A trekker’s perspective: national parks you’ll visit along South Australia’s iconic Heysen Trail

A trekker’s perspective: national parks you’ll visit along South Australia’s iconic Heysen Trail

Hik­ing the 1200km trail end-to-end gave trekker Josh West a unique per­spec­tive. Here’s the parks he loved most.

There may be no bet­ter snap­shot of South Australia’s nat­ur­al diver­si­ty than the wind­ing route of the 1200-kilo­me­tre Hey­sen Trail.

Recog­nised as Aus­trali­a’s longest ded­i­cat­ed walk­ing trail, this epic end-to-end trek trav­els through dense bush­land, rugged gorges, lofty moun­tain­tops, rocky creek-beds and vibrant coastal regions.

Dot­ted along its path are 23 nation­al parks, each with its own look and feel.

It’s a lot to take in, and a huge dis­tance to cov­er, but avid hik­er Josh West of Trekking West took it all in his stride as he tack­led the entire trail in one fell swoop.

His adven­ture began at the Parachilna Trail­head in South Australia’s mid-north and fin­ished at Cape Jervis in the south about two months later.

We asked Josh to tell us specif­i­cal­ly about the nation­al parks he vis­it­ed along the way, to find out which were his favourites. Here’s what he had to say about his top five (in no par­tic­u­lar order!):

1. Ikara-Flinders Ranges Nation­al Park

Includ­ing the trail’s most north­ern park in my list of favourites was a no-brain­er. Every Hey­sen Trail hik­er I’ve spo­ken to rel­ished their time explor­ing the unique Ikara-Flinders Ranges Nation­al Park

Sim­ply put, there aren’t many places like it in the world. From the con­stant changes in arid land­scapes to the abun­dance of diverse flo­ra vari­eties, to the fre­quent kan­ga­roo sight­ings, every­thing with­in the park is instan­ta­neous­ly memorable.

The extra­or­di­nary view from Bri­dle Gap, on the park’s south-west­ern out­skirts, of the majes­tic Bun­binyun­na, Elder and Red Ranges remains as one of my all-time favourite panoramas.

Get your bear­ings: Ikara-Flinders Rangers Nation­al Park is locat­ed approx­i­mate­ly 450 kilo­me­tres north of Ade­laide, in the cen­tral Flinders Ranges. From Ade­laide, take one of sev­er­al routes to Hawk­er, then fol­low the signs to Wilpe­na, the entrance to the nation­al park. 

A trekker’s perspective: national parks you’ll visit along South Australia’s iconic Heysen Trail

2. Mount Remark­able Nation­al Park

Mount Remark­able Nation­al Park holds an espe­cial­ly nos­tal­gic place in my heart. I was lucky enough to spend my Year 10 school camp at this scenic spot, and my fond rec­ol­lec­tions were reignit­ed when I re-entered the park, some 15 years later.

It was just how I remem­bered it – rolling green mead­ows, chal­leng­ing steep climbs and far-reach­ing moun­tain­top views accom­pa­nied me on my trek to the near­by town of Melrose.

This sec­tion also includ­ed the widest vari­ety of native species that I noticed on the trail, includ­ing grey kan­ga­roos, kook­abur­ras, par­rots, galahs, corel­las, emus, echid­nas and blue-tongued lizards.

Get your bear­ings: Mount Remark­able Nation­al Park is locat­ed approx­i­mate­ly 315 km north of Ade­laide, just to the west of the town of Mel­rose. Enter the east­ern side of the park via Park Rd, off of the Augus­ta Highway.

Views of Mount Remark­able Nation­al Park

3. War­ren Con­ser­va­tion Park

Hon­est­ly, I did­n’t know much about War­ren Con­ser­va­tion Park when I arrived at its north-east­ern entrance. Going into the trail, I bare­ly even knew it exist­ed. Who does­n’t love a sur­prise, right? How­ev­er, this mys­tery reserve left a last­ing impres­sion as I ven­tured through the peace­ful sur­rounds of this seclud­ed out­er-sub­urb bushland.

After spend­ing the pre­vi­ous two days hik­ing through the neat lines of Mount Craw­ford For­est, it was refresh­ing to get back into the dis­or­gan­ised wild, if only for a few hours.

Colour­ful stretch­es of spring-induced orchids, wat­tles, banksias and oth­er vari­eties of native blooms lined the undu­lat­ing track as I took in soar­ing ridge-high views and del­i­cate val­ley-floor detail.

Get your bear­ings: War­ren Con­ser­va­tion Park is locat­ed 60km north-east of Ade­laide. Walk­ers can access the park from neigh­bour­ing Hale Con­ser­va­tion Park or from the Tow­er Track in Mt Craw­ford Forest.

A trekker’s perspective: national parks you’ll visit along South Australia’s iconic Heysen Trail

4. Cle­land Nation­al Park

Day 49 of my trek saw the trail trans­verse three won­der­ful parks – Giles Con­ser­va­tion Park and Horsnell Gul­ly Con­ser­va­tion Park and, one of my all-time favourites, Cle­land Nation­al Park.

I’ve walked up through Water­fall Gul­ly to the Mount Lofty Sum­mit many times over the years, so to trav­el along a sec­tion of this route along the trail was sen­ti­men­tal, albeit exhausting.

The sweep­ing views of the urban sprawl stretch­ing from the hills to the beach­side sub­urbs was a trail high­light. To have this mag­nif­i­cent park in such close prox­im­i­ty to the city of Ade­laide is a blessing.

Get your bear­ings: Cle­land Nation­al Park is locat­ed 22km south east of Ade­laide. Major access points are via Mount Lofty Sum­mit Road and Water­fall Gul­ly Road, how­ev­er a num­ber of oth­er access points off Green­hill and Old Mt Bark­er Roads are available.

A trekker’s perspective: national parks you’ll visit along South Australia’s iconic Heysen Trail

5. New­land Head Con­ser­va­tion Park

I reached the south­ern tip of the Fleurieu Penin­su­la after 55 tir­ing days trekking the trail. While the incred­i­ble scenery I had wit­nessed dur­ing almost two months of hik­ing had con­tin­u­al­ly recharged my inspi­ra­tion, the unre­lent­ing rigours of the harsh con­di­tions had ren­dered me flat – both phys­i­cal­ly and mentally.

My fatigue was swift­ly for­got­ten, how­ev­er, when I arrived at the all-embrac­ing blue of the ocean’s edge, along­side the New­land Head Con­ser­va­tion Park.

I felt my spir­its lift as I absorbed the sounds of crash­ing waves, walked along jagged cliff edges, stepped out onto pris­tine beach­es and absorbed the much-need­ed vari­a­tion of this invig­o­rat­ing environment.

Get your bear­ings: New­land Head Con­ser­va­tion Park is 91km south of Ade­laide, between Vic­tor Har­bor and the ever pop­u­lar Deep Creek Nation­al Park.

Views of the coast from New­land Head Con­ser­va­tion Park

Josh West embarked on this trek as a fundrais­er for the Black Dog Institute.

Josh West embarked on this trek as a fundrais­er for the Black Dog Insti­tute. Read more about Josh’s trek and how to pre­pare for your own hik­ing adven­ture in our sto­ry: A trekker’s per­spec­tive: sim­ple tips for your next mul­ti-day hik­ing trip.

Main image: Ikara-Flinders Ranges Nation­al Park

This con­tent was pro­duced in part­ner­ship with  Good Living