So now you’re interested in walking the Heysen, right? You’re ready for a solitary and sometimes challenging journey?
When to walk: Autumn and spring have the best weather, but the Heysen can also be walked in winter (North American summer). The parts that cross private property (many many parts) are closed during the Fire Danger Season in the summer. In dry years, the Fire Danger Season can be extended, so if hiking in the spring, it’s wise not to schedule a last minute finish. Fire Season Dates can be viewed here.
Which direction to walk: I walked the majority of the trail from north to south because I liked the idea of ending at the ocean. Also, if hiking in the spring, N -> S is the logical direction since the Fire Danger Season usually starts a whole month earlier in the Flinders region. The Fire Danger Season also ends a few weeks earlier in the Flinders, so that could be a reason for starting there in the autumn. I would recommend walking northwards if possible, since the northern parts of the trail are far more difficult than the southern sections and walking S -> N allows you to ease into the trail more gradually. For people who have never done a long distance hike before, starting in the populated south also allows you to easily leave the trail if you discover that you hate it (no expensive bus fares back to Adelaide) or easily change gear that isn’t working for you. But do your research before starting a thru-hike! I met a hiker just starting the Larapinta who was counting on her phone for artificial light, but had done no research as to where she could charge it on the trail, and she had already used up some of the battery. A charitable hiker gave her his spare flashlight. She also had no thermals. Other hikers gave her a set. She had a gas canister but no stove, so she had to go around asking to use other people’s. DO NOT BE LIKE THIS PERSON. Generally it’s safe to assume that fellow hikers won’t let you die if you get into a fix, but you’re being a nuisance. Plus, there are no other hikers on the Heysen.
Which brings us to…
Other hikers: If you encounter a hiker lying prone on the ground, phone open to a Facebook profile with 400 friends and collapsable ukelele strapped to his backpack for singing campfire songs, he’s an extrovert who died from lack of human contact. Very few people walk the Heysen, which is kind of amazing considering how many people know about it (even if they don’t know where exactly Quorn is). If you dislike solitude, you won’t enjoy a solo Heysen thru-hike. You could, of course, hike with someone else. Being stuck alone with one other person for long periods of time sounds hellish to me, but to you it may sound like a happy marriage.
Transportation and accommodation: The Friends have information about transport and accommodation on their website. It isn’t exhaustive though, so especially if you’re on a budget and don’t want to stay in B&Bs, I would recommend doing your own research. North of Greenock, trail towns often have pubs where you can get a private room for around $35-$50 (shared washroom and common area). Travelling by caravan is extremely popular in Australia and towns usually have either a caravan park or a designated camping spot, though not always.
Resupply: The Heysen is set up well for food resupply. Towns and other locations where packages can be mailed (like Wilpena Pound) are located at regular intervals along the trail. The Friends’ website has a list of stores and their size, though note that the store in Hallett is now closed. Obviously you won’t be able to purchase fancy items like dehydrated vegetables at small stores, so depending on how picky you are about what you eat, you may want to bounce items/have resupply packages sent to you.
If you’re an international hiker, you’ll probably be buying your first supplies in Adelaide. The Scout Outdoor Centre has the biggest gear selection of all the outdoor shops, and they stock the fancy backpacker meals for hikers who use them. An employee also mentioned, though too late for my purposes, that they would be getting in a shipment of dehydrated veggies from a vendor in Tasmania. Coles and Woolworths are the biggest supermarkets and carry the typical pastas and rices as well as a few types of dehydrated veggies (Coles has peas and Woolworths has mushrooms in their international section). The IGA supermarkets are good for more unique products. You can get beef jerky sans preservatives in the Adelaide Central Market, and they also have good prices on goods like dried fruit and muesli.
Fuel resupply is a different matter. You must use a gas stove, and there are no canisters available between Quorn and the Mount Lofty area, where you can easily bus into Adelaide and purchase some. (It’s possible that Burra normally has canisters, but I’m unsure whether the hardware store employee knew what type of gas I was talking about, because the other Thrifty Link stores had no canisters.) An employee in Kapunda offered to order a canister for me, so if you’re a prolific cooker and don’t want to carry enough gas to last you this entire section, you might try calling the stores in advance and asking whether they can order some for you. Mailing it in a resupply package might be possible but you would have to research that.
Dangers on the trail: Especially if you’re an international hiker, you’re probably thinking ‘snakes and spiders’ right now, perhaps with a mental image of a huntsman inside a toilet bowl. I had no problems with either snakes or spiders, despite seeing many of the former, but you should inform yourself about precautionary measures and what to do if you get bitten. For me, the biggest threat was the aggressive dogs that people didn’t see fit to confine to their property. Also I read an article today about a man in Britain who got trampled to death by cows. His companion, who also got trampled but didn’t die, said that ‘the herd knocked them down repeatedly and seemed to deliberately trample on them “as if it was something they really wanted to do”‘. SOMETHING THEY REALLY WANTED TO DO
Water sources: I was a convert to the rainwater tanks by the time I finished the Heysen. I never encountered a tank without water, and many of the natural sources looked polluted or obviously were. Occasionally a tank filter was busted and the water required filtering, so bring a filter or be prepared to filter through a bandana and treat the water using a different method.
Specific items to bring
1. A warm sleeping bag. Temperatures most nights were in the single digits Celsius, and I had one night below freezing.
2. A headnet. Post-hike I was walking with a friend on a beach near Adelaide and there were some flies around, and I mentioned how terrible the flies were on the HT. She said, ‘worse than on the beach?’. Yes, like 50 TIMES WORSE THAN ANY BEACH EVER.
3. The maps and/or GPS. I would recommend both in the northern sections. The problem with a trail that isn’t single-track (aside from the fact that anything other than single-track is inferior to single-track) is that unless you’re within range of a trail marker, you can’t be sure that you’re actually on the trail. There’s nothing to indicate that you’re still on the proper road or beside the proper fence or whatever, and missing even one marker can put you off course. You can buy the maps in Adelaide at the Friends of the Heysen Trail headquarters, the Scout Outdoor Centre, or the map store (I don’t remember its name, but probably any local could give you directions).
Waste of space:
1. Sunbrella. I did wish on the crazy hot day that I hadn’t left it in Adelaide, but generally the weather was cool enough and the trail shady enough that it wasn’t worth its weight.
2. Mozzie spray. I never used any and eventually left it at a pub, though I did have a bug shirt that also worked well as a bug net for cowboy camping. I used the shirt maybe three or four days.
If you’re an international hiker:
The Heysen has some great sections, but much of the scenery is farmland and doesn’t look distinctive to Australia. If you’re looking for a very Australia-y experience, I would recommend the Larapinta Trail near Alice Springs or the Thorsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook Island, which are both stunning.