From the heart of hell, comes the beast. An unstoppable freight train tearing through the bush consuming all in it’s path. The aftermath of the unforgiving violence is a scarred blackened land which gives no clue to the life that once was. The acrid smell burning your nostrils and insulting your tastebuds. But emerging from the ashes, the phoenix is already rising again, ever so slowly, and it will surely heal the blackened scars from this Australian bushfire.
Wirrabara Forest suffered such an event recently and has been closed to hikers for some time. This is our first opportunity to walk the Heysen Trail through the forest. We had walked on further north reaching Quorn in our time waiting for the forest to re-open.
Leaving from the corner of Mills and Youngs roads, we walked the gently sloped road, briefly chatting to a friendly lady tending her garden in the bright morning sunshine. In spite of the calender telling us it is still winter, this was a typical spring day. Brisk cool morning air in the bright warm sunshine. The very best of weather in South Australia. The road soon disappeared and we headed off onto the bush track heading towards Wirrabara Forest. The slow climb took us above 400 metres traveling through a valley before climbing to the ridge for some speckie views. Many of the hikers choose to split this walk, taking the side track through to Wirrabara Forest HQ, however, we have decided to walk the full length of the forest, straight through to Block Nine road. 33+ kms in all. A challenging days walk, but once committed, there is no turning back.
Speaking of challenges, there are a few hills taking us above six and seven hundred metres this trek. Almost as punishing as the Mount Remarkable walk we did recently, but at least most of these tracks were good. Fire tracks almost all the way.
Each hill in itself was not too much of a stretch, but the number of ups and downs would surely test anyone’s fitness.
As is the case every where else in this region, it was green from winters rain. However this only contrasted even more so, the blackness of the scarred trees standing silently in the bare landscape. Only the quietest of whispers in the breeze. Not even a twitter or a chirp was to be heard from the lifeless branches stripped of their flesh. Life had left the forest, it had seemed.
As we walked deeper into the forest, amongst the devastation, we started seeing signs of life returning. Gums sprouting new growth. Charred Blackboys with green whiskers, and the scratching’s of Echidnas in the massive ant hills occasioned on the trail. Then just as we have seen on so many walks, out hopped our iconic friend, “Mr Kangaroo”. Stopping for a moment as if to say hello, before dissolving once again into the mosaic of the Aussie bush. As if staged in a play, just for us.
The delights continued as we looked closer with wild flowers blooming with pride. Bursting with confidence in the sun, with all of the colour and splendour worthy of any worldly monarch. A king or queen of colour in a muted green and mottled world.
As we have walked the trail over these past few years, our knowledge of the animal tracks we see increases with each walk. Kangaroo, “and a big one at that”, we would exclaim. Or the Echidna with his tell tale sharper claws. One set of tracks today made me stop and wonder. These were a little less natural, and were clearly very recent and appeared to be of a newish pair of hiking boots. Fresh they were. Not more than a day old, and most likely from this very morning we mused, pretending to be the most experienced trackers of a bygone era. However, as we crested one of the many hills that day, a sight that had eluded us on the many kilometres of the Heysen so far (with the exception perhaps of the trail around Mount Lofty), there was, “another Heysen walker!” Wow! In over 800 kilometres this had never happened before. We had tried previously to catch up to my older sister and bro inlaw, Sharon and Michael, who were powering on ahead on the trail. Probably in spite of us. Their tenacity and discipline in walking the Heysen Trail is truly inspiring (apparently was to me anyway).
So, Roger, whom we stopped to chat to, and who greeted us with, “Eyesonbrowne” (was clearly aware of who we were), was I think just as happy to see us as we were to see him on the trail. So, thanks Roger. One for being on the trail that day, so I had someone else to talk to besides Grant(more for Grant’s benefit I’m sure). Two, for reading this blog, and three, for giving Grant and I some topics to mull over and discuss on our way. Thanks for the chat, and thanks for the “full moon” scheduling strategy. It was only later that we realised it was a full moon that night (yes I know, I didn’t get that at the time). Hope you finished up before dark. I am still not sure where you were finishing up? Can you let me know?
Very few parts of the forest were not affected by the fire. Hill after hill, and as far as we could see had been burnt out. I guess only time will repair the damage. One consolation though from the cleared forest was the views over the Port Pirie and the upper gulf. A bit hazy this day but still a great view.
It was good to see greenery and animals returning, even though only in small numbers. The absence of birds was quite chilling. Makes the forest very very quiet. We did eventually see a couple of galahs (no not our reflection in creek) a bit later, squarking and carrying on as they do.
This was a tough walk to do in one hit, however it was good to test our preconceived physical limits. We have now set a new personal benchmark walking the trail. The pain endured on this journey was softened at the end of the day with a lovely meal at Café de Laura. Tasty Salt and Pepper squid swimming with Garfish and prawns, accompanied by a nice Bundaleer Pinot Gris. And, if that was not enough, Grant brought along a very smooth aged Scotch for after’s. (how old was it Grant?) I didn’t feel a thing till morning!
Walk : Mills Road to Block Nine Road through Wirrabara Forest.
Distance : 33.7 kms
Duration : 6 hours 34 mins (walking time)
Pace : 5.1 kph
Ups and Downs : Gain 1965 metres. Loss 1801 metres.
And a few more pics…..