The Dutchmans Stern Hike! Southern Flinders Ranges, South Australia
‘Visit the Crazy Horse – but not on Monday’ the log book entry read.
Why on earth, with the magnificent 360° panorama from the Dutchman’s Stern summit all around them, would two German hikers be reminded of an Adelaide nightclub 300-odd kilometres away? (Note to self – what IS the Monday deal at the Crazy Horse, anyway??)
Did they have ANYTHING in common?
The Dutchman’s Stern has dominated its small Conservation Park only marginally longer than the Crazy Horse has dominated the west end of Adelaide’s Hindley Street.
And that’s the only connection I can find between the two!!
Back in 2010 when I first climbed the Dutchman’s Stern, reading the summit log book was almost worth the effort of completing the 10.5 km circuit. A pot-pourri of names, dates, weather reports, wildlife sightings, a surprisingly high number of countries of origin was supplemented by a range of comments both comical and asinine. I’ll let you decide into which category the one above falls!
But disappointingly, 7 years later on my 2nd ascent, the log book comments had lost that edgy zing that made you wonder what a hiker was thinking to record the exact time it’d taken to reach the summit. I mean, I could just write in a random time too, right?
In fact, the log book made for such dull reading, I was forced to admire the view instead. The endless panorama of rolling mountains, rocks and totally deadly-looking roads was a LOT more gripping than the log book. And it’s not every day you see a couple of Wedge-tailed Eagles somersaulting through the air at eye level. Photos? Sorry, no. You’ll just have to make the climb and see them for yourself!
But even back in 2010 a log book full of intriguing oddities wasn’t enough to detract from the jaw-dropping view – almost a complete 360º taking in Port Augusta and the top of Spencer Gulf to the west; Devil’s Peak, Mt Brown and the Richman Valley further south; Quorn (the nearest town) and Wilpena Pound, the Elder and Yappala Ranges to the north.
Although apparently on both climbs we got lucky – according to the log book the view has been blocked by fog more than once! I would have been seriously peeved to climb steadily for 4.2 km to see NOTHING!
Especially when if you CAN see something, it’s such a spectacular, stupendous something!!
The medium-grade hike to the 820m high Dutchman’s Stern summit isn’t so much difficult as lengthy.
Unsurprisingly for a hike up a mountain, it’s a relentless 4.2 km climb to the summit. And if I say it’s not a hard walk, you can depend upon it – I’ve got a well-documented aversion to excessive energy expenditure!
But it would’ve been too embarrassing to record the exact length of time it took to reach the summit in the log book. So no one will EVER know how long it took us – either in 2010 or in 2017!
Let’s just say it’d take some doing to knock me off my ‘world’s slowest hiker’ pedestal!
On our first ascent, Pilchard and I meandered the ever upwardly zig-zagging trail through low grassland, purple with introduced weed Salvation Jane (Echium plantagineum) and dotted with the endemic Quorn Wattle (Acacia quornensis).
Although the 2017 climb followed the same route, it was too early for those flowers, but we got a LOT of grass trees instead.
And a LOT of kangaroos in the grasslands.
I’m not sure what’s better!
The trail then passes through Sugar Gum woodland, before reaching the spring wildflower extravaganza (still flowering in October 2010) of the heathland.
Finally, it rises through the more sparsely vegetated rocky outcrops towards the summit.
And although there weren’t quite as many wildflowers on our June 2017 climb, there WERE lots of grass trees, along with bright red Heath and a few small pink orchids. Apart from a few landslips, the track was almost exactly as we remembered. And it was nice to know that the passage of 7 years hadn’t slowed us down.
Even the scary bit (if walking a dodgy narrow track along a steep hillside with the ever-present danger of plunging down a gorge gives you the cold shivers like it does me) was still doable – just as well, because it’d be a long way back round the other way if I’d lost my nerve.
After climbing the 4.2 km to the summit and sighting the resident Peregrine Falcon – no sign of the eagles in 2010 – we chose the longer 10.5 km loop for our return.
Take the shorter 8.4km return route if you don’t mind retracing your steps. The 6.3 km return route we selected passes through Drooping Sheoak and Sugar Gum woodlands into the steep, scary, scree-lined slopes of Stony Creek gorge before returning to the trail head.
And if birding’s your thing, Chestnut-rumped Heathwren’s (subspecies pedleri) appearance ALMOST made up for the Gilbert’s Whistler absence in 2010 – but we went one better in 2017 and saw them both.
Just between us though, choosing between a summit view free of fog and a rare bird sighting is a no brainer. I’d go for the view any day!
Just don’t tell birdo Pilchard!!
This post about hiking the Dutchman’s Stern first appeared on my blog in 2010 after our first ascent. In 2017 we climbed it again so I’ve updated and re-posted the original to include updated information along with our most recent experience. AND new photos!
Hiking the Dutchman’s Stern, just one of several walks in this former pastoral lease and also intersected by the Heysen trail, is an awesome way to experience this part of the Flinders Ranges. It was just as good the second time around 7 years later. Check it out!