Long having been a favourite section of the 1200-km Heysen Trail, the Wild South Coast Way runs from Cape Jervis to Victor Harbor. The 70km stretch is the start or end of the long distance trail, and traverses the rugged coastline of the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia.
Now commonly referred to as the Wild South Coast Way, it is marketed as a nice multi-day hike that people can easily do from Adelaide. While I did it as part my full thru hike of the Heysen Trail, I highly recommend anyone looking for hikes in South Australia to consider the Wild South Coast Way for either an overnight or multi-day adventure.
It’s a spectacular trail, with jaw-dropping views for much of the way and fancy new campsites purpose-built for hikers. It definitely rivals the more-famous Great Ocean Walk in Victoria, so if you’re looking for your next coastal adventure, this should definitely be in consideration. In this blog post, I’m going to detail all you need to know about hiking the Wild South Coast Way from Cape Jervis to Victor Harbor on the Heysen Trail over five days.
Basic Facts About the Wild South Coast Way
Distance: 70 km
Elevation gain: 2,289 m
Time to complete: 3-5 days (5 days recommended)
Start/end: Cape Jervis Ferry Terminal and Kings Beach or The Bluff outside Victor Harbor
Direction: One way in either direction you choose
Walking options: Day hikes, overnight hikes and full one way, multi-day hike
Sections of the Wild South Coast Way
The Wild South Coast Way is broken into five sections, with four designated campgrounds along the trail. While you don’t have to stay at each campsite, it does make it quite convenient to use them to plan your itinerary. Using these four campgrounds as nightly stops, these are the five sections of the Wild South Coast Way (although you can do it in either direction). I’m going to detail my personal experience heading to Cape Jervis over five days from Kings Beach below.
Kings Beach or The Bluff (near Victor Harbor) to Natunyuru Ngawanthi (Sand Dunes Campground)
- Distance: 10 km
- Ascend: 427 m
- Time: 3 hours
As I was on the Heysen Trail at the time, I walked from Robinson Hill and made it to Kings Beach by lunchtime. From there, I officially started the Wild South Coast Way, the final stretch of my SOBO Heysen Trail journey.
We sat and had lunch at the lookout at Kings Beach. If you come from Victor Harbor, you can technically start at The Bluff, which is closer to Encounter Bay. Either way, from Kings Beach the trail skirts around the headland where you’ll be faced with the dramatic view of the Waitpinga Cliffs.
The trail then skirts up and along the cliffs as you get spectacular views in between the scrub. It’s more gentle than it looks though, with an undulating and well-worn trail to follow.
As you get closer to Newland Head Conservation Park, the trail then turns sharply inland where it heads towards the Waitpinga Campground and Beach. The new Wild South Coast Way camp, Natunyuru Ngawanthi (Sand Dunes Campground), is tucked in the bush just before Waitpinga.
Natunyuru Ngawanthi (Sand Dunes Campground) to Kurri Ngawanthi (Creek Campground)
- Distance: 13 km
- Ascend: 423 m
- Time: 4 hours
From Waitpinga Campground, the Heysen Trail heads down to the beach for a short sand walk before heading up and over the next headland and down to Parsons Beach. After a kilometre along the sand of Parsons, the trail then continues hugging the coastline as it takes you up and over the hills.
There’s plenty of nice views to take in as you head up and down to a couple more small sandy bays, with creek crossings. Then, from Coolawang Beach, the trail turns sharply inland. You travel through a valley, following a creek below as you cross private land.
There’s a very steep climb out of the valley and up to a dirt farm road which takes you to Creek Campground, a peaceful oasis.
Kurri Ngawanthi (Creek Campground) to Yapari Ngawanthi (Cliffs Campground)
- Distance: 18 km
- Ascend: 625 m
- Time: 6 hours
From camp, you walk along the dirt road for a little longer, before following yet another fence line across some green hills. The ocean becomes visible again as you crest the last hill, until you realise that the trail continues to follow the fence as it drops steeply below to Tunkalilla Beach.
