Thru Hiking the Lavender Federation Trail
Interstate walkers Ross Kendall (Ballina), Roger Edwards (Canberra), Alan Gillard (Ballina) recently completed the Lavender Federation Trail, from North to South and have been kind enough to share thier great story with us.
Alan, Roger and I are all in our sixties and doing things that we never had time to do during our working days. Since 2009 we have hiked a long trail every year, including the Larapinta Trail, Bibbulmun Track, Great North Walk, Australian Alps Walking Trail and the Heysen Trail. I really enjoyed the Heysen Trail because of its diversity and its length of 1200 km: when it comes to trails, the longer the better!
From dropping into the Heysen Trail website, I became aware that a new trail, the Lavender Federation Trail was under construction. I found the website for the trail and watched for the anticipated opening day of the last section of the trail. It finally came in May, 2018 so it was time to make plans.
By its nature The Lavender Federation Trail has been set up to cater mainly for day walkers. No camping is allowed anywhere along the length of the trail, water sources are few and far between (two tanks along the entire length of the trail and few creeks with potable water), accommodation in many villages is unsuitable or non existent and resupply options along the trail are limited. No problem! We are from NSW and ACT so section hiking was not an option. We would start at one end and finish at the other. Thats my preferred way of hiking a trail anyway. One or two days on the trail is like taking nibbles from a cake - I want to eat the whole cake in one sitting! Apart from that there are many other advantages to thru hiking. You become more in tune with the landscape and the trail. The trail becomes your friend, leading you forward to shelter, food and water and at some stage, the end. Looking for trail markers becomes second nature after a week on the trail. At an intersection, you know where to look for the markers. Then there is the unfettered feeling of freedom, with everything you have and need on your back and the open trail in front - its exhilarating!
We usually time most of our hikes to start in late winter or early spring to take advantage of winter rains bringing water to creeks and tanks. There is also the advantage of generally green and lush countryside, wildflowers in the bush and flowering plants in gardens in track towns. Our start date on the Lavender Federation Trail was decided on: 11 September, 2018. We decided to start at Clare and finish in Murray Bridge in order to catch the Overland train from Murray Bridge to Melbourne, from where we could all fly home.
11 September - Clare to Watervale 23 km
An unhappy day in history but a happy day for us. We arrived in Clare the previous night and had a comfortable evening in Clare Hotel. After dinner we went for a walk to find the trackhead but failed miserably. The next morning we had more luck, asking a local who directed us to the Reisling Trail trackhead, which now serves for the start of the LFT. We took some photos and headed off shortly after 7am, straight down Lennon Street, under the bridge and on our way. We passed the sports ground and climbed up Essington Avenue and along Neagles Rock Road.
In no time we were walking foot track up over Neagles Rock and down to the next valley and along Bennys Hill Road. We now walked through farmland with the road lined with beautiful old gum trees. We saw our first vineyards and kangaroos - many more of both to be seen in the next few weeks.
The trail entered Spring Gully Conservation Park with a view towards Yorke Peninsular, but not today. The clouds were ominously building up to the SW but the view was still good with fields of canola, brilliant yellow in the sun patches, way below in the valley. The Cascades Walk took us to Spring Gully, a fold in the small mountains with a trickle of a creek flowing through it. We then picked up Wymans Hike which climbs out of the gorge, through the forest and descends into the next valley. In amongst the many vineyards, we saw a bearded dragon and many blue tongue lizards whose rude form of defence is to poke their tongue at you. The severely pruned vines are showing no signs of life but blossoming fruit trees line the gravel roads that we walk along.
For the last part of todays walk, the LFT dropped onto the Reisling Trail and followed this old rail corridor into Watervale. Along the way we pass the village of Penwortham, founded by John Horrocks and see the 400 year old tree which he lived in before building his hut. The trail here is lined with pine and olive trees and appropriately, lavender bushes. As the trail approaches Watervale, a water tank is passed. We eye this as a possible camping site but move on into town and over a beer at the pub, we are told that some nasty weather is moving in. We call every B & B in town but they are closed, full or not answering. Over another beer we decide to fall back on the old South Australian standby, the local oval. There are toilets and water and a three sided covered shelter, under which we set up our tents, just prior to the heavens opening up. Theres nothing so restful as the sound of rain on a tin roof.
We explored the town with its many old buildings, including a very early gaol behind the pub, the Stanley Grammar School building and the small museum building. Afternoon tea was at the general store and dinner at the pub. In the cold and gloom we headed back to the warmth of our tents.
