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Hillock's Drive, Butler's Beach

Talk the talk, walk the Yorke

By Max Anderson

Walk the Yorke is Australia’s newest walking trail and one of the country’s longest.

Offering over 500km of continuous walking around the coast of Yorke Peninsula, it’s longer than the Larapinta, The Great Ocean Walk and the Katoomba-Mittagong Trail combined.

The trail opened in December 2015 after a number of existing walks were joined together with a slew of new ones (many negotiated with private land owners) to form a single walking experience. Thanks to a $2.7m investment, the trail also features low-impact signage, 210 interpretive panels and some elegant track-work to make it easy under foot.

Walk the Yorke opens a significant tract of Australian coast to the wider public, indeed some of the beaches on the trail have been little seen, even by the 25,000 folk who live on Yorke Peninsula. And since Yorke Peninsula itself barely registers with people outside South Australia, it’s fair to call it a secret within a secret.

Enthusiastic locals calling themselves Friends of Walk the Yorke are already foot-slogging the whole 500km, a series of 16 contiguous sections that stretch from Port Wakefield in the east, around the entire peninsula to arrive at Moonta in the west.

Chances are, however, that you won’t be able to afford the time nor the shoe rubber. So here are a handful of sections offering highlights and special interests.

Hiking boots at the ready…

If you like it wild

Section: Gleesons Landing to Corny Point (20.5km; 5 hours)

Gleeson’s Landing is a campground and the starting point of your trek.

Don’t expect it to be busy. This far-flung stretch of coast alternates between rock and sand, and the trail is suitably rough and ready, just how the bush walkers like it, a mix of rocky headland and surf-pounded sand.

The coast is exposed to big swells off the Southern Ocean and waves can reach 3-5m. Unsurprisingly it’s famous with experienced surfers; Daly Head, just to the south, is world class and one of the nation’s 16 National Surfing Reserves.

Along the walk, look out for populations of sea lions and raptors, including ospreys. At the end of the walk is Berry Bay, where you’re almost guaranteed to see dolphins: here’s where scores of dolphins have been photographed simultaneously surfing a single wave (with one or two lucky waxheads along for the ride).

The Corny Point lighthouse dates from 1882; it’s a beacon for ships and now for walkers, signalling that nearby Corny Point township is close by – the place to overnight in a holiday house or the caravan park and enjoy a meal at the brilliantly named Howling Dog Tavern.

More information: Yorke Peninsula 

If you want endless white sand

Section: Point Turton to Port Rickaby, beginning at Parsons Beach (9.9km, around 2.5 hours)

Bluff Road out of Minlaton takes you to Parsons Beach. This is where you get your first glimpse of what sets the west coast of Yorke Peninsula apart, namely the sight of white sand on aquamarine waters.

This beach walk offers firm sand and a long eyeful of gorgeous, empty coast.

You’ll encounter dunes, including Big White (climb this for a generous vista over farmland stretching back to Minlaton), a chance of seeing dolphins, Barkers Rocks and The Bluff (home to two ‘davits’ or boat hoists dating from the 1920s). The sleepy township of Port Rickaby has a 121m jetty (1879) and a fine caravan park.

More information: Yorke Peninsula 

If you want something different

Section: Port Wakefield to Port Clinton (32.8km; 8 hours 15 minutes)

The head of the Gulf St Vincent has precious little beach and an awful lot of mangroves. So why would you walk it?

The Friends of Walk the Yorke have reported this as a diamond in the rough (or marsh), a huge stretch of solace through a less-known yet exceptionally important ecosystem.

The mangroves of the Samphire Coast curving around the head of the Gulf are something of a crèche where fish, crab and migratory bird species breed and thrive. (Bird watchers in particular are loving this section.)

The walk starts at Port Wakefield Caravan Park, before doing a long straight on a disused railway line then edging around the 369ha Clinton Conservation Park.

The path winds inland through country with both European and Aboriginal Narungga significance – from Port Arthur (an abandoned settlement with only a jail and dams remaining) and uphill into the evocative Hummocks where you can enjoy views down to the Gulf and the mangroves – what the Narungga people called “the forests of the sea”.

More information: Yorke Peninsula

If you’ve only brought thongs

Section: Port Vincent to Devil Gully (around 4km; one hour), the beginning of the Port Vincent to Stansbury section

Not everyone has packed their slab-soled ankle-supportive hiking boots. So where do you go when you’re more suited to a stroll than a hike?

Grab a coffee-to-go in the popular holiday town of Port Vincent, and head south along the Back Beach which leads to the start of the Ralph Munro Walking Trail.

This lofty cliff-top path rises steeply to look down onto glassy waters (occasionally you can see stingrays below) and leads to a secluded stony beach at Devil Gully. Linger here and have a paddle in the shallows before doing the return walk.

If the tide’s out, you might do some rock-hopping and return via the beach at the base of the cliffs.

Alternatively, gird your thongs and push on further south: the trail passes over more cliffs (Gulf waters on your left, sublime grain paddocks on your right), before descending to a superb beach walk at the base of red cliffs.

By now you’ve probably got the bug – and already planning on buying yourself a pair of hiking boots – slab-soled and ankle-supportive of course.

More information: Yorke Peninsula

If you prefer two wheels

Sections: Ardrossan to Pine Point (18.8km); Edithburgh to Port Moorowie (30.7km); Cape Elizabeth to Balgowan (46km)

Walk the Yorke has been designed for both walkers and cyclists.

About 50 per cent of the trail is shared use, thanks to gravel paths running along clifftops and behind beaches; use of the trail only diverges where the trail meets the sand, however a marked alternative is given for cyclists, usually leading them onto quiet backroads.

Note however, the nature of gravel paths (and some of the rougher goat tracks) mean the trail is definitely suited to mountain bikes, not road bikes.

The three sections selected are for offering plenty of elevated views as well as way points for those all-important “cycle revivers”, strong coffee and sweet pastries.

More information: Yorke Peninsula

If you only do one walk…

Section: Foul Bay to Marion Bay (25.3km, 6 hours 15 minutes)

Bookended by the Foul Bay campground and Marion Bay, you’re in for a six-hour hike that’s heavy on scenery, solace and salt air.

Be warned however, you’ll need a bit of stamina and a backpack with food and water.

You’ll also need some sure footwork to cross a few dunes and work around rock pools before reaching miles of gorgeous beach; and on the headlands, the path is the sort of “goat track” that’s much loved by bush walkers, with terrific views over Investigator Strait towards Kangaroo Island.

The little town of Marion Bay is a welcome sight, an opportunity to rest up and enjoy a well-earned dinner (the Marion Bay Tavern (marionbaytavern.com.au) does really good wood-fired pizzas). You’re also perfectly placed to explore Innes National Park, which is next door.

Among the parks attractions are Cape Spencer Lighthouse, West Cape and Inneston, the latter is a relic gypsum village complete with some very isolated heritage accommodation. A place where you can have the quietest night’s sleep ever.

More information: Yorke Peninsula 

 

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