[Deep Creek Conservation Park, SA]
In November 2021, I solo hiked 45 kilometers along The Wild South Coast Way, following the Fleurieu Peninsula through Deep Creek and New Headland Conservation Park.
Posted: January 16, 2022
The first record for my website. I wouldn't call it a blog, or itinerary but more of a logbook. Some photos, a bit of writing, trip details and whatever else I'm interested in - mainly hiking, photography and adventuring.
The Heysen Trail is split into sections that span 1200km across South Australia. I focussed on the southern section of the trail which runs along the Fleurieu Peninsula and offers arguably the most spectacular scenery with the exception of the Flinders Ranges, almost 1100km away. The trail is known as The Wild South Coast Way and technically starts at Cape Jervis and follows along the coast towards Encounter Bay/Victor Harbor, but I opted to start walking from Tapanappa Campground, effectively cutting out 25-30km of trail and 1-2 days of walking. I will return one day to complete the full 73km trail, and maybe an extended trip spanning the entire Heysen Trail.
But for now, my first multi-day hike in the South Australian wilderness, alone with all my gear on my back.
The views from Tapanappa Campground were stunning. The views of the coast, the waves crashing against the rocks, and the dense impenetrable scrub that consumed the coastline was something magnificent to behold. The trail actually started off a small fire track called Pages Lookout, a lookout that provided spectacular views of the coastline and offered glimpses into some of the terrain that I was about to walk. The first few kilometres were easy going, a well-kept and wide trail offered little resistance as I stumbled my way down to Boat Harbor beach. The trail wrapped around a large gorge which in the middle, lay a small stream that ran all the way down to the sea – this stream provided me with the first water source of the trip, one of many to come. The trail emerges on an embankment that was removed of foliage, allowing prime views of the coast and Boat Harbor beach. The sharp 200-meter descent filled with slippery rocks and an uneven trail required some steady feet and a keen eye to avoid any injuries so early on in the trip.
Boat Harbor Beach is a small beach, approximately 15-20 meters in length. Completely covered in stones and surrounded by rocky outcrops and foliage provided some beautiful views. The sharp embankment on the other side of the beach was the first uphill of the trip, and a beautifully placed bench allowed for some dolphin and whale spotting. During some months of the year, Southern Right and Humpback Whales can be seen from anywhere along the coast in Deep Creek and New Headland National Parks. There was a strange sound in the water, it sounded like popping or creaking. Turning back to face the beach and very close the shoreline was a pod of dolphins! Maybe 10 or so, making dolphin noises before disappearing underneath the water to be never seen again. What a start to the trip.
The trail continued along the coast for a further 1.5 kilometres. The trail narrowed in width to the point animals as dexterous as sheep or goats would have trouble walking along these paths. Eventually, the trail descended the shores of Tunkalilla beach. The longest stretch of beach for the trip, and ended up being 8 kilometres of windswept, thick, and deep sand that was the bane of my existence of this trip. Every footstep requiring two footsteps worth of energy due to the pack weight pushing me into the sand – it was exhausting, but the view was spectacular. Surrounded by white horses, a sea breeze and rolling hills, I continued along for 6 kilometres, stopping for lunch behind the sand dunes to escape the wind.
At the end of Tunkalilla beach, I had reached what turned out to be the most difficult climb of the trip – a 237-meter, vertical (almost) hill that only by the grace of a well-placed fence, allowed me to climb to the top without falling down and injuring myself. It was exhausting, but the view of the beach and the surrounding hills was worth it. That being said, the picture of the climb did not do it justice as to how steep it was. After spending 15 to 25 minutes resting and admiring the steep slope I had just climbed up, I continued onwards to the camp for the day. The trail continued up a smaller set of undulating hills, before eventually coming to a dirt road that led down to Balquhidder Campground. The road continued for a further 4-5 kilometres before eventually winding its way down the valley into Balquhidder Campground, only to be greeted with signage that said the campsite was closed until works had been completed, and that a temporary campsite had been constructed 500 meters down the track.