The steep descent to Tunkalilla Beach is notorious. It seems almost impossible, but is doable thanks only to the wire fence which makes for a convenient handrail as you try to prevent gravity from making you slide all the way down to the beach. (It would be equally slow going up if you’re heading the other way!)
Once down to the beach, you have a 4.5km beach walk to navigate as you cross Tunkalilla. The sand wasn’t overly hard packed when we did it, so it was a tiring section. Once we’d climbed off the sand again though, the trail skirted right along the coast with stunning views all the way to Boat Harbor Beach.
From there, and after another creek crossing, the trail turned inland for the last 4.5km to Tapanappa. It was mostly uphill, although gradual, and we were pretty tired by the time we heard the vehicles and campers of Tapanappa. The walk-in site at Cliffs Campground for us hikers was another few hundred metres further. Hint: Cliffs also has a nice platform viewing area at the far end of camp, perfect for sunset!
Yapari Ngawanthi (Cliffs Campground) to Wuldi Krikin (Eagle Waterhole Campground)
- Distance: 13 km
- Ascend: 500 m
- Time: 4 hours
From Tapanappa, the Heysen Trail follows a popular day hike in the national park to Deep Creek Waterfall. It’s a lovely walk, although it was muddy and slippery after lots of rain when I did it. The trail then crosses the river in front of the waterfall and continues steeply upwards following the natural folds of the landscape.
You’ll then finally come to Trig Campground, before ducking back into the bush. There’s another incredibly steep descent and ascent on a skinny, rocky and overgrown trail, which was extremely slow going for us (pictured below). Our legs were cooked by the time we’d finally made it to the dirt road at the top of the hill which led to Eagle Waterhole Campground.
Wuldi Krikin (Eagle Waterhole Campground) to Cape Jervis
- Distance: 16 km
- Ascend: 570 m
- Time: 5 hours
This final section to Cape Jervis has spectacular ocean views, making it a beautiful walk to the finish. The trail leaves camp and heads down to Aaron Creek, where there are a couple of waterfalls. From there, you climb up to Cobbler Hill, where there’s a drive-in campground.
Another steep descent through thick scrubland leads to Blowhole Beach, one of the prettiest spots on the whole trail and a worthy snack break stop.
From there, the trail continues to follow the folds of the coastline, up and down into little inlets and over hills. While nothing is overly steep compared to the few days prior, it’s still tiring work.
After Fishery Beach though, things are much more flat with incredible views towards the tip of the peninsula at Cape Jervis. It makes for great walking and a nice way to end an epic adventure.
Best Time of Year to Hike the Wild South Coast Way
The Wild South Coast Way is open all year round, with hiking and camping permitted at any time. However, there are definitely some benefits and disadvantages for choosing different seasons.
Summer is not the most ideal time to hike the Wild South Coast Way. Temperatures can get extremely warm, making the hill climbs are sweaty slog. Water tanks are also more likely to run dry, with less rainfall and more people out and about. However, it is a popular time to hike, as this is when people tend to take holidays and head to the coast. Campsites can book out well in advance, especially during school holidays, so plan ahead.
Winter is also not the most ideal time to go hiking on the Fleurieu Peninsula. The southern coast sees some pretty wild weather, including strong winds, constant rain and cold temperatures. However, it does mean that the trails and campsites are quieter and you’ll likely be able to easily book last minute if you get a weather window. Be careful though, as trails can be muddy and river crossings can be difficult after heavy rain. Winter is also the most popular time for thru-hiking the Heysen Trail, so you may see more thru hikers out there.
Spring and autumn are the two best seasons to hike the Wild South Coast Way. These months provide the most balanced weather, with more moderate temperatures for walking. It also tends to be pretty quiet outside of weekends and school holidays, so booking should not be as much of a problem as summer. This is when I would recommend to walk the trail. I did it at the end of September and while it had been a wet winter leaving muddy trails, the temperatures were quite good for walking.
