I Spent 5 Days With Strangers

Trekking in takayna For Charity

Written by Cathy Young

This article first appeared on We Are Explorers and has been re-produced with permission.

We acknowledge that this adventure is located on the traditional Country of the palawa people who have occupied and cared for the lands, waters, and their inhabitants for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them as the Traditional Custodians and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.

Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things

‘I was on a trip to Nepal when I came across a lady breaking stones with her hands for a dollar a day, and I thought “there has got to be a better way”. So I started making shortbread in my kitchen at home to sell at cafes around town. All the money raised went back to projects in Nepal.’


I couldn’t hide my surprise as Jimmy, a quietly spoken Kiwi and former commercial fisherman, was telling me he started his philanthropic efforts with homemade shortbread.

Moments earlier my bus buddy Eve, a tough-as-nails Queenslander and former army medic, had told me she worked on supplying new mothers in natural disaster affected regions with kits to support them through the first month of their baby’s lives.

Then there was Lisa, a down-to-earth American yogi, who heads up a foundation supporting disadvantaged, immigrant, and First Nations kids on pathways to a better future.

I mean seriously, who were these people?


A few years back, a good friend and I were walking along a remote New Zealand beach covered in driftwood joking that it was a good metaphor for us. You see for a long time now, I’ve felt like I’ve been drifting through life wherever the current takes me. No real plans nor goals and a life lacking in purpose.

It’s served me well enough, I guess, but it’s not surprising that as I approached the doldrums of middle-age I was seeking something more. Something with purpose and meaning.

So, when I was asked to join a ShelterBox charity hike for five days in takayna / Tarkine, Australia’s largest temperate rainforest in the northwest of lutruwita / Tasmania, I didn’t so much as jump at the chance but dived headfirst into it.


ShelterBox who?

ShelterBox provides emergency shelter and aid to families affected by natural disasters and conflict. They have supported 2.5 million people in just shy of 100 countries with tents, tools, lights, blankets, and clean water. Their goal is to enable people to rebuild their lives as quickly as possible following displacement.

ShelterBox relies on fundraising and donations from everyday people like you and me. There are many ways to give including joining a #trek4shelter challenge, a campaign that hopes to raise $250,000 over five, once-in-a-lifetime adventures.

And so here we were on day one of our Trek 4 Shelter Challenge; eight people from vastly different backgrounds but all with a common purpose; to give.

takayna Magic

After making hasty introductions and getting the obligatory pre-trip photo, we left Launceston headed for the wild and raw northwest.

takayna had long been a place I wanted to visit.

At 450,000 hectares, extending south from Arthur River, north from the Pieman River, and west from Murchison Highway, it’s home to 60 species of rare, threatened or endangered flora and fauna.

It has a rich First Nations history. The palawa have cared for and inhabited this land for over 40,000 years maintaining a strong connection to this day despite the colossal impacts of colonisation.

But what really got my attention was The Giants, a film about the legendary Bob Brown, the forest he loves, takayna, and the battle his foundation is fighting to protect it from native forest logging and mining. Under the stars, on a warm Perth night, this magical film and its exquisite and enchanting cinematography, held me spellbound and breathless. I decided then and there that I needed to visit takayna to feel this magic for myself.


ASMR much?

Our day one highlight was the magnificent Philosophers Falls, a short walk along the Arthur River before a brief but steep descent to the viewing platform. From here we felt the eagerness of youth, with the river’s young waters plunging dramatically and carelessly to the forest floor, before gathering themselves and starting the long, winding voyage to their final destination at Arthur River.

On the return leg, Rose, our guide, invited us with a meditation to walk silently through the forest. It was a moody day below the canopy. Light raindrops hitting giant ferns, wind rustling the leaves of the Myrtle Beech above, and the sound of our boots gently snapping sticks below left me feeling like I’d been hit with a healthy dose of ASMR.

It was a good start.

Corinna Old Gold

We drove on to our destination for the next three nights, Corinna, an old gold mining settlement.

The hairpin turns of the narrow road lulled me into a dreamlike state as I gazed out the window at the forest becoming increasingly opaque and impenetrable on this road seemingly to nowhere.

Countless pademelons danced along the roadside, giving me a newfound appreciation for how Gina managed to stumble upon one while out for a midnight pee.

Naturalist or naturist?

