Walk the Yorke

 

Walk the Yorke is a route for walkers around the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia using beaches, tracks, roads and untracked coastal dunes. At various points there are Heysen style hiker shelters with a covered picnic table and a water tank where walkers are allowed to camp and there are also many council campsites and commercial caravan parks. The route passes through small towns where resupply is possible. The main challenge is access to drinking water as there are no freshwater sources; there is a small water tank at the hiker shelters but you could get there and find the tank empty, and there are occasionally public toilets with a tap. I decided to take my chances with this, having already abandoned other walk plans for precisely this issue, especially after I established that there would be plenty of tourists around who could help me out with water in case of emergency. As it transpired I found water at every hiker shelter and only once asked someone for water. I also didn't appreciate that it is essential to walk at low tide because of the seaweed problem so I didn't check the tides before starting out, and here I really got lucky.


I chose to do a section of the route around the leg/foot-shaped peninsula from Edithburgh at the southern end of the east coast (on the heel) going clockwise to Hardwicke Bay on the west coast (above the instep). This choice was largely dictated by the availability of public transport between Adelaide and those settlements as much of the peninsula is not serviced by buses. 


March 13 It was raining when I woke up in Edithburgh so I didn't rush away and the rain had pretty much stopped when I left the motel. I walked down to the jetty and started on the trail. There were a bunch of scuba divers heading out. The first few kms were behind the beach and the path was decorated with rocks covered in mosaics with a fishy theme. When this part ended I had to walk on the road behind houses so I went onto the scrappy beach instead. I could faintly see tiny Troubridge Island. 

Around the next point I felt I joined the trail proper, with a sandy track beside the water and then a beach walk. I was introduced to a major feature of the beaches of the peninsula: the large amount of seaweed, either spread lightly or in clumps. At one stage the seaweed was so deep I couldn't walk on it and I had to leave the beach. I followed a dirt road for a bit with a view of Troubridge lighthouse far in the distance and a massive wind farm. This road came close to the water where I found I was on top of low cliffs. There seemed something unusual about the cliffs being vertical but so low, less than 10 metres, and totally flat on top. 

The coastline was deeply indented. Sometimes I could just make out a bit of Kangaroo Island on the horizon. Eventually I reached the lighthouse and beyond it passed several long sandy beaches. 

The walking trail left the road and followed a marked route across the dunes through scrub. I left the dunes at my first walkers' shelter of the hike where I was happy to find water in the tank and I made a cup of coffee. I haven't mentioned the wind, but all day it was incredibly windy.

From the shelter I had to follow a fence line between stunted melaleuca/casuarina and empty paddocks for several kms into Port Moorowie where I hoped to camp. It was a large settlement, a couple of kms long but without camping opportunities. I got water at the public toilets and went on. I was really tired having done 34 kms already so I was happy to reach Mozzie Flat shelter quite soon. I found a spot to camp among the vegetation and hoped my tent would be ok in the wind. 36.8 kms

March 14 The wind had dropped slightly overnight and the weather looked promising with a blue sky. I set out on a long morning of beach walking. It was low tide so I had lots of firm sand and at first not much seaweed. There were flocks of juvenile hooded plovers whose nests there are signs everywhere telling beachgoers to watch out for. It was lovely on the quiet beach in cool sunshine. Then the seaweed got really thick and I tried without success to walk on the dunes instead, so I ended up making slow progress to Sturt shelter along the beach. I made coffee at the shelter.

From there I continued a while on the beach then had to come inland to skirt the Davenport conservation park, which is so ecologically important that walkers are not allowed in. However the edge was nice too with interesting coastal bushes and I saw a few dark coloured kangaroos. At the end of the park I came to 2 parallel sandy roads and a curious sign telling me to keep off both roads; I didn't know what to make of this as the ground between the roads looked impenetrable, so I walked on one of the roads until there was a strongly worded sign telling me to leave it, and I walked on the other road.

I came out to the South Coast Road, unsealed but hard baked, and walked many kms in the hot sun, before suddenly turning off and continuing on a sandy track just behind the beach. I could see Kangaroo Island more clearly. The beach was completely covered in pale seaweed and impossible to walk on. I was again exhausted by the time I reached Foul Bay shelter and I stopped for the night despite No Camping signs. 32.8 kms

March 15 The wind dropped further in the night and the stars were amazing. The first couple of kms were tricky, through the bush and the trail kept coming to a dead end, but I got to South Coast Road again for a few more kms. 

