Walking the Heysen Trail

A 2002 trek from north to south

Originally published in the Trailwalker magazine: Winter 2006, May 2006

In 2002 David Beaton and I decided to walk the entire Heysen Trail – and to walk it from north to south. Our choice to start in the north had to do with the fact that David was already walking the trail from south to north with the Millennium Walkers – obviously they had started their walk in 2000. We decided to walk one week per winter month, Monday to Friday. We commenced this venture in April 2003, spending our first night at Alpana Station. It was good to meet up again with John Henery of Alpana who, early next morning, drove us to Parachilna. During the week he very kindly drove David’s car to Hawker, ready for us to pick up at the end of the week. Our odyssey had started.

Ralph Ollerenshaw

Ralph Ollerenshaw

The first part was easy as we knew exactly where we were going, having already been there with Dean, Bob and Trevor the previous winter, marking the trail as far as Aroona. From there it was up some very steep hills to Red Hill lookout. The trail has since been re-routed along the contours which bypass Red Hill, which makes for easier walking. About 1km further on we made our first camp. We didn’t go far the first day as we were still stretching our legs … at least I know I was!

Up and on, along fire tracks which don’t make particularly interesting walking but we could do 5- 6km per hour. On our second night we slept in Yanyanna hut, which had nothing to recommend it except a stone floor, a fireplace, a plank, and four bricks! At least we didn’t have to pitch our tents! There was some interesting walking next morning for the first hour or two along deep creek gullies, then along fire tracks to Wilpena Pound, our next camp. The following day it rained – and rained! By the afternoon we had had enough so we camped and spent the next 15 hours in our respective tents. Fortunately the rain stopped overnight so that our tents were dry enough to pack away. Mayo, our next stop is, I think, the best hut on the trail. It has a nice friendly feel about it. To get there we had to walk through grass – or a type of bamboo – way above our heads … a time when one does tend to think about snakes!

From Mayo we walked the old trail along the road, which was quite uninteresting, so much so that we decided to suggest a re-route along the creek, which makes for a much more interesting walk. The creek has a natural spring but take it cautiously. Don’t drink the water – it is VERY salty. We eventually came to Yourambulla Ridge, sparsely marked and overgrown, with a Trail Closed sign at the other end … where most signs of that nature often are! (Jarvis Hill Lookout) We went back later with the usual crew and, after a few days work, were able to remove the sign. We walked back to Hawker, collected David’s car, and drove home. End of week one.

David & Ralph. They maintain the Trail as well as walk it.

David & Ralph. They maintain the Trail as well as walk it.

A month later my wife, Ann, drove us back to Jarvis Hill and off we went again. Calabrinda water tank took a bit of finding in the gathering gloom but eventually we found it and made our camp nearby. Next morning we carried on down Calabrinda Creek, then the road to Simmonston where the trail turns west towards the beautiful white chalk cliffs of Willochra Creek. Buckaringa Gorge, with its unusual rock formation, was interesting. The trail was well marked even though its relationship to the map was like chalk and cheese! That part of the trail has now been re-routed and re-marked so the relationship is much closer. Up and over Mount Arden. The approach from the north varies between undulating and corrugated. About 5km from Mount Arden the height difference is about 250m yet, walking through the many undulations, the actual climbing height is closer to 500m.

There is a Heysen Trail myth that some walkers approach the local Mount Arden station owner – who runs 4WD tours – paying to be driven to the top of Mount Arden, they then walk down one side. Next day they pay to be driven up the same way again, walk down the other side, then continue “walking the Heysen Trail.” I feel sure that must be a MYTH!

The southern side of Mount Arden to Eyre Depot must be in the top five sections of the HT for beautiful and interesting walking. From Eyre Depot to the start of the scrub around Dutchmans Stern must be about the worst, with small moving rocks and rusty fences. We were hoping to camp at the old ranger station that night but lost the track and camped

in a creek bed – dry, of course. The next day, Friday, we were in Quorn where Liz, David’s partner, found us and drove us home. End of week two.

A year or so before David and I started walking the complete HT it had been necessary to shift the trail off Saltia Ridge to Pichi Richi Ridge. As David and I, with Dean and the usual crew, had already covered this part of the trail – walking Pichi Richi Ridge at least twice in both directions, – we counted this part of the HT as definitely “done” and consequently started our next walk at Woolshed Flat.

We walked along Waukarie Creek following the still- visible police spray paint marks – used when searching for lost walkers – wondering how anybody could get lost there. The trail at this point is wide open and well marked. Then it was up Mount Brown with five days supply of food and five litres of water, for a camp at the top. That climb was memorable, being both slow and steep, and our load heavy.

