It had been a long time in the talking – let’s do the Heysen Trail. We live in South Australia, it is on our doorstep and while it is a bit of a job to plan for (1200km) at short notice we had a small window of opportunity with a break from work and decided we would bite a size of it before the fire ban season started. We had left it late (final week of October) and it would be tight but the plan was to do 5 days from Cape Jervis to Victor Harbor – although the trail heads inland at Kings Beach, if we stayed on the coastal trail instead, we would hit the town of Victor Harbor for the traditional finish line hot chips and a taxi back to our car at Cape Jervis.
This section of the Heysen Trail is also going to be developed and will be known as the Wild South Coast Way. Wild it is!!!
It was a crazy 24 hours in the lead up to leaving Adelaide. We were almost too busy to pack as we juggled work and more work knowing we would be taking a break. Our brand new dehydrator stood on the breakfast bar at home unused as the night before I madly packaged 4 dinner meals, breakfast porridge packs, dried fruits, nuts, snacks and lunch – always the tough meal but I was determined to pack some fresh tomatoes, wraps, crackers and even some small avocado dips wrapped in a wet cloth and bag – I figured they would be lighter than avocados (and their seeds!). We carry out all our rubbish and sometimes I think about how much that would weigh too.
Looking back though honestly I don’t know why I worried about that considering some of our gear is so old (and falling apart) and is particularly heavy compared to other new ultra light items on the market. Needless to say our bags weighed in at 18kg-19kg each. Ridiculous for 5 days but our motive for this was preparation for next years big hairy ass goal – the whole Heysen Trail End to End. This trip was a great opportunity to see what gear needed replacing/lightening before next year. Start saving my inner voice cried.
So our walk start point at Cape Jervis allowed us to leave our car here and visit the last flushing loo for a while. The start of the Heysen Trail was nice and flat and believe me when you haven’t carried a fully loaded 65 litre pack for 2 years, you are kind of grateful for that kind of start. The scenery was pretty, the weather was kind and coastal views to Kangaroo Island were clear as we meandered through dunes, on some soft sand before reaching Fisheries Beach. From here it climbed slightly over moon rock and through Sheoak Forest with milkweed dotted along the way – the monarch butterflies were everywhere. We then rolled our way over multiple bald green hills past the odd sheep and glamorous looking accommodation overlooking the ocean (fancy). It was great to also see the spaceship accommodation that I have seen on previous hikes on this section. One day I will stay there I thought to myself.
It wasn’t long before we were onto Blowhole Beach and crossing the little creek on the beach itself, knowing that we had a HUGE long climb ahead to Cobbler Campground. We did a bit more downhill before the uphill started. I think it took 45 mins to get up the top. We did feel the weight of those packs by the end and hips were hurting. Cursing the deliciously heavy pasta meal (with all the trimmings) I had planned for the night, I realised once up top we only had a couple of kilometres to go before we got to our planned campsite for the night, Eagle Waterhole. Such a gorgeous spot to stay the night after following the narrow downhill trail past a trickle of a waterfall (Aaron Creek) and a short steep climb to the hut and waterhole. The frogs were croaking, bees were buzzing and the birds chirping as we slung those packs off our backs and said hello to our fellow campers.
After such a manic lead up to starting the walk the first day was hard to find peace and silence. We knew we would reach camp before sunset but we were cooking in the dark after setting up our tent. We decided to sleep in and take our second day easy after such a rushed start to the hike. Not good for the zen vibes we decided. Plus this was such a gorgeous campsite, one of my absolute faves in Deep Creek, so we would make the most of our time here.
Confession: The pasta was worth every gram. Fresh cherry tomatoes, olive oil, fresh herbs from our garden, parmesan cheese all on top of chickpea pasta. We decided to ration the 12 mini chocolate bars across 4 nights and shared a couple of fun sized bars with a final cup of tea as the moon tried to rise. With a head cold hitting me, I hit the pillow unconscious so fast I woke later to moonlight filling the tent and the frog chorus strong. I pinched myself as I realised that we were on the Heysen Trail, doing this adventure – finally – and the ridiculous lengths we went to in order to squeeze it in. I told myself, why do we always feel these things are so hard to fit in? (note this is a life theme of mine)
We slept long and deep waking late in the morning with other campers gone and only one other woman who was waiting for a lift and would walk out the 2 km to her pick up point. The sun rose and it was warm. The late start may come back to haunt us later in the form of heat stroke but for now, we didn’t care. We had a leisurely breakfast and faffed around the site packing up the tent eventually and leaving the camp at the very respectable time of about 10.30am.
