Heysen Trail: 4 days from Parachilna to Wilpena


Click to see all of my photos of the Heysen Trail

I wanted to see the outback again and finally go hiking in this harsh yet beautiful landscape. I choose the Heysen Trail over the Larapinta Trail not just because it’s easier and cheaper to get to the Heysen. I knew I didn’t have enough time to hike the whole Larapinta and really wanted to attempt it as a whole.

The Heysen Trail is a long distance hike which is 1200 km long. It’s located in South Australia and stretches from Parachilna Gorge in the Flinders Ranges to Cape Jervis. I decided to start at the most northern end since this area interests me most. I also like to arrange my transport in a way so that I start at the furthest point and return to my car. The initial idea was to hike 9 days from Angorichina to Hawker but due to injury I needed to abort the hike after 4 days in Wilpena.


Your first stop should be The Friends of the Heysen Trail web page. The usual equipment and food for a multi day hike. This time I would take my new tarp for the first time as well as the hiking poles necessary to set it up. Both should also help with the extra weight of all that food… The -10 degree celsius sleeping bag came along as well since it gets quite cold at night in the desert.
Make sure to check with authorities and/or locals to get an idea of how much rain had fallen in the weeks prior your walk. Almost all water which can be found along the trail is rain catchment of roofs.
I arranged transport from Hawker to Angorichina with Angorichina Connections. I was able to leave my car in Hawker in a yard of the petrol station / visitor information. Thank you very much for that! I was picked up in the family car by who turned out to be the owner of Angorichina everything. Convenient since I wanted to stay at the camp ground anyway and was able to pick up some tucker in the little shop after hours.
I had also managed to leave half of my food in a green bag with the staff of the visitor information in Hawker who promised to give it to someone heading over to Wilpena for me to pick up later. It keeps amazing me how many friendly and helpful people I meet in Australia!


Food for 9 days

Day 1: Angorichina - Aroona (22 km, 6.5 hours, grade: easy)


A wet morning in Angorichina

The day started with a bit of sunshine. The adventure was about to begin. The last two long days getting here all but forgotten. First I had to walk to the start of the Heysen Trail. A few kays along a dirt road. Climb over a fence and get right into it: follow the creek the sign said. Half the day is a slow uphill walk between the ABC Range to the east and Heysen Range to the west. You cover some 300m in height plus the usual ups and down. The track follows the creek, fences and old 4WD tracks which clearly can’t be used any more. It’s sometimes overgrown but usually easy to follow thanks to markers. The second half of the day sees a slow descent to Aroona; only about 150m descent.


Walkin to the start of the Heysen Trail


ABC Range on the left, Heysen Range on the right.


On the trail.


The trail up here is marked very well for most parts.


4WDs won't drive here any more...


On the saddle.

All in all it’s not a especially exciting walk. The landscape changes very slowly and the walking itself varies not much. It was interesting for me because it was my first day on the track and I got used to the feeling of walking solo.


Camping spot at Aroona

The camp site at former Aroona station is located at a nice spot between hills and next to a forest. I found a grassy spot to pitch my tarp. Setting it up took some time since I had only done it once before. Dinner tasted yummy of course. Fires are not allowed and I crawled into my sleeping bag early because it got chilly.

Day 2: Aroona - Trezona (14 km, 4 hours, grade: medium)


Second morning

The night had been cold of course but no ice was on my tent in the morning. Instead there were very low clouds bunched together around the tops of the Heysen Range. The morning sun lit the scenery for a few, short and stunning minutes before another grey day began. I had breakfast, packed up my things and started walking east.


View of the Heysen Range from the ABC Range

Last year on my 4WD trip further north I read “Red Mars” by Kim Stanley Robinson which was a perfect fit. This year I had taken “Green Mars”, the second book of the trilogy which again was perfect for the landscape I was traveling in. What fascinates me is that the hills and planes look so green from the distance, but op close it seems to be all just little pieces of red stone, the trees far apart with hardly any undergrowth at all.

The highest point of today’s walk was over 550m high, only 150m higher then Aroona but already offering grand views over this part of the ranges. I tried to get cell phone reception up there. I had bought a cheap Telstra SIM hoping for better coverage but I got disappointed, at least on this walk. It would have been nice to talk with Danny, my girlfriend…


Wilpena Pound in the distance, its peaks shrowded in clouds

The track up here first follows a vehicle track but soon branches of onto a much nicer, narrow hiking trail. It states that way for most of the day which I enjoyed quite a bit. There are some ruins to be seen on the way. An outstation or farm house, long gone. It must have been a harsh life out here.


