Vibrant vegetation and lofty landscapes.
There are several exceptionally hilly days on the Heysen Trail; the climb up Mount Arden on Day 9, the hike over the 929-metre Mount Bryan on Day 29 and my mountainous adventure into Burra on Day 32 just to name a few. The views at each summit left my eyes hypnotised, my brain mesmerised and my legs paralyzed. None, however, left an impression quite like my journey through the jarringly beautiful Adelaide Hills on Day 48.
Heysen Trail Diary – Day 48
I awoke to the sound of twittering birds and a gentle breeze brushing through the gum-lined campsite. This peaceful sonance was a far cry from the nightmarish wails that tortured me to sleep on Day 47. A handful of horny male koalas had planned an evening of fierce love-making. But, at a guess, their female counterparts were not interested in a twilight tumble. The resulting commotion resembled a feral pig ploughing through the scrub with a chainsaw.
So, it came as no surprise when I discovered my two camping buddies had abandoned their nearby cabin overnight. I’m certain I couldn’t have endured the marsupial melee if I wasn’t already bordering complete exhaustion. I brushed the cold dew from my tent, packed away my belongings and began the trek toward the bountiful bushland of Montacute Conservation Park.
Vegetation in Montacute Conservation Park varies greatly from the lower to higher slopes. The creek line is dominated by river red gums, grasses and exotic plants. The higher slopes support blue gums and stringybarks.
In a matter of moments, I passed two sleepy koalas perched high in a eucalyptus tree. Their drowsy demeanour was not altogether unsurprising (they can sleep for up to 18 hours a day), but each maintained a distinctly different disposition. The male’s puppy-dog-eyed expression was sheepishly forlorn, while the female’s surly gaze remained unwaveringly forward. There may have been a debate who was in charge last night, but there were no doubts who held the upper hand come morning.
I continued up and around the very tops of the elevated parkland, where a series of steep ascents and misty views followed one another. The path then joined a fire track that spiralled scarily downward toward the park exit and the bubbling Sixth Creek. I thanked my lucky stars that I didn’t have to scramble up this abrupt slope, but, as is so often the case on the Heysen Trail, I soon encountered my own alarming incline.
The long uphill route to Morialta Conservation Park included a tiring combination of hard bituminised road, thick immovable scrubland and long stretches of uneven terrain. My legs burned on entry to the 533-hectare reserve, but, not for the first time, all aches evaporated as soon as the stunning landscape unfurled before me.
After a gruelling morning en route to this phenomenal lookout, I took the opportunity to sit, eat and stretch; the holy hiking trinity. I had frequented Morialta countless times over the years, but the cascading scenery on Day 48 had never looked so extraordinary.
Following eight weeks of arduous hiking, I saw every gnarled tree, flowering undergrowth and flowing stream through fresh eyes. Life, I had discovered, was about perspective. At another time, I would have grumbled about my drenching sweat and cumbersome backpack, but I’d come to recognise every difficult moment as an opportunity to grow, rather than an obstacle to endure.
I trudged past countless people on my trek to Norton Summit. In fact, I saw more hikers during the two-hour stretch to the small community than I had for the entire rest of the trip. I had unquestionably re-entered civilisation. This was none more evident than when I arrived at The Scenic Hotel to watch the final quarter of the 2018 AFL Grand Final. A cramped room of bawdy drunks and flowing beer was a world away from my current comfort zone. But a sausage sizzle, fruit platter, a couple of beers and another succulent chicken schnitzel alleviated all feelings of unease.
Norton Summit is grossly underaccommodating for Heysen Trail hikers. There are nearly 50 kilometres between designated campsites and the few available local lodgings are grotesquely expensive. The best solution I could muster was an Airbnb bed 3 kilometres off the trail. Walking alone along a twisting road in the dark was hardly how I envisioned my evening, but, at the very least, I had an unprecedented three conservations parks to look forward to on Day 49.
All the details.
Trail distance covered
Cool damp winters with light to heavy showers and some days of rain. The ranges are wet and cool during winter but are warmer during autumn and spring. Summers are warm to hot and relatively dry.
The road to Norton Summit is long and brutal. Ensure you pack enough water, food and patience.