The next morning, as we set out on the Savage River walk, we were greeted by bright sunshine, warmth, and light winds that would stay with us for the whole week, so uncharacteristic for these parts that I wondered if indeed I was in Tasmania at all. No one was complaining.

It was on this walk that Lincoln, our very own naturalist, shared his vast understanding of the flora and fauna, complimenting the already extensive knowledge of our local guides.

We walked past ancient Huon pines endemic to this area embracing the slow life by growing at just 1-2mm a year. Even the smallest of trees were already hundreds of years old.

We gawked at the many mud mounds created by the burrowing crayfish and speculated how they could survive so high from the water’s edge.

And we stopped to take in the many colourful fungi, marvelling at their understated role in the forest ecosystem.


Always Look Up

Felicity, a Park Ranger who was on the trip with her mum, Linda, revealed herself as a self-confessed bird nerd.

When she looked up, we all looked up.

Felicity was hoping to spot the Masked owl on this trip. Not likely on a day walk so instead she had all eyes peeled for the critically endangered Orange-bellied parrot. We weren’t lucky enough to spot one of the only 50 left in the wild, a poignant task, but we did manage to get glimpses of a Pink-breasted robin and the calls of the Yellow-tailed Black cockatoos and currawongs were our constant friends.

Age is in the Eye of the Beholder

After morning tea we got more adventurous. Several fallen trees, yet to be cleared, required us to scale the steep riverbanks with established ropes. It was a collective effort with everyone pitching in to carry gear if needed, extend a hand or just provide a few words of encouragement.

‘People back home will be amazed I did this!’, exclaimed Helen as we were back on flat. With 70 plus years under her belt, I’m not surprised, and I only hope I’m going that strong at her age.

Takayna Coast

Day three had us up at the crack of dawn to enjoy a cruise down the Pieman River to our starting point on the coast. The canopy hugging the river was dominated by Stringybarks, peeking through the morning mist. Myrtle Beech, Celery Top pine, Blackwood, and Sassafras completed takayna’s canvas. A masterpiece, still in the making.

When we hit the coast we walked through tunnels of Melaleucas, Tea Trees, coastal heath, and even spied a lone orchid. It also wasn’t long before we spotted the tracks of the elusive Tasmanian Devil in the mud and later stumbled upon a shy wombat not far from a perfectly manicured marsupial lawn. When offered to taste, we relished the saltiness of the Sapphire plant and spice of the Pepperberry.

Mat, our guide, has a keen interest in First Nations’ history and was excited to show us several midden sites along this remote coastline. He explained that the layer upon layer of shells and bones was evidence that the palawa had once gathered here to eat and connect.

After reaching Rupert Point, we retraced our steps back to the river, arriving just in time to cool off by leaping into the freezing waters of the Pieman before our zodiac inflatable boat arrived.

This day had it all!


Did I mention the weather?

Climbing Mount Donaldson on our fourth day was surprisingly hot work. Waist-high buttongrass and Whitebeard heath blanketed the side of the mountain, leaving us exposed to the sun. Our mild discomfort was compensated with a stunning panorama of the Tasmania wilderness including clear views of Frenchmans Cap some 100km away as the crow flies.

We summited, lingered for lunch, and my hiking companions humoured me with a group photo.

We still had one day to go, but as we made our way to Tullah for our final night and day I couldn’t help but feel a little melancholy. Being deep in takayna felt like home and Tullah felt like one step out the back door.

Lessons Learned

Late on the last day, as we gathered in the corner of a local Launceston pub reminiscing on the week that had been, Felicity, the quietest of us all, announced she had a few words to say. One by one she went around the group wisely and beautifully describing what she’d learnt from each of us, from the mundane to the more profound.

As she did so, I looked around at the faces I’d met and was overcome by a deep sense of warmth and gratitude. These incredible humans, through their partnership with ShelterBox, work tirelessly to support vulnerable people they’ll never meet. Who will never get to say thank you. And yet they do so humbly and without expectation.

And for me, this was a precious lesson in the power of purpose, generosity, and selflessness.

Sometimes you drift to just where you need to be.

Good news! You don’t have to go on a multi-day trek to support ShelterBox (although you still can if you want to!). ShelterBox takes donations year-round and puts it towards practical and life-saving aid packages for vulnerable disaster-affected people around the world.

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