see the tents at Spicers Canopy far below us and spot a pair of wedgetail eagles circling on the other side of the valley. They catch an updraft and in a heartbeat we lose sight of them as they rise high above the mountains. A few of us start dozing in the sun.

We wake to find drinks and afternoon tea; the rough log bench at the lookout has become a feast on a white tablecloth. After yet more champagne, we finally make our wobbly ascent to Spicers Peak Lodge. The boutique lodge sits just shy of the peak in a clearing fringed by eucalypts. Inside it has a warm alpine feel, enhanced by liberal use of remilled timber beams. In the lounge area there is fireplace so large it belongs by rights in a medieval castle. The rooms have their own fireplaces too, with kindling and wood set up ready for you to light.

There are plenty of day walks and mountain bike tracks surrounding the lodge, some of which drop down into rainforest. But like the walk from Spicers Canopy up to Spicers Peak Lodge, they’re really more for gentle pottering than serious hiking. They are too short and lack the big drawcard vistas of more classic hikes like the Cradle Mountain and Overland tracks in Tasmania. But the bush here is classic Australia: eucalypts, grass trees, kookaburras and kangaroos. And unlike the more popular hikes, you can have this one all to yourself.