12 September - Watervale to Mintaro 15 km
The general store opened at 8am so we had a leisurely pack up. It was worth waiting for as the friendly couple cooked us up a great breakfast involving lashings of bacon and eggs! Don’t miss it! We tottered off up the hill past a large winery and fields of broad beans. We were grateful to be climbing onto the flanks of Mt Horrocks because a wind was blowing direct from the Antarctic. As we climbed higher there were some great views of Watervale and the surrounding countryside. Away to the south it was raining so the wet weather gear was kept handy.
The trail climbs to a shoulder of Mt Horrocks. Its a shame that it doesn’t go to the top of this mountain but today, the shoulder was enough. The icy wind up there frequently blew us off course and it was clearly no place to linger. Walkers here are asked to “Follow Fence” as the trail descends to and through fields of wheat, canola and broad beans. We rounded up a flock of sheep as we moved forward - two of their number had strayed into an adjoining wheat paddock and bleated pathetically to rejoin their friends.
We met a group of 5 day walkers from Adelaide who were dressed for the Antarctic. Its always nice to meet other track users because almost without exception, bushwalkers are good people.
Along Kadlunga Road we started to see some drystone walls, no doubt built when labour was cheap and rocks were plentiful but an absolute ornament to the landscape compared to the modern barbed wire fence. Beekeepers were working the hives near Kadlunga Station and it occurred to me that this really is a land of milk and honey. A bit further on the old slate mine is still in operation. Suddenly slate is everywhere and I long to take several pieces back to my garden for stepping stones but my pack is heavy enough as it is. This is slate of renown, having been used in many early, prominent Adelaide buildings.
We arrive in Mintaro and face the same challenge in finding a B & B. Two night minimum, booked out, no answer, pub has no rooms! At the oval we set up tents again in shelters which face the basketball courts. We walked around this town which has so many old stone buildings, many restored, others in disrepair, some dating back to the 1850s. There must be restrictions on what can be built here because everything looks old!
We ate at the Magpie and Stump Hotel and were mighty unwilling to move from their cosy fire but eventually walked back to our tents in the cold.
13 September - Mintaro to Manoora 21 km
A thick layer of frost covers the oval the next morning. We have the right gear to deal with most inclement weather short of a blizzard, so a frost is no problem.
We left early and being such a small town, were soon making our way through flocks of sheep and fields of grain. On Hare Road a young fellow came running out to see us then ran back inside to get his sister. As we passed, spaced out, they had conversations with each of us. I think they would have preferred to sling on a pack and join us than the other option of going to school. A few kilometers further on we thought we heard more childrens voices but it turned out to be a flock of ducks flying overhead and talking to each other.
We passed Martindale Hall, a grand old homestead with many outbuildings, now set in a Conservation Park and open to visitors, but unfortunately it didn’t open for a few more hours. We caught glimpses of it from the track up ahead. The trail from here was largely through rural country along quiet back roads. We encountered no traffic on this section where huge gum trees lined the roads. We climbed Wirrila Road where we observed on the ridge on the other side of the valley, a windfarm with at least 30 turbines. In the valley below was the town of Manoora.
Descending to the valley floor via a road corridor we crossed a forlorn railway and came to a couple of well maintained old stone buildings, one being the Claremont homestead. In a field was an old bullock dray with two massive mallee roots on board.
We took the spur trail into Manoora, where we knew that the only accommodation was at the oval. We later found out that a B & B has opened in the town. We went into Centenary Park and met Nathan and Brenton who were unloading supplies for the evening. The sports club was to be hosting the U14 football and U17 netball teams in their final training sessions before grand finals that weekend. The bar was to be opened and schnitzels were on the menu. Bushwalking heaven! We quickly asked Nathan if 3 extra schnitzels could be arranged. Nothing was a problem and we were soon installed in the Visitors dressing room, pending Pats approval, enjoying a hot shower. Pat soon arrived to see if we were comfortable. We had a lovely night drinking beer, eating schnitzels and talking with locals. It was one of those impromptu evenings which happen sometimes when everything in your schedule is not planned to the last degree. Thanks Pat and Nathan for the hospitality!
Enjoying Manoora hospitality at the Manoora Clubrooms on the 13th September 2018
Next morning I was keen to see the Monoora Railway Station. A local was in the park walking his dog and he gave me directions. He was irate that the Saddleworth RS had been bulldozed by the multinational company whose land it was on and hoped that something could be done for Manoora RS. I found it and it is a beautiful old building, overgrown and derelict, but maybe it will have a second life. Nearby was an iron reservoir for steam engines to top up water. Also of interest was the Institute building in the main street.
