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Between 1916 and 1950 twelve quartzite quarries were operated in this hilly area overlooking the city of Adelaide. The work was hard and dangerous - four men died in accidents while working there.
Gelignite was used to blast away the side of hills to loosen boulders, then these were broken up into smaller pieces of rock in a crushing plant before being transported away by rail or truck. There was even a railway station there until the 1950s.
The crushed stone had many uses, including by the South Australian Railways for track ballast. Some of the large boulders were used for coastal breakwaters.
Today the reserve is quiet, with few visitors. There are walking trails in to the top of the quarries from High Street (bikes not permitted) and Mead Street (no bikes) in Belair, and fairly easy access to the lower levels from Sleeps Hill Road in Panorama. The trails connect all three entrances, but are mostly for walking only.
If you're riding a bike it is also possible to get into the park from the Lynton - Belair Trail, although in some areas of the reserve cycling and mountain biking aren't allowed.
There are no facilities in the park, only trail and interpretive signs. But the park does have some ruins which are of interest to archaeologists. I uncovered a helpful publication from Flinders University by Christine Bender giving a historical insight to the quarries. While primarily about Stonyfell quarries, there are several pages about Sleeps Hill, with photos which are well worth seeing.
Quarry E is easily accessible by walking a short distance from High Street - the trails here are designated as hiking by the Council, and no cycling or mountain biking is permitted. Hiking implies the trails are more difficult and you need a good level of fitness.
From the fenced edge of the quarry you can stand at the top and contemplate what it must have been like to work there. The views are pretty, and extend uninterrupted to the coast.
It is very quiet and peaceful, with only the occasional bird call to disturb the tranquil atmosphere. It didn't take long for me to see some rainbow lorikeets - they seem to be around most walking trails in the Adelaide Hills.
The walk on to Quarry H becomes slightly more uneven, but there is still a great view from the top when you reach it. It must be a popular spot for someone, as I saw a large lounge sofa chained to a fence, with panoramic views overlooking the quarry
However as you descend the path around Quarry H it becomes increasingly steep and rocky. After wet weather it is also slippery, so good walking shoes are essential (as is drinking water). I can understand the trail's hiking classification, as it was not an easy walk.
The uneven descent caused me to slip a few times, and I wasn't helped by my dog pulling on his lead. After reaching an interpretive sign for Quarry J, it was time for a break. It was then that I decided to see if reaching the crushing plant ruins (near the Adelaide-Melbourne railway line) would be any easier via Mead Street.
The Walking Trails in Mead Street.
View into Quarry K From Near Lookout
In the next of my walks I started the trails from Mead Street, Belair. I could follow the path to the right leading to a lookout at the top of Quarry K, or go down some very worn steps alongside the quarry.
A short way down the steps some dogs started barking, and one of three dogs jumped the property's fence and started circling. It was rather unnerving - even being used to handling dogs, I wasn't prepared for an attack on the steep slope. Fortunately the dog lost interest after I shouted at it, so I continued down into Quarry K where there was another interpretive sign.
There Are About 60 Steps to the Quarry Floor
Walking downhill along a wider path, I could see the railway line and north end of Sleeps Hill tunnel some distance down the hill. After continuing perhaps ten minutes, I came across my first directional sign within the park. Here cycling is permitted, but if you're on a bike you must give way to people walking.
Railway Line Visible Through Tree Tops
Another much steeper trail (the Quarry Loop) is designated for cycling and mountain biking only.
I didn't have to go much further before some ruins were visible, and the ruins of the old quarry crushing plant came into view. I took a while read the interpretive sign and rest while I contemplated the uphill journey back to my car. My fitness isn't what it once was!
After my first two walks, I decided that easier access should be possible and consulted Google Maps. It didn't take long to realise that easier access to the trails was possible from Sleeps Hill Road, Panorama. Like at the other entrances, car parking was minimal, but fortunately I seemed to be the only person around other than a few railway workers.
A pedestrian railway crossing was conveniently located here, and a little way north I could see some ruins of a stone crusher - decorated as usual with colourful street art tags. Further south along the line I could see where the Sleeps Hill railway station used to be, although signs prohibit walking along the railway tracks.
After crossing the railway line, signs at this entrance to the reserve showed both cycling and walking are allowed. There is even a choice of easy or intermediate trails. Both dog and I were elated that we would escape the torture of earlier walks!
The walking trails in were not difficult for cycling or walking, although the intermediate trail I took went over a hill to reach the ruins. On the way we passed close to the Lynton - Belair Urban Trail.
It didn't take long to reach the crushing plant ruins this way and gave me time to explore the area. There are quite a few bits of metal and concrete left around the ruins, and I wondered whether domestic flowers at the site were a relic of gardens nearby.
Not far south along the railway lines the entrance to Sleeps Hill railway tunnel was clearly visible, while across the track there was a secure area well protected with a tall fence and razor wire. It seemed a curious place for it to be, as I couldn't see any buildings or reason for it to be there.
I was pleased to have finally conquered the Sleeps Hill Reserve - or at least a significant part of it. Next time I may take my mountain bike instead, letting me cover ground more quickly. The park is a fun place to visit i I imagine on weekends you would see many more people than I di on a wintry week day.
Take a look, and see what you think. You may even find better trails than I did!
"the entrance to Sleeps Hill railway tunnel was clearly visible, while across the track there was a secure area well protected with a tall fence and razor wire. It seemed a curious place for it to be, as I couldn't see any buildings or reason for it to be there."