Monday, October 11, 2010

Heysen Trail: Where to stay

The Heysen Trail provides several designated campsites/shelters and huts. You need these places mostly for their water supply, because they are all outfitted with a rainwater tank. That is the good news. Here is the bad news: Whoever designed these shelters and designated their location has probably never been on a camping trip before - at least in most cases. The situation is especially bad in the Northern part of the trail where there is the least rain. Strangely enough there the shelters have the smallest roof. They are so small that you could not sleep under them and stay dry. They don't even have a little bench to sit on while having lunch or dinner. And to make things even worse they are situated where camping is difficult or impossible because the terrain is steep or rocky or exposed or whatever. The only thing you can do is get water and move on. Not very cleverly designed.

Would you want to stay in there?
In the Southern section things are a bit better. The shelters are bigger, often have seats and/or benches and sometimes you can even sleep in them. Actually some are even quite nice and have bunks for sleeping. But unfortunately, there are not too many of these good shelters. And sometimes strange things happen and the shelters are damaged.... This shelter was damaged by the same storm I had camped in with my crappy little Tarptent!



Hisky's hut - now with dental floss
Now let's talk about the huts. At first sight these huts are really impressive. They are mostly old renovated homesteads and there is even an old train station and an old school house to stay in. These huts offer a lot of luxury from fire places to kitchen sinks. Although I really enjoyed the fireplaces I think that these huts are more trouble than good. First of all almost all of them are mice or rat infested. I was lucky to hike at the end of winter and there were hardly any mice left, but judging from other people's comments in the logbooks the rodents are a real problem. Second, they are built with brick and mortar and plaster - and this means they look like shit five years after renovation. The plaster is peeling off and the places generally look very dirty - especially with rat poop all over them. In one hut the corrugated metal sheet roof had come off and was flapping in the wind like crazy. It was so noisy that sleep was impossible. I temporarily fixed the problem by tying the corrugated sheets down - with dental floss.....Not quite a totally professional repair! And third: About half of these huts are property of Forestry SA. That means that you have to pay to use them. You have to book them ahead of time to get the combination for the lock! Great for thruhikers: How do you book a hut at the forestry office that is 50 km  away? This totally stupid system forced me to camp most of times right next to a wonderful, but locked hut.....But one time I was lucky: It was bucketing down and I was just praying that the hut would be open - and it was. This was the one and only time on the Heysen Trail that I shared a hut or a camp site with other hikers. Two section hikers, David and John, had officially rented the hut and even had a fire going when I arrived. Sometimes life is good even on the Heysen Trail....

But what about camping along the trail? Well, that depends if you want to be legal or not.... Generally, camping is very easy all along the Heysen Trail. There are very few houses around and the terrain is mostly good for camping - especially if you have a wind stable tent (unlike me....). But if you want to be legal - well, then forget about a thruhike. Most of the trail is on either National Parks or Conservation areas or private land where camping is illegal. But intelligently, the guidebook maps do not show you whether the trail is on private or public land.... so planning ahead to camp legally is almost impossible. I just camped wherever I had to camp - and nobody bothered me, basically because the area is so sparsely populated that there is nobody there to bother you. But whether all this was 100% legal? At least I never build a fire or leave trash...

And in towns? Unfortunately, there is only one hostel along the Heysen Trail and that is in Quorn. The guy running this hostel must be out of the Australian version of "Deliverance". He had about 1 tooth left in his mouth and his clothes and hair have probably seen their last wash in the last millenium. Strangely enough, the hostel itself was very nice and clean - until I discovered a mouse running around my room. I complained to the manager and was told to be happy that it was only one mouse. There had been a mouse plague recently and other guests told me that half a year ago they had seen 50 mice running around the common room...

So the only other cheap choices to stay in town are pubs or caravan parks. Up in the North rooms were fairly cheap, although these pubs must have been build 100 years ago and have never been renovated. The South Australian version of central heating is an electrical blanket in your bed. Better than nothing.... Down South, especially in the Barossa Valley or the Adelaide Hills accommodation got so expensive that I decided to just hike on....

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The school house accomodation at Mt Bryan East is of special interest because this is the home ground of George Hubert Wilkins one of the greatest thru-hikers. Wilkins parents owned a farm over the hills north of the school. The devastating droughts he witnessed in the area were the motivation for his later activities. He commenced hiking the world in 1908 and continued non-stop until his death at Framingham, Massachusetts in 1958. His specialities were the North and South Poles where he managed some remarakable walks and navigation feats. I have had the pleasure of sleeping in the school room next to the blackboard where Sir Hubert Wilkins did his basic training.
D