14 September - Manoora to Webb Gap 21 km
Walking out of Manoora we returned to the main trail and were soon attacked by a magpie, for the first and only time on the trail. it was a half hearted attempt, unlike one on the Heysen Trail, years before, which attacked me repeatedly for over 1km. Along Palmers Road we crested a small range then went down to a valley floor, past a huge electrical sub station and into the town of Waterloo. This is the birthplace of Tom Cruse, a well known pioneer mailman who delivered the mail in far flung localities for years in his trusty and well loved truck. A park in town commemorates his life and serves as a trackhead for the LFT. Here I met some day walkers from Adelaide, who we ran into later in the day at the base of the Tothill Range. The old pub has a collection of pioneer tools and rural memorabilia, but sadly no beer any more!
We crossed the Light River, really just a string of puddles and climbed up to Quin Gap, which cuts through the range with the windfarm on it. The final part of the climb was steep but short and we soon had great views up close of these massive turbines in motion. The turbines are strung out along the ridgeline running North-South. The trail took us over a stile, onto private property and sidled cross country under the base of the windfarm for a few kilometers, before reaching Moller Gap and descending to the next valley floor.
We met the Adelaide day walkers at the intersection of the LFT and the Heysen Trail. We started the climb to Webb Gap, at the top of the Tothill Range. Again it is a steep climb towards the top and we were happy to see the stile at the top where a short trail leads to Webb Gap campsite on the Heysen Trail. Tents were set up, water was in the tank and dehydrated dinner was soaked in the billy to prepare it for heating later on.
I went for a short walk behind the campsite to the top of the range where there is a large area of grass trees in amongst the forest. The view takes in the windfarm on the ridge opposite as well as Lake Apoinga, which appeared to be dry.
We ate dinner, poked sticks into a fire and settled into our tents on an unusually mild and still night. 15 minutes later the wind began to blow, gradually rising to something like gale force. Rain belted down on the tents which were dancing around above us like whirling dervishes and threatening to be blown down. The temperature dropped dramatically indicating that perhaps some of that rain was hail. We spent a largely sleepless night propping up our tents with our arms and hoping for an improvement.
15 September - Webb Gap to Point Pass 16 km
The improvement didn’t come and by first light I was ready to get off the mountain and save my tent from more stress. Another shower of rain passed then it was time to move. Emerging from the tent it was cold and the gale force wind was still blowing. Breaking camp was done carefully to ensure that none of our gear was blown away. Tents had to be folded away further down the range where the wind wasn’t quite so frantic.
Thermals, trousers, jumper and down puffer were required this morning and I was still cold! We moved off the top of the range just after 7am. The effect was immediate with a relenting of the wind but not much change in the temperature. We started walking through the Peppermint Springs station with the most numerous stock being mobs of kangaroos. The trail followed a steep creek bed down to the main house of Peppermint Springs station. We slowly shed some of our clothing as the day went from frigid to just very cold but could never escape the howling wind which kept finding us all day.
A short easy climb through lightly timbered fields brought us to the top of the Bluff Range with excellent views down to the valley below where Robertstown could be seen in the distance. Along the top of the Bluff Range the trail took us. The wind up there was ridiculous, coming in strong and fast from the SW into our faces and constantly blowing us sideways. We reached Inspiration Point and had a rest to admire the view of the wide valley below then walked another 4km along the ridge top, seeming to get no cover from the winds howling off the Tothill Range.
A spur trail left the main trail to take walkers into Point Pass. There was no accommodation at Point Pass but the pub was said to be still open and that was good enough for us. At this point a glance to the SW told me to get ready for rain. I fitted my pack cover and wriggled into my raincoat as the rain and hail hit us. Alan and I found shelter behind a couple of gum trees but Roger, out in the open on the trail 500 m back, got hammered!
The trail down to the valley floor was steep. At the end of it we passed a car graveyard then turned onto Stock Route Road which took us into Point Pass. Its a sleepy little village with only one business, the pub. We clustered around the fire in the pub and tried unsuccessfully to contact Di, who looks after the oval in town. The afternoon wore on and we settled into the pub talking with Kelley, the barmaid and Mark, a grape pruner who bemoaned the fact that overseas workers are now brought in to prune grapes. Mark had a wealth of funny stories to tell, a real bush raconteur!
Its a small town and word got around that we were in town. Di turned up to take us to the nearby oval where she opened a room for us to sleep in, turned the power on and cleaned the mens toilets. Thanks Di! On the way to the pub for dinner we toured the town which didn’t take long as it is not much more than a one street town, but does have some beautiful buildings including the Manse. The meals at the pub were terrific and we walked back to the oval at 8pm in the deep freeze.
