From euphoric and literal highs to demoralising lows.

It’s astounding how quickly your mood can change when you’re pushed to your limits. The first week and a half on the trail was packed with challenging, yet rewarding, ups and downs, but there had been one unwavering constant—my positivity. Through everything, I remained resolute. That headspace, however, changed dramatically on Day 11.

Heysen Trail Diary – Day 11

The best thing about walking 20-odd kilometres each day is that you sleep like a baby. While the elements swirl around outside, I slept through it all. I learnt on the morning of Day 11 that an uninterrupted sleep can also cause headaches. Due to powerful overnight winds continuing from Day 10 and the brittle topsoil feebly earthing my tent pegs to the ground, the fly, which sheltered me and my belongings, wriggled free, inviting dust from around the district to accumulate in my canvas home. From here, everything went downhill—including my state of mind.

An overcast morning included dreary showers, blasts of cold wind, spilling water (which promptly turned into mud) on the tent floor and picking sizeable mounds of unwelcomed dirt from my food, clothes and inner ears. Even my reliable, yet always unsatisfying, daily porridge mix was a disaster. I mean, how can you stuff up oats? It clearly wasn’t going to be my day.

Day 11 - Red Soil

The skies weren’t the only moody thing on Day 11.

Once I started hiking, I expected my mood to improve. The undeniably breathtaking Dutchmans Stern Conservation Park should have provided a constant source of inspiration, but my gloomy outlook wouldn’t budge. I simply couldn’t enjoy the unique surroundings with head buried in misery.

Named by Captain Matthew Flinders, the Dutchmans Stern Conservation Park is so called for the bluff’s similarity to Dutch sailing ships of the eighteenth century.
parks.sa.gov.au

While the first 10 days certainly weren’t easy, Day 11 felt near-impossible. My bag was a heavy burden, each shuffled step seemed forced and a light sprinkling of rain felt like a downpour—everything was a cumbersome effort. For the first time on the Heysen Trail, I didn’t want to be there. I couldn’t work out what was wrong.

Day 11 - Dutchmans Stern Walk View

One of several secluded spots perfect for quick-fire reflection.

Only once I left the park did I start feeling better. However, that improved mental state quickly turned to remorse. I was frustrated with myself for not making the most of this stunning parkland. An abrupt reminder to stay resolute, even when things aren’t going your way; I had learned the lesson of resilience. By the time I’d walked the 7-kilometre alternate route into Quorn, my splintered mind had fully recovered.

Day 11 - View Dutchmans Stern

I somehow managed to remain uninspired despite the incredible landscape.

One important trait I’d acquired is to always look for the positives. While, on reflection, there were several meaningful points I could take from a troubled 24 hours, one stood out overall—a chance encounter with a legend named Norm from Pindan Tours and 4WD Training. He would help me right a serious wrong back in The Dutchmans Stern Conservation Park on Day 12.

All the details.

Trail distance covered

26.07km

Accommodation

Austral Inn

Price

Available here.

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

While there are a few tricky creek beds to navigate inside the northeastern boundary of The Dutchmans Stern (especially in the rain), much of the hilly terrain is gradual.