South Australia's Adventures of a Lifetime: Hike the Heysen
Discover Australia’s longest hiking track, the Heysen Trail.
Australia’s longest hiking track, the Heysen Trail, winds some 700 miles from Cape Jervis south of Adelaide to the northern Flinders Ranges, traversing the state’s varied landscapes: dramatic coastal scenery, the Adelaide Hills, Barossa Valley wineries, and the desert landscapes of the Flinders Ranges. Very few people walk the whole length of the trail, given it takes about 60 days, and the Heysen is more of a collection of walks than a thru-hiker’s destination. Most hikers focus on the most scenic sections, or sample its delights on day or overnight walks.
Cape Jervis to Victor Harbor
One of track’s most popular sections, this 50-mile coastal stretch at the southern end of the Heysen Trail—which can take four days—has cliff-top ocean views, beach walks, inland forests, and southern right whale sightings during their annual migration from June to August. For a shorter beach highlight, start at Boat Harbor Beach or nearby Tunkalilla Beach and walk 20 miles, which takes two days, to Kings Beach, just outside Victor Harbor, or day walk from either end.
Victor Harbor to the Barossa
The walk heads north through green hills and pasture into the Mount Lofty Ranges, skirting Adelaide and its picturesque hill towns, before heading on to the Barossa Valley, the state’s premier wine district. There are plenty of good day or overnight walks here that are easy to access, including the aptly named Mount Magnificent and its panoramic views, or Mount Lofty, which overlooks the city and has fine botanical gardens. You can walk between the well-equipped towns of the Adelaide Hills such as Hahndorf, founded by German settlers and home to landscape painter Hans Heysen (1877-1968), whose name graces the trail. The hills have some interesting hut, hostel, and decidedly upscale alternatives to camping. Pine and eucalyptus forests punctuate the farmland before the walk heads on to Tanunda in the Barossa Valley, 210 miles on from Cape Jervis.
Barossa to Flinders Ranges
The distance from the Barossa to the southern end of the Flinders Ranges is about 290 miles. The trail mostly runs along country roads past farms and vineyards—where walkers can sample wines—before reaching the old copper-mining towns of Kapunda and Burra, crossing the hills into the drier wheat-growing districts with a hint of the desert landscapes to come. At Mount Bryan, the Heysen leaves the Mount Lofty Ranges and heads down to Crystal Brook at the southern tip of the Flinders Ranges.
Flinders Ranges to Parachilna Gorge
For most walkers, this stretch is the highlight of the Heysen Trail, winding through a spectacular range of crumpled red rock with forested valleys and wildlife water holes. If you only have time to hike one area in South Australia, then head here. The 250 miles from Crystal Brook to Parachilna takes about three weeks, passing through towns and varied landscapes, or make your base in the Flinders Ranges National Park headquarters at Wilpena Pound and day walk sections of the trail. The 26 miles from Wilpena Pound to the end of the trail at Parachilna Gorge makes an excellent three-day hike.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
When to Go: Spring and autumn have the best weather for hiking; winter is also good, but it can be chilly and rainfall can be heavy in the southern sections. In summer, from December to the end of April, temperatures soar and large sections of the trail close due to wildfire risk.
Where to Stay: The trail has a few huts, but camping is the rule and a tent is essential. Most campsites have basic shelters with rainwater tanks. Advance preparation and knowledge of water sources is essential.
Practical Tip: Friends of the Heysen Trail is the definitive resource for traveling here and produces maps and guidebooks to the trail.