Winter provides an ideal opportunity to spend some time walking or riding through the softwood radiata pine plantations of the Kuitpo forest. Rug up and take a walk under the dense canopy formed by the closely planted pine trees. Enjoy the silence, broken only by the birds calling and the sound of your boots crunch along the trail carpeted by a sea of pine needles. Check out the colourful lichen, moss and fungi growing on the rocks and tree stumps.
Toadstools and fungi are common in the forest. Photo: Hazel Cochrane
It's just a 40km drive south of Adelaide to Kuitpo Forest, the first of many plantations established to source a sustainable supply of timber for South Australia. The 3600 hectare community and commercial venture, established in 1898, provides interesting walking and cycling trails, as well as camping and picnic areas. Dogs on leads are welcome in the plantation forest area, although they are not allowed in the 459 hectares of Native Forest Reserves. The Native Forest Reserves contain a diverse range of trees, shrubs and ground cover that provide environment beneficial to native birds, reptiles and mammals.Keeping to the tracks and taking care around muddy and loose surfaces on the trails helps to avoid erosion made by the formation of channels caused by deep foot or cycle tracks.
Visiting the forest during the winter months allows the opportunity to visit the ForestrySA Interpretative Centre, open from April to November, where information about the ecology and history of Kuitpo can be found. Some of the early clearance work was done by convicts from the Adelaide Gaol who were housed in a special wire enclosed compound guarded by wardens and their dogs. The remains of this compound were cleared away in the 1980s.
Clearing land at Kuitpo forest in 1922. B60506 State Library of South Australia
The forest has four multi use trails popular with walkers, cyclists and horse riders,and one short walk/cycle trail. The 1km Chookarloo walk or cycle or the multi-use 3km Forest trail from the Avenues picnic area or the multi-use 2km Eucalyptus trail from Rocky Creek Hut on Razorback Road provide short trip options to explore the forest.
Bordering Kuitpo forest, on the Heysen and Kidman Trail section is the Jupiter Creek gold mine. Once a gold mining town of over 1200 people, following the discovery of gold by Henry Sanders and Thomas Plane in 1868, the remnants of the mine are all that is left of the early days in the area. The Beatrice Chimney still stands as a proud reminder of the mining days and a walk through the New Phoenix Adit Tunnel is a fun way to experience a glimpse of life underground.
The Jupiter Mine borders on Kuitpo forest. Definitely worth exploring. Photo: Hazel Cochrane
For those looking for more of a challenge, the forest has two longer multi use trails, both of which link in with the Heysen and Kidman Trails.
Commencing from Fire Gate KH3 off Peters Creek Road, the Onkeeta Trail is a scenic 10km return trail taking in the Ironbark picnic area and winding along the border of the Mount Panorama Native Forest Reserve. Allow three hours to walk the well-marked trail along service roads and fire breaks. Dogs on a lead can also enjoy a walk on the Onkeeta Trail. From Fire Gate KU2, near Christmas Hill, the 12km Tinjella multiuse trail loops through pines and native vegetation mainly following service tracks.
Take a blanket and pack a winter picnic, a thermos of hot soup and crusty bread or even a sandwich can be enjoyed in one of the picnic areas in the forest. Located 1km north of the Information Centre, The Avenues picnic tables in the 1920s pine and eucalypt plantation are a pleasant lunch spot. Alternatively, you can dine among the 1898 ironbark trees, the oldest timber in the Mount Lofty Ranges, at the Ironbark Picnic area on Stagecoach Lane.
Scarlet Robin in Kuitpo Forest. Photo: Hazel Cochrane
If winter camping is your thing, many options are available as long as you have a camping permit. You can collect wood for campfires from the plantation forest floor near the campsites and picnic areas. The Chookarloo campsite and picnic area, set in the eucalypt woodland is the main campsite with 23 campsites and a wooden shelter. Situated 1.5km from the Information Centre, the site can be accessed from Brookman Road, fire gate CK1.
Horse riders, particularly those on the Kidman Trail, can make use of the horse yards at the Jack's Paddock campsite. Suitable for tents, and with toilet facilities, the camp site is found near Christmas Hill via fire gate CH20.
If a tent is not warm enough for a winter camp, there are three huts available for use in the Kuitpo forest. The Tinjella Hut is a wooden shed, with a horse yard, solar lighting and toilet facilities shared with Jack's campground. Firegate CH23 from Brookman Road will get you to the Tinjella Hut.
Bookings are required for the Rocky Creek Hut situated a13km north of the Information Centre on Razorback Road, Gate RC3. The stone cottage, which survived the Ash Wednesday bushfires of 1983, has sleeping platforms, wood heater, solar lighting and rainwater tank (untreated).
The four roomed stone Woodcutters cottage in the plantation near Brookman Road, can sleep up to eleven people. With solar lighting, a wood heater, four horse yards, outdoor BBQ and toilet facilities, it is a popular choice for small groups. Bookings can be made through Forestry SA.
Group facilities for schools, scout groups and Heysen Trail walkers can be booked for the Rocky Creek Campground. The Information Centre Office, located on Brookman Road, is open from 10am to 12 noon on Friday to Sunday. You can get to Kuitpo Forest from Adelaide, by taking Main South Road, turning off at Clarendon or Meadows or you can use the South Eastern Freeway. Hahndorf, turning off at Echunga and Meadows.
Winter walking is great fun, so put on your jackets, gloves and boots and get out there and start exploring.