Overland Track complete! I would recommend it to anyone in this part of the world, especially if you have a decent chunk of time to take advantage of side trip opportunities. The area is lovely and the trail less crowded than I thought it would be, probably because of a lucky pick of start date. If you have a flexible schedule, I recommend waiting to book and selecting a date with fewer people (or hiking in the off-season). Or maybe you’re a different personality type and want to zoom through the trail and party every night with a huge group of people. That’s cool too.
1. Someone always snores in the huts. Always. If you’re alone in the hut, you’re snoring.
2. Often the trail is rocky to the point where you start questioning whether dirt exists. Choose your footwear accordingly.
3. If in need of entertainment, read the hut journals. Consider whether you really want to write awkward poetry in the hut journals.
4. If not planning to climb Mt. Ossa, consider camping at Frog Flats.
5. Order from the Lake St. Clair Lodge lunch menu, and there are free campsites nearby if you don’t want to pay $25 for more amenities.
6. If a guy comes into a hut to get a cloth and a bottle of disinfectant and tells you it’s because he found animal **** at the edge of his tent platform, don’t laugh at him. Remember the disgustingness of camping amidst cow patties on the AZT. Remember and sob quietly.
I woke up, dried most of the condensation off my tent, ate the dodgy couscous for breakfast, mulled over the possibility that the dodgy couscous had already been cooked, and set off towards Narcissus Hut.
I had decided pre-hike to take the ferry to Cynthia Bay instead of walking around the lake, doubting that the scenery of a forest walk would be rewarding enough for more kilometres and more food weight with an aching foot. After eight days of hiking, the status of my foot has actually improved – the pain subsides with a certain stretch that I now do often, though I don’t know whether that’s treating the problem or a symptom of the problem. Maybe I should consult a physiotherapist with this new information. Or just chop off my foot! Wheee!
Forest walking. I arrived at Narcissus Hut around 1:30 PM, investigated the pier, returned to the hut and saw a sign stating that the minimum ferry charge is 240 AUD. With six or more hikers each hiker pays 40 AUD, but with fewer hikers the charge gets divided, so one person would pay 240 AUD and two people would pay 120 AUD and so on… and I was the only person waiting for the ferry. The booking website said $40, but maybe I missed the fine print.
Even if I had been willing to pay 240 AUD for a boat ride, which I wasn’t, I wasn’t carrying anywhere near that much money. The obvious solution was to walk out; the problem foiling the obvious solution was that my only food remaining was a few spoonfuls of peanut butter, a small amount of granola and gross cashews flavoured like everything else in my food bag.
Not fancying another day on the trail with those provisions, I sat down outside Narcissus Hut and waited for more potential ferry-goers to arrive. Two hikers were arguing loudly inside the hut about something one had said about the other in front of other people and whether or not they felt the same way about completing the hike together and independence and so on. I have problems, they have problems, everyone has problems. Problem Hut.
The first new arrival was a German woman who said that she was planning to take the ferry out, but not until the following morning. She kindly offered to share her food if I wanted to spend the night at Narcissus Hut, but I didn’t like that idea – I would have done the same in her situation and not considered it a big deal, but hikers shouldn’t have to bail out other hikers, and I wasn’t going to starve on what I had. Next came three women who started considering whether to spend the night at Narcissus Hut or take the next ferry. I can do 60 AUD! I can do it! While they were considering, a fifth woman arrived. She was planning to hike out and offered me food if I wanted to do the same. I didn’t want to accept that offer either, but we ended up talking for awhile and she was a potential long-distance hiker, which was cool. Often I meet people who say it’s awesome that I hiked the AZT, but rarely are they interested in doing something similar.
The group decided to take the ferry, so I was saved. Two Parks employees joined us sans fare, and two tourists were already on the ferry, so we only had to pay $40 each. Despite some rain, I enjoyed the ride. The boat stopped at Echo Point for the tourists, and we all got out and looked around. The hut was dingy but there was a nice sandy beach with clear water. The guide(?) pointed out a tree with blossoms that taste like honey, and suggested that some of us taste them. I tried one (how hungry was I?) but it didn’t taste sweet at all. A ploy to trick tourists into eating plants…?