Ruin on the way

Coming down into the valley and still a few km ahead of me the weather got worse. There wasn’t much sunlight all day long with a constant cloud cover overhead but now it seriously looked like rain coming up from the south. I didn’t take breaks any more to get to Trezona Campground quickly and set up tent. On the way I then really needed to get my rain jacked out. It didn’t rain much but the strong winds make it feel quite unpleasant.


Rain showers over the ranges.

Luckily it stop raining when I reached Trezona. I set up my tarp in the most sheltered spot I could find - which was still fairly exposed. I had enough time today to play around with the tarp and got it setup much nicer then yesterday. Also I tied the sides further down to the ground because of the strong wind which helped quite a bit. If I remember right there were even picnic tables; a good opportunity to have a few cups of hot tea and write diary.

Day 3: Trezona - Yanyanna (10 km, 3 hours, grade: easy)

It had rained a bit during the night and the wind didn’t die down neither. In short the day started pretty much the same as the last one had ended: glooming clouds over the higher points of the ranges and rain shower in the distance.

I was surprised to find a hut in great shape not far from the camp ground which on my map is marked as a ruin. It’s small and has only four bunks but looks very neat. This would have made a good sport yesterday. At this point I had no experience with the huts around here yet…


Elatina Hut, close to Trezona Campground

The walking today was fairly boring again with mainly vehicle tracks. This is a short day anyway and with the unpleasant weather I didn’t feel like strolling around. I reached Yanyanna Hut in the early afternoon. This hut has no bunks at all but offers good shelter from the wind for cooking. It also has a table and two chairs, one of which I use to sit in the afternoon sun in front of the hut. What a difference to the last days: out of the wind and sucking in the warmth of the sun.


Yanyanna Hut in the evening sun


Inside of Yanyanna Hut

Quite a few people came by here to take a look at the hut since it’s not far from a good unsealed road. One guy arrived with his bicycle and trailer; he was tackling the “parallel” Mawson Trail. We had dinner together, he decided to pitch his tent outside and I thought of giving the hut a try. The thought of not having to pack a wet tent in the morning was too tempting. Little did I know…


Beautiful sunset at Yanyanna Hut

But first we enjoyed a beautiful sunset with quite bizarre cloud formations. I still read a bit (the nights are too long anyway) before switching of my head lamp. It had been quiet so far but almost right away I could hear rustling and scratching. It didn’t take long until what must have been a full legion of mice took over the “night watch”. I started to wonder if they would come for my sleeping bag and my backpack. Also the bought of them running over my face wasn’t a pleasant one. Frustrated I got up again, hung the backpack via a string onto a roof lath and did the same with my fly net part of my tarp. It still took a while until I fell asleep but that was because of the horrendous noise those little buggers made all night long.

Day 4: Yanyanna - Wilpena (22 km, 8 hours, grade: medium with hard sections)


Before sunrise.

This is a long day and I started walking before sunrise. Stupid thing is I lost the track fairly soon after I had followed the reflections of the markers in the light of my headlamp for just a few minutes. You need to get up the ridge to the south west, not down the valley; the map shows it quite clearly actually… But it was one of those times when the universe does its magical thing. The sky started to light up in the east and promised a beautiful sunrise. It didn’t take long to decide to just scramble up that hill to my right simply to enjoy the moment. When I reached the top I couldn’t stop laughing for a while: I was back on the track, clearly signposted.


That's not a sunrise. THAT's a sunrise!

And the sunrise? Wow! Just wow! Colors all over, beautiful clouds in the east, the dark red Heysen Range in the west with St Mary Peak above them all flaring up in the first light. Just look at the photos and try to imagine to actually stand there. It makes you feel very humble and small but also part of everything at the same time. I think it’s one of the reasons to do all of this.


Wilpena Pound at sunrise

And then it vanishes quicker than it had appeared. But that’s also part of it. Don’t try to hold onto things. Enjoy the moment. Keep that feeling in your heart for a while or for the rest of your life. Go on with a smile. And on I went; smiling. Along the ridge and steeply down into a valley with huge gum trees. A narrow valley, the track sometimes bare, smooth rock.


Follow the creek


The track.

Just an hour later it felt like I had gotten a blister on my foot but strangely enough there was nothing to be seen. It didn’t go away, guess what. I took more breaks, but a blister patch on the spot, taped it up. Didn’t change a thing. This was something different. Walking became more and more difficult (and painful) and I started to suspect my achilles tendon. So I was hobbling along and as I said it was a long day anyway. It took a fellow walker I met to suggest wearing my light shoes I carried for camp. What a difference! No boots pressing on the tendon any more didn’t make it a nice walk to Wilpena but at least it made it possible.

