First published December 20, 2007
on www.news.com.au via AAP
THERE is a quiet revolution going on in Australian tourism.
Small boutique operators catering to specialist needs are nudging their way into the market place.
They don't take out expensive ads in glossy magazines and may never be featured on Getaway. They don't need to. Their buzz happens via word of mouth and spreads like wildfire through niche communities hungry for the thinking man and woman's call to adventure.
One such company is Into The Blue Creative Walks, an operation run by ex rock and roll production manager, Raymond Hawkins. Raymond has toured the world with some of our best – Cold Chisel, The Angels, Midnight Oil, and luckily for us, has survived to tell the story.
It was walking that saved him, Raymond will tell you, as you follow him single file along a rocky track atop a ridge with spectacular views stretching across the West MacDonnell Ranges near Alice Springs.
When he knew his wild days of sex, drugs and rock 'n roll were numbered, he headed out bush and just walked – along the Great Dividing Range, all the way from Melbourne to Sydney, and he hasn't stopped walking since.
Big Fat Desert Walks
Into The Blue now offers a number of tailored trips per year to iconic Australian locations; along the Larapinta Trail in Central Australia; across the sands of Lake Mungo in NSW; and into the old growth forests of Tasmania's west coast Tarkine Wilderness (among other exotic locations).
Collaborating with guest workshop facilitators, Raymond designs each trip around the requirements of the group. Already this year on The Larapinta Trail in the West MacDonnells, Raymond has led photographers, writers, a men's lifestyle group and two Big Fat Desert Walks (for more advanced walkers).
In August there was a tai chi walk into Lake Mungo and at New Year's writers and meditators will head for the cool mossy greens in the north west wilderness of Tasmania's Tarkine.
Raymond's skills are many, but his attention to detail and artistry in orchestrating the perfect walking trip, ensure you arrive at breathtaking vantage points just in time to see the sun rise or set, or simply to have a civilised cup of tea (he carries the thermoses, we carry the cups), in the most stunning valley, mountaintop or gorge you have ever been in. (Except for the one you saw yesterday and the one you will discover tomorrow).
Laugh like never before
We've all been told walking is beneficial to our physical and mental health, but when you add the extra feature of walking through uplifted landforms millions of years old, or stepping through ancient old growth forests where trees have been growing tall for 400 years, something else happens.
While your senses absorb the tastes and textures of nature's brilliance, your blood stream is flooded with walking endorphins. The result is a euphoric feeling of wellbeing that lasts all day, into the night and lingers long after you return home.
When you add laughter into the mix, the level of deep relaxation is complete, for when you walk with Raymond Hawkins, you laugh as you never have before.His intelligent and irreverent wit leaves no sacred cow untouched, yet never detracts from his serious on-track talks on flora, fauna and geographic history, as he stops to point out the subtle colour of a desert mulla mulla flower, the sculpted bark of a corkwood tree or ripples in rock thrown up from an ancient sea.
As for Indigenous history, Raymond leaves that to the experts. Into The Blue's collaborations with traditional landowners bring authentic contact with Indigenous Australians and the stories of the country you walk through.
Women lead the way
This year Raymond has been working with Jungala, a talented artist, educator and Arrente man, who has set up an independent cultural tourism operation with his family just outside Alice. At Lake Mungo, Into the Blue walks with Garry Pappin, a local Mutthi Mutthi man with permission from Mutthi Mutthi, Barkindji, and Nyiampaa elders, to travel into traditional country no commercial walking operation has gone before.
Sounds like a baby boomers heaven – meaningful adventure for mid-lifers who refuse to grow old! But teenagers through to the over 70s sign up with Into The Blue.
Medium fitness, required for all trips is not restricted by age. One of Raymond's strongest walkers is a woman approaching 70 who he says, "outwalks the big men, hands down".
Back in the city, post desert – writers, artists, photographers, meditators and walkers feel positively enlivened by their contact with an earth that still breaths inspiration in through the soles of their feet.
Reunions are filled with the sharing of photos, art works and writing. The photographers have their photos published in a coffee table book and the writers, photographers and artists contribute their work to a DVD.
Touch the earth in a new way
This year ABC radio's The Book Show featured the work of writer Rowena Harding-Smith who has joined the Desert Writers two years running and this year's Mungo Trip.
In 2008 as well as the usual trips, there will be a Capella singers in the desert, and artists, photographers and writers will join in a combo intensive based at a desert homestead.
There will also be an Outback Characters tour, based around Broken Hill, where writers and photographers meet real live characters as subjects for their work.
For those who love the idea, but are not sure they are fit enough, Raymond provides training advice and training walks throughout the year and except for the "Big Fat" category for serious walkers, trips are supported daily by a back up crew, so only day packs are carried.
The care taken by Into The Blue's in designing and leading you through your wilderness experience is worth every penny. Where else can you learn how to touch the earth in a new way every day?
Read original article at: http://www.news.com.au/travel/australia/walking-with-legends/story-e6frfqa9-1111115163279#ixzz1MN7BjSfU