Then I came to Kangaroo Island lookout, saw the island, and found a huge improvement in the hike. The coastline was a series of headlands and bays, the rock tinged with red, and huge boulders.

 I walked either over the rocks, on the sand or on the bushy dunes that were on the cliff tops. There wasn't a proper trail but I followed whatever little track looked promising, trying not to go too close to the cliff edge as the edge sometimes looked precarious. Some of the bushes were flowering. Coming off the beach was always hard as I had to scramble up the big sandy dunes and coming down was steep too. 

At one stage I was following a dirt road and I noticed a shelter that wasn't on my map so I detoured to it and made coffee; it had a toilet too, which I haven't seen for some days. 

The dunes/ beaches combo lasted for a while 

until I came to my final beach which led to Marion Bay and was about 8 kms long in a big arc. There were low spinifex dunes along the beach and behind them were high dunes with dense bush. (The gully in between is called a swale.) There was no hard sand, the beach was definitely not flat and I was walking straight into the wind. I could see distant houses across the bay and I did not believe I could walk that far. After 2 kms of struggle I had a brief rest and things went better after that. I marched quickly along on some hard sand until I reached seaweed which was thickly spread at the water's edge so I had to go higher up the beach to the soft sand. Finally I made it to the town, but not before a big disappointment when I came off the beach thinking I was in the town and had to return to the beach for more fun.

In Marion Bay I went straight to the shop to get food for the next few days before it closed and then went to find the caravan park. I went to the pub for dinner (walking another 2 kms I don't include in my total) and through the window I could see the entire tortuous beach; it did look extremely long. 30 kms

March 16 Out of Marion Bay I had another short beach walk - dune spillage had completely covered part of the staircase down to the sand so it looked odd in 2 sections.

Then I went into Innes National Park. At first I crossed grassland and almost immediately I surprised 2 emus. 

Then I climbed a headland and saw some kangaroos. 

I followed a dirt road through medium sized scrub to a little settlement, Stenhouse Bay, with a long jetty then started on the Thomson-Pfitzner Plaster Trail. That's a name, and more exciting than the scenery; it was along a former tramway used to transport plaster and all through a rather dull forest. The trail ended at Inneston, a settlement mainly in ruins; I sat eating my lunch and noticed an emu mooching around.

My afternoon walking was better. The trail went into the bush and was very winding and also undulated a little. To my surprise I saw a blue lake in the distance. 

The trail went around the lake (close by I could see salt crusts) allowing a wide berth in case it would suddenly expand. I walked through samphire flats, heath and mallee woodland. I was tired, possibly still from yesterday's sand ordeal.

I put up my tent at Pondalowie campground beneath a high dune for some shelter from the wind then did a bit more of the trail without my pack. I walked out to Pondalowie Bay, saw the islands in the bay, saw 2 lighthouses and had a tiny beach walk. Much more of this beach tomorrow. 25 kms

March 17 Perfect blue sky and slight breeze. I completed the walk on nice sand along Pondalowie Bay and 2/3 of the way along I noticed a line of 10 dolphins swimming parallel to the beach not far out to sea. They were alongside until I left the beach. 

Next I had 8 kms on a gravel road passing varied scrub and mallee, and passing a dried up salt lake. The vegetation is colourful despite the poor nutrition. I broke the walk for a short detour to Shell Beach, a small sandy cove, where I had a refreshing swim in the beautiful azure water. 

After the road I turned onto a trail to Gym Beach. The trail started as low bush. Not far along I saw an emu with 4 young ones on the track; they ran down the trail. Moments later I saw 3 emus taking a stroll near the trail, stretching their necks from time to time to peer at something. Approaching a bend I heard a snort and found an emu with 5 young ones. More snorts, another pair of emus. It was wonderful. The trail went into mallee forest and I startled another emu with 4 offspring.

I sat in the shade of a rock on Gym Beach to have lunch and I noticed a group of 4 dolphins frolicking nearby at the water's edge. 

