Travel used to be simple: photographs in front of famous monuments or tasting local cuisine. Now we need to be the fastest, walk the longest, or climb the highest for the ultimate bragging rights. Celeste Mitchell puts her body on the line to test a new breed of adventure travel on the Sunshine Coast to understand what drives us.
Every day we’re travelling, we’re learning. Whether it’s about ourselves, another language or culture, or purely a new ingredient.
Through overcoming challenges along the way we feel stronger, more worldly. We can contribute to wider conversations, feel more confident driving in foreign lands, or realise that we can, actually, scuba dive and survive.
At least, this is what I’m telling myself with shaking legs as I hold the chain with a death adder’s grip on the descent from Mount Cooroora on the Sunshine Coast – the fourth of six mountain peaks I’m to scale in just one day.
Let me preface the above with this: on a scale of one to Michelle Bridges, I hover around a four. Weekly pilates: good. Channelling my inner billy goat every weekend: not so much.
But, if there were ever a poster child for personal challenges it would be the woman who is following close behind me, Melinda Bingley. When she reached Santiago de Compostela, 27 days into her solo pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago she still didn’t feel done and hiked onwards to Muxia – another 118.5 kilometres. “I just needed to keep on going, there was something in me that just wasn’t finished yet,” she says.
For someone who has trekked Kokoda, scaled Mount Kilimanjaro, hiked to Everest Base Camp, and likes to climb Mount Tibrogargan – the hulking ‘gorilla’ of the Glass House Mountains – solo, on a regular basis, I’m starting to wonder if she’ll ever be finished.
For the past 10 years, Bingley has been helping her personal training clients overcome challenges – their own inner Camino – even if that’s just running 10 minutes on a treadmill without stopping. Now, with her partner, Blase Grinner, they’ve made their favourite outdoor adventures into active escape packages under new tourism business, Experientia Sunshine Coast.
“It’s not all about the destination, it’s about the adventure,” says Bingley, who has also ran trips like this with her clients. “It’s about self-development, really, but they don’t realise it.
“I’ve had women in tears, who didn’t think they could do it… but that’s the power of Mother Nature, there’s just so much to it.”
But why do we feel the need to challenge ourselves when we travel? Is it purely for the bragging rights? Or do we just want to ensure our getaways include enough exertion to combat indulgences?
“It’s such an opportunity of self-growth,” Bingley says as we muse on the topic. “You get to know yourself on a level that you can avoid when you’re at home. When you can connect with nature you can connect with yourself.”
“For younger people it might be the story or the perfect Instagram pics,” Samantha Lippiatt, director of Health & Fitness Travel explains when I later reach out for her opinion, “but what we do see, for a lot of senior executives, is they’re very disciplined in their approach to life. While they’re running that corporation they’re also training for a marathon and it kind of almost gives them permission to take time off – they’re going to do something instead of just taking time off.
“We’re always on, we’re really busy… so to be able to actually go out and do something on our holidays that previously seemed impossible, it’s just a really big drawcard for people.”
Just as in the workplace, challenge goals need parameters, which is why there’s a time limit set for each summit during Six Mountains in One Day, worked out on an average fitness level.
“Some people might just do three summits – it’s completely up to them and how they feel, no judgement, no comparison or fear,” Bingley says. “Without the time limit there would be no challenge. It’s empowering to make it.”
Similarly, Lippiatt believes setting challenges takes things up a level. “You didn’t just run a marathon in Melbourne, you went and ran a marathon in New York so you’ve got a bit more street cred,” she says.
“You’ve got this huge goal that maybe once seemed impossible, that not only are you going to have passed, but then you’re going to have a once-in-a-lifetime trip as well.”
Our group makes it through each climb and descent with time left over to rest and refuel. At the top of Mount Cooroora, Mel and Blase serve icy-cold orange segments and latte-flavoured bliss balls. Afterwards we devour organic falafel wraps and coconut water, making the experience feel less boot camp and more five-star wellness retreat.
We pull into the car park at Mount Coolum National Park feeling a little weary, but determined to finish on a high. It’s quick and dirty, stepping up the 208-metre summit, fast, and the reward is an endless vista to the north and south drinking in the Sunshine Coast in its entirety. “When you’re having a tough time just look out at the ocean and it refuels you,” Mel says as we take a breather along the way.
I’ve done this hike before but today the view isn’t familiar coastline and forest-laden hinterland; everything has changed. I’m seeing with new eyes and a refreshed mindset.
Now, when I’m heading towards Noosa I give Cooroora a nod; on the beach I gaze to the top of Coolum and across to Ninderry, and when I’m driving towards Brisbane I give Beerburrum, Wild Horse and Ngungun all a wave. I can’t help but smile and a feeling of achievement washes over me.
And there ain’t no mountain high enough to keep me from losing this high.
Details: Sunshine Coast
How to do it: Get up early and bring your emotional A-game. Experientia Sunshine Coast’s Six Mountains in One Day kicks off at 6am and includes transport to all summits, qualified and personable guidance and Brisbane, Queensland motivation, and delicious paleo snacks and lunch from local suppliers. The cost is $279 with a maximum of 10 people in the group.
Getting there: Jetstar, Qantas and Virgin Australia fly to Sunshine Coast Airport in Maroochydore from Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. From Brisbane, it’s a 70-minute drive to Caloundra to meet your pick-up.
Staying there: Rumba Beach Resort puts you right on the waterfront at Caloundra with views over some of your conquests beyond the Pumicestone Passage. To stay among the mountains, sleep in a converted train carriage or church at Glass House Mountains Ecolodge.