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Cape York to Tassie via Burnett

INTREPID: Alex Johnson and Fred Van Der Elst passed through Blackbutt on their way from Cape York to Tasmania.
INTREPID: Alex Johnson and Fred Van Der Elst passed through Blackbutt on their way from Cape York to Tasmania. Contributed

TWO intrepid travellers took a break in the Burnett halfway through an epic journey from the top of Australia to the bottom.

Fred Van Der Elst, from Belgium, and Alex Johnson from New Zealand set off from the very top of Cape York on June 1 this year.

They plan to finish at the bottom tip of Tasmania in January, walking the whole way.

While many of us have trouble fathoming covering that kind of distance even in a car, Mr Van Der Elst said the best way to see the country was on foot.

"Walking the biggest the island nation in the world, it's something that's fascinating," he said.

"For the two of us, it's a big passion for walking and a chance to see Australia in a very different way. There's millions of people visiting Australia. They see amazing things, but not like we have."

Mr Van Der Elst, 27, and Mr Johnson, 29, met late last year when they embarked on another trek, the 3000km Te Araroa trail in New Zealand.

Around 500-1000 people trek this trail every year, and the two men became friends as they walked.

Mr Van Der Elst said he was not ready to end the epic journey once the 3000km was over.

"I'd already planned to walk the length of Australia. I told Alex about my plan and he decided to join," he said.

 

Fred Van Der Elst and Alex Johnson at the start of their epic trek from Cape York to Tasmania.
Fred Van Der Elst and Alex Johnson at the start of their epic trek from Cape York to Tasmania. Contributed

While many people have traversed large parts of this vast continent, Mr Van Der Elst believes he and Mr Johnson have a unique claim to this particular journey.

"Only one other man that we know of has walked the whole length of Australia," Mr Van Der Elst said.

"We could be the first ones to do this actual route we take."

The other man he referred to was John Olsen, a Victoria resident who walked from Cape York to Tasmania in 2004 to raise money for children with cerebral palsy.

While Mr Olsen's start and end points were the same, his route was different to the one Mr Van Der Elst and Mr Johnson are taking, and around 1000km shorter.

This is because Mr Olsen kept to main roads as he was pulling a cart, while Mr Van Der Elst and Mr Johnson are going off-road, traversing through mountains and more rugged terrain.

Mr Van Der Elst said their total distance would be around 6500km, compared to Mr Olsen's 5622km.

The men average around 36km a day, travelling mostly on the Bicentennial National Trail.

Given the vast distance between regional Queensland towns, this can cause logistical challenges.

"The average distance between towns is 100km-150km so there's a lot of planning involved," Mr Van Der Elst said.

They free camp whenever possible and have only stayed in hostels twice.

Portable water filters mean any water source can be made drinkable.

Food is the biggest challenge, especially as it adds a lot of weight to their gear.

They don't carry a cooker, rarely light fires and never hunt or fish, relying on raw foods such as nuts, dried fruit and tinned tuna for sustenance.

Unsurprisingly, a big breakfast at Blackbutt's Bunya Nut Cafe was more than welcome when they passed through.

That was not the only standout feature of the South Burnett, Mr Van Der Elst said.

"We've really enjoyed the last week. It's more green than Far North Queensland, with more hills. North and Central Queensland was all flat. It's more rolling here," he said.

 

Alex Johnson on the road during his trek from Cape York to Tasmania.
Alex Johnson on the road during his trek from Cape York to Tasmania. Contributed

For those interested in lacing up the boots and taking off on a similar journey, Mr Van Der Elst had some words of advice.

"If you want to walk Australia on foot, you need experience. It'd be very gruelling for a first walk," he said.

"Especially on the mind, this one is very hard. Every day it's hot and dry. The pack's always heavy. You get hundreds of kilometres of the same scenery."

All the same, he said the breathtaking scenery, unique wildlife and friendly faces kept them going.

He also said choosing the right gear was essential, though his advice may surprise some keen hikers.

"We just buy cheap runners. It's all in the mind and the legs and you definitely don't want heavy gear," Mr Van Der Elst said.

"In one day, you have to pull up your feet thousands of times. It's so much easier in light runners or sandals."

He said they usually bought new shoes every 1000km or so, and expected to go through six pairs during this trip.

Having passed through Biggenden, Kilkivan and Nanango (including a stop off at the music muster), the pair will next head to Toowoomba via Crows Nest.

 

Topics:  biggenden blackbutt long distance walk

South Burnett

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