Go it alone or pay for a guided walk?

Welcome to Diane Campbell who recently shared an article with us about her guided walks exploits. Diane is semi-retired and has been cheerfully getting lost by herself or walking on tracks with friends for more years than she will admit to. Currently living near the Eastern end of the Yurebilla Trail and not too far from the Heysen, she has bushwalked in every state and won’t admit to a favourite

In Australia I will nearly always be alone or – preferably with a friend or bushwalking group – on day walks. If I visit an area which is new to me and has a lot of great short walks – such as first visits to the Flinders Ranges, or the Blue Mountains – then I will plan and enjoy lots of day trips.

Cox's river crossing on the Six Foot Track

Cox's river crossing on the Six Foot Track

If I wish to do a through-walk and a Supported walk is available, then I will choose that. The main reason is that walks which must include an overnight stay often include tracks of variable grades, and I don’t want to carry a pack with tent and sleeping bag and water for 2 days or more. Its not just the extra work, its a safety and comfort issue. Some people are natural athletes with excellent balance, and some of us are not and struggle to keep up. This occurred to me at least 50 years ago when a kindergarten teacher in high heels was trying to show me how to hop. (And why would anyone wish to do that?) If I’m on stepping stones then a pack with much more than my lunch in it will pretty well ensure I go into the drink. Or the mud.

One can’t visit the Grampians or the Six-Foot track without tripping over a school group or troop of Duke of Edinburgh Award contenders – and in any largish group, a sizeable number look unhappy, or tired, or appear to be gritting their teeth.

I walk for pleasure. I like to wake up warm and dry with clean dry clothing to wear.

Then again, if one is equipped mainly for day walks, it may be more economical to do the very occasional through-walk with a firm which provides all the equipment than to spend Real Money buying the lightest and best tents, sleeping bags, perhaps buying or hiring an EPERB or satellite phone. The guides will usually be carrying satellite phone, first aid kits, emergency shelter, all of which represents extra safety as well as weight that I need not carry. Transfers will be arranged. This saves some expense, and because the transfers are optimal one may even be spared the cost of an additional night in a hotel. Some companies have permanent shelters with stored dry foods (Cradlehuts in Tasmania) and others use four-wheel drive vehicles to meet walkers at the campsite where they have set up camp and dinner (eg lifesanadventure). Each time I have done a supported walk the food has been unbelievably good, generally better than one would expect to find in the average pub or restaurant – and I don’t have to carry it or cook it!  Most Guided walks seem to represent real value for money even if you compared them with just staying in town and eating out!

It is six years since I did the Overland Track with Cradle Huts .  Absolutely magical walk. Great guides; they provide 2 for a maximum group size of 10. One stays late at the “hut,” cleaning up and setting bread for the next lot, and one lopes ahead early after lunch, so that when one arrives the place is warm and afternoon tea with fresh muffins or scones is waiting. The “huts” are really lodges, with comfortable bunks in twin rooms, hot showers and drying rooms.

Guided walks Australia - guide carrying gear

And the best thing? The guides carry the heavy stuff!

The Great Ocean Walk last year was done with Bothfeet which was perhaps the most hedonistic. Great Ocean Walk is unusual because of the number of access points; it is possible to do the entire thing without staying actually on the track, and there are a lot of options for “support” including from backpackers and camping grounds offering shuttles up to five star accommodation. It was summer, so packs and clothing were light, and BothFeet was based at the lodge and we were bussed to the walk each day. Wonderful food such as oriental salads for lunch kept cool with frozen drinks – and we were frankly pampered, with the collecting bus providing ice and iced towels on hot days. There was a demand from the walkers that the chef write a recipe book at the end….

I did the six foot track (Katoomba to Jenolan) last month with Life’s an adventure and really enjoyed it; it is a great example of a walk which requires one stay on or near the track so one must choose between carrying a tent and a supported walk. Again, well organised, great cooking, comfortable pace – I have booked to go to Bay of Fires with them in a couple of weeks! The first night was an “ecolodge” which was backpacker sized and worth mentioning because they will arrange shuttles and accommodation for independent walkers. (Pickup at Katoomba, be driven to Jenolan to stay overnight at Caves House and leave early the next morning, stay overnight at the Six Foot Lodge and get to Katoomba the next day.)

Maria Island is another spot to consider a supported walk. Visitors must be entirely self-sufficient, including water, for the duration of their visit – one of the guides had a mountain bike with a trailer for that reason. We went with Adventure Seekers . I enjoyed it very much, but they insisted we use their backpacks (my 32 Litre would have been adequate & a lot more comfortable) to carry a sleeping bag and mat as well as personal kit, and even with my considerable endogenous padding I had blisters from the waist band which made walking less enjoyable. I gather that there are safari tents used by another group and that might be the way to go.