Some quite tricky walking followed. I did the length of Gym Beach on lovely firm sand and ended up at the base of rocks which I could only get around by going in the water. That was ok but the waves were much rougher at the next set of rocks so I had to climb up and over them and that was a little scary with my pack. I came down to another beach and then saw some decrepit rusty steps leading up to the cliff tops where I was supposed to be. After that episode I stayed high up, only descending to a beach where I could clearly see the way off it at the far end. The route wasn't really marked although I was able to follow footprints (human and animal). You can't get terribly lost, the only problem is having to climb up or down dunes. I see human footprints a lot but I have yet to see a person walking. The coastline was amazing; I've not often been impressed with SA beaches in the past but I am now. Beautiful curves of sand backed by multiple rows of dunes or sheer rocky cliffs and perfectly breaking waves. Some cliffs have heath like vegetation on top or otherwise are stony. I took a break on a headland and again saw a pair of dolphins swimming by. Beyond some high cliffs, maybe 30 metres, at the final beach (photo at beginning), I could see it was ok to walk on the sand and I felt so hot I had to have another swim. 

I climbed the dune and followed a path made by surfers to my campsite for the night, Formby Bay Shelter. Formby Bay is a popular surfing beach and the shelter was decorated with buoys, thongs, driftwood, netting and other bits and pieces. Another crazily windy night and I wasn't able to secure the tent well so everything flapped noisily. 26 kms

March 18 I walked 7 kms along stunning Formby Bay beach: white sand, dunes and sapphire sea. No seaweed. Just me and hooded plovers. At the end I climbed the headland and sat for a while. 

A fisherman was parked and asked if I had walked here; he said he had seen me in Marion Bay. The next bit was on the tops with interesting rock shelves and pools below. I came to Gleeson's Landing where I intended to camp but it didn't look too special, just massive rocky flats, and was chockers with caravans. However I was extremely pleased when a caravaner offered me a diet coke. I haven't had one for years and it was great on a 30 degree day.

I continued across another beach, disappointed to see seaweed returning, and the tide was coming in so the sand was softer. Thanks to the coke I went like a rocket. At Swincer's Rocks I saw a couple of caravans and found myself a nice patch of sand in the dunes to camp. The beach was sandy and without seaweed. I made a brief foray into the water. There was a line of rocks parallel with the shore about 200 metres out and another line further out. Windy? Yes, very.

I don't remember when I last saw the sun rise and set on the same day but today I saw it rise over a paddock and set over the ocean. 18 kms

March 19 I finished off the beach where I camped and then walked on the tops, passing a succession of boulder filled coves. I could already see Corny Point lighthouse far off. The path was not well marked but that didn't matter. I came down to Gravel Beach and chatted to some caravanners then followed a formed path at the water's edge. 

I crossed both the Berry Bay beaches (connected at low tide) and climbed to the lookout; I couldn't find the clifftop trail so I came back down to the beach and when I was directly beneath the lighthouse I scrambled up the dune. 

At the lighthouse I chatted with a couple from Victoria who offered me a bottle of water; initially I said no thanks but then I changed my mind and it was freezing cold. Fabulous. Just past the lighthouse was a perfect semicircular beach.

From the lighthouse the trail followed the coastline up high but was poorly marked. (The trail marking has been barely existent since Foul Bay except on roads.) I reached the road and walked into Corny Point.

The tide was way out and I had my introduction to another Yorke Peninsula feature: a line of tractors on the beach (that had pulled boats out over the sand). Corny Point was oddly long for a small settlement. From first reaching houses I walked 1.5 kms along the beach to the shop, where I bought food and ate lunch, then walked a further 2.5 kms to the caravan park. Nice pub. 20 kms

March 20 Almost all on the beach today. I walked 7 kms to The Pines, a small settlement, on firm sand by the water. Seaweed had created a wall between the high tide mark and the dunes. The tide was way out and I wouldn't call it a beautiful beach but the walk was particularly pleasant, with a slight breeze and a variety of birds: sooty oyster catchers, hooded plovers, herons, seagulls. There were lots of nice shells. Near a rocky spit lots of pelicans were resting and I livened things up for them by losing a shoe in quicksand, Tasmanian style.  Nearer The Pines the seaweed was in big clumps, looking like boulders from a distance, but I found there were no rocks involved when I dismantled some of the clumps.