I ended up having supper with the ferry women, who were also interested in the Larapinta Trail. I had been warned about the food at the Lake St. Clair Lodge, but it was worse than I thought it would be. The menu after 5:00 PM is very limited (there’s also a ‘fine dining’ option) and tasted like fast food at a 800% markup. I bought a pizza off the lunch menu the next day though – there’s nowhere else to eat – and it was good, so if you eat at the lodge, go with the lunch menu/pizza. The German woman I had met at Narcissus Hut showed up at the restaurant after dark, having decided to hike out that day. She informed us about a free campground for hikers with no showers but also no fee. I was paying $25/night + coin shower, so I was disappointed that I hadn’t known about the free one.
It poured during the night and my tent floor soaked through below my air mattress. The sky still looked ominous in the morning, so rather than hanging up anything to dry, I propped up my mattress inside my tent and hoped that everything would dry while I was gone (my tent would sooner commit seppuku than dry in the shade, but hope is healthy). Despite my puddle I was luckier than the campers beside me, who woke to a possum eating food that they had stored within their tent vestibule. ‘I thought the zipping sound was you unzipping your sleeping bag,’ said the wife to her husband. Nope. Beware the possums.
I was excited for my side trip to the Labyrinth because I had read that it was beautiful (a good reason) and because it has a cool name (not a good reason). The trail there didn’t involve scrambling, but it was steep. Is that a waterfall, or is it the path? On this trail, it’s both! I was using a dry sack as a daypack again, and (while acknowledging that I wasn’t using it for its intended purpose) not only was it totally useless against wet leaves, but it developed small holes. I’m not impressed.
The Labyrinth had beautiful trees, beautiful lakes and ponds, beautiful views. The sky cleared while I was up there, permitting both misty mountain views and clear blue sky mountain views. I didn’t explore much since my body informed me that it would need cheeseburgers for that, but I would have liked to.
I haven’t mentioned yet that I’ve eaten my extra food and also resorted to taking some odd-looking couscous from a free food box at Windy Ridge. Along with the couscous, there was mysterious brown powder and white powder/pale sticks that the Backgammon woman thought were powdered milk/bamboo shoots, but I wasn’t desperate enough to experiment with those.
Descending the trail was more difficult than ascending it. A man behind me fell on the waterfall section but didn’t hurt himself, luckily.
Back at camp I found that my tent hadn’t dried at all, but friendly sunlight had emerged to help. I spent the evening eating my last dinner food aside from the dodgy couscous and listening enviously to other hikers describe their fancy dehydrated meals.
I left the Overland Track at the Pine Valley junction and walked to Pine Valley Hut, where I’ll spend two nights with a day trip to the Labyrinth. The walk was mostly flat, crossing suspension bridges through meadows and a mossy forest as silent as a crypt.
The trail was most scenic near the hut, where it ran alongside Cephissus Creek. I saw a white-lipped snake and heard what I hope was a ‘common froglet‘, since that’s the cutest name ever. On a related note, ‘common death adder‘ should not be a name. Common + death adder do not belong together.
The hut is average-sized and surrounded by normal campsites without tent platforms. The toilet was almost full and stank horribly. Two douchey locals were sitting in the hut when I arrived and having no interest in their asshattery, I pitched my tent despite expecting rain. Happily those men left and were replaced by a friendlier group of Aussies who for some reason assumed I was Swedish and asked me how to pronounce ‘Trangia’. I said ‘Trahn-gee-ah’, which was apparently wrong since there’s no ‘gee’ sound in Swedish. One of the men recommended the Larapinta Trail. Sounds like a nice prospect for Australian winter!
A note in the hut indicated that it had mice and hikers shouldn’t leave food around. As I mentioned before, possums will steal human food (but not vegetables, according to an entry in one of the hut journals; smart little buggers) and hikers normally store their food in the OT huts. Having once lived in a mouse-infested house though, I’m more afraid of mice than possums, though those particular mice may have become supermice from eating my vitamins. I decided to store my food in my tent in an Opsak and hope for the best.