If I have a real plug its for the various National Parks services. Cradle-huts has been “grandfathered” in – permission to keep permanent buildings in the national park which won’t be given to anyone else. They are discreet and environmentally friendly, and I think that perhaps there is room for more of these sorts of buildings in our national parks to make them accessible to the average walker and decrease the number of people crapping in the woods. Even simpler and more reasonable – lockers.

There are companies escorting punters to the Overland Track and Walls of Jerusalem, but one must still carry a tent and food. Lockers for tents and water would be inexpensive, minimal environmental impact, and improve the safety and comfort of walkers.

I would support a levy on through-walkers for more enviroloos to be built. Some greenies and some guides seem to think its cool to advise “ducking behind a bush” with the result that its rarely safe to drink creekwater and some parts of popular tracks are frankly soiled… I did the Gordon-Franklin raft trip with a group decades ago, and it simply isn’t possible to go the requisite 100 metres from any creek in parts of it, that’s why the only way down is by a raft!

Many thanks to Diane for sharing her adventures. We really enjoyed reading about her adventures into the “bush”

Have you participated in a guided walk?

What were your impressions? Good? Bad? Worth doing?

Leave a reply below so others can learn from you, just like we did with Diane’s article.

Comments

  1. says

    Sorry but for the prices on the link for the Overland track walk I would have easily paid for my satphone, lightweight tent, sleeping bag, plb, and had all the equipment available for the next walk at a much lower cost. I wake up warm and dry as well – in my tent – and I don’t have to stay awake listening to someone else snoring in a hut.

  2. Steve Cockburn says

    Hi, for my first time on the OT , yep I did the Cradle huts bit. Cost a fortune but I had no other alternative as I was not connected to any club or other “network”and it was a big unknown. My wife (and I ) was concerned about how I would go etc and for the money etc it was a great investment in my re-emergence into bush walking. Once I did it with the Huts people , I was inspired and thus began my walking again after 20 years lay off due to child rearing responsibilities. This “investment”has paid off as I love walking and do it and enjoy it more . So I do not regret paying this money . I might not do that again but it has it’s place. Steve

  3. Simone says

    I can see the attraction of guided walks but when I sat down to do the sums I realized we could set the four of us (2 adults + 2 teens) up with amazing lightweight gear for far less cost and walk more often. Our three season pack weight including food and water is under 5kg per person for a typical weekend, not that much more than a day pack. At the moment we enjoy walking our own walk, and the flexibility to explore without being tied to a schedule. Perhaps down the track – when our kids have flown the nest – we can treat ourselves to the luxury of a guided walk with hot showers each night.

  4. says

    The guided trips I have experienced have all been climbing exhibitions and WELL worth it. It makes a trip that normally would be out of the question due to skill, equipment, navigation, and transportation…safe, fun, and challenging. Expensive…yes, but well worth it. If it is a trip that you won’t take unsupported, then pay. My take.

  5. says

    Interesting post. I can also recommend the Six Foot Track with Life’s an Adventure. I was their guest, but it ws very well run and good value for paying customers, I thought.

    http://richardtulloch.wordpress.com/2010/09/27/six-foot-track-blue-mountains-nsw/

    The South Coast Track with Adventure Seekers (yes I was lucky to be their guest too), was a far tougher walk, and it was great to have the food and logistics organised by someone else.

    http://richardtulloch.wordpress.com/2009/10/26/a-walk-on-the-wild-side-tasmanias-south-coast-track/

  6. Brenda says

    Hi Frank,

    When I am visiting a place first time in my life I will prefer guided tours. But if I am visiting same place again then it must be self walking. I love to take a night hold in tent. Recently I traveled to Maria Island and it was amazing experience. I planned my next trip to Cradle Mountains and we are planning to book a guided tour

    Cheers,
    Brenda.

  7. Lyn nolan says

    Hi,
    As a family of 4 we have enjoyed organised multiple day walks in Tuscany, the Dolomites and New Zealand. We have found our children , now 15 and 17 yrs, have always loved walking as long as they do not have to carry very much weight., We would recommend HF Holidays for English and European trips and Ultimate hikes for NZ – both are excellent value. We have prior to children done independent and organised multi day hikes overseas and independent ones in Australia.We are now planning to do the Overland Track in Tassi – having done it 20 years ago independently – and would love to do the organised, “Cradle Huts” version – but when you multiply the cost by 4 -we could go to Europe as a family and do a multi day hike for the same cost. We will be updating our equipment and do the overland Track again independently..
    Thanks

    • Frank says

      Hi Lyn,
      Good observation re paid walk at Cradle. There is still significant cost just doing the Overland as a normal “punter” / family. $800 for the Overland pass plus transfers, plus parks pass, plus accommodation before and after.

      Have to say it is really worth it. Check out hiring some gear , especially if the children don’t think they will use it again.

      Have fun and please let us know how the trip goes!
      Sue and Frank

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