The temporary campsite was nothing more than an untouched field with a fence surrounding it, the water tank was minute, and capacity was at 20%. The grass in the field was almost waist height, not ideal for pitching. But I made do anyway, flattening the grass with my pack and tent footprint. It was an exhausting day, and I was relieved to have made it to camp alive put the longest day (distance wise) behind me. I quickly consumed an electrolyte drink before unpacking my gear and setting up for the night. A pretty demanding but enjoyable and worthwhile day.
The nights rest was fitful and cold. I woke up at 2 am and wandered around outside my tent, the air was cold, and the night sky was beautiful and bright. Never in my life had I seen stars of this calibre, especially since there was no cloud covering them. The beaches along the Fleurieu peninsula are some of the darkest in the world, and attract numerous photographers to capture the Milky Way from the very beaches I had walked across. I wished at the time I had a camera that could have captured the night sky in all its glory – maybe another time.
I woke up to condensation on the tent seeping in through the first wall and onto my sleeping bag. Undoing the zips saw water drip everywhere on my food and boots but was quickly dried off. This presented another problem; my cooking equipment had gotten wet overnight. Usually this isn’t a big deal as you can dry the pots with a towel, but the matches used to light the stove had been soaked and took me 7-10 matches just to get a flame strong enough to light the gas to make coffee and oats. Eventually though, I was well and truly satiated and ready to tackle the imposing beach fronts that lay ahead. After spending 15 minutes packing my gear and filling my water for the day, I made my way out of the campsite. You might recall that I mentioned the campsite was a field of uncut grass – and yes, that is essentially what it was. Combined with the overnight dew meant the grass was soaked, and before I had even gotten onto the trail, my shoes and socks had become wet, and I could even hear/feel the water squishing around in my boots. This turned out to be a pivotal moment in the trip, as the blisters I developed from this point onwards impeded upon my performance significantly for the remainder of the trip.
Enough about that – I was on the trail. It started off following the dirt track before taking a sharp right turn onto farmers’ fields. The rolling, undulating hills littered with sheep was all I could see for miles. The trail followed along the ridge before dipping down into the valley, following the creek that led me all the way to Coolawang Beach.
After stopping briefly to take in the morning sun and fill up from the creek that passed through the valley, I continued along the trail, going up and down hills following the cliffs and rocks that eventually led me to Parsons Beach - A beautiful beach sprawling with rocks, a gentle breeze from the ocean and stunning views of the coastline.
Again, I encountered the problem of walking on sand, constantly sinking into the wet and soft sand which caked my shoes. It was a difficult stretch of beach but made up for it with a short climb off the beach to Parsons Beach lookout, which provided exceptional views of both Parsons and Waitpinga beach.
At the lookout, I rested. I noticed I had phone reception for the first time that trip. I decided to book a small cabin in Victor Harbor as a reward for completing the hike, and a place for me to rest, recuperate and sleep on a nice soft bed. After having a quick bite to eat, I descended down the rocky slopes onto Waitpinga Beach. It was only 11:30 and I was a mere 4-5 kilometres away from the campground I intended to stay at. Much the same as Parsons Beach, Waitpinga provided exceptional views of the coast and soft sand that took approximately 40 minutes to traverse. The climb up from Waitpinga beach to Waitpinga Campground was exceptionally difficult – the heat and sandy track was seriously taking its toll on my body – and it was only midday and I’d only walked 8-9 kilometres! Mentally and physically draining, sinking into the sand with a pack on your back. The novelty of long beach walks had definitely worn off.
I eventually made it to camp and quickly filled up my water bottles from the tank there. The water there, and at most campsites these days, is untreated and must be filtered. I was paranoid about catching a bug from the water, so I used Aquatabs to treat the water, then my Katadyn Be Free to filter that water – just to be 100% sure it was safe to drink. Some campers I met only filtered it and didn’t treat it but were fine and experienced no problems at all. I pitched my tent outside of the campground, opting for seclusion rather than being surrounded by other campers. This felt cheeky, and almost like a stealth camp, as I was just perched in the bushes behind the main road leading into the grounds. I quickly consumed some tinned soup and a hot chocolate before settling in for the night and had a few hours to kill before the sun went down. I’d arrived at camp at roughly 2pm and had six hours until dark. I filled this time by watching a movie on my phone, and then walking back into camp to chat with other campers about the day, some of which had walked the same route as I did. It was a warm evening, and the temperature didn’t drop until the morning, where I mentally prepared myself for the final stretch to Kent Reserve in the searing heat. A relatively short day in the end. Long beaches, soft sand and stunning views of the coastline - can't really ask for more.
