Explore a bite-size chunk of the Heysen Trail through the Adelaide Hills. Wait, did someone say “wine”…?
The Heysen Trail winds from Cape Jervis on the Fleurieu Peninsula, south of Adelaide, to Parachilna Gorge in the remarkable Flinders Ranges. A leg-smashing 1,200 kilometres. But if you don’t have a couple of months to spare, you can always run bite-size sections of the trail.
That’s exactly what we did when we found ourselves in the kooky Deutsch-themed village of Hahndorf in Adelaide Hills. Rather than sitting around washing down warm apple strudel with steins of bier, we decided to run the Mt Lofty section of trail – a 25km return trip to the summit. Then, we spent the afternoon washing down warm apple strudel and ice cream with steins of bier knowing we’d earned it!
The trail is shut during fire ban season (1 December – 1 April). I think this applies to the private land sections rather than the public footpaths, but best to check on the official Heysen Trail website before you go. We ran in late November when it was pretty steamy so use plenty of sunscreen. Also, the grass is long and overgrown in places so watch out for snakes (better yet, send your running partner in front).
The trail is named after local German-born painter Hans Heysen, who was inspired by gum trees and became pretty famous for his watercolours. You can drop into his house, “The Cedars”, in Hahndorf.
GET YOUR BEARINGS
The summit of Mt Lofty is the highest point in Adelaide. You can see the city and coastline from the top, which makes the climb worthwhile. You’ll start in Bridgewater, a little village just 10km from Hahndorf. Park at the oval and you’ll immediately see the red signs for the Heysen Trail. The trail is incredibly well marked (it puts the Te Araroa to shame!) but it’s still possible to miss markers on return trip. I guess most people tackle it from south to north…
Starting at the oval, the trail winds around the village, past the charming Bridgewater Mill, and along the river. There are lots of trails leading off into hills and running wonderlands, but don’t be distracted! You can hit them another time. Keep your eye on the prize.
Duck through the freeway underpass into Mt George Conservation Park. The path narrows into a single trail, bobbing up and down through the forest. You skirt past Mt Lofty Golf Course and over a stile into a field. Stick to the track, and look out for the red Heysen Trail marker leading you onto Old Carey Gully Road.
Cross the road into an outdoor activity centre / scout camp, where you need to avoid the temptation to play Frisbee golf and brace yourself for heartburn hill. It’s mercifully short and you’re back on the road. But not for long…
Take a right after the winery, down the 4WD track and past some houses. Then it’s just a short 500m to the lower carpark of the Mt Lofty Botanic Garden.
There’s a lookout here with great views across the valley. Oh and there’s some very handy toilets too! Then it’s along the lake before a short, steep climb to the upper carpark and exit by the 5-star Mt Lofty House (yep, more temptation).
Go against your intuition and turn left at the road (you’ll want to go up the hill, but don’t!). Follow the arrow down a side road, past some houses and onto the mountain bike trails. This is where the real climbing begins and you’ll start getting glimpses of the coastline. Look out for ‘roos as you wind up the mountain, following signs for the summit. After about 4km, you’ll hit the Waterfall Gully trail, a popular fitness route for Adelaidians. Final push and you’re at the Summit Café.
Have a break, take in the view, fill up your water and top up your energy (we choose the oatmeal and raisin CLIF Bars for this run!). Now turn around and run back down.
TIME TO REFUEL
You could stay local and have a pint by the river at the Bridgewater Inn, but our top tip is to head back to Hahndorf for a proper hefeweizen and apple strudel. You’ve earned it!