One of the other hikers got lost while collecting water in the dark. When I heard him shouting, I thought he might be a hiker from somewhere else who had gotten lost in the wilderness. It was reminiscent of that time I was sharing a hostel room with a woman who had night terrors (never again). In the end he saw the light from our headlamps and was able to make his way back to camp, so all was good. A few tense moments there though.
After breakfast I said goodbye to the Belgians, Ontario Guy and the French(Belgians?), who were planning to walk further than me today. The French(Belgians?) pointed out that they were leaving earlier than I was. You win, get-up-early-kings. My quads felt like they had been skewered from descending Mt. Ossa. I thought ‘oh, maybe I should have trained for this’. Too late now!
The trail was entirely through forest today. I encountered the tour group with Tour Guide B at Du Cane Hut, then the Backgammon couple and a pair who thought that I had hiked the Appalachian Trail. And thus my legend grows (incorrectly). The OT is easy to follow and was usually distinct in this section despite the ground being covered in leaves, but I lost it once and had to backtrack to consult a directional marker. The Backgammon couple approached and the woman said ‘I just go where I think the trail should go’ and they headed off… in the wrong direction. If there’s no snow on the OT and you’ve been walking for two minutes without seeing a clear path, you’re probably not on it.
I hung back before the D’Alton/Fergusson waterfalls side trail, hoping to admire the falls in privacy. Naturally, everyone was still there when I arrived at the junction. We passed each other on the short but steep spur trails rather than at the waterfalls though, so I got some time alone. Both were nice, but Fergusson was more scenic.
Tour Guide A was at Hartnett Falls with his tour group, giving the ladies some fan service by bathing in the river. Excellent job, Tour Guide A! I think it must have been awkward for him to be the only partially undressed person, though. Like he called ‘c’mon guys, join in’ and no one joined in.
The tour group left and I spent some time at the falls. On my way back to the main trail, I went too far along the river and ascended an animal trail, but got back on course after backtracking.
Forest, forest, forest. I arrived at Bert Nichols Hut, which was huge, especially in proportion to the number of people there (six). We talked about TV, that thing I haven’t seen in a month. ‘Heartland‘ is the only Canadian television show the Backgammon couple know. For Australian shows, I only know ‘Please Like Me‘ and ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here‘, which we agreed is terrible.
Coincidentally the French(Belgians?) and I both got up at 6:00 AM, making us the best of roommates – almost. One of them snored and had a comically loud air mattress. I once received a complaint about my Thermarest Neoair, but his mattress sounded like a thunderstorm. I have no idea what it was made of – possibly tin foil and packing peanuts.
Thinking the light would be best in the morning, my goal was to climb Mt. Ossa before noon. I left the hut first, but the French(Belgians?) soon passed me in the forest. We reunited at Pelion Gap, where the Mt. Ossa side trail begins, and while they discussed which items to carry up the mountain, I set to work constructing a daypack from a dry sack, my rain jacket and a piece of paracord. A trail maintenance worker arrived and asked what I was doing. I showed him and said ‘Isn’t it beautiful?’. He said ‘it will get you there and back’.
The Mt. Ossa trail began with a steep climb, then levelled out for awhile before changing to a mix of steep trail and scree. Trail markers with arrows offered some guidance through the scree. Near the summit I got off-course, confused by how a clear trail extended in one direction but an arrow pointed in another, and ended up scrambling up a rock shaft. I would normally have been scared, but on this occasion I was too filled with anger at Tour Guide A since he had told me the ascent was just a walk. I was just thinking ‘Screw you, Australian. Screwyouscrewyouscrewyouscrewyouetc.’. A few minutes after reaching the top of the shaft, I saw the other route. Well, whatever. Whatever forever. Continuing the slog, I encountered the French(Belgians?) descending. They told me the climb was worth it, which it definitely was! Clear, gorgeous views in all directions from the summit.
There were a few small ponds up there as well.
I stayed for about an hour before heading down, passing the Belgians, another pair who had made the same error as me with the route, and Ontario Guy. The trail wound through open and forested country to Kia Ora Hut. I saw an echidna, which aren’t one of the most well-known Australian animals but are possibly the cutest. They’re very timid and of the same order as platypuses – both lay eggs, the only mammals to do so.
