by Jim McLean

Jim McLean, the visionary and trail maker of the Adelaide100 loop trail

As a kid on Sunday School Picnics in the Belair National Park, I was dubbed “Mountain Goat” for the ease with which I scaled steep slopes to explore the holes in the rock which we called “caves”. It was then that I fell in love with the Adelaide Hills. It was the 1950s. On weekends and public holidays people dressed up and headed in droves by steam train, manually operated buses and bone shaking family cars to the picnic grounds of Belair, Loftia Park, Mount George and Morialta. You could find a nook in a gully with a shack and a waterhole and stay and swim over the weekend.

In my youth, through the Boys’ Brigade and the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, I was exposed to multiday group-walking. We started with two days on the Fleurieu Peninsula, progressed to three days in the northern Mount Lofty Ranges, and finished with four days in the northern Flinders.

In adult years, friends and I got away when we could. We never tired of the “at peace with the world feeling” that comes with being in unspoilt outdoor environments and being fit and healthy. Central mountains of Tasmania, hinterland forests of southern NSW, logging country of Victoria and the emerging long distance trails at home enduced perfect senses of remoteness even when we knew civilisation was just on the other side of the range or the forest.

I did the Yurrebilla Trail in three one-day walks. I did the Lavender Federation Trail (Murray Bridge to Clare) from Murray Bridge to Springton in two three-day walks. In May 2012 I completed the Heysen Trail. It had taken 22 years, walks of one to six days, and eleven different companions in all.

Trail visionary, Jim McLean, installing an arrow decal in Belair National Park

It was 3.00am in July 2012 with the Heysen Trail fresh in my mind when an idea popped into my head. When that happens I can’t let it go. I jumped out of bed, went to the home office, spread the maps out, and started looking for a way around the suburbs and hills of Adelaide.

Australia is a big country. Just getting to its best walking environments can take significant energy, resources and time. Adelaide is globally unique. It is on a small piece of plain wedged between the coast to the west and the hills to the east. For a dry climate, significant waterways find their way from the hills to the sea to the north and the south. How many other places have this variety on environment so close to the CBD?

A loop trail taking in coast, hills and fresh waterways could be accessed from the backdoors of a large population of curious, outdoors thirsty, health conscious people. It couldn’t be too hard to make. In a couple of years, I could put a rough line-map out to the walking community to do with it as it wished, and I could wash my hands of the project.

It soon became evident it wasn’t that easy. I needed help. The Friends of the Heysen Trail and the Warren Bonython Heysen Trail Foundation were very welcoming, they understood everything about making and managing a signature trail and were very good at it, but they had their plates full. SA Recreation Trails Inc (SARTI) were making the Lavender Federation Trail. They built and are managing a trail from scratch so they knew what they were doing. They were extremely helpful, totally authoritative, but they had their hands with the Lavender Federation Trail. The Department for Environment and Water (manager of the Heysen Trail) and the SA Tourism Commission had other agendas. I tried smaller walking groups and trail makers, anyone I could find.

I toted my idea