I set up tent as soon as I had reached the camp ground. I was cold through and through, my foot made walking slow and painful, I was hungry and tired. The hot shower felt as good as a hot shower can possibly feel. I’m guilty of wasting a bit of water that afternoon. I put all the cloth on I had with me and finally felt toasty again. The visitor information really had my green bag for me. Australian magic: works! I think I had a few hot coffees, a pie and a slice in the cafe. Happiness can be so easy.

I decided to postpone my decision if I should continue my walk or not until tomorrow. As soon as I was back under my tarp it started raining again. This time fairly heavy. I slept well knowing I could stay here for at least another night should I need to.

The next day I had to bite the bullet and cancel the rest of my walk. My foot just had not gotten better and the next five days would be very remote again. I managed to hitch a ride back to Hawker, picked up my car, called my friends in Adelaide and was on my way south so quickly it felt unreal. My mind was still in the ranges when I was already cruising down the streets of Adelaide. It was the right decision though. My achilles tendon felt bad for weeks to come and still gets a bit funny from time to time. I saw a physiotherapist after it didn’t go away. She’s fairly sure that the hiking poles changed the way I walked, putting extra pressure on my achilles tendons. Ironic since they are supposed to make walking easier. Now that I’m aware of how I walk I can adjust my movements. I’ve done jaywalks with them again and it felt fairly good.

You’re responsible for your own safety. Those resources are for illustration purpose and don’t replace a map, experience and common sense.

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Wednesday, May 16th, 2012 Australia, Bushwalking South Australia, Hiking

4 Comments to Heysen Trail: 4 days from Parachilna to Wilpena

  • Jeremy says:

    Hey mate, sounds like a good hike. Pity about your injury, achilles tendon is a bugger as it takes a long time to heal. I too am surprised that walking poles would make it worse. Some exercises (and a very long time) made mine come good.

    Glad you enjoyed some of the Heysen Trail. The Larapinta Trail is very similar to this section of the Heysen you have done, both feature the loose red rocks, dramatic hills, sparse vegetation, and yes, mice. The huts on the Heysen Trail are notorious for mice. The Yanyanna Hut is an historic shepherds hut, it is on a heritage register and cant be altered - hence no bunks. In recent years some items fitted later had to be removed because they violated that heritage listing.

    The views of Wilpena Pound are spectacular, glad you enjoyed a nice sunrise and spectacular view. The section through Wilpena Pound and down the escarpment, and walking between Red Range and Elder Range, and on through Wonoka, is also very good. Pity you missed it, but wise to stop when you did, nasty heel.

    I posted a link on the Friends of the Heysen Trail facebook page to your blog, hope that is ok.


  • Flo says:

    Thanks for your detailed comment. I didn’t know about the heritage status. Interesting. Would you know why fires are not allowed in the fireplaces within the huts? It’s a pity for hikers on a cold evening and I’ve seen that people had had fires outside instead (which seems to be less bushfire save).

    I’m glad you enjoyed the photos. I’m still planing to walk further parts of the Heysen: Wilpena to Quorn maybe. And I’ve heard that the Cape is beautiful as well. Living in Melbourne I just don’t think I’ll ever walk the whole trail…

    And thanks for the FB post. I don’t mind at all.


  • Jeremy says:

    Heya, cool. Yeah the fires in that particular hut don’t work very well anyway, the chimney isn’t so good anymore. Good for smoking some meat though. I don’t remember anymore if that was the actual reason for the No Fire Rule, or whether it’s an effort to protect the hut. In National Parks fires are permitted, but only if you bring your own wood. Bit difficult for hikers and cyclists, so that may also be part of the reason.

    Wiplena to Quorn is good too, as is Cape Jervis to near Victor.

    When you did your hike, did you happen to notice the general water level in the water tanks. As in full ish, half ish, not so much ish? I imagine they were quite good, just wanted to double check for someone.


  • Flo says:

    Thanks for the info. It looked to me as if all fireplaces in the huts were closed. Probably the firewood problem…

    I’ve walked this last winter. There was water in all tanks since it had rained some 20mm in the weeks before if I remember correctly. For up to date information I think BOM should have average rainfall or just give Wilpena or Hawker Visitor Information a call.

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    Half a meter of fog creeps over the footy oval on this chilly morning while the first rays of sunlight tickle the clouds behind gum trees and the magpies croak their once so alien song.
    • Few Clouds
    • Temperature: 11°C
    • Wind: SSE at 13 km/h
    • Clouds: Few Clouds
    • Humidity: 76.3%
    • Light Snow
    • Temperature: 0°C
    • Wind Chill: -5°C
    • Wind: SW at 17 km/h
    • Clouds: Broken Clouds