Heart of out­back open for hik­ers and tourism

Sta­tion mum launches trekking hub on fam­ily’s re­mote cat­tle prop­erty

Warwick Daily News - South West Queensland Rural Weekly - - News - AN­DREA DAVY An­drea.davy@ru­ral­weekly.com.au

ARMED with newly bought back­packs, Maggi noo­dles and a 20-year-old tent that was so heavy the weight of it had to be shared with her com­pan­ion, Shelly Hawkins stepped out on her first hike.

She was walk­ing with her good friend and neigh­bour Danielle Doyle, of the Miss Chardy blog fame, from a stock camp on Her­bert­vale Sta­tion, a re­mote cat­tle prop­erty 120km north of Camooweal on the Queens­land-North­ern Ter­ri­tory bor­der.

The duo was in­spired by the pop­u­lar Reese Wither­spoon film Wild, where a woman walks the 4265km-long Pa­cific Crest Trail in the US.

Her­bert­vale Sta­tion had been Ms Hawkins’ home since the late 1990s.

She had al­ways thought the rugged coun­try in the north part of the block was pretty but it wasn’t un­til she slowed the pace to a steady stride that she fully ap­pre­ci­ated its scenery.

“It just made me think, this is so beau­ti­ful,” she said.

“I had driven up that road so many times but I had never re­ally opened my eyes up to notic­ing the lit­tle things.

“So with those two days of just walk­ing along the track, I started to think about it ... and I thought, ‘I could re­ally do some­thing with all of this’.”

Flash-for­ward to the present time and Ms Hawkins has turned those ini­tial thoughts into a re­al­ity.

Through her busi­ness, Trek West, Her­bert­vale Sta­tion has hosted nine hik­ing tours this year.

Ms Hawkins said her long-term vi­sion would be to see Trek West stand on its own two feet and pro­vide her fam­ily with some off-farm in­come but, in the mean­time, she was rapt to be able to share the prop­erty’s spec­tac­u­lar land­scape with other peo­ple.

Grow­ing up at The Gums on the western Dar­ling Downs, Ms Hawkins fin­ished school and headed to the Barkly Table­land to work as a jil­la­roo.

She loved the work, met her hus­band Clint and in 1999 moved to Her­bert­vale Sta­tion, PHO­TOS: HAN­NAH HACON which had just been bought by Clint’s fam­ily.

In the early days they were kept flat-chat de­vel­op­ing the prop­erty and spent most of their time mus­ter­ing or fenc­ing.

“My mother-in-law Jackie and I used to joke about start­ing a tourism busi­ness years and years ago but at the time we were busy with small chil­dren and teach­ing them through School of the Air so we thought, you know, that the idea was just crazy,” she said.

The roughly 161,874ha sta­tion runs drought­mas­ter cat­tle.

The bot­tom side of the block has good Downs coun­try and in the north­ern part, which bor­ders the Lawn Hill, or Bood­ja­mulla Na­tional Park, the land is much more rugged.

Even when the fam­ily was un­der the pump with cat­tle work, they al­ways thought the north­ern sec­tion was some­thing spe­cial.

Or, in Ms Hawkins’ words: “It was our own patch of par­adise”.

“We al­ways just loved it,” she said.

“It’s very iso­lated and can’t be ac­cessed by any­one else. We have al­ways felt priv­i­leged we could go there when­ever we wanted.”

Ms Hawkins ad­mit­ted she would have never thought of her­self as hiker un­til her good friend Ms Doyle called.

“She said ‘let’s go hik­ing over on the Pa­cific Crest Trail in the US’ – she had seen the movie Wild,” Ms Hawkins said.

“She was so keen to go and I said, ‘Whoa, Dan, I don’t even know if I like hik­ing’.

“I had never had a back­pack on. I love the out­doors and work­ing out here ... but I thought I would rather

do some­thing like that, some­thing that long, on horse­back.”

The pair de­cided if they would do the in­fa­mous PCT they should start small.

“We de­cided we would walk from our stock camp back to the homestead – it was 60km,” Ms Hawkins said.

“Next thing we knew we had bought back­packs and my hus­band and two lit­tle boys (Ben and Lach­lan) dropped us off up there at night.”

Ms Hawkins laughed at the mem­ory and de­scribed her­self as be­ing “so very rookie”.

How­ever, after reach­ing the homestead, the hik­ing bug took hold of her and she be­gan to forge a busi­ness plan to pitch to her hus­band.

“It was like go­ing in for the

big­gest bank loan ever, I had it all laid out,” she said.

Mr Hawkins took a lit­tle con­vinc­ing at first but swiftly came on board.

“Since then he has been amaz­ingly sup­port­ive. He is my lo­gis­tics man,” Ms Hawkins said.

“He has helped me map out new lit­tle hikes through hills and helped de­velop the stock camp.”

It’s in the rougher coun­try, closer to Lawn Hill, where she has mapped out short and long walk­ing trails.

She said the hike’s true beauty was in its di­ver­sity.

“It goes from beau­ti­ful, cool, tran­quil wa­ter­holes to big, sparse spinifex hills,” Ms Hawkins said.

“Within walk­ing a kilo­me­tre you can be at a lovely lush wa­ter­hole, one with lots of beau­ti­ful bird life, then in the next 500m you are on a big, rugged red hill.”

So far her guests have been as di­verse as the prop­erty’s vis­tas. She has had a fit­ness group, yoga en­thu­si­asts and a bunch of mums from Toowoomba who were just keen for a week away.

“I keep it in groups of six to eight,” she said.

“There are two walks – the Big Loop Trail, which is about 60km, then Stock­camp Hike, where we are based at the camp and just do lit­tle day walks.

“That one is quite re­laxed, we get back at lunchtime and I will have a ta­ble set up with cold wine so we can sit by the wa­ter­hole.

“Each evening I set up a fully dressed din­ner ta­ble with drinks.

“That’s a bit of nov­elty for our guests, so they aren’t sit­ting on the ground eat­ing tinned spaghetti – it’s a bit more glamp­ing than camp­ing.

“There is a hot shower at night.”

The ven­ture has meant Ms Hawkins’ role on the sta­tion has adapted.

She used to be hands-on tail­ing wean­ers and work­ing cat­tle, all jobs that have taken a back seat for the hik­ing sea­son.

“We have a beau­ti­ful crew at home and we all work re­ally well to­gether, so that makes life eas­ier for me,” she said.

“I will still get out as much as I can, be­cause I love the work.”

For more in­for­ma­tion visit www.trek­west­hik­ing.com.au.

Her­bert­vale Sta­tion is a work­ing cat­tle prop­erty in far north­west Queens­land.

Shelly is keen to help peo­ple switch off from tech­nol­ogy.

Lovely scenery in out­back Queens­land is on show.

The land is di­verse and rugged.

Her­bert­vale Sta­tion is home to stun­ning scenery.

Shelly Hawkins and a guest on a Trek West tour.

Short and long hikes are avail­able.

PHO­TOS: HAN­NAH HACON

NEW VEN­TURE: Trek West founder Shelly Hawkins has opened her world to share with hik­ers.

The prop­erty bor­ders a na­tional park.

Her­bert­vale Sta­tion is a fam­ily prop­erty run­ning drought­mas­ter cat­tle.

The prop­erty is iso­lated and beau­ti­ful.

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