Wild South Coast Way Campsites
Since 2022, SA Parks have built four new purpose-built campgrounds for the Wild South Coast Way. These are walk-in only and are reserved for hikers, whereas before, hikers had to share some of the public drive-in campgrounds in Deep Creek National Park.
The four hike-in campgrounds are:
- Natunyuru Ngawanthi (Sand Dunes Campground)
- Kurri Ngawanthi (Creek Campground)
- Yapari Ngawanthi (Cliffs Campground)
- Wuldi Krikin (Eagle Waterhole Campground)
Using these four campgrounds spreads the 70km one way hike across a nice five days and four nights. Bookings are required for the campgrounds as there are only 10 tent sites available. Bookings can be made via the SA Parks website and the price is $28 per night per site for maximum two people.
The campgrounds have a spacious shelter with sinks, running water, solar powered charging sockets, tables and benches, and hooks for drying. There are also drop toilets with toilet paper. Most of the tent sites are raised wooden platforms, but each campground also has a couple of sites on dirt or sandy ground (for those with non-free standing tents).
If for some reason you don’t want to use the hike-in sites and prefer the vehicle accessible camps, then there are alternative campgrounds you can use that are on the Wild South Coast Way. But these still need to be booked in advance for $24 per night per site for two people. The facilities are just a long drop toilet and water taps, no shelters.
- Waitpinga Campground is just 1km from Natunyuru Ngawanthi (Sand Dunes Campground)
- There’s no alternative for Kurri Ngawanthi (Creek Campground)
- Tapanappa Campground is just 400m from Yapari Ngawanthi (Cliffs Campground)
- Trig Campground is roughly halfway between Yapari Ngawanthi (Cliffs Campground) and Wuldi Krikin (Eagle Waterhole Campground)
- Cobbler Hill Campground is around 2km from Wuldi Krikin (Eagle Waterhole Campground)
If you’re looking to stay somewhere close to the Wild South Coast Way that doesn’t involve camping, then you have a couple of options near the trailheads and a couple of options along the middle sections of the trail.
Cape Jervis Holiday Units || For somewhere close to the southern trailhead at Cape Jervis, these holiday units offer the perfect post-hike rest. They offer comfortable two-bedroom cabins from $165 per night for two people. It’s a short walk from the trailhead and across from the pub, so it’s a convenient location. Check availability here.
Ridgetop Retreats (near Deep Creek National Park) || These architecturally-designed lodges are one of the best places to stay on the Fleurieu Peninsula. Hidden amongst the forest of the Deep Creek National Park, they make a convenient base as you hike a section of the Heysen Trail. The self-contained eco-friendly lodges go for about $275 per night for two people. Check availability here.
Breakaway Farmstay (near Waitpinga and Newland Head) || Conveniently located close to Waitpinga Beach, outside of Victor Harbor, Breakaway Farmstay is a nice retreat before or after your hike. The self-contained two-bedroom cabin, also features a pool table, ping ping table and an indoor pool. Prices start from $210 per night for two people. Check availability here.
The Bluff Resort Apartments (in Encounter Bay near Kings Beach) || Very close to the trailhead at Kings Beach, these apartments offer a chance to spend the night before or after your hike in style and comfort. You can choose between one bedroom suites or three bedroom apartments, some with sea views. Prices start from $160 per night for two people. Check availability here.
Wild South Coast Way Itineraries
While the Wild South Coast Way is well-designed to be completed end-to-end, as a multi-day hike, it’s also possible to cut it into shorter sections. For those short on time, you can easily do an overnight hike with the help of car shuffling or even day hikes if you base yourself at a campground. Here are your options:
This post is focused more on those who want to complete the full 70km trail from Cape Jervis to Victor Harbor. The four walk-in campsites along the trail make it perfect as a four night, five day hike, walking from one to the next each day. Although it is possible to do it quicker.
As you can see from the kilometres per day as listed above, you could skip a camp or two and do it in three or four days instead. However, you should be aware that the steep ascents and descents will definitely take longer than expected. If you wanted to combine two days, then I’d recommend doing Kings Beach (Victor Harbor) to Kurri Ngawanthi (Creek Campground) which would be 23km.