The south side of Mount Brown has now been re- marked. It had to be. When we walked that part of the trail – about 5km – we saw only one marker! Between Mount Brown and Horrocks Memorial we walked mainly along level fire tracks along ridges, where the views were great. From Horrocks Memorial we crossed to Alligator Gorge Road and on to Stony Creek Tank in time for lunch. Topping up with water we stepped out. Uphill at first and then steeper. Not looking at our maps we trudged on. And on. Suddenly a sign post: “The Battery 2 kms”. We knew where we were; deep in Mambray Creek Conservation Park. We’d gone the wrong way!! After camping on the track, next morning we returned downhill to Stony Creek Tank (in about half the time!) then onto Spring Creek. Spring Creek is a flooded mine from where thousands of litres of water is pumped, all inside pipes with not a drop to drink! Walking along more fire tracks, we climbed to the top of Mount Remarkable. After much walking, when I thought we must nearly be there, we found a sign which said “You are now half way to the top” which was almost distressing! Up, on and over the top we went, then down to Melrose and coffee and cake at the bakery. Then, sustained by our gluttony, we walked the back roads to Murray Town where I had left my car. End of week three.

From Murray Town to Wirrabara Forest is forgettable as it was all road walking; however, we made good time. Wirrabara Forest had just been harvested and we were looking at a sea of freshly-cut tree stumps! That was forgettable also! On to the bottom of The Bluff where we had left a 10 litre box of water to

help with the climb up! As we started off we saw a sign pointing upwards reading “allow 1.5 hours to the top”. As it was already almost sunset and we were fully loaded we thought ‘so much for an early night’. Continuing on and up, we were pleasantly surprised to reach the top of The Bluff in just over one hour. I wonder who writes the signs! At the top all there was to see was tall trees and a TV tower – no views at all. We camped in the middle of the fire track just as darkness overtook us

The nice thing about The Bluff was the downhill walk next morning, and after some back road walking we found a very nice camp site just south of Hughes Gap. Next morning we walked into Crystal Brook and the bakery to wait for Ann. The end of our first year of following fences. End of week four.

April 2004 and we started at Crystal Brook where the trail turns east through flat farm and sheep country over Rocky River and on to Georgetown, then 8km or so to where we camped on what we thought was a quiet back road. We were in for a surprise. That night, just after we had turned in, we heard heavy machinery and cars driving to and fro and soon discovered that the farmer from the homestead some 2-3 km back was bringing up his heavy machinery and commencing a night-ploughing of the paddock nearest to us. There was traffic and ploughing going in for most of the night! Under these circumstances, this choice of a camp site left much to be desired!

Next morning away in the distance we could see New Campbell Hill and hours later we had climbed to the top of it. Some 10km further on was the Bundaleer Channel which, before large pipes were able to be made, had been used to fill Bundaleer Reservoir. An interesting piece of early engineering. Near Spalding, Freshwater Creek Weir camp site is marked on the map but in actual fact, all that is there is a small weir, not much of a camp site, and no water tank. Seeing heavy rain clouds building up, we decided to seek shelter at the Spalding Hotel. Heads down into the strengthening wind we slogged along

the road, almost making the town before being overtaken by the driving rain. Dumping our soaked coats and packs we fronted the bar, only to find the hotel’s accommodation was fully booked! A hot pie from the local shop and back along the road to a late camp on the trail.

After Spalding is the old stone wall, which must have an interesting history. With a few gaps it runs for about 70km. Who built it and why? The day we were there the wind blew hard. In an old seafarers estimation it was close to 40 knots or about 75kph, a great place for a wind farm! After a miserable, bone chilling day we camped in a quarry before heading into Hallett, anticipating a cold beer. At 2pm, the pub was shut. End of week five.

The Old Railway Station at Hallett and Mt Bryan East School are HT huts and great places to spend nights. From Mt Bryan East the trail goes east down along an old road, the foundations of which have some very interesting stonework, which would also have a good history. Then out onto the plains, where the trail turns south again; further south the trail turns back into the hills, over which the trail goes because that’s where the fence is. We saw more kangaroos in this week of walking than I have seen in the wild – they were lined up on the hills like Indians in a John Wayne movie! Then, follow that fence, up and down, up and down, on into Burra. End of week six.

South of Burra, and many kilometres of following either roads or fences, partly because the trail had to be taken off Princess Royal property because of a change of ownership. It is a great loss not to be able to enjoy the stunning views which can be seen from Princess Royal. Even so, with what is available, Hugh Greenhill and the Burra branch of the Heysen Trail Section have done a remarkable job with the re- route. The new parts around Touralie Gorge are quite interesting.

