Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Heysen Trail: Conclusion

I first want to mention that my conclusion has nothing to do with the bad weather I encountered on the Heysen Trail or with my accident. I had bad weather on the GSWW and still liked the trail. And my little accident three weeks ago is already a great adventure now.

So: Would I recommend the Heysen Trail to a friend? The answer is unfortunately very easy and clear: NO!!!! There is only very few people I would recommend this trail to. For example you would probably like the trail, if
  • you want to study the design and construction of cattle fences and gates.
  • you are an outdoor shoe designer and want to find out how much abuse your newest shoe creation can take.
  • you think that hiking is only good when it is painful.

Me at the end of my hike
But seriously now: I was very much disappointed with this trail. The Heysen Trail people have created a trail, but they have done almost nothing to make it enjoyable. It is very obvious to me that they did not have thruhikers in mind when they planned and constructed the trail. And this reflects on the amount of people who hike it. I have not met any other thruhiker, only very few section hikers. The Heysen gets only a fraction of the hikers the Bibbulmun gets and that is for a reason.

So what makes the trail so bad?

My biggest complaint is the lack of trail. I have written a whole entry about that so I don't want to repeat myself here. The Heysen is bloody hard because there is no trail and you are following barbed wire fence lines on insanely steep up and downhills. This is just no fun at all if you are doing this day after day after day. In the end I got so frustrated that I was bashing Heysen Trail signposts with my trekking poles swearing at them in German. (Don't worry, I did not damage them...). I never got that mentally deranged on any other trail. The absurdity is that the trail does not have to be so tough. If there was actual trail and switchbacks (that word apparently does not exist in Australian English), it could be quite pleasant to walk. But the way it is it is just tiring, exhausting and sometimes outright dangerous.

Second frustrating issue is the shelter/hut/campsite situation. Again I have written a whole blog entry about that but I still cannot understand how inconsiderately this trail has been planned. The camping situation is not a real problem: It is just frustrating to arrive at a wonderful hut at a rainy day just to find it locked - because you have not been able to hike a detour of 50 km to pay 3 AUD at the forestry headquarters and book it.....

Third problem is the unreliable data source. Although the Heysen Trail website has quite a good forum there is not much information there for thruhikers. I could not get any information about the availability of gas cannisters or what sort of supermarkets to expect. The guidebook maps are quite good, but the rest of the guidebook is a disaster. The two volumes are too heavy (printed on glossy paper!!!), the written information is useless and there are no distances given in the Northern guidebook. In the Southern guidebook the little distance information is often wrong on top of all that.

Is there something good about the trail, too?

On the final 60 km
It is difficult to come up with positive aspects of the trail, but I must say that the scenery is quite spectacular in places. The Northern Section in the Flinders Range, especially North of Quorn is quite stunning. The same applies for the last 60 km of trail along the ocean. In between there are long stretches of grazing and agricultural country which are not exactly stunning, but still sort of pretty albeit a bit boring after a while. Also, I have encountered very nice people and interesting history (like the German settlers) along the trail.

In the Flinders Range
Navigation was not much of an issue either. If you are lost, just look for the highest point in the vicinity. Then look for the most difficult way to get there by following a fence line. You can almost be 100% sure that this is the way the trail goes.... But seriously now: The trail was generally pretty well marked, but unfortunately different volunteers have put up the signs with arrows. And these arrows can point ever which way, but not the way you are supposed to go. I was misled several times by arrows pointing the wrong way. And up in the North were the trail goes cross country a lot sign posts were often knocked over by sheep or cattle and then navigation was a big problem. But you can download GPS waypoints for the whole Heysen Trail from their website. This was quite useful for me in the Northern part, but when my GPS broke in the Southern half, I could easily navigate without a GPS.

Final recommendation for potential hikers in Australia:
  • If you want to hike a nice long-distance trail, hike the Bibbulmun Track.
  • If you have less time, but want to see much and hike an easy trail, hike the Great South West Walk.
  • If you want to see stunning scenery, hike the Larapinta. 
  • If you are a glutton for punishment, then hike the Heysen....

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Christine
Congratulations on completing the Heysen. I suspect you are one of very few people who have thru- hiked. You seem to have captured the essence of South Australia ....stunning scenery north of Quorn,lonely,windy,sparsley populated,a dry environment subject to unpredictable wet periods where people drive out to look at the rain!Thanks for giving us a thru hikers perspective. D and J

Jez said...

Hi Christine, I've heard tales from people who have met you and I find your feedback quite interesting. I've enjoyed following your blog for some of your other adventures.

I've collected some information relevant to thru-hikers on the Heysen Trail and published it on the Friends of the Heysen Trail website. It includes information about supermarkets, medical services, internet access and hiking stove gas canister availability of towns along or easily accessible from the Heysen Trail.

I've hiked some trails in Australia and some in New Zealand, like the Larapinta in NT, Cape-to-Cape in WA, Overland in Tassie, so I certainly appreciate the kind of info us thru-hikers would find of interest along the trail. (I'm also the web master for the Heysen Trail website).

Although of no use to you now, I include this information here for other thru hikers who might find your page through a search engine. Feedback is most welcome, indeed, encouraged.

The page can be found here:
http://www.heysentrail.asn.au/heysen_trail/service_directory.php

We will also soon be comprehensively updating the GPS files available for download so they are easier to use.

Enjoy your travels.
Jeremy

Jez said...

Hi Christine, I've heard tales from people who have met you and I find your feedback quite interesting. I've enjoyed following your blog for some of your other adventures.

I've collected some information relevant to thru-hikers on the Heysen Trail and published it on the Friends of the Heysen Trail website. It includes information about supermarkets, medical services, internet access and hiking stove gas canister availability of towns along or easily accessible from the Heysen Trail.

I've hiked some trails in Australia and some in New Zealand, like the Larapinta in NT, Cape-to-Cape in WA, Overland in Tassie, so I certainly appreciate the kind of info us thru-hikers would find of interest along the trail. (I'm also the web master for the Heysen Trail website).

Although of no use to you now, I include this information here for other thru hikers who might find your page through a search engine. Feedback is most welcome, indeed, encouraged.

The page can be found here:
http://www.heysentrail.asn.au/heysen_trail/service_directory.php

We will also soon be comprehensively updating the GPS files available for download so they are easier to use.

Enjoy your travels.
Jeremy

Jim Happ said...

Christine
Your expectations of the trail are completely unrealistic. When I walked the Flinders Ranges, there was no trail. Mostly I followed Warren Bonython's route, but often you have no choice but to navigate cross country. This often gives you better views and country anyway, but may upset the local landowners unless you do the right thing and ask permissions.
If you prefer comfy huts with no rodents; water laid on; zigzags up all hills; frequent stopping locations with shops, hostels and pubs; then walk in Europe or the USA. If you intend walking in the arid outback of Australia, be prepared for dry creeks and limited water; few services and support systems; then plan for it. The rewards of stunning vistas and remote places will be worth it, but only if you are prepared for some hardship doing it; and learn to navigate.

Haiden Miller said...

A group of my friends is planning for South Australia. And Heysen Trail is part of their tour. This post has some interesting information that m ay helpful for them. Already done all arrangements for the trip including cottage booking for Bed and Breakfast Accommodation.