You could also utilise some of the drive-in campgrounds on the trail if you wanted to make up a shorter itinerary than five days.
As the trail is a one way section of the Heysen Trail, it makes doing an overnight hike difficult unless you wanted to do an out and back hike. Some people drive to Cape Jervis and just walk to Yapari Ngawanthi (Cliffs Campground) or Wuldi Krikin (Eagle Waterhole Campground) and back.
If you didn’t want to repeat the same section twice, you could car shuffle as there are multiple vehicle access points along the trail. From Cape Jervis, you could leave a car at any of the vehicle accessible campgrounds like Tapanappa or Trig. This would obviously be difficult for solo hikers to do, unless you wanted to arrange a pickup (more on transport options below).
Check my post on Deep Creek National Park for day hike suggestions, including the Deep Creek Circuit which provides a nice overview of the park and a taste of the trail in a 12km day hike from Tapanappa Campground.
Parking and Transport Options
Getting to the trail is quite easy from Adelaide. The southern trailhead of the Heysen Trail is at Cape Jervis ferry terminal which is 108km south of Adelaide. While Victor Harbor is only 83km south of Adelaide.
Organised Transport Services
Because the Wild South Coast Way is a one way hike, it does make logistics a bit challenging. If you want to complete the full five day or 70km walk from Cape Jervis to Victor Harbor or vice versa, then you may want to organise a pickup and drop-off service to the start and end of the walk.
The Backyard Universe are a local company who offer transport services along the Wild South Coast Way. Either dropping you at the trailhead or picking you up at the end, or even from your accommodation to the trail, they have a minibus for hikers based in Victor Harbor.
Longterm parking can be a bit of a problem at the start and end of the walk. If you plan on doing the full five days, you may have to ask accommodation providers at either Cape Jervis or Victor Harbor.
Otherwise, overnight parking is available within Deep Creek National Park at some of the drive-in campgrounds and access points to the trail.
To avoid the longterm parking issues, it might be easier to use public transport between Adelaide and Cape Jervis or Victor Harbor.
There is a twice daily bus operated by SeaLink between Adelaide and Cape Jervis. While this is generally linked in with the ferry to Kangaroo Island, hikers are welcome to book this bus as well. There is a morning and afternoon bus service in both directions. The ticket costs around $25 one way.
There is also a daily bus between Adelaide and Victor Harbor operated by LinkSA. The ticket costs $28 one way.
The Wild South Coast Way is a relatively safe option when it comes to hiking in South Australia. The trail is well-marked, frequently trafficked and has some decent phone reception. However, it still pays to be aware of safety issues and take precautions.
Always carry a Personal Location Beacon (PLB) in case of emergency, like this Ocean Signal PLB which is small and lightweight.
Here are some important things to consider for your hike:
Phone Signal and Reception
You shouldn’t rely on having phone signal for much of the trail, although you’ll be surprised to find that you will get it at some of the campgrounds. In general, reception is more likely when you are higher up on the coastline or ridges, such as along the Waitpinga Cliffs, and around Tapanappa Campground.
I had phone reception near Natunyuru Ngawanthi (Sand Dunes Campground), but not at the actual camp, and at Yapari Ngawanthi (Cliffs Campground) I had 4G. You can also walk up the hill from Wuldi Krikin (Eagle Waterhole Campground) to find reception if you need.
Snakes and Other Animals
As with any coastal bush walk, snakes are one of the main dangers when it comes to hiking. However, they don’t seem to be as common on this walk as they are on the Great Ocean Walk in Victoria.
Still, you should keep an eye out for them, especially in warmer weather, in spring and summer. I never saw a snake when I did it in September, but I did see one when I did a day hike on the trail in April on a warm day. So, you never know. Always carry a snake bite bandage just in case.
On a more positive note, you’ll also have the chance to spot kangaroos, echidnas, and dolphins around the trail.
Being the southern coast of Australia, the weather conditions are always going to be precarious and challenging at times. While summer can be extremely hot, winter can be bitterly cold with strong wind and plenty of rain.