I didn’t realize how knackered I was until I spent forty-five minutes pitching my tent and let my pot boil over twice while making one and a half dinners. The huts have journals where people can write random things and, as of March 2016, Kia Ora’s is the funniest. It includes a saga about possums being able to open the hut door (they steal human food if they can) and way too many entries by a guy named Jack trying to get a girlfriend on Facebook. Move it along, Jack.
At dusk yesterday I walked with the Belgians to Lake Windermere to look for platypuses, but none revealed themselves in the dim light. The night was chilly and my new sleeping bag overestimated, so I kept getting cold, waking up and adding layers. The Belgians got cold as well and moved into the hut during the night. There’s an obvious lesson here: Tasmania, be warmer at night. The stars were amazing in the clear sky though.
The weather remained good for my walk today: 16.75 km to Waterfall Valley. The trail offered nice views back to Barn Bluff and from the Forth Valley lookout, but it was absurdly rocky. I was glad to be wearing hiking boots!
The trail entered forest and descended to Frog Flats, where camping is permitted. It was a pleasant spot and I would have been tempted if not for wanting to get as close as possible to Mt. Ossa in preparation for the side trip tomorrow. Passing more streams, the trail climbed to New Pelion Hut, a huge building with many bedrooms.
I want to get an early start tomorrow, so I decided to stay in the hut. I ended up sharing a room with two men who are either French or Belgian. To elaborate, there are two new pairs of men, one pair is French and the other is Belgian, both speak French, I had spoken to the French pair in the dark by the rainwater tank and confirmed they were French but now can’t remember which pair they were. I’m going to call my roommates ‘the French(Belgians?)’ and just look around awkwardly if the other pair has to be mentioned. I learned how to play backgammon from an Australian couple who had packed in a full sized set *sympathetic stare while taking advantage of their effort*. The woman is a grade one teacher. When I mentioned that preschool teacher was on a list I had seen of the top ten jobs least likely to be taken over by robots, she told me that her son is a robotics engineer. Score!
Everyone in the hut went to bed soon after sunset yesterday, but one man started talking to his hiking partner in the dark about Europe and train fares. I laughed silently. Eventually a woman asked him to stop and he said ‘what? We’re going to sleep already?’. No, we were lying in the quiet darkness to mull over the terrible meaningless of our lives in the vast universe… oh, that was only me?
The day dawned with gorgeous weather and I left early. Not grappling with a tent saves a lot of time. The trail was mostly open with beautiful views.
I wanted to take a side trip to Lake Will, but mysteriously (since I was first to leave from our hut) ten backpacks were sitting at the junction when I arrived. Wanting some peace and quiet to enjoy Lake Will, I sat down to admire the view of Lake Holmes and wait.
I spotted a man lurking in a grove of trees nearby, looking at me. At first I thought he was worried that I would steal something from his pack, but later concluded that he was probably worried about being seen peeing. Anyway, Suspicious Guy soon emerged and wanted to trade some of the fudge in his trail mix for my chips. He was careful about not touching the chip bag or fudge. I think he had his hand in the trail mix bag before the exchange though… well, let’s ignore that. He said that he’s never seen a hiker with chips before. Hey, not only are chips delicious, but apparently they can get you fudge! He introduced himself as a tour guide and the people currently at Lake Will as his group. There was another guide too, so we’ll call Suspicious Guy ‘Tour Guide A’ (sorry). When I mentioned that I don’t like scrambling and was wary about ascending Mt. Ossa, an upcoming side trip, he said that it’s basically just a walk up the mountain.
The tour group left and I continued to Lake Will, which was an easy walk from the junction: 1.5 km over flat land. Following the advice of Tour Guide A, I walked further around the lake to a second beach that was larger and had clearer water than the first.
After a lunch of sorts, I returned to the main track and maintained a strolling pace the rest of the way to large Lake Windermere.
