Hinchinbrook Island: oh take me back

Water squelched through my heavy socks, pooling in my shoes. The air hung heavy with humidity, beads of sweat trickling down between my shoulder-blades, and the sandflies knocked against my Neapolitan-coloured sunburnt legs: white, pink and brown.

I couldn’t have been happier.

My friend and I were spending four days walking the Thornsborne trail on Hinchinbrook Island in the Wet Tropics of Queensland. It had been on my hiking wish list for years and the perfect opportunity to do it had finally come about. One of my best friends from school had taken a job in the north the same year that I had moved to the chilly south. I was surviving the winter, fighting involuntary hibernation mode, but it was far from the sun soaked Brisbane that I was used to and was sustaining myself on countless mugs of tea. A holiday and an adventure were very much needed. My feet had been tingling.

Our journey began on a boat, speeding across seagrass beds home to dugongs and turtles, which merged into mangrove lined creeks where saltwater crocs basked in the sun. The formidable boulder strewn Mt Bowen rose over the ocean which made both of us fizz with the urge to climb. Our skipper informed us though that less people have climbed it than Everest pre-commercialisation. It looked like we’d have to give it a miss… this time.

The kilometres weren’t long, and although we’re both avid hikers, this didn’t bother us in the slightest. It only meant that we could spend longer looking at the plants, birds, and turning flotsam washed up on the shore over in our palms: lobster husks, snail homes and the skeletons of coral.

Palms tickled our faces and vines tripped our feet before we were spat out on yet another deserted beach. I re-learnt how to play, swinging from a hammock made from ancient ship rope and showing off the extent of my inability to cartwheel, my legs crumbed with sand. We flung bootlaces around our necks, scanning the water warily for crocs before throwing our weight into the creek current.

In the late afternoon we’d arrive at a waterfall, tumbling past Jungle Perch and drying on island rocks like seals, Katie’s curls forming dredlocks of sweat and sun. Padding back to our campsite, the mosquitos would descend, and we’d dive into the tent, our second skin, and read as the sun went down, sinking beneath the ocean.

One night we pleasure of meeting an amazing bunch of kayakers who were tripping around the Great Barrier Reef, camping on a different island each night. The guide had been fishing from his boat when he snagged a ~1.5 m Spanish Mackerel, pulling its weight from the water with his own hands. We were unaware of his catch until I noticed a few specks of blood on the ground that I was surveying as a potential campsite. It wasn’t until I raised my head that my eyes met those of the fish, stripped of meat, its spine exposed. Although I’m vegetarian, I didn’t pass up the leftovers that the group were too full to consume, and Katie and I gobbled down our mushroom couscous before settling into their circle, holding our little metal ‘beggar bowls’ as the kayakers joked. Fresh, buttery fish melted in our mouths and filled our bellies.

We slipped out of the trees and dug ourselves little chairs in the sand, tilting our heads up towards the stars, so dense they formed clouds. We caught up on the time we’ve spent apart, discussing plans and dreams for the future – including other adventures.

The fourth day we rose in the dark and walked by the light of our headlights with a new solo hiker friend. As we turned off our lights, we emerged from the rainforest (parts of which were submerged in tea-coloured, ankle-deep water) to the beach, pink with the sunrise. The skipper arrived on schedule, whisking us away from our new found home. He told us of a plane graveyard at the top of a particular mountain on the island and I had to practice all my self-restraint in telling him not to turn the boat around. I guess we’ll just have to leave that adventure for next time.

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