A climb straight out of camp we bumped into a massive crowd of school kids. I wondered how many would go on to hike like we were after school finished for them (these kinds of camps usually ignite the spark for more when older). I was also super grateful I had dressed so openly outdoors an hour earlier thinking we wouldn’t see a soul in such a remote location. Phew.
So we headed towards the coastline in blue skies knowing that the next section may just test our legs (and resolve) with some huge steep climbs with the packs. We found ourselves going downhill and uphill on a gentle climb before a much steeper downhill to a flowing creek where we stopped for a break and a snack after revisiting the profile on the map (and seeing the trail from the other side) and deciding it was worthy of a protein ball or two before conquering the steep section coming up. And steep it was. It was one of those climbs where I was grateful to go up rather than down. Rocky and steep. Thankful for poles, we climbed slowly, sweating in the heat and humidity. We saw what we thought was most likely a red belly black snake before heading through thick bush (we decided to talk more and use our poles a bit more loudly than before) just to be sure all reptiles knew we were coming through. The last little bit into Trig Campground was a beautiful section of native vegetation before we hit the carpark and a picnic table. Perfect spot for lunch after those challenging 5km that took us over 2 hours.
Out came the wraps, avocado dip and the tomatoes. We feasted and refueled knowing we had a nice stretch along the waterfall trail to Tapanappa, our camp for the night. Downhill all the way to the creek crossing, before a quick visit to the falls (it was busy for a Wednesday) and then knowing we only had 3km or so to go with most of it gradual uphill we decided to take it easy after the tough climbs that morning. We found ourselves in the sun for the last hour or so, seeing one more brown snake that moved fast to avoid us. Thank you snake.
Feeling a bit hot and bothered we arrived into camp close to the water tank which was handy as I had just ran out of water and the site we had was shady. We flopped out on the grass for a rest after setting up our tent and relaxing with cupasoups and preparing yet another feast of coconut salmon rice with chilli (good for clearing out a blocked nose as the cold progressed). We decided we deserved 2 little chocolate bars each after today’s efforts.
Some campsites along the Heysen Trail are accessible by car campers. It’s always hit and miss as you never know whether you will get riff raff on a week night or peace and quiet. We were only mildly harassed by drunk teenagers so we got off lightly. We woke really early after deciding to start on the trails at dawn. We knew thunderstorms and rain were coming. We had 17km to cover and a long stretch of soft sandy beach plus a mother of a climb out of Tunkalilla Beach meaning we would be very exposed to electrical storms if they hit.
Heading down to Boat Harbor Beach in spots of rain the Heysen Trail was just gorgeous. It was amongst huge grass trees, hugging the valley line and through dense bracken before opening out with stunning views of where we had walked. The first 3km were pretty, great start to the day. The skies darkened. I don’t mind moody skies but not when we are trying to outrun a potential storm with a big pack slowing us down. While we didn’t want to rush we didn’t want to get struck by lightning either.
The views just got better and better as we headed steeply downhill to Boat Harbor Beach and then steeply uphill onto the top of grassy clifftops. With a tail wind (thank you weather gods) we found ourselves hopping over the stile and down onto Tunkalilla Beach knowing we had 4.5km ahead of soft sand. And soft it was. We just put our heads down and kept going looking back every now and then to see where the rain was or if the thunderstorm was upon us. There was no place to hide really. Miraculously the clouds were heading either side of us and we made it to the end of the beach sheltering under an overhang as a brief shower passed. Fruit and trail bars were snack choices of the day as we prepared for the most vertical climb of our adventure off the beach.
I was told I would be on hands and knees OR hanging on to the fence. Luckily the fence was only barbed wire on one side. It took about 20 mins of climbing non stop. A true calf burner. Photos could not capture the angle accurately enough. Probably the only time in my life when I have been glad to see the beach disappear behind me as the land levelled out. Grass was tall here and we were on high snake alert. We stupidly missed a turn off after a post had been moved and a new fence needed to be climbed – a quick backtrack meant we were once again going in the right direction, over rolling farmland hills. It seems if there is a hill to climb, the Heysen Trail will find it on this section and make you go over it.