Our first night after Burra was cold … about 6-8mm of ice-on-the-tent-fly-cold, which makes for numb fingers and brisk walking. Just over the first hill from where we camped on the side of the road there was a hut unmarked on our maps, which would have been nice to have known about. There is good bush walking and camp sites along the Tothill Range over which, in bygone days, I flew gliders. But that’s another story. On and on along roads and fences to a nice hut at Peters Hill, then into Kapunda and the end of our second year. End of week seven.
2005 and we started again. From Kapunda to Tanunda and on past Bethany to a camp site marked on the map, except that we found a nice level park

covered in No Camping signs. Again we camped on the side of the road on a more or less level site. From there on, through Mount Crawford forest, which is not for the faint hearted, we got horribly lost
– no way of matching where the trail was with the map in the Guidebook! The foresters’ idea of re- route signs go any which way! We finished up deciding where we were; we knew where we had to go to get to the road, and went in a more or less straight line. When we came to a road David went right to the camp ground, and I went left to get my car. I said I would pick him when I saw him but he must have been dark against a dark night and I drove past him. I did go back and pick him up later!

By Thursday we got to Chalks camp ground. It was hot. Too hot! We found a re-route but, as we didn’t know how far it was, we walked back to our first car, collected the second car then and drove home That was our last overnight camp.

From here on we did all day-walks.

Our first day-walk was from Chalks camp ground to Checkers Hill Road, around the re-route, over open ground, and pleasant hills walking.

The next day-walk was from Checkers Hill Road to Castambul, through Chain of Ponds, Cudlee Creek, and over Mount Misery to a place off a track off Corkscrew Road. The Adelaide Hills are really pleasant, at times quite beautiful … but after the Flinders they somehow lack that certain something.

The next walk was memorable. From Castambul to Mount Lofty. From Castambul the first 2km is level then you turn and go up a hill. “Come back Mount Arden, all is forgiven!!” Or perhaps we were out of condition! We eventually made it to the top. Over hill and dale we went and around a huge re-route in Morialta, arriving at Mount Lofty about 11 hours from Castambul, walking in both sunshine and rain, soaked to the skin in either rain or perspiration. It was another day to remember.

The next day-walk was Mount Lofty to Mylor; it was shorter and easier than we expected, which gave us an early finish.

The next bit to Chookarloo was also easier than we expected, and if the re-route around Kuitpo Forest had been marked properly it would have been even shorter. The re-route cut out the Onkeeta Trail completely.

The first 10km or so from Chookarloo is very pleasant, attractive open-forested country for walking, even right through to the butter factory at Mount Compass – there is nothing to complain about. A pleasant day’s walking.

From the butter factory it is easy walking along back roads and ever-present fences with a little black top road and eventually to Yulte Conservation Park. The only reason it is a conservation park is because it is too steep and rocky to plough, which makes it difficult to walk. About 7km later there is Myponga Conservation Park which is a CP. for the same reason. Actually they are islands of bushwalking in a sea of open farm land. One kilometre further on is the James Track, where we finished for the day.

After leaving the James Track there is the descent of Sugarloaf Hill which one tends to remember! I remembered going up it many years before! On through Inman Valley and around Second Valley Forest across a deep gully with steps which the cows use. Cows aren’t silly! From here to Cape Jervis David and I were on well-known country, being at the start of our respective HT sections. We finished the day at the junction of Range and Waitpinga roads.

From the road junction to Kings Beach is mainly walking on black top roads (uninteresting). Fom the beach to near Newland Head there are some magnificent views, and from Waitpinga Beach on there is lots of sea air – we were walking about 4m from the water’s edge. When we got to Parsons Beach David slipped and sprained his ankle, only 2.5 days from Cape Jervis, but he limped on, displaying grit and determination. A true walker!!. We finished this day at Mount Scrub Road near Balquhidder.

Along Mount Scrub Road and down to the beach there are a few good hills. Going “down” to the beach is definitely the best way, as it is a steep, grassy hill. Along to Tapanappa camp site, where we changed from my section to David’s, then on to near Trig camp site to finish that days walk.

From Trig to Cape Jervis there is a waterfall, some well-made steps, good-sized hills, great views, lots of sea air, and a very welcome end to the Heysen Trail.

We arrived at Cape Jervis at 3pm on Monday, 5th September 2005. Two years four months, or fifty walking days. It does give one a real sense of achievement, to walk the Heysen Trail from beginning to end – especially David, who has walked it from both ends. Well done us!