It's a bumpy dirt road that leads to the car park in the Dutchmans Stern Conservation Park, about 334km north of Adelaide. To your right, are the old Shearers' Quarters and the old Homestead. To your left is the information board that will help you decide how you will spend the next few hours.
The trailhead and car park in the Dutchmans Stern Conservation Park. Photo: Hazel Cochrane
The walking trail starts at the car park, your options are; a 5km return walk to the Terrace Viewpoint, the 8.4km return walk to the summit and, for the dedicated walker, the 10.6km circuit walk to the summit and beyond.
Whatever you choose, working up a sweat will be part of the deal, so make sure you have plenty of water and sun protection, as you leave the car park.
The start of the trail is a level dirt path, well marked with yellow markers every 200 metres. Photo: Hazel Cochrane
As you leave the trailhead following a narrow dirt path winding through the Quorn Wattle bushes and blue gums, the rugged red cliff faces of the imposing 820-metre quartzite rock formation, will dominate your view. Historical information states that Matthew Flinders named the Dutchmans Stern, due to its resemblance to the stern of an Old Dutch sailing ship. With a distinct lack of Dutch sailing ships that are around today, it is difficult to compare but no matter which way you look at the bluff, it fails to resemble a ship. You may see it differently.
If you are short on time or new to bushwalking, the 5km return walk to the Terrace Viewpoint will provide you with great views with minimal incline and you'll be back in the car in about two hours.
The first kilometre of the trail is an easy walk through a reasonably flat area that was once pastoral land. Following the distance markers located every 200 metres, you'll reach checkpoint 2, which intersects with the Heysen Trail and provides a good view of the Mt Arden reservoir. Fed by several creeks, the reservoir was built in the 1880s to supply water for Quorn and the Northern Railway.
As you look upwards, you'll know a gentle climb is about to begin. From here, the trail zigzags up the hill, toward the Terrace Viewpoint about 2.5km from the trailhead. As you climb toward the terrace, you might notice that the vegetation changes. Encouraged by the rain and mist captured in the higher slopes, the Sugar Gums become more prevalent. The stone cairn near the Terrace Viewpoint overlooks stunning views that photographers will love.
A stone cairn has the best view from the Summit. Photo: Hazel Cochrane
If you decide to continue to the summit, you'll need an extra two hours and some serious leg power to ascend the 820 metres to checkpoint 3. For your effort, you'll be rewarded with fantastic views of Spencer Gulf, Willochra Plain, the Devil's Peak and Wilpena Pound. If you're lucky you may see a wedge-tailed eagle soaring on the updraught caused by the cliffs or the peregrine falcons that nest on the cliffs.
It's a long way down. Take care!. Photo: Hazel Cochrane
Now that you have summited the Dutchmans Stern, you can return to the trailhead or if you have a good level of fitness, have an extra hour to spare and enjoy a walk through the scrubland and rocky gorges, continue along the trail to complete the circuit.
Views from th Dutchmans Stern. Photo: Hazel Cochrane
After reaching the intersection with the Heysen Trail at checkpoint 4, follow the trail past the remains of an old sled, veering left through the Blue Gums and Mallee Box trees that are generally found on the lower slopes. If you love wildlife, western grey kangaroos can often be seen grazing in this area and red kangaroos are sometimes found on the western side of the Stern. Although conservation efforts have resulted in an increase in the number of yellow-footed rock wallabies, they are difficult to find and even more difficult to photograph. As you complete the circuit, passing checkpoint 2, check out the birds swooping the dam for insects and then return along the trail to the trailhead.
Spend the night in the Shearers' Quarters. Photo: Hazel Cochrane
If you are curious about the buildings near the car park, walk the 200 metres to the 1950's Homestead and the Shearer's quarters, which are available for hire if you'd like to spend a night or two in the Conservation Park. The self-contained Dutchmans Stern Homestead, with two bedrooms, a lounge and kitchen can sleep up to 6 people. Imagine having a cold beverage on the veranda overlooking the rugged bush landscape after an invigorating walk.
If you need more space, the Shearers' Quarters might be more your style. With three bedrooms, a lounge, kitchen, shower and toilet facilities, the building can sleep 9 people and has a fridge and a barbecue.
The Dutchmans Homestead is available for hire. Photo: Hazel Cochrane
Whichever option you select, you'll need to bring your own linen and cooking utensils. At the time of writing the hire fee for each building was $195 a night; prices and bookings can be made through DEWNR.
Alternatively, you can camp in the park on the western side of the Dutchman Range, outside of the Fire Danger Season. Camping fees do not apply in the park.
Walking in the park in the cooler months is recommended, particularly in spring when the wildflowers are blooming. You'll need appropriate clothing and footwear, as the terrain can be uneven and the climate can change rapidly.
It's a long dirt road to the Dutchmans Stern, but worth it. Photo: Hazel Cochrane
It is a long, bumpy road to get to the park, but if you are travelling near Quorn, head out of town for about 3km on the Arden Vale Road, and follow the signs. It doesn't look like a ship's stern to me, but you can judge for yourself.
I don't know whether or not you still can but you used to be able to go in there on privately operated tours. We did one by a company that owned a 4WD. We stayed on designated tracks. The Driver who had worked for National parks assocated with Wildlife had a special permit to drive in there, respecting the natural environment. We didn't walk onto the actual vegetation at all