Over60 community contributor, Rosie Kennett, shares the tale of how she walked the Heysen Trail, a 1,200-kilometre trek stretching from Cape Jervis to the Flinders Ranges.
In 2005 after retiring, I started a walking group with a few women friends, all of whom were over 60. The idea was to take country walks rather than city walks, ideally within an hour’s drive from Adelaide for convenience. We were very quickly amazed at the sheer number of walks available to us in beautiful, varied locations including quiet country lanes past local farms, recreational parks and national parks with expansive views over rolling hills, cityscapes and beachside fronts.
We met once a fortnight and on an average day we would walk for four hours, over 12 to 18kms. We each took a light backpack with water and lunch. After a few months our numbers grew to 20 and included friends of friends and it was a lovely way to make new acquaintances. We shared humorous stories, sad stories, local news and we shared problems and gave opinions and advice to each other.
All of our walks were found in local guidebooks written by experienced bush walkers. However, many of the directions were less than thorough such as “turn left at the narrow path next to the big gum tree” so on most of our walks we took wrong turns, but with enough strong opinions and a phone GPS we always made our way back to the cars amid laughter and relief! After a few years, the core of dedicated walkers decided on a bigger project – to hike the Heysen Trail.
The Heysen Trail is a long distance walking trail stretching 1,200 kilometres from Cape Jervis on the Fleurieu Peninsula south of Adelaide, through the Adelaide foothills then up north through the Barossa wine district before finally ending in Parachilna in the Flinders Ranges.
The trail was developed primarily in the 1970s and 80s by the late Terry Lavender OAM. Warren Bonython AO originally proposed a long distance walking trail connecting the Mount Lofty Ranges. Between 1979 and 1992 the greater part of the trail was constructed, traversing public and private land with the help of local government, councils, volunteers, schools and individual landowners.
Our group of 10, calling ourselves “Get Out Group” started the trail in 2011. The trail is closed during the summer months. Starting at Cape Jervis and signing the register, we found the first half of the trail relatively easy to organise as day hikes, generally around 16kms over 4 to 5 hours.
After reaching Burra, some 145kms north of Adelaide, we have to organise accommodation for 2 to 3 nights hiking each day, and as we ventured further north we had longer stays and longer hikes – up to 28kms a day. In Burra, we were joined by one husband, a keen walker, who had just retired. Most people thought he was our guide and with his Heysen trail GPS, careful planning and attention to detail we came to rely on his navigational skills (but still managed to get lost on a few occasions!).
Staying overnight gave us the opportunity to have drinks around the campfire at sunset and exchange stories into the dark. Most nights we’d crawl into bed early exhausted by the day’s hike. There is a range of accommodation along the way from local hotels that are generally fairly basic, bed and breakfasts, miner’s cottages, country town houses, shearer’s quarters and camp cabins.
The hardest thing to plan is the car drop offs as the access to the trail can be quite difficult in some sections. Car drop offs requires dropping cars to the end of the days walk, driving back to the start of the walk, picking up the cars at the end of the walk and driving back to the start to collect the other cars. At times we had to walk 4 kilometres from the car to the start of the trail!
The Heysen Trail showcases some of the best country SA has to offer. From spectacular cliff tops overlooking the ocean, panoramic views over Adelaide, lush green hills and vineyards, through sheep and cattle stations and quiet country towns and deserted ruins. You crossing babbling brooks and dry creek beds, ridge tops with expansive views to Spencer Gulf and Wilpena Pound, and deep gorges with amazing rock formations of Brachina and Parachilna Gorges in the Flinders Ranges.
Our journey ended at the wonderful Prairie Hotel where we were joined by our husbands to celebrate our amazing 1,200 kilometre achievement and shared wonderful memories with a few glasses of bubbly around a huge campfire under a clear star-lit night sky.
Walking the Heysen Trail was an unforgettable experience. Apart from the obvious health and friendship benefits, this type of hiking allows you to contemplate life and immerse yourself in country far from the noise and traffic of the city. However, it is not for the fainthearted!