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When you think of the rainforest, what comes to mind? Lush green vegetation? Crystal clear streams plummeting off cliffs, creating cascades and waterfalls along the way? Leeches and other fun bugs?
I can almost guarantee that one of the things you did not think of was a Segway. These two-wheeled contraptions are usually associated with flat sidewalks and the occasional policeman patrolling his beat (much to the amusement of everyone around him).
That’s a shame, because I think Segways are probably the most fun when taken off flat ground and onto more varied terrain. And, now that I’ve started my Segwaying career by going off-road through a rainforest, I’m not sure if I’d be able to do a “normal” tour down the streets of a city. It would be like starting your scuba diving career by diving with the incredible, vibrant life on the Great Barrier Reef and taking your next trip to the muddy waters off the Texas coast.
It’s funny that I’m now talking about having fun off-roading, because when I first arrived at the main lodge of O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat to check in for my two-hour rainforest tour, I wasn’t confident at all in my ability to actually stay on a Segway. Fortunately, we had plenty of training time — 45 minutes in total — to ensure that we were capable of controlling the vehicle before we started down the path into the forest.
Even getting onto the Segway was a lesson in itself. You can’t simply jump on; first, you have to ensure that the Segway is balanced before you gingerly step with one foot, then another, all the while trying to keep your body balance even. Anyone that’s read my misadventures on this blog knows that balance is not my strong suit. While I didn’t end up throwing myself off the Segway, I must have looked very silly as I jolted in circles around the yard. Good thing there were plenty of other people jolting around just like I was!
Eventually, the feeling of being on the Segway started to feel more natural. I started to figure out how to move my hips to change my centre of balance, which is how you speed up or slow down the Segway. I even managed to complete the obstacle course that our guide Luke set up for us — a slalom course of sorts — and only ran over about half the cones in the process.
For the last part of our training, Luke took us to the hill behind the lodge so we could practice riding up and down a slope. This presented a bit of a challenge, since it was more difficult to understand where my balance was while going downhill, but I felt like I was getting used to the off-balance feeling by the end. Going uphill meant we had to weave back and forth like race car drivers keeping their tires warm during a caution lap, since the Segways often don’t have enough power to tackle a hill head on.
Luke also explained to us that this total lack of power — which kept us limited to a grand total of 9.5km/h — wasn’t always standard on a Segway. They can reach up to 35km/h, but ours had been put into “turtle mode” — essentially, a speed limiter. This was a very good idea since 9.5km/h felt incredibly fast. I can’t imagine what it would have been like on runaway Segway going 35km/h!
Finally, we ticked off all the boxes on our training forms and were allowed out of the resort. We headed along the main road (where we were passed by cyclists and cars alike) before turning into the villa section of the resort and tackling our first big hill. Most of us made it down the hill intact…except a guy a little bit ahead of me. I watched helplessly as his Segway jolted left, then right, then left again in a frantic zigzag before he managed to dismount and catch the vehicle as it crashed towards the ground.
Not long after Luke had helped him up, we turned and began making our way down another hill — the last section of road before we picked up the trail to Moran’s Falls. As we scooted down it, I could feel the handlebars of the Segway pushing back against me, which is a signal that you’ve reached the maximum speed.
I started to lean back, trying to keep just off the top speed to keep away from the unbalancing effect of the speed limiter. Yet it somehow felt like it was pushing back on me more and more, to the point that I felt like I was going to be bucked off the back of the Segway. Eventually, feeling like I was falling backwards, I started to actually lose my balance, and the Segway began to jerk left and right, just as I’d seen happen in front of me on the hill before. It wasn’t too long before I, too, was catching my Segway to stop it from hitting the ground as I ungracefully dismounted.
It was only then that I realised that I was controlling my centre of balance all wrong. Rather than trying to lean back with my hips, as Luke had explained, I was leaning back with my upper back, which had the effect of pushing my hips closer to the handlebars and actually signalling to the vehicle that I wanted to speed up. If I pushed my hips back into a slight squat, I was easily able to slow down the Segway. From then on, I had no issues, and I actually began to feel quite comfortable.
The path we took wasn’t the standard path to Moran’s Falls; rather, it was the back path out of the resort that had no stairs or other insurmountable obstacles for Segways. We wound our way through overgrown grassy fields, forded a small creek (ensuring we went slow enough to not create a bow wave that would engulf the Segway’s electronics in the process), and then navigated around tree roots that wove their way across the dirt track through the forest. We were given enough leeway that we could weave around the track as we pleased, performing manoeuvres that would have seemed impossible at the start with relative ease.
We eventually found ourselves at a small clearing, which was the end of the road for the Segways. Past that point, there were more stairs than I would have cared to try even if we had been allowed! Instead, we followed Luke down the path for a short walk to the Moran’s Falls lookout.
As we walked, Luke scooped up some small green cylinders and cut them open to reveal the sour innards of a finger lime — a staple of Australian bush tucker. While it was incredibly sour, it was still refreshing and delicious.
The various lookouts along the path offered mountain views — mountains that were covered to one side with the trees of the rainforest, and to the other side with the typical Australian gum tree. It was interesting to see such a divide in the vegetation when the landscape otherwise seemed fairly similar. In the middle of all of this was the impressively tall Moran’s Falls, plummeting off a cliff into the forests well below.
When we arrived back at the Segways, everyone nimbly jumped on and confidently started plowing their way uphill. Our weaving back and forth made us look like a very fast pack of drunks, but we were all significantly more in control than if we’d been drinking…at least, we seemed to think we were.
Overall, I would say that a Segway tour isn’t the most natural way to see the rainforest, and that if you go to O’Reilly’s, you should definitely do some bushwalking to see Lamington National Park as it should be seen (like I did on the Tooloona Creek Circuit the day before). However, I thought the Segway tour was a fantastic complement to that experience. Not only did I get to spend time in a place I love, but I got to do it while trying out something completely new and different. Plus, I only fell off once!
What do you think? Would you go Segwaying through the rainforest or would you prefer to stick to even ground?
I took part in the Segway Tour as a guest of O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat, but all opinions stated here are my own. “Australia’s most exciting Segway tour” takes between 90 mins-2 hours and costs $119 per person. O’Reilly’s is about a 2 hour drive from Brisbane city. Also, thank you very much to my friend Michelle for all the photos of me on a Segway in this post.