Trekking in Queensland for British Airways ‘High Life’ Magazine
Way back in May 2015, I flew half way around the planet; two days after stepping out of my front door, I touched down in Townsville (a coastal town in North Queensland) feeling slightly dazed, and aware that the following morning I would be embarking on what promised to be a potentially super-demanding shoot: a 32km jungle trek through hills, beaches and forests of Hinchinbrook Island.
At Brisbane Airport, en-route to Townsville, I met up with super-writer-extraordinaire Ianthe Butt. As we waited for our flight to North Queensland, she was just as confused as I was as to why we were still awake!
From Townsville, we spent a couple of hours packing our bags for the next days adventure. Logistically, this assignment was a new challenge, as I had to carry food, tent, sleeping bag, clothes and camera gear for four days, with the added challenge of no running water or electricity for the duration of the trek. Luckily, Melissa van der Haak from the Townsville Tourism board had sorted out some great lightweight kit for us, and I’d also invested in a new F-Stop Sartori Backpack into which I was able to cram all of my equipment. Our final bit of travel for the day was a 3-hour drive north to the coastal village of Cardwell, from where we would head out the following morning to Hinchinbrook Island.
Our mission was to navigate the famous Thorsborne Trail, one of Australia’s most prestigious hiking trails – a challenging 32km trail through jungle, over mountain passes and across the beaches of Hinchinbrook Island National Park. The island is a true national treasure, and in an effort to keep the ecosystem of the park preserved, only 40 hikers are allowed on the trail at any one time.
The first stage of the trip was a boat journey out to Ramsay Bay. The previous evening had give me the opportunity to get to know the rest of the walkers. Our group of ten was a motley crew of writers and journalists, including some hardened professionals like adventure travel writer Andrew Bain, and author of ‘Australia’s Top Walks’, Melanie Ball. We were also privileged to be accompanied by two Queensland National Park rangers, Emma and Evan. I for one was glad that there would be at least 4 people I could turn to in the event of a snake or croc encounter!!
As soon as we disembarked from the boat, the mosquitos descended! Fortunately the trailhead was in a mangrove swamp, so this was a temporary distraction. We gathered on the beach at Ramsay Bay and were briefed on the days hike by Emma and Evan.
Our first destination was Nina Peak – although a relatively small mountain at just 312m, we were climbing from sea level through steep jungle so it wasn’t just a walk in the park.
The views from the top over the mangroves were well worth the deviation from the main trail. From there it was on to Nina Bay for lunch beneath the palm trees. My brief for this shoot was relatively open, but I new that High Life wanted portraits of the rangers, so I was keeping an eye out for opportunities from day 1. I got a quick portrait of Evan after lunch, but knew that I would need to get more options later in the hike.
Our camp on the first night was at Little Ramsay Bay – on paper a short hike, but with the temperatures and jet lag, I was pretty happy to finish hiking by 3pm, leaving plenty of time to set up camp, relax and take in the solitude. It was pretty surreal to think that just 3 days previously I had been at home in the bustle of central Madrid.
The campsite was situated right next to a tidal lagoon, great for shooting a mini series of landscapes – sundown, night and daybreak:
I also shot my one and only sunrise of 2015! And it was a cracker!
The next 3 days were effectively variations on the first day, only with waterfalls, swimming holes and more flora and fauna thrown in for good measure. Our group dynamic formed, with some walkers preferring to push on at a faster pace, experiencing the wilderness solo, while others stayed in smaller groups. My assignment demanded a mix of images, so I chose to stay in smaller groups, usually alongside Ianthe, to make sure that I could capture photographs of people in the landscape.
Day 2 took us through a real variety of landscapes, from thick jungle through to more sparse scrubland.
I have to confess that given the numerous beautiful spots that we walked through during the first part of the day, I have no idea why Evan chose this place for our lunch:
We were joined at this obviously totally safe location by a couple from The Netherlands, Gina and Marcel. As we tucked into our rehydrated pasta and sauce (sooooo tasty….) I was quite dismayed to discover that Gina had fresh avocado and wraps. I think this might be the biggest food jealousy I have ever experienced!
On the second night, we camped at Zoe Bay. Here we had the luxury of the Zoe Falls swimming hole just a short walk from our campground.
I made a portrait of Marcel in the pool:
That evening, there were more landscape opportunities as the sun came down behind Zoe Bay. I was torn between taking photographs and looking over my shoulder for crocs – apparently Zoe Bay has a small mangrove swamp that is popular with our reptilian friends!
The following morning I caught up with Gina and Marcel, the lovely Dutch pair, for a pre-hike portrait.
National Park ranger Emma also (somewhat reluctantly!) got in front of the camera too:
The Day 3 hike was probably the hardest of the lot. It kicked off with the steep climb up the side of Zoe Falls. This was the only point in the walk where we had to hang on to a rope and drag ourselves up a partial cliff face. Melissa from the Townsville Tourism board really showed us how it was supposed to be done:
At the top of the first climb of the day, it was already time for a break and a second breakfast, but not before Andrew discovered one of the top bathing spots on the island:
We also had to cross the river at the top of Zoe Falls, and one of my photographs from this river crossing was chosen for the final edit:
Ianthe had really found her hiking legs by the 3rd day, a good job too as the trail climbed over several hills and made many river crossings. It was a challenge throughout and there was never really a moment where you could let your concentration drop.
We had lunch by a river, where I was able to get another photograph of Evan, and also his Queensland National Park Service standard issue machete!
I discovered after the hike that these machetes are actually made in my hometown of Birmingham, by Ralph Martindale Ltd., a specialist agriculture knife manufacturer. It just goes to show that there is still a demand for quality British steel!
Our final campground was at Mulligan Falls, and as the name suggests there was a wonderful swimming hole to while away our last evening on Hinchinbrook Island. Well, I thought it was wonderful until Melanie found a snake…
Fortunately, one of our hiking companions, Tamara, was an expert on Queensland’s flora and fauna – she identified our basking friend as a harmless tree snake. He was certainly not too happy to see us, and quickly disappeared into the rocks.
The swimming at Mulligan Falls was exceptional, and I was also able to get another portrait of park ranger Emma.
The diffused warm light, easy atmosphere and the snake sighting combined to make Mulligan Falls a real highlight of the trip, and this showed through in the final edit, as all three of the previous photographs were selected for the final spread of the story:
The day 4 hike was a long, exhausting drag down Mulligan Bay to George Point; there wasn’t much of note to see, just a seemingly endless windswept beach, but spirits were high in the group as we looked forward to some well earned beers in Lucinda that evening.
We were picked up at George Point and whisked by boat back to the mainland. Our 4 days on the island still felt like a dream to me – how could it be that I had spent the last 4 days in a pristine remote wilderness on the other side of the planet when it only felt like yesterday that I had been at home in Madrid? Our boat journey was spent in silence, contemplating the wonder of the previous few days.
There was however time for one last photograph before I packed away my cameras – Here’s Ianthe with all of her kit from the hike (minus a bit of food!). You can read Ianthe’s article on the BA High Life website. A huge thanks to Tamara Vallance at Queensland Tourism and Melissa van der Haak at Townsville Enterprise for organising this trip, and to Alicia Hart for sending me on such an amazing assignment! Also a big shout out to Emma and Evan, our awesome National Park rangers, for putting up with us! Finally, if you are interested, you can read a totally different account of the hike on The Guardian!!