Walking the Flinders Ranges

The Heysen Trail

The Heysen Trail is one of the world’s great long distance walking experiences.

It is named after the artist, Sir Hans Heysen, who loved and painted the landscapes of the Adelaide Hills and the Flinders Ranges.

Trail route

  • Runs from the tip of Cape Jervis on the Southern Ocean to the Parachilna Gorge in the Flinders Ranges
  • Passes through stunning scenery, national parks, farming land and historic towns.
  • The northern half of the Heysen Trail goes from Spalding, through Chrystal Brook, Wirrabara, Melrose, Wilmington, Quorn, Hawker, Wilpena and finishes at Parachilna Gorge.
  • The northern section of the Trail, from Spalding to Parachilna Gorge, has stretches that are isolated and rugged, but is a rewarding challenge for experienced walkers.


  • Wilderness walker Warren Bonython was the first to walk the Flinders from end to end.
  • In 1969, he formally proposed a long distance walking trail from Cape Jervis to the Northern flinders Ranges. The State Government began to commit resources to its development.
  • The first section, in Cleland Conservation Park near Adelaide, was opened in 1976.
  • Over the next 15 years the trail was steadily extended under the leadership of Terry Lavender OAM, an employee of the Department of Recreation and Sport and a keen bushwalker.

Heysen Trail resources

  • Excellent resource materials are available from the Friends of the Heysen Trail http://www.heysentrail.asn.au/heysen_trail/
      • They will help both serious backpackers who want to walk the complete trail, and day walkers who would prefer to do short walks along different sections of the trail and nearby attractions.
  • The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has information for landholders and people interested in the strategic management of the Trail. http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/parks/Visiting/Bushwalking/The_Heysen_Trail
  • Bonython, C. Warren, 1971 Walking the Flinders Ranges. Adelaide: Rigby.

Warren Bonython

Warren Bonython set out to walk the Flinders Ranges ‘from end to end’ – when he was 50 – still young enough, as he put it himself.

Starting in May 1967 at Crystal Brook, he triumphantly reached Mount Hopeless in the north 18 months later (November 1968).

His strenuous trek through the hills and gorges of the Ranges took him 74 days in all.

Sensibly, he broke this into 10 stages.  He trudged through rain, temperatures that ranged from below freezing to extreme heat (30 – 95oF) dust storms and hail.

Bonython always walked with at least one other man. Several different friends accompanied him on different stretches of the journey.

They carried enough supplies with them for the number of days that Bonython estimated that walking a section would take. Water was the heaviest single item, as they couldn’t rely on finding drinkable water in country that had been afflicted by drought. Although he aimed to travel in the cooler months, this wasn’t always possible. At first, in cool winter weather, he was pretty casual about forward planning but for his first hot weather walk in January 1968 he took much more care. He drove the route first, burying water containers and oranges wrapped in foil at places where they would need them.

Their back packs were heavy (65lbs) with the weight of supplies, camping gear and change of clothes. On his first walk, Bonython had twinges in his Achilles tendons, and walked for a while along the service track next to the Morgan-Whyalla pipeline. Here they were able to lower the weight of the rucksacks on to the metal pipe – just the right height when they sat half back on it.
Bonython used the tall flowering stem (2m) of a trunkless yacca (Xanthorrea. semiplana) as a light, strong walking stick.  Later he adapted it to use as a tent pole, and later still in his wine cellar ‘acting as a spacer between the necks of two layers of Riesling bottles!’.

Bonython enjoyed fine tea and fine wine. He took to carrying high grade teas with him ‘to give variety and interest to our otherwise limited fare’, but had to admit that ‘some of the mineralized waters tended to obscure the niceties of flavour’ of Ceylon and Darjeeling.

Bonython referred to Patawerta Hill as ‘Heysen’s Hill’, his ‘mountain of inspiration’ with its ‘profile rather like the map of Australia’(1971:89.
Patawerta Hill is the peak in Land of the Oratunga, an iconic Heysen painting.

Aroona Valley

In 1968, Bonython and his companions preferred to camp on the hill beside the springs ‘in preference to the uninhabited, mouse-infested hut’.
They later took shelter there from rain storms.

‘When the three room Aroona Hut had been occupied by Eddie Pumpa in the late 1920s, it must have been a pleasant, compact little dwelling having a most magnificent outlook down the valley. It had been abandoned in the Depression and never re-occupied’ (p94). The roof blew away in a gale and one room had been roughly re-roofed with iron when Bonython and companions sheltered there in 1968.

Warren Bonython played a leading role in the creation of the Heysen Trail, the long distance walking Trail that runs from the Southern Ocean to Parachilna in the Flinders Ranges.


  • Bonython, C. Warren, 1971 Walking the Flinders Ranges. Adelaide: Rigby.