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 hot. 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 beginning a trek.

Daily Diary – Day 1

Despite an interrupted sleep, riddled with bouts of adrenaline and chills from the desert air, I felt surprisingly fresh. 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 amount of warm fuzzies I’d received from family, friends and total strangers over the past few weeks was enough to give anybody heatstroke. Luckily, I’d stayed hydrated, 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 3L water bladder developing a leak 5km into a 1,200km long trail is one of them.

I fished around for something to fix the drip. Nope, nothing. Why didn’t I pack any gaffer tape?! Alas, I had to stash my hiking poles (which I must admit, I was still mastering) in my rucksack and cradle the bladder in my arms until I arrived at camp. There, I could reassess.

Day 1 Creek bed Heysen Trail

The views were amazing, the unsteady rocks were not.

Day 1 Jumping over a stile Heysen Trail

These fence-hurdling ‘stiles’ are a constant feature along the trail.

For a majority of the day, I was on the verge of giving myself whiplash as I admired the plethora of unique arid landscapes on display; dry creek beds, incredibly barren ranges and the startling realisation that the earth below my feet was now a vibrant red. So, I was utterly surprised 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 landscape and the conditions change very quickly out here.

I quickly set up my tent, kicked off my boots and ate the first of what would be way too many dehydrated meals over the next 8 weeks. But hey, that’s the life of a hiker. I also encountered my first campers along the trail at the Aroona Campground. They were a lovely couple from Victoria and offered me some tape to resolve my bladder issues (not a sentence I thought I’d ever type). Hopefully, this would make the next few days a little easier until I found a more permanent solution.

All-in-all, this stretch of trail was a pretty cruisy way to begin the adventure. But, I don’t suspect it will last; undulating hills start first thing tomorrow morning.

All the details.

Trail distance covered

18.33km

Accommodation
Price

$15 per site + park entry fee. 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 station tracks transverse the channel between the Heysen and ABC Ranges.