Walk your way to wellbeing

It’s called forest bathing … taking yourself into the middle of a forest to sit, relax and practice mindfulness. The pleasure of bushwalking has been known for centuries; but it was only in the 1980s that a science developed around it. Shinrin-yoku (which translates to “forest bath”) is the Japanese art of spending time alone in nature for physical and spiritual wellbeing.

And it is the reason why Scenic Rim Trail guide leader Scott Roberts makes sure there’s downtime on the multi-day treks he leads through the rainforests and dormant volcanic ridgelands of Main Range National Park.

“On the trail there are these huge booyong trees with massive buttresses. And the idea is to have some time out there,” he says. “I tell the walkers to have lunch, go sit down behind one of these buttresses and have some time on your own in this gorgeous forest.

Booyong TreeBooyong Tree on the Scenic Rim Trail walk

“It’s something we do regularly on trail – these time outs, these quiet times to soak in the forest and remove yourself from the world you’ve just left.”

Some studies suggest that forest bathing reduces blood pressure and cortisol levels. While others indicate that it helps with the cognitive functioning of the brain. So much so that Japan made shinrin-yoku part of its national health plan and GPs around the world are considering prescribing it to patients.

Scott doesn’t need the medical research. He knows by instinct that the sights and sounds of the forest have a powerful impact on people. He cites the density and the beauty of a rainforest, and the stunning views along the trail’s higher climbs, as the standouts. “Everyone gets blown away by those,” he says.

Covering the trails around and between Spicers Hidden Vale and its sister retreat Spicers Peak Lodge, about 50km southwest, as the crow flies, Scott has been guiding for almost 10 years.

Spicers Peak Lodge, Maryvale QLD

He started as a wildlife guide, then added training in flora and geology, before expanding from there until he now has “a pretty insane amount of knowledge” in his head. As we head into autumn, we asked Scott what the torrential downpours in February will mean for the region, and a little about the new 5-Day Walk which launches in April.

Q: How has the wet start to the year affected the trails?
Scott: The media has concentrated on the drought, the fires and then heaps of rain. But what I’d love to get out there is the fact that Australian forests have lived with fires and drought for a very long time. Yes, there are massive drops in populations: the kangaroo population has plummeted; a lot of plant life dies or looks dead. But with the rain, comes this bright green aura around all the trees and out of burnt stumps you’re getting bright green branches. That’s the Australian land saying, “about bloody time”. It’s just booming again.

People near creek on Scenic Rim Trail walkCreek flowing on Scenic Rim Trail after rain

Q: What changes have you seen?
Scott: Even little things like the number of cicadas that are out. I haven’t heard this many cicadas for, like, six or seven years. And that’s going to bring birds, and all the flowers are going to come out. Everything in Australia soaks that up. It will be like spring.

Q: Was there much damage from the bushfires at the end of last year?
Scott: On the trail there were a couple of patches where fire went through. But that also tells such a beautiful story about the Australian landscape. Even the other day I was walking along a creek with some fellow guides and we saw the charcoal that had washed down from fires upstream. What that does is it filters water, and also adds nutrients to the soil that weren’t there before.

Q: Tell us a little about the new 5-Day Walk.
Scott: It was the dream of [Spicers Retreats founder] Jude Turner when she purchased Hidden Vale, and then not long after she purchased Peak Lodge, to be able to walk between the two. We have been running two-day and three-day treks. But this five-day one starting from Hidden Vale, is the link between the others – it’s really the final chapter of Jude’s 20-year dream.

Spicers Hidden ValeSpicers Hidden Vale

Q: Have many people walked this trail before?
Scott: No, no. It hasn’t been walked for probably 30 years when the first trailblazers went in. There’s a waterfall walk that’s open to the public on the west side of Goomburra, from Manna Gum, three valleys north of the Cunningham Highway. Basically if you went straight east from the Manna Gum carpark, up the cliffs of Main Range National Park, that’s where our string of properties are, along there. We’ve kind of utilised old logging camps and logging mills from where the area was deforested in the early to mid-1800s.

Q: What will walkers see along the way?
Scott: There are quite a few bird species. In autumn the migratory birds are still here. There’s a gorgeous, bright, ground-dwelling bird called the Noisy Pitta; and, of course, Albert’s Lyrebird which is only found in South East Queensland. We should also start to see more evidence of the chestnut-coloured ringtail possum, wallabies, sugar gliders and squirrel gliders.

Wallaby at Spicers Peak LodgeWallaby on the Scenic Rim Trail walk

Q: What sort of fitness level do I need?
Scott: Medium. You need to be stable on steps, because sometimes they can be a little slippery. We’d like you to have hiked before, or at least walked along a beach.

Q: What should I do to get ready for a walk?
Scott: Obviously start off with stretches. Stretch before and after, particularly your ankles. And the number one issue with any hiking tour is blisters. It’s important you don’t wear your 40-year-old boots. And if you’re going to grab a new pair, grab them early and break them in. Preparation is important. Do some walks, but also do some inclines. Walk up to the headlands; hit some stairs; maybe walk up to your office instead of taking the lift.

Q: What if I’m terrified of spiders and snakes?
Scott: It’s coming into winter so most reptiles are into hibernation. If they are about, they are very, very sluggish. If we do see them the guide will see them first and we’ll probably walk you around them, but we’ll also educate you about them. And spiders, thankfully, don’t leave their web, and if they do, they do it at nighttime – most spiders are nocturnal. Luckily, we don’t trek at night.

Words by Geoff Shearer.