At The Pines (which were clusters of low casuarinas) one map showed a shop but the other did not. So I asked a resident and was happy when she said there was indeed a shop, and we had a discussion about the seaweed. The shop lady said she wasn't turning on the coffee machine on a 30 degree day (although she would have sold me any deep fried food imaginable) and, as often happens when I come across a shop unexpectedly, I didn't know what I felt like, but I definitely didn't feel like a fry up, so I merely got an iced coffee and a cold twix.

After here I entered the Leven conservation park with little seaweed and sweeping bays. The sand was whiter and the water a more attractive blue. The land was really flat. I powered along to get to Burners Beach where I could distantly see what I thought were shacks but turned out to be caravans. At the camping area I chatted with a couple and drank a bottle of their cold water. It was a nice enough campsite with toilets and rubbish bins and sheltered, but I realised the hiker shelter was still 1 km ahead so I went on. That place turned out to be getting the full force of the wind and had water (with a bee colony) but no other facilities and nowhere to swim. So I went back to join the caravans. Good move. I had my swim in the calm waters and sat on the beach to watch the sunset. A stingray swam back and forth in the shallows. 17 kms

March 21 (I am so over these really windy nights with the tent flapping madly however tightly it is tied down.) I walked to the next beach along and sat on some beach steps to have breakfast at Point Souttar. The walk into Point Turton was meant to be on dirt roads but I went on the beach/rocks where I could. Mainly the coastline was low reefs and rock pools. 

Point Turton was another strung out place and on the lengthy walk a man working on his car started chatting, which evolved into him phoning his son for him to talk to me about the trail. I was let in on the secret as to why there are so few signs in some parts of the route.

I checked into the caravan park, had my first shower in 9 days and walked into the town. The shop was not where it was shown on my gps and I started to panic as I was overheated and hungry, but fortunately I managed to find it. I ate the largest donut followed by a pie, with a large coffee (even though it was also 30 degrees today). The pub here was also nice and gave a great view over the 11 kms of beach I would be walking tomorrow. 13 kms

March 22 I think the beach between Point Turton and Hardwicke Bay looked better last night at high tide than it did this morning at low tide. The walk was not the most exciting at the start with too much seaweed, giving way to a wide sandy beach with a view in a giant arc from Point Souttar in the south west to Port Minlacowie in the north, about 33 kms I calculated. I took one break before Hardwicke Bay and reached the town at midday. I checked out the tractors on the beach 

and sat under a shelter to eat lunch. This was supposed to be the end of my hike but I felt I couldn't stay there for a day and a half until my bus and decided to walk on. I continued through the town noticing that many houses had a tractor and boat parked outside.

The walk to Port Minlacowie started on dirt paths because there was too much seaweed on the beach and then I went onto the beach; there was still too much seaweed for comfortable walking but I had to put up with that. Sometimes I walked on the exposed rocky reef decorated with red samphire. I was really hot and tired when I reached the Port Minlacowie campsite after 7 kms and I sat by a cairn in a tiny bit of shade. 

Then something really nice happened. I saw a woman walking over towards me from a nearby house and she said she was wondering if I was the hiker who had recently spoken to her on the phone. I looked perplexed since I so rarely use my phone and she said it can't have been me because she would have recognised my accent. She said the hiker had planned to walk from Edithburgh to Hardwicke Bay and I suddenly realised that, yes, I was that person; I had phoned her to ask a few things about the hike when I was in Adelaide after I found her number on a Walk the Yorke related website and now I recalled she had said she lived just north of Hardwicke Bay. It was strange that it took so long for the penny to drop because I had thought of our slightly unusual conversation many times while I was walking along. I spent the rest of the afternoon with Celia and John, and we went for a swim at the Port Minlacowie boat ramp so that became the furthest point of my hike.

I camped right on the beach where I could hear the waves lapping and watched another sunset. 22 kms

March 23 I got up late and had another coffee with Celia. Then I walked back to Hardwicke Bay, at first along the road for a change. I saw some sheep. Back on the beach I survived the seaweed and walked through the town to the (closed down) shop and the official end of my hike. I had lunch and then a woman very kindly drove me to the caravan park in the larger town of Minlaton (where I could catch the same weekly bus that picks up in Hardwick Bay tomorrow morning) as there was nowhere in Hardwicke Bay where I felt comfortable about camping. 8 kms

Total 251 kms

Overall this was a wonderful hike and way more beautiful than I had expected.



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