I soaked my feet before continuing to Windermere Hut, where I decided to pitch my tent. Rather than having dirt tent pads, the OT has wooden platforms to which you need to affix your tent with metal wires (as in today’s site) or metal chains, which are easier to use. The Belgians had arrived earlier and basically set up my tent for me, so I can’t describe in detail how the metal wires are adjusted. My theory: magic. I got a great site with a view of Barn Bluff.
I’m not dead yet, therefore today was a net success! Sadly the weather was not my friend or even a casual Facebook contact. It was a continuation of the day before, windy and cold and damp.
I took the first shuttle at 8:15 AM (free) to the Ronny Creek car park, which had a trail register. The OT began across the road.
From the trailhead the track crossed a meadow before climbing to Kitchen Hut, an old hut that seemed about the size of a walnut when I arrived and 7-8 hikers were already crammed in. Crater Lake and Marion’s Lookout were on the way, but since the visibility was awful (I’m pretty sure there were mountains somewhere, but I couldn’t see them) the main thing of interest was a rock outcropping/cliff that you pull yourself up with a chain. I didn’t find it problematic but some other hikers, probably with heavier packs, told me they found it hard.
A shivering day hiker grouped in with the OT hikers in Kitchen Hut wanted to ascend Cradle Mountain – this was her first hike ever and she wanted the accomplishment. When told that it would be fricking cold up there she said ‘it’s cold down here too’, earning herself a lecture from an older woman about the time and effort of the people who would have to rescue her if she got into trouble.
Beyond Kitchen Hut was more exposed terrain, including one insanely windy ridge being battered with mist gushing up from the valley below. I was worried that my pack cover would blow off (I found out later that several hikers’ did) and held it on with one hand as I scuttled along the boardwalk.
Instead of listing distances, signage on the Overland Track lists estimated times that it will take to walk places, and I met a German hiker who noted that the most recent sign had said ‘half hour to Waterfall Hut’ and he was sure that it had already been more than a half hour. MY THOUGHTS EXACTLY. EVERYONE’S THOUGHTS.
We descended into the valley and arrived at the hut in early afternoon. I played cards with a Belgian couple who had packed them in (gods), a fellow Canadian, and a handful of other hikers. The number of OT hikers who had chosen to start today was relatively low – the ranger mentioned that there were only 18 hikers who might potentially be staying in the hut/Old Waterfall Valley hut, so there would be room for everyone. The Canadian, hereafter Ontario Guy, has a huge alcohol stove. Dinner-plate sized.
I took the McDermott shuttle from Lanceston to Cradle Mountain today. Unexpectedly the shuttle was part of a day tour, so the driver was providing information in a stream-of-consciousness type of way, including points like ‘there are some people over there, I’m not sure what they’re doing’ and ‘there’s a student with his backpack’. He also stopped at a store to buy towels since the windows had fogged up. As noted by a fellow passenger, it was an unconventional tour.
The weather at Cradle Mountain is foggy and cold. I picked up my Overland Track pass, a backpacker parks pass and a map at the visitor centre. Tasmania’s topography/trails have some great names, for example: ‘Falling Mountain’, ‘Little Sugarloaf’, ‘The Acropolis’, ‘Mountains of Jupiter’, ‘The Never Never’, ‘Gingerbread Track’.
My start date is tomorrow, so I’m spending a night in the Discovery Parks bunkhouse. My roommate is working at the Tasmanian devil sanctuary! ❤ She told me a highly questionable story about a fellow starving and dying on the Overland Track because he thought there were grocery stores along the route. I also talked to a man who said ‘You’ll probably be fine. But I don’t really think so.’ I don’t think it’s going to be that hard, guys! (Are they getting some of those sweet sweet tour company dollars under the table…)
Launceston has a good selection of hiking/camping stores, parks and signs directing you to public washrooms, so it’s basically heaven. I purchased a fuel canister and enough food to remind me of the downside of eight days in the wilderness, deciding after feeling the weight of my pack to not return to the store to buy peanut butter cookies as planned.
Earlier my bed was a muss with gear and food and I kept being unable to find items, then getting suspicious that New Roommate #1 had taken them because she was cross that I was making noise at 10:30 AM. This was unjustified, of course. I’m sure she’s a perfectly nice person but more importantly, no one wants my dirty Nalgene. Probably no one even wants to touch it.