I woke up 5am completely drenched in sweat. The temperature had not died down over night and I was overheating in my -2 degrees Celsius sleeping bag. I realised that I had to get up and moving as soon as possible to avoid the worst of the heat. The final stretch to Kent Reserve was supposedly the most beautiful part of the trail – following along the cliffs before winding down steep hills and meandering across beaches until the end of the trail.
Almost frantically I started packing up my gear. It was only 5am, a time that I’m not usually up at, but I was already completely awake and aiming to be on the trail by 6. The mosquitoes were everywhere, and my body was sweating simply from packing my gear up – I knew it would be a hot day. I skipped breakfast and decided to snack whilst walking. I remember specifically, it was 6:03am when I stepped on the trail. Feeling slightly refreshed from the nights rest, the first section of the trail from Waitpinga, cutting through the heart of New Headland Conservation Park was all sand…again. Atleast I was tackling the hardest surface to walk on, first thing in the morning. The sandy trail continued for about 4 kilometres before emerging at the top of the cliffs, where the sunrise gleamed across the rocks. The photos don’t do it justice.
I continued the trail along the cliffs before eventually ducking back into the headland where I followed an ATV trail for 5 kilometres in a straight line. At this point I didn’t realise I had left the trail, and unbeknownst to me, I followed a small rabbit trail (which I assumed was the actual trail), that miraculously crossed over the actual trail which I then followed. I had no PLB, but getting lost was something I didn't want to happen. Eventually I came across the crown jewel of the Wild South Coast Way – the bench with a view. This is the name of the spot and was a small park bench on the edge of the cliff, overlooking the coast until Victor Harbor. The view was spectacular, and just behind the bench, was a small area that could definitely fit a tent – something to keep in mind for the next time. I rested here and had my first proper bite to eat of the day, plus a generous swig of water. There were no water streams that I could fill up from until I got to Victor Harbor, so I had to be careful with my supply.
It was at this point where the wind turned really bad. Constantly getting blown around and navigating these thin, rocky trails near the edge of cliffs was (at times) nerve racking. Eventually, I descended off the cliffs and followed a small sheep trail that led down to flat land. I was officially out of New Headland Conservation Park, and on common ground which led through Encounter Bay to Victor Harbor. The trailhead turned north and followed along a dirt road with a steep hill. At the top of this hill, was an excellent view of Encounter Bay and my destination, Kent Reserve in Victor Harbor.
I had to rest at this point, I’d already been walking for about 5 hours and I was low on water. I descended down into Encounter Bay and followed the tarmac road – the first one in three days. Eventually, I reached Franklin Parade and wandered along the beach front for a further 3 kilometres till Kent Reserve. Exhausted and dehydrated after 7 hours of walking in 30+ degree heat, I forgot to take a photo of the end point. But I had completed what I set out to do, and that’s all that matters. I'm pretty sure I deserved a shower now.
I returned to Deep Creek 6 months later to complete the trail from Trig Campground to Cape Jervis. The trail from Trig Campground to Eagle Waterhole is some of the steepest and roughest trail along the Wild South Coast Way. I'd visited Deep Creek Cove on a day walk before getting on route to Eagle Waterhole, and the trail here was much steeper than the trail to the cove. After some exceptional care traversing the steep and muddy track, I made it to Eagle Waterhole campground. The large sweeping valleys dotted with deadtrees poking out of the undergrowth made for some incredible views, especially with Kangaroo Island in the background.
I met some fellow hikers, by the name of Julian and his daughter who's french name I simply cannot remember. They invited me to dinner in the cooking shelter, and I had a great time sharing stories and hearing about their outlook on activities like hiking, walking and general life perspectives. We all agreed that the recent construction that was completed was incredible.
