Until four years ago, Shelly Hawkins had never been on an overnight hike. Now she runs a popular wild trekking business on her Far North Queensland cattle station.

Story + Photos Ken Eastwood

As she was turning 40, Far North Queensland cattle woman Shelly Hawkins was challenged by a friend to hike the 4250km Pacific Crest Trail in the USA. She just laughed. “Why would I do that? I’m a horserider, not a hiker,” she said. 

Instead, in what seemed like a far more achievable adventure, Shelly and her friend decided to hike the 60km from the stock camp on her 1620sq km cattle station Herbertvale, north of Camooweal, to the homestead. She threw a few things into an unfamiliar backpack, and asked her husband Clint to drop them at the stock camp. “I’m a cattle girl. I’d never actually hiked anywhere before,” she says. 

Hiking the distance over two days, Shelly was blown away by the beauty of the country in a way she didn’t expect. “We’d ridden and driven along that road for 20 years, and yet I noticed so much more when I was hiking,” she says. Little birds and animals she’d previously ignored, plants, and the shape and colours of the landscape affected her, as did a sense of peace away from all responsibilities. “It was having that mental space in a busy world,” she says. 

As Shelly and her friend camped out that night with the meagre provisions they’d carried, they talked of how it could be better. “Imagine, if at the end of the day of hiking, there was a cold beer, a glass of wine and a cooked dinner,” she’d said. “I’d spent many years in rough stock camps, so I knew a few little things that would make things more comfortable – like a face washer and a hot shower.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #129

Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2020