16 September - Point Pass to Eudunda 15 km
Overnight rain on the tin roof was a welcome sound. More welcome was the dawning of a clear, sunny day, our first for a few days. Breakfast was light because I was still digesting last nights excellent meal from the pub. Quick pack up, then we turned off the power, crossed the oval, hopped the fence and were back on the spur trail. The spur trail wound through a farm uphill to the top of the Bluff Range again, then continued south along a road which had been planted along its edges with attractive mallee trees. These were in contrast to the hills which have been cleared of almost all vegetation.
At the end of Scenic Road the trail took us through a small forested area before emerging into wheat fields and sheep paddocks across the undulating hills. To the east were good views of the rolling green bald hills in the morning light. All around were kangaroos, wombat holes and rabbits and even the odd fox.
We came to the rail corridor from Eudunda to Hampden. This railway is no longer used but the corridor carries LFT hikers for the final 3.5km into Eudunda. Walking through the streets of Eudunda we admired many of the old houses and decided that garden ornaments are popular here. The best was a full size concrete lion lying on a bed of river rocks with a thatched canopy overhead to keep him cool, but there were many others.
Almost the first business we saw in Eudunda was the bakery. Bakeries are our favourite places when we get to a town but we didn’t know if this one would be open on a Sunday afternoon. Like many other businesses, the bakers names are German and the street names and War Memorial Honour Roll also reflect a heavy German presence from the early days of settlement.
At the Point Pass Hotel, Mark had recommended to us to stay at the Eudunda Hotel Motel. Walking into the bar on this cold day, we headed for the fire and the publican earned our everlasting gratitude by presenting us with a glass of his own concoction of port, whisky and brandy - thanks Kieran! The motels laundry was opened to us and we washed clothing and bodies; sorely needed both of them! The motel was comfortable and the meals at the pub were great so we settled in for a couple of nights to lick our wounds, resupply for the 3 day run to Truro and give the bakery a workover.
18 September - Eudunda to Footeside Farm 14 km
We enjoyed our day off in Eudunda, climbing to the lookout, exploring the Colin Thiele connection and admiring the architecture of the town. I never get tired of looking at those wonderful old SA buildings, among them Gosling Cottage, most of Gunn Street and the railway station. In the town gardens is a wonderful collection of glazed tiles telling pioneers stories and town history and describing flora and fauna - not to be missed! Also of interest, 2 P76s in the yard opposite the motel!
Rested, refreshed and resupplied we headed out through the caravan park, showground and golf course on our way to Truro. From the amount of golf balls in the adjoining sheep paddock, there must be some wayward golfers in Eudunda. The trail followed fences and old farm roads and on to Woithe Road, heavily timbered but now of a mallee type of eucalypt and only passable in dry weather, except by hikers. The trail today passed several ruined stone cottages and one in the process of being restored.
The road came to a creek crossing and we followed the creek upstream through a wombat playground peppered with holes. We walked through the middle of a wheat field for 500m before turning onto and following Foote Creek for 2km. The dry creek was surrounded by forest which was pleasant to walk through. The trail intersected with Eudunda Road but we walked through a field for a short distance up to Footeside Farm, a lovely old stone homestead with many outbuildings. We had arranged accommodation and dinner here but found no-one home. Peter soon arrived with his two dogs and gave us a tour of the property which offers accommodation and also produces Australian native foods.
We settled into the barn and were taunted for the rest of the day by the roast lamb which was slow cooking for us in the kitchen. A small section of the LFT is over the other side of Eudunda Road and we decided to walk that section in the afternoon. The trail continued along a tunnel under Eudunda Road, past some ruins and uphill to a rocky hilltop surrounded by wheatfields. Peters dog Pip wanted to go with us but obediently returned home when we told her to. A couple of day hikers were met in this section and reported nearly being blown off Leakes Lookout, which we tackle tomorrow.
Back at the farm we had fun exploring the cornucopia of farm machinery, tools and junk in the many outbuildings. Peter clearly doesn’t throw much out. Showers interrupted our forays but we were treated to a wonderful rainbow. Peter visited us at 5.30pm and left a bottle of port. Michelle came soon after to organise our dinner which was magnificent. Thanks Peter and Michelle! We retired to the barn thinking that life was pretty good.
19 September - Footeside Farm to Dutton 26.5 km
Over breakfast we contemplated the fiery sunrise, which doesn’t auger well, and a long day ahead climbing over the ranges. Pip, the dog, the farm cat and Peter were on hand to say goodbye as we set off in the sun with our old enemy the Antarctic wind blowing steadily from the west.