The campground was fitted with 10 tent platforms, a generously sized cooking shelther and two toilets. However the location of the campground was a fantastic wind funnel, as the nights rest was dominated by defeaning winds and creaking trees. I was also graced with a full moon that gazed in my tent, plus a solid wind chill that I could not get rid of regardless of wearing all my clothes. Safe to say, not much sleep was had that night.
I rose early at Eagle Waterhole and made good pace towards the coast. I was aiming to be in Cape Jervis by the end of the day. The trail was tough. Steep ascents, followed by steep descents until reading Blowhole Beach, where the trail flattened out and improved in quality. What a stunning place to have lunch, and provided a well needed break from the wind.
It was around this time I caught up with Julian again, who invited me to walk with him until Cape Jervis. I graciously accepted the offer, and we began chatting about camping gear and discussing all sorts of things. Meeting him and his daughter turned out to be a great addition to the trip.
The trail followed the coast for many kilometers, and at times the wind was so strong you could not walk, only stop and hold on to the trekking pole for support. It was easily 50km/h wind - simply incredible to be caught up in. What a weird sense of fun.
The trail passed the unique Naiko Retreat, an eco luxury home for those wanting an expensive, but special digital detox from the modern world. The 1970s UFO is a bizarre building and not something you'd expect nestled in by the coast, especially in Deep Creek of all places.
The trail continued along the coast, cutting through scrub land obscuring the view of the coast before eventually opening up for the final few hundred meters. The wind did not stop from the minute I reached the coast, almost 4 hours of solid walking, to the Cape Jervis carpark. Very strong wind, and a very strong wind chill.
I felt a great sense of accomplishment once I reached Cape Jervis, especially given the tough walking conditions and relentless wind for the entire trip. The Wild South Coast Way completed, even if not in one continious go.
It also changed my perspective on walking alone. I enjoy the solitude that comes with hiking, but having someone to talk to on the trail provides a great sense of companionship. Julian went above and beyond to drop me back in the city and buy me lunch at a bakery. An incredibly generous gesture - thank you for that Julian, maybe we'll see eachother again some day.
Until then, see you on the trail.
Deep Creek Conservation Park can be found 1.5 to 2 hours south of Adelaide. I was fortunate enough to have a family member drop me off at the trailhead, but for a hiker coming from Adelaide would need a taxi or friend (if you have one) for a lift.
Once you enter Victor Harbor, transport options are slightly better. LinkSA offer bus services from Goolwa to Adelaide via Victor Harbor. Depending on the bus route, the times vary drastically. I took the only bus (number 1251) from Victor Harbor that day, which was at 9am and arrived in Adelaide CBD at 10:45am.
The bus timetable can be found here
The Heysen Trail is a 1200km walking trail that passes through some of South Australia’s diverse and breathtaking landscapes and towns. The walking trail starts at the small coastal town of Cape Jervis, and winds its way through rugged bushland, gorges, pine forests, vineyards, private farmland, and historic towns, all the way to the Flinders Rangers. It passes through numerous internationally recognised heritage sites and tourist destinations alongside national parks and state forests. Notable places of interest include the Barossa Valley and Wilpena Pound.
The Heysen Trail is a Class 5 trail which requires hikers to be adequately prepared for all possible scenarios and are skilled in navigation and first aid. The track conditions are distinct, with minimal modifications or debris removal along the trail. The gradient is limited to the environment and many steep sections of the trail are unmodified. The same can be said for the signage of the trail. In parts, the signage was so vague I was relying on GPS and printed out maps for guidance. However, this is to be expected given the classification of the trail. The Heysen Trail is maintained by volunteers of the Friends of Heysen and the Department of Environment and Water. Without their support, and the help of farmers and landowners – the Wild South Coast Way would not be possible.
You can find more information about the Heysen Trail here.
Or you can find more information about The Wild South Coast Way (not up to date website though) found here.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks a lot. I thoroughly enjoyed documenting my experience on The Wild South Coast Way. You can get in touch with me through social media or the contact page on this website. Until then, see you on the trail.
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