South Australia: Toast to the coast

By Pamela Wade

The 1200km Heysen Trail offers a taster of South Australia's many glories, writes Pamela Wade.

The Heysen Trail takes in ancient red rocks, farmland, forests - and some stunning coastline. Photo / Pamela Wade
The Heysen Trail takes in ancient red rocks, farmland, forests - and some stunning coastline. Photo / Pamela Wade

"Speckie." Toby's use of this word demonstrates two things: that an Australian will never use four syllables where two will do; and that he's typically laid-back about the "spectacular" sights that amaze the visitors he guides along this bit of the South Australian coast.

I'm having a taster of the Heysen Trail, a long-distance walkway that stretches for 1200km from Cape Jervis on the tip of the Fleurieu Peninsula all the way up to the Parachilna Gorge, just north of the Flinders Ranges. The route includes most of South Australia's glories: ancient red rocks, open farmland, forests, rolling wine country, historic stone townships, a host of national parks, and some stunning coastline.

Toby and I set off from Waitpinga Beach over the headland and up to a lookout that's unarguably "speckie": sheer cliffs plunge to black rocks below, where the brilliantly blue sea breaks in a line of white foam. Each bend of the path gives us a new perspective more fabulous than the last, but the viciously spiky plants - not just one species, but six variations on the theme of "Don't touch!" - make it a big mistake not to watch our feet as we walk.

Soaring overhead, paragliders reclining in their harnesses have none of these pedestrian preoccupations, their colourful sails bright against blue sky and sea: they can see all the way from the start of the trail to Victor Harbor. It's a pretty little seaside town with an interesting history and the novelty of a horse-drawn double-decker tram out to an island where fairy penguins nest.

Further north, in the Adelaide Hills, is lovely German-inspired Hahndorf, its main street lined with gingerbread cottages; and nearby is The Cedars, home of artist Hans Heysen, after whom the trail is named. A German, he grew up here and was described as "portrait painter to the gum tree". His loving local landscapes celebrate Australia's unique beauty, and on a walk around the property I stand where he stood and look from the scene to his painting of it.

Heysen was captivated by the scenery nearer the end of the trail, where the bleached-gold open country meets the ancient red rocks of the Flinders Ranges. Flying over this remarkable natural amphitheatre is both a thrill and an education, but nothing beats walking up through the woods in the peace of the early morning.

The bark of the gum trees gleams after a fall of rain, bold kangaroos graze by the path and, passing an abandoned stone farmhouse, I climb to the rim and look out over a shallow bowl, where the settlers who tried to farm it are just a tiny blip in its 800 million-year history. It's a glorious sight, and there's just one word for it.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air New Zealand flies direct from Auckland to Adelaide.

Where to stay: Rawnsley Park Station provides excellent accommodation near Wilpena Pound.

What to do: For information on the complete Heysen Trail seeheysentrail.sa.gov.au.

A guided day walk on the southern end of the trail can be arranged.

Flights over the Flinders are offered by Air Wilpena.

Further information: Seesouthaustralia.co.nz.

Pamela Wade was a guest of the South Australian Tourism Commission.

- NZ Herald

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