The trail started on roads today then wound through paddocks climbing up hills and down into gullies in a roller coaster motion that gradually climbed higher. The trail turned off Smith Road to follow a creek through private property in lightly wooded grazing land. It picked up Smith Road again at the “Shannon” property where a couple of friendly horses wanted some attention.
Leakes Pass Road climbed upwards for about 3km. A short way up this road we could see the rain bearing down on us quickly and just had time to get the wet weather gear on. It looked as if this rain was set in for the day but the wind blew it away in 15 minutes so that at the top of Leakes Pass Road, we enjoyed warm patches of sunshine in sheltered spots.
Leaving Leakes Pass Road we followed a dirt track over a hilltop and down to a creek, cut deeply into the landscape. This creek had the first water that I would call drinkable that we had seen in 8 days. As we approached the prominent Leakes Lookout, the forest became thicker with some native pines amongst the gums. The final climb up to Leakes Lookout was rocky and steep but not very long. The wind was strong and cold at the lookout so we took shelter on the lee side and sat down in the sunshine to enjoy our lunch and the terrific view. We could see Eudunda, Dutton and the Southern Ocean and way below in the valley a farmer, checking a pump in a dam.
Coming off the mountain we walked through a lambing paddock with several lambs which had obviously been born that day. Anxious mothers stood by their lambs which were struggling to work out how to use those four gangling legs under them. We were still climbing in and out of gullies but now heading downhill. Late in the day, after more showers, the sun came out and the hills that we had hiked and the extensive fields of flowering canola looked superb.
We arrived in Dutton and made our way to St Johns Lutheran church for a look at the historic old building. While there we noticed a water tank and filled our bottles and bags as we had been told that there is no town water in Dutton. Thank you St John! Our campsite for the night was recommended to us by Trevor, the postmaster at Eudunda, who is a trail maintainer. It is at a bend of Habel Street about 500m east of Dutton. In a small patch of woodland is a table and BBQ set up for picnickers. We moved in and pitched our tents as much out of the wind as we could. Some patches of sunshine were enjoyed in the later afternoon and we cooked only our second evening meal on this walk.
20 September - Dutton to Truro 21 km
Misty rain hit us at some stage during the night, along with some heavier showers, but the wind soon moved them on. We left early, wrapping up a wet tent for only the second time. The trail follows Hebel Road which gives way to a track which follows Pine Creek. The paddocks gradually became stripped bare of all vegetation and the rocks around the creek were covered in lichen - its a barren landscape apart from the immediate area around the creek. A 3 metre waterfall had a thin flow of water cascading over. The creek was covered with spiky tussock grass which punctures the skin and would be perfect habitat for snakes but not today, its way too cold!
A range loomed up in front of us but we don’t have to climb it as the creek had cut its path through the range at a place called “The Gap”. We crossed the creek a few times and came to a fence heading south. I heard machinery and walked towards the sound but its only the humming of the strong wind in the straining fencing wire. The barren landscape reminds me of Spaghetti Westerns without the cacti.
We came to a drystone wall which headed directly uphill back over the range. There was no escaping the climb this time and it was a reasonably long one into the wind. At the top of the range I could see Leakes Lookout to the north and Truro to the SW. The trail followed farm roads and fences then crossed the busy Sturt Highway and traversed an area of faint tracks which rose to a high point. From there the trail fell away across lichen covered rocks to the gorge of Middle Hut Creek. This was a highlight of the day as we followed the gorge for about 1km with some large pools of water. A quick dip might be refreshing but I would need another 20 degrees of temperature. Lookouts at the start and finish of the gorge gave good views. Near the end of the gorge two pale brown kangaroos were drinking from the creek. Their unusual colour, almost albino, and their high spirited antics in the bright sun, form a memorable impression.
The trail climbed up to Truro past the old Wheal Barton copper mine, long since closed. Its a great feeling to walk into a new town on a sunny afternoon, knowing that you have reached it entirely on your own efforts. Even better to find that Truro has an excellent bakery. Accommodation is sorted out at the Weighbridge Motel, then some serious business is attended to at the bakery! To spread ourselves around we decide to eat that night at the pub.
There is no general store or supermarket at Truro so we raided the limited stocks at the motel, which has a cafe and store attached, and the service station to buy enough supplies to get us though to Springton.
Ed: This amazing story is only part done. You have just followed the trio for 3 maps - starting at Clare - map 6 and pausing the story here at the end of Map 4 - Truro. We still have Truro to Murray Bridge to go - another 3 maps of this exciting journey.
We pondered at what to do at this point, the choices were to put the second half of the journey in the next Footsteps, which might be several months away - or for those keen to hear the rest of it (like me) - to put the whole story on the website (where it would reside at a later date anyway). I have chosen to put it on the website now