After years of pondering, months of training and weeks of planning, the day had finally arrived.

The date was August 13, 2018, my bag was heavy, the hour was late, the sun was high and South Australia’s mid-north temperatures were heating up. However, at least my breakfast belly was full of anything but porridge (the only time this would happen for a week). Eggs Benedict may be the perfect ‘final meal’ before launching into a long-distance hike.

Heysen Trail Diary – Day 1

Despite an interrupted sleep, riddled with bouts of adrenaline and chills from the desert air, I felt surprisingly fresh come morning. Setting off from the remote, but ever-popular, Prairie Hotel, I was delivered to the nearby Parachilna Gorge Trailhead. From here, I would begin my epic trek along South Australia’s incredibly diverse Heysen Trail; a journey that would take some two months to complete.

Parachilna Creek takes it’s name from the local Aboriginal word patatjilna, meaning “place of peppermint gum trees”. The area is thought to be the most northerly place where these gums are the dominant tree.
Heysen Trail Map Sheet 8

The unimaginable number of warm fuzzies I’d received from family, friends and total strangers over the past weeks was enough to give anybody heatstroke. Luckily, I’d stayed well-hydrated in the lead up to the adventure, because it wasn’t long before I ran into some trail-derailing water storage issues. There are some things that you just can’t plan for on a journey of this magnitude; your 3-litre water bladder developing a leak 5 kilometres into a 1,200-kilometre trail is one of them.

Day 1 Jumping over a stile Heysen Trail

Fence-hurdling ‘stiles’ are a constant feature along the Heysen Trail.

My journey prematurely came to a stop under a towering gum as I fished around for something to fix the drip. Sadly nothing. Despite having nearly 23 kilograms of all-sorts strapped to my back, I had nothing that could solve my first trail dilemma. Why didn’t I throw in any gaffer tape?! As a result, I stashed my still squeaky clean hiking poles (which I must admit, I was still mastering) back in my rucksack and cradled the blubbery mess in my arms until I arrived at camp later in the evening. There, I could reassess.

Day 1 Creek bed Heysen Trail

The views were amazing, the unsteady rocks were not.

For a majority of the day, I was on the verge of giving myself whiplash as my head twisted around to admire the plethora of unique arid landscapes on display. I admired stony creek beds, soaring rugged ranges, sleepy native wildlife and then, finally, made the startling realisation that the earth below my feet had turned a vibrant red.

Understandably, I was then a little shocked when I finished Day 1 walking through a grassy field, complete with leafy green peppermint gums and foraging kangaroos. I had officially entered National Parks of South Australia’s Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park. Every eco-climate imaginable!

Day 1 Aroona Campground Heysen Trail

Lesson 1. The landscapes change very quickly out here.

I swiftly arranged my tent, kicked off my boots and ate the first of what would certainly be too many dehydrated meals over the next 8 weeks; but, as they say, that’s the life of a hiker. I also encountered my first humans of the trail at the Aroona Campground; a lovely couple from Victoria, who very generously offered me a spool of tape to resolve my leaky bladder issues (a sentence I never thought I’d confess). Hopefully, these few strips would make my next few days a little easier until I could organise a more permanent solution.

All-in-all, this stretch of Heysen Trail was a pretty cruisy way to begin the adventure – far easier than I expected. But, I don’t suspect it will last. Undulating hills start first thing on Day 2.

All the details.

Trail distance covered

18.33km

Accommodation
Price

Available here + National Parks Pass. Book online via parks.sa.gov.au

Climate

The region has hot dry summers with cool to cold nights and cool, wet winters. Autumn and spring can be warm and mild with occasional periods of rain or showers.

Terrain

Compared to the rest of the region, the trail from Parachilna Gorge to Aroona Campsite is relatively flat. Dry worn creekbeds, uncomplicated gullies and straightforward station tracks transverse the channel between the Heysen and ABC Ranges.