Today I also arranged my end-of-hike transportation from Lake St. Clair, where I’ll be camping for a few nights, to Hobart. Backpacker dorms are cheaper than tent sites at Cradle Mountain, but more expensive at the lake.
I flew from Sydney to Launceston today. The security employees were suspicious of my water filter and Steripen and rummaged through everything in my carry-on, which was a plastic bag filled with random items. A man also swabbed my boots and pockets and asked ‘are you under or over 16?’
Maybe he was thinking ‘she looks like not-a-teenager, but no one would wear such a dorky hat unless being forced to by their parents’?
I was flying with Virgin Australia, which allows you to select titles like ‘Doctor’ and ‘Master’ for your ticket. I chose ‘Lady’ for fun but then felt embarrassed in the airport. The employees were probably thinking ‘oh, another one of THOSE people’. Prove I’m not a lady, though. PROVE IT.
Traditionally I’ve used plastic motel cups for scooping water for filtering. They work great and weigh almost nothing, but since I’ve been staying in hostels in Australia, I haven’t had the opportunity to get any, and the Air Canada cups I saved on my Canada-to-Australia flight are too brittle. Virgin Australia came through with one that looks more durable! The snack though was probably the least appetizing sandwich (airplane or otherwise) that has ever existed in this world. It tasted just like the turkey sandwich I was once served on a different plane, but the filling was egg. Mmm, the flavour of preservatives and spongy white bread.
My hostel roommate is leaving tomorrow for a guided Overland Track tour that cost ~2000 AUD. The guides do the cooking, but she has to carry the supplied equipment, and her pack weighs 17 kg (37 pounds) with her own clothing, no water, some snacks for food, and only part of a tent. That’s way too heavy for not much gear! And expensive! My roommate in Batemans Bay was also doing the OT with a tour, but they were carrying most of her gear for her; I shudder to think of the price.
Tasmania’s Overland Track, a 65 kilometre hike (82 kilometres if the walk around Lake St. Clair is included), will be a relatively short test for my right foot after a persistent injury I sustained almost two years ago. The government claims that ’92 percent of walkers state that walking the Overland Track was one of the best things they’ve done’. While assuming that they shamelessly made up that statistic, I’ll remain optimistic about the experience.
From October to May, the government charges OT hikers a 200 AUD fee, along with park fees whether one drives or walks or bikes in. The website says that it’s for trail maintenance – considering that ~8000 people hike the OT every year, I’m expecting 92% of walkers to state that this is the best-maintained trail they’ve ever walked on.
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.
My last day on the Heysen! The sky was sunny and I was feeling better than yesterday. I was planning to have breakfast at the Cobbler Creek picnic area, then realized that the picnic area is on an alternate route, so I ate on a random bench overlooking the sea instead. Cobbler Creek Campground looked nice – I noticed that one of the spots had been raked, so maybe it gets more attention than Tapanappa – but it’s a frontcountry campground with vehicles and noise. Eagle Waterhole is my camping recommendation in the conservation park.
Signage at the campground said that people can swim at Blowhole Beach, and I saw some surfers having no luck in the small waves, but a stream on the beach looked polluted and the rocks where it emptied into the sea were coated with algae. Blowhole Beach was pretty to look at though, and I took a break on a bench overlooking the sand. The wind was strong but its direction has changed and it feels milder than before, though still cool. I encountered a shingleback that didn’t move when I approached but flinched in a gust. Poor thing, and I told it so in a baby voice (sadist).
A Futuro House is visible from this section of the Heysen. I recommend checking out the Wikipedia entry about Futuro Houses, it’s an interesting story.
I didn’t have a definite plan for what to do at the end of the trail. The only bus to Adelaide is at 9:30 AM. The caravan park is 3 km from the end of the trail, plus it’s on a station (ranch) and I’ve spent way too much time on station land on the Heysen! I knew however that the last part of the Heysen from Talister Road to Cape Jervis is on ‘vacant land’, which presumably means that it’s okay to camp there, and I figured that I could buy food in town and return to the trail for one final night.