You should also expect rainy days in spring, with colder mornings in autumn. No matter when you plan your hike, you should pay close attention to the weather forecast and pack accordingly.
We had a mixture of weather in September. From rainy cold days to blue sky, sunny days, so you should definitely ensure you’re prepared for different conditions, with a good rain jacket no matter the season.
Tides and River Crossings
There are several river or creek crossings and a couple of beach walks that you need to be prepared for. While the creek crossings are usually easy enough to cross, after heavy rain they can become more difficult. We were hiking the Heysen Trail during a very wet winter, and so crossings were worse than normal.
One of the creek crossing between Waitpinga Beach and Creek Campground was up to our knees but relatively calm. Whereas, two river crossings between Cliff Campground and Eagle Waterhole Campground were fast running and a bit treacherous but still crossable. Hiking poles really helped here.
In terms of tides, there are a few beach walks, including Waitpinga Beach, Parsons Beach and Tunkalilla Beach along the trail. It’s ideal to avoid high tide, as this can make it difficult. We tried to time our crossings with low tide, even when that meant leaving camp later in the day. We were hoping that it made the sand a bit harder packed too, but that didn’t pan out. Still, low tide is more desirable for safety reasons. Check tide times here.
Being on the Heysen Trail, the Wild South Coast Way is well-marked. You’ll find the Heysen Trail markers at regular intervals, with red arrows. You’ll also get the new Wild South Coast Way signs as well, indicating campgrounds and distances.
The trails are also well-maintained and heavily trafficked compared to other sections of the Heysen Trail, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble with finding your way or following the trail.
Food and Water
You must be self-sufficient when it comes to food on the trail. There are no resupply options along the trail so you’ll have to make sure you carry enough food for your whole multi-day hike. Because this might be around 5 days, you should focus on high-energy, light weight food products that will supply enough calories but not weigh your backpack down too much.
In terms of water, there are rain-fed water tanks at each official walk-in campground along the trail (not at the drive-in campgrounds, except Waitpinga). This means you should have access to water each night, but these tanks can get quite low over summer so it’s wise to ring Parks SA to check levels before heading out.
I recommend filtering the water, even though it’s rain water. I used a Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter, which I loved for its compact size and ease of use.
Read more: How to Plan Your Food for Hiking
What to Pack for the Wild South Coast Way
You must be able to carry all you need to camp and hike out in the bush on this trail, including all your cooking, sleeping and medical essentials. You can check out my full packing list for the Heysen Trail, which will help you plan your hike. Or, check out some of my essentials below.
Sleeping bag | You’ll want a good sleeping bag, one that will keep you warm no matter the temperature and be lightweight enough to pack easily in your backpack. Sea to Summit is one of the best brands on the market and you can’t go wrong with their Spark III bag.
Backpack | A 65L pack is usually a good option for multi-day hikes, especially in mountainous regions when you’re going to be carrying warm gear.
Hiking boots | I’m a bit old fashioned when it comes to my footwear and I can’t hike without my hi-cut boots. I’ve been wearing Keen Targhee boots for over a year now and I’m super happy with how they go on all adventures.
PLB | Any hiker, especially a solo hiker, should carry a Personal Location Beacon. For the cost, these small devices can save your life anywhere, anytime. If you don’t want to buy one, you can hire one from any Macpac store, find out more here.
Power bank | I rely on my phone (maybe too much) while I’m hiking. From Maps.Me to recording videos to listening to music, I can recommend the BioLite power bank which will easily last days off the grid.
Tent | I’ve so far stuck with a light, one-person tent, which has gotten me through plenty of extended hiking trips. There’s plenty of choices out there on the market, but the MSR Hubba Hubba is a high quality option, or this budget one from Sportztrek is good for beginners.
Down jacket | You should be prepared for any weather on mountain adventures, so a down jacket is a must to ensure you keep warm. Mountain Designs Ascend range is lightweight, warm and water repellent.
Read more: A Complete Heysen Trail Packing List