Preparation – Yurrebilla Track, South Australia (24-26/9)
FOR a track that passes through 7 of the most popular conservation parks in South Australia, the Yurrebilla isn’t all that well known. None of the people I spoke to along the way had actually heard of it, even though they had passed numerous markers. I only found out the full anatomy of the track a few weeks ago. Sure, I’d passed the markers on my regular tramps on the Mt Lofty and Morialta tracks, it’s just they didn’t mean much to me. Until I finally got around to doing some research.
At 54km it’s one of South Australia’s longest tracks. A long way off the Heysen Trail, at 1200km, but much more of a challenge in terms of length and terrain that most popular tracks in this state. Dare I say it’s a bit of a secret.
Anticipation was high on the Friday. This would be the first tramp of any distance I’d be doing since New Zealand last year. But 3:30pm rolled by quick enough and I was on the Belair train ready to take on the first leg of the Yurrebilla before setting up camp at the Belair Caravan Park for the night. I stepped off the platform at the Belair train station and was immediately greeted by an arch that read “National Park”. This way please.
Today’s leg would be short. Thankfully, too, as dusk was fast approaching. The track took me from the park entrance, past the duck-filled Playford Lake, to Gooch Road, and a detour later, across a couple of ovals and into the Belair Caravan Park. The Yurrebilla turns left on Gooch Road and the caravan park was to the right, so I’d resume my tramp in the morning from where I left off.
The park couldn’t have been better situated. On the boundaries of the Belair Conservation Park, and adjacent to a golf course, it’s nestled amongst the trees and really feels like it’s at one with nature. You know, to sound all cheesy and all. According to the number plates of the majority of the cars and campervans resting here for the night, it’s a popular place with Queenslanders. All I got from my fellow inhabitants, though, was a few nods and “hellos”: I wanted to boast about my impending adventure damn it! I set up camp, had some dinner, and tried to get some rest.
What a dreadful nights sleep I had. I forgot to mention, contrary to the beauty of the location is the fact that the park is located on Upper Sturt Road. Apparently a hotspot for turbo cars that like to tear up and down the road in the wee hours. That night, it sounded like every Japanese import in South Australia wanted to pollute the sound waves around Belair. I eventually got to sleep around 3am, and didn’t wake up too worse for wear thankfully.
Around 8am on the Saturday I continued on, on Gooch Road, from where I left off. I was soon passing through Echo Tunnel and making my first steep ascent for the day. Man could I feel the weight of my backpack, which I purposely packed with around 20kg of gear. Eventually I got the hang of it and was making my way up the Workanda Track, a fire track, and on out of the park. I shared this first stretch of the track with locals walking their dogs and joggers. I must have looked right out of place. A very user friendly section indeed.
My first road-walking section took me along the Pony Ridge Road. I envied each and every one of the residents. What a stunning spot, with views out over the Gulf St Vincent to the West and the Brownhill Creek on to the East. I was soon descending steeping, via a series of switchbacks into the Brownhill Creek gully, and was soon at the base and on the road again. I arrived at the Brownhill Creek Caravan park around 9:45am, 1 hour 45 minutes after setting off from Belair.
At this point I was keen on a hot coffee. Unfortunately, the kiosk at the caravan park couldn’t be described as anything more than that. If I wanted coffee, Farmers Union was all they kept. Unsuitable for a vegan. I snacked on cashews and chased it with tap water. Very civilised. If only I had packed my Trangia.
I was soon climbing steeply towards McElligotts Quarry. A particularly steep section that ran directly behind a patch of suburbia. I felt kind of cheeky looking over my shoulder to admire the views over Adelaide and catching a glimpse of people doing the washing up in their kitchens. Sorry residents. I passed the 10km marker, only 44km to go.
The track soon became more remote feeling with the houses and views making way for dirt tracks and rolling hills in the Waite Conservation Reserve at the back of the Waite campus. It was a pleasant spot and I was alone. Save the odd mountain biker. I enjoyed this section and was impressed to see the remnant Grey Box woodlands. A reminder why the Phytophthora cleaning stations must be used.
Just short of the 15km mark I had my first glimpse of Eagle on the Hill and Mt Lofty. Mt Lofty was covered in cloud and the telecommunication towers were invisible. The temperature had dropped. I donned my fleece. From the boundry of the Waite reserve to the Mt Barker road is private property so special care was given to ensure the gates were closed to not let the stock out. There was a lot of construction taking place on this land, with some rich son-of-a-guns mansion under construction and what looked to be some commercial accommodation. Maybe some cabins or something. Certainly a good spot for it.
I followed the Mt Barker Road up to Eagle on the Hill. Again with the road walking, but it was quite safe as walkers are required to talk in the bike lane which is protected by a kerb. By the time I got to Eagle on the Hill some 2km later, my feet were getting sore.
I was going to break for lunch at Eagle on the Hill but the picnic area was on the other side of the road so I decided to wait until I was in the Cleland Conservation Park. The track notes (available from South Australian Visitor & Travel Centre for $9.95 including a nifty topographical map of the track) states that the walking time from Belair to Eagle on the Hill is 6hrs (17.5km). It took me less than 4 hours. I was quite happy with this. Soon I arrived at the Chinamans Hut ruin in Cleland. Here I broke for lunch and took my boots off to rest my feet.
After a 30 minute break for lunch I was back on the track. This time in familiar surroundings, for this section follows the Waterfall Gully track which starts at Waterfall Gully and climbs to Mt Lofty Summit. The Yurrebilla drifts away from the main track just past Wilsons Bog and follows the Bilba Track up to the road into Cleland Wildlife Park. I was down to 1 litre of water (from 2.5 litres) when I got to the Wildlife Park, but thankfully they allowed my to fill up at their water fountain. I was soon back on track, 2.5 litres of water at my disposal, and on the Wine Shanty Track. Such an apt track for me to be walking.
This section is also used by guided mountain bikers. A few months prior a colleague of mine, Igor, had done this guided mountain bike ride with his fiance. It was nice to see the section of track they’d ridden, and I honestly have nothing against such tourism ventures. It would be nice to see guided walks in some of SA’s conservation parks too. So many opportunities untapped in this state, I say.
I shared the Wine Shanty Track with few people, but quite a few koalas that keenly climbed and ate their way up the lush Eucalypts. The top of the Pillbox Track where it meets Mt Lofty Summit Road marked the 24.5km point. I’d almost come half way and it was 3pm-ish.
At the junction of Greenhill Road and Mt Lofty Summit Road the track climbed steeply through some private land, and descends just as steeply down to the Ridge Road, which it then follows to Coach Road. It makes one deveation from Ridge Road and that’s around a telecommunications tower with a funny whirly thing on top, but gives way to stunning views of Adelaide over Greenhill. This was a nice spot for a rest.
By about 4 I reached the gates to the Horsnell Gully Conservation Park. I’d be camping in this park, as much as it isn’t allowed as far as I am aware. This is something I don’t quite understand. In South Australia there are so few bushcamping options available. Sure, there are a lot of disrespectful people out there that would leave rubbish and start bushfires, but why is SA so exclusive when they have great facilities in other states and overseas, like in New Zealand? Take a page SA.
The way I look at it is, if the facilities are made suitably difficult to reach, they will only attract those dedicated enough to carry the right gear, and these people are usually the ones that will respect the environment. Anyways, I set up camp near the Rockdale Hill Track and got an early night. Oddly, I heard a group of people pass my tent at around 9pm. They were preparing for the Trailblazer I think, which requires a night-tramping section.
Stay tuned for part 2, Horsnell Gully to Morialta.