Upon reaching the vacant land, I was pleasantly surprised to see attractive dunes and native shrubbery. My one-final-night plan was looking better with every moment. Then I passed Trig Point, about 2 km from the end of the trail, and the land was ugly and cleared from there to the ferry landing. My basic sentiment was ‘screw this, I’m going home’.
I walked into town, took pictures of the HT terminus sign, felt too tired to walk more and ended up getting a motel room at the tavern/shop/motel/gas station.
So here I am – done the Heysen. Right now I just feel relieved since the last week has been difficult with being sick. I’ve had enough farmland and roads as well, and while I will miss hiking every day, I don’t think that I’ll miss the Heysen. Parts were beautiful, parts were historically interesting, and most of the trail towns were awesome with the friendliest people, but there wasn’t enough nature. Some former thru-hikers were quite critical in the last logbook, stating that it seemed like someone just wanted to make a long trail at the expense of quality, but I think that’s overly cynical. There’s a certain romance in walking from the Flinders Ranges to the ocean, and rewarding sights along the way. It’s just that there are many subpar areas as well.
Regarding the issue of ‘trail’. I agree with the logbook comments that this shouldn’t be called a trail, since hikers are following fences or streams or roads most of the time. One former hiker suggested that it should be called a ‘way’. I doubt that converting the HT to single track is on the radar for the Friends, considering how much work that would be and the issue of property ownership, but something that would be nice (along with making any future tent platforms bigger) is if more of the trail could be cross-country rather than following fences. That would elevate the experience while not requiring the actual building and maintenance of a trail.
A few route options were available this morning. I chose the official Heysen route, which heads inland past Deep Creek Waterfall, but the Deep Creek Cove alternate may have been more scenic. The trail was beautiful single track with steps(!) on the steep bits, and I encountered several dozen other hikers, including families with kids. The untempting waterfall was filled with stringy algae.
The signage confused me when the trail emerged onto a road, where a sign appeared to point south but was actually pointing down a path that immediately turned west and faded near a sign. That’s one of the faults in the Heysen signage: sometimes an arrow means that you should start following a trail and keep to that trail, but sometimes it means that you should walk in one direction and keep going in that direction even if the trail goes elsewhere (the area around Caroona Creek is notable for the latter). I wandered around for awhile, grumpy since I’m still not feeling well. Eventually I just headed west and located the trail a short distance down the road. The map makes it look like Trig Campground is away from the trail, but it’s actually right on the Heysen.
I picked up an army of flies as the trail began following a fence at the edge of the conservation park. The fence was the most hardcore fence I’ve ever seen, as tall as my head with 3-4 pieces of electrified wire – the other electric fences I’ve seen have only had one. I suspect the property owner is raising velociraptors.
I saw no one on the trail, which crossed a burn area and was steep on the east end in particular (I fell once) but lovely by the creeks.
A sign at the western end warned about steep climbs. How civilized…
The sun came out in the afternoon. I had booked Eagle Waterhole Campsite, the only hike-in campsite in the conservation park, and was hoping that I would have the night alone. I’ve had more than enough solitude on the trail, but maybe because of that, I thought that camping with other people on the final night would feel odd unless they were Heysen hikers with whom I could discuss the trail. Sadly (sorry) another hiker was already there, a man who had hiked in for the night from Cape Jervis, and a father and young daughter arrived later. So no solitude, but the campsite was beautiful with a clean shelter and flat clean ground by the shelter and waterhole. I enjoyed reading the final logbook comments of Bill and Pauline, Shane, Paula, Gregory and the other thru-hikers who have completed the trail and were diligent about writing entries in each of the huts. There aren’t many, so you remember the ones who do. If any of you ever read this: thanks for improving my solitary stays in the huts/shelters, and for the advice left as well.
The day began with road walking, then a fence-following drop to Tunkalilla Beach. The angle of descent was absurdly steep and I fell once. At the bottom, I met three older men with large and heavy-looking backpacks. I couldn’t hear them well over the sound of the ocean and missed where they were headed. Hopefully it wasn’t something like ‘to our ice cream truck parked just over that hill, do you want some too?’.