We hit the road eventually that we knew would take us to our campsite at Balquidder for the night and with tired legs, the hardened surface of the road finished off our day on weary feet. It was great to get into camp with some time to unwind and relax in the most idyllic setting. The creek flowed as frogs croaked. We set up the tent and the wind picked up. We had lunch and decided we had packed more lunches than was necessary and ate the next days lunch as well. Let’s just say we felt the same way about the chocolate bars too. We laid on the camp platform in sunshine and studied the map, wrote up notes and listened to the neighbouring farms round up and move their sheep to another paddock. Bliss.
An early dinner, Moroccan chicken and cous cous, and in bed by sunset as the rain we had feared would hit with the storms earlier in the day finally arrived. And it really didn’t stop til the next morning. Big gusts of wind blew our tent around overnight and it was a restless night as we knew the rain may not stop during pack up. This delayed our start to the day as we thought we might push on and do 2 sections of the Heysen Trail and finish in Kings Beach.
We started in threatening rain turning right onto the trail where the markers were hiding under tall grass. The trail took us mostly downhill following farm fences and through gates and stiles winding through a long valley hugging the right side of a creek. This took us to the ocean after about an hour or so since we left camp. It was blowy, wet and WILD. The ocean was angry and volatile. I was grateful to be on land.
Our pack covers practically parachuted us along the coastline as we crossed the first beach watching out for the endangered hooded plovers, crossing a rocky creek and climbing up on to the cliff line again where were dipped up and down and around the contours of the coast. We knew we had 2 beach sections today so we were preparing for the soft sand again but found Parsons Beach a little firmer than expected. What we didn’t expect though was the number of blue bottles on the beach. They were everywhere.
At the end of the beach, we found a funny looking rock to hide behind for our break spot as we snacked on trail mix, mandarins and bliss balls. Knowing there was a toilet and a bin above us at the carpark, we took the opportunity to move on some rubbish and use the facilities. The clouds hung around while the sun tried hard to sneak through. We knew we only had a kilometre or so to go and Waitpinga Beach was our final section to complete before lunch.
More bluebottles, a bit of rubbish and a huge flock of terns next to the heavy aqua surf meant a colourful section of beach. The sand was again soft but we moved quicker than we thought, heading off the beach (almost missing the marker) and onto the road where we could offload some beach rubbish we collected before heading up and over the dune to the campground. It was just after 1pm and we assessed how we were feeling and making calculations as to whether we would make another 12km to Kings Beach in time for a taxi back to Cape Jervis.
With knees a little worse for wear, wet feet in soaked boots from the rain earlier and a time constraint that we really didn’t want to entertain on tired legs, we decided to call it a day. Knowing we had another dinner meal left over, we called a cab while up on the sand dune allowing us a couple of hours to enjoy a hot meal, a cuppa and a rest before getting a lift back to our car for the drive home. Just as well we allowed some extra time as we ended up meeting other walkers and campers and found ourselves madly packing up our gear in time for the cab.
Disappointed not to get to Victor (or even Kings Beach) knowing we had done this section a couple of times before made it just that little bit easier to decide on stopping – the next section is by far the most scenic of all the Wild South Coast Way and probably deserves a day of walking it on fresh legs.
• We took stock of the gear that needed replacing after this trip that should really reduce the weight we carry as we added to our wishlist each day on the trail. Replacing our cooking kit with a jetboil and getting a new tent weighing 1kg rather than 2.4kg are on our list!
• Planning better for the food side of things will mean more lightweight home-made dehydrated meals and portioning out things (chocolate will always be a staple on the menu!)
• It really takes 3 days for my mind to slow down and leave behind all the things we “should be doing” and what we have to do when we return. To be fully present and take it all in actually takes time. Those long deep thinking passages of time where problem solving, creativity and ideas eventually arrive can take days and while this adventure allowed for just a little time for that it was over so soon.
• Also grateful for all the different weather to remind us how to prepare and I am left longing for that End to End Adventure in 2021…… with a lighter pack I hope….
• Hot chips from Normanville on the way home meant our post hiking meal tradition continues…
Big Heart Adventures is a commercial tour operator (CTO). Registered to lead walking adventures along the Heysen Trail on Fleurieu Peninsula and throughout Australia and overseas. We offer fully guided walking tours and self guided walking adventures.