Earlier this year Belinda Tomlins, her husband Florian and their toddler walked most of Australia's 5,000km National Trail. Belinda takes five with Great Walks.
GRW: Can you please describe the logistics of organising such a big walk?
Belinda: While some people prefer to organise their hikes down to the last microscopic detail of how much their socks weigh, Florian and I like to take a more realistic approach. We only allowed ourselves to look at one guidebook at a time and then broke down each guidebook into resupply points. We then contacted the relevant section coordinator and property owners to arrange food parcels which we would post and then collect along the way between major resupply towns.
When hitting a resupply town, we made sure that where we were camped was conducive to resupplying because when we were at a post office on the Pacific Crest Trail trying to resupply for Oregon, someone called the sheriff on us because our doggy bags and strange powders made us look a little suspicious.
It is impossible to say how much we were carrying at any point because we did not have access to any scales, but Florian would carry Aimee (13kg) and probably another 10kg of water, daily food, equipment and safety gear.
I carried the remaining items such as tent, sleeping quilt, food and water which probably hit the 20kg mark. We understand the 10 per cent rule, but we also could not leave Aimee at home, so were physically prepared to be able to carry more. With all of our big-ticket items such as tent and quilt, Florian did a lot of research to buy the lightest and best quality gear that we could afford. It was definitely worth the investment of time and money!
GRW: What was your first day on the walk like?
Belinda: We had a very whirlwind start to our adventure. We had only chosen the National Trail to hike two weeks before we left and received the official guidebooks on the day we were to start our drive from Brisbane to Cairns. We took a minibus from Cairns to Cooktown and the driver managed to drive into a ditch and roll the trailer containing ours and the other passenger’s bags.
Luckily no one was hurt, and after all the guys on the bus had helped to right the trailer, we found that our gear was all intact too. By the time a local (and avid hiker) had taken our photo at the official start line, it was around 9:30am and already hot and humid. We were pretty tired already, so did not have the energy to contemplate the feat ahead of us!
The guidebook updates sent us around in circles and we ended up only managing to get 15km into the trail instead of the 32km we had planned. When we found a creek with running water, we gladly set up camp even though it was on the side of the road underneath some powerlines. Powerlines would become our close friend over the next nine months as we found they were often the only cleared, mostly flat campground available.
GRW: What were your main concerns with taking a toddler on such a long walk?
Belinda: As a parent you can talk yourself into all sorts of fears when it comes to your kids. Would Aimee be getting a balanced-enough diet? Would her skin be damaged by the intense Australian sun? Would she be warm enough, cool enough, dry enough? Would she be bitten by a crocodile or a dingo? Would she leave the tent and go wandering at night? We soon learnt that kids are extremely adaptable and very quick learners.
Within the first few weeks she had learnt how to navigate barbed wire, could walk two kilometres without stopping, and could even help Florian to pitch the tent. I worry much more about Aimee now that we are back in ‘civilisation’. In the wild, I know I am giving her my full attention and she is stimulated and blossoming!
GRW: Can you recall one particular day when you felt like you’d had enough?
Belinda: We managed to cross NSW during a “once-in-a-lifetime” flood. It had been raining for three days straight and it was freezing. We were still wearing our summer gear and each only had a thermal top and a very light rain jacket. We had lucked out the night before and managed to start a campfire and mostly dry out our clothes, but the rain was torrential on this day.
As we made it out of the Werrikimbe National Park and back into cattle country, we were nearly blown over by the wind. Lucky for us, we had been invited to stay at a trail angel’s farm that night. We arrived looking like drowned rats and were immediately sent to the bathroom for a long, hot bubble bath. We ended up staying five nights as we waited out the floods. If it had not have been for Bill and Louise at Red Hill Organics, who knows if we would have had the mental strength to continue.
Read Belinda's full story in the latest issue of Great Walks. Out now!