The walk down Tunkalilla Beach was 5 km. I was surprised to encounter another group of section hikers – that’s like Black Friday turnout for the Heysen Trail. They were headed to the parking lot further along the beach. The map trivia mentions that ‘Tunkalilla’ is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘place of bad smells’, and while there’s no offal washing up from a whaling station anymore, the western end of the beach did smell dodgy. I think it was the huge piles of algae washed ashore.
After the beach came a scenic cliff section where I saw a big black snake. It wasn’t moving, so I backed up to detour around it, not an easy task on the steep slope. Luckily it slithered away with my retreat and I was able to stay on the trail.
The trail entered Deep Creek Conservation Park and I was treated to single-track.
I’m spending the night at Tapanappa Campground, which requires sites to be booked online. You must do this in advance since there’s no reception (Telstra anyway) at the campground, and I made my booking from a hilltop near Balquhidder Campsite. Unfortunately the site I chose (13) was gross, with garbage, toilet paper in the bushes (IT WAS 30 SECONDS FROM THE OUTHOUSE) and toothpaste stains. Choosing a site with the capacity for campervans/a larger number of people was probably a bad decision. My only consideration when booking was flatness.
My day began with a short walk over the sand dunes to Waitpinga Beach, where a fisherman told me about sea fishing. Millipedes were wandering far out on the sand, and it reminded me of hikers who lose the trail but don’t turn around. Go back! There’s nothing for you here but DEATH!
On Parsons Beach I saw a fish stranded and flopping on the sand. I thought that its skin would be slimy, so I tried to transfer it into the water with my hiking poles (cruel in retrospect…) but it immediately washed ashore again, so I decided to pick it up and tried throwing it into the ocean (also cruel in retrospect…). That didn’t work either, so I waded into the ocean with the fish and placed it in the water, but it wouldn’t swim and just got washed back to shore again. I finally concluded that it was a lost cause, hopefully not because of the poles and the throwing. Sorry, fish. If it’s any reassurance, I would have treated a human child the same way.
After that heartbreaking little episode, the trail took a turn for the worse as it left the conservation park and returned to grazing land. The Heysen has passed through conservation parks and infinite grazing land before, but the contrast struck me hard here – a landscape before and after.
A watercourse emptying onto Shannon’s Gully Beach looked disgustingly polluted.
The trail left the coastline and headed inland towards Balquhidder Campsite. The signage is confusing in one part, with two fences creating three segments and Heysen signage in both the middle and northern sections. I moved out of the southern section, which was good since I saw a bull there later, but moved into the northern section, which shortly became impassable due to dense vegetation. Middle section it is.
Balquhidder Campsite has a pretty location by a stream, but it’s also close to the road and a house. A few pieces of garbage were scattered around. I also noticed some toilet paper near Mt. Cone Campsite (ninth deadly sin). They’re the first non-hut Heysen campsites I’ve visited that have shown any signs of use other than fire rings, which I suppose reflects the higher number of people using the trail/campsites here in the south. No flat ground.
I’ve been feeling under the weather with a sore throat, but today was my favourite day of this trip. The walk out of Victor Harbor along the ocean was beautiful – the map has it marked as not being trail, but it’s actually lovely single-track – and Newland Head Conservation Park was stunning. The Waitpinga Cliffs were the highlight. Signage informed me that ‘waitpinga’ is an Aboriginal word for ‘windy place’, which is fitting since the southerly wind was fiendishly strong. Whenever I felt that gust of freezing air, I thought about how only ocean was separating me from Antarctica.
Waitpinga Campground is scenically located behind sand dunes in the conservation park. It’s a frontcountry campground though, and the sheltered tent pads located downhill from the hut were littered with garbage, including beer cups, broken glass and sharp bottle caps. THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS.
I decided to take a rest day in Victor Harbor today. I have all the time in the world to finish the HT! Or a week and a half before the trail closes for the fire season. Same diff. I found the type of sunscreen I like, read a book from the caravan park office and relaxed.