Aus­tralia’s Hey­sen Trail - a walk in art

The Hey­sen Trail is a 1,200 kilo­me­tre trail that ex­tends from Cape Jervis on the south coast of the Fleurieu Penin­sula to Parachilna Gorge in the Flin­ders Ranges. The trail passes through some of South Aus­tralia’s most scenic ar­eas, in­clud­ing na­tional par

Walking New Zealand - - Front Page -

From the top of St Mary Peak, the high­est point in the Flin­ders Ranges, the jagged edges of an­cient tilted sand­stone lay­ers curve around form­ing the cu­ri­ous basin of Wilpena Pound to the east and south.

In long par­al­lel rows, ridges snake to the north, mak­ing cred­i­ble the in­dige­nous be­lief that they are the tracks of a mag­nif­i­cent ser­pent. We are stand­ing on its head. It takes ev­ery bit as much imag­i­na­tion to un­der­stand that we are look­ing at rocks laid down in a sea when life was first stir­ring, 550 mil­lion year ago. This land is im­pres­sive, very old and very beau­ti­ful. And how­ever it’s been cre­ated, it’s a work of art.

From this viewpoint we can see the route we took yes­ter­day along the Hey­sen Trail, over the rim of Wilpena Pound at Bri­dle Gap and into the big flat basin of the Pound, en­cir­cled by rocky peaks.

Turn­ing around we can see where we’ll walk tomorrow fur­ther along the Hey­sen Trail, through the val­ley left by the tail of the ser­pent, be­tween the Hey­sen and the ABC Ranges.

The trail is 1200 km long, start­ing on the coast way down south of Ade­laide. We are not plan­ning to walk too much of it.

Our guides Tom and Wes have sorted out

some of the best bits as it crosses parts of the Flin­ders Ranges. The trail is named af­ter Sir Hans Hey­sen who came to Aus­tralia from Ger­many as a seven year old and died in 1968 as a much ad­mired painter of the bush of the Ade­laide Hills and the Flin­ders Ranges. His wa­ter­colours of the Red River gumtrees, painted early last cen­tury, are still fa­mous.

One of our walks started at the ru­ins of one of the ear­li­est sheep runs in the re­gion, where Hey­sen had stayed and painted.

At the end of this walk, we reached a spot where Tom and Wes of­ten bring artists who are in­spired by the stun­ning at­mo­spheric ef­fects of light. As we walk along the val­leys, our eyes fol­low the huge speck­led trunks of the gums, bul­bous at the base, bat­tered by de­bris at times of flood, and staunch sur­vivors of many ter­ri­ble droughts. They frame a di­verse se­ries of pic­tures at ev­ery turn. The mood of the ‘paint­ings’ changes with the light on the red sand­stone hills in the back­ground.

This win­ter, good rains have greened the land­scape to an ex­tent not seen pre­vi­ously by our guides, so we also have re­flec­tions in pools and vis­tas of wild­flow­ers. The stony ground supports no grass, just the gums, forests of cy­press pine, shrubs ,and grass trees on higher ground.

Wes and Tom picked up our group of ten from our ho­tels in Ade­laide and drove us north to Quorn for lunch and our first night’s stay.

On the way, Wes re­galed us with how Matthew Flin­ders first spot­ted the south­ern end of the ranges named af­ter him, and climbed a peak near the Spencer Gulf to try and see the great in­land sea imag­ined by all who won­dered about the re­sources Aus­tralia had to of­fer. Many more Euro­peans would waste much en­ergy search­ing for it, never seek­ing to ask the in­dige­nous tribes that had tra­versed the in­land for thou­sands of years, trad­ing es­pe­cially in ochre, the best of which was found near the Hey­sen Trail. The ochre ful­filled their de­sire to paint in th­ese sur­round­ings.

Newer ar­rivals brought with them new pig­ments, and cam­eras, and were like­wise at­tracted to the Flin­ders Ranges.

Quorn lies on the Hey­sen Trail, as well as be­ing on the old Ghan rail­way from Ade­laide to Alice Springs. From the top of nearby Devils Peak, we could see back to the Spencer Gulf. That night we en­joyed the spe­cial hos­pi­tal­ity of­fered at Aus­tralian coun­try pubs.

For the three fol­low­ing nights, we stayed

in the shearer’s quar­ters of a sheep sta­tion, where our guides showed that their skills in­clude gas­tron­omy, as well as route plan­ning, wheel chang­ing, plant iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, pi­o­neer his­tory and Mac­pac pro­mo­tion.

Af­ter that, we en­joyed great pub meals that of­fered prepa­ra­tions of some of the plen­ti­ful wildlife in the re­gion, and ini­ti­ated us to un­usual ac­com­mo­da­tion such as ad­ja­cent metal cubes, ba­sic but fun and known as don­gas. Wes an­nounced th­ese with such en­thu­si­asm that we just had to like them!.

The pub in Mel­rose on our last night of the trip pro­vided highly imag­i­na­tive lodg­ing us­ing old crashed trucks. There is as much cre­ative abil­ity re­vealed in th­ese old ru­ral towns as in any city. Also, the her­itage stone build­ings built by the pioneers are beau­ti­fully pre­served, as are the time-warped in­te­ri­ors of some of

the stores.

Another art form re­vealed by our guides is a work of na­ture, not of hu­mans. Of course the liv­ing trees and an­i­mals ad­mired so re­cently by Hey­sen are a per­fec­tion of na­ture, but so are the re­mains of some of the first or­gan­isms that ap­peared on this planet.

We were taken to one of the very few places on earth where rocks re­veal­ing fos­sils from the Pre­cam­brian pe­riod 550 mil­lion years ago can be found.

In its first at­tempts at com­plex life on earth, na­ture cre­ated or­gan­isms with in­tri­cate pat­terns, the im­ages of which are left as works of art in the rocks for us to ad­mire to­day. If you’ve been on walks that sent you back in time to the artistry of the Mid­dle Ages, the Ming Dy­nasty, the Ro­mans and the Greeks, or Aus­tralian abo­rig­i­nal cave art, its only a re­cent flash in time. What’s a few thou­sand years com­pared with na­ture’s artistry, hun­dreds of mil­lions of years old in the Flin­ders Ranges!

And we found that this artistry, in all its forms, is best seen by walk­ing through it.

Above: Wilpena Pound is a large basin sur­rounded by sweep­ing slopes lead­ing to a jagged crest. Op­po­site page: Ge­off fol­lows the bed of Mo­ralana Creek through Red River gums along the Hey­sen Trail.

Above left: Some of the walk­ers in our group out­side our ac­com­mo­da­tion in Mel­rose, ready to climb into the clouds up Mt Re­mark­able on the Hey­sen Trail. Above right: A clear im­print of what may have been a flat seg­mented worm liv­ing 550 mil­lion years ago in a shal­low sea. Be­low: Terri and Ge­off walk on the Hey­sen Trail through a for­est of Cy­press pines be­neath St Mary Peak.

Above: Chris and Ian de­scend from Devils Peak near Quorn, through Su­gar gums. Be­low: Lunchtime at the top of St Mary Peak.

Above: Look­ing south from St Mary Peak, the floor of Wilpena Pound leads to the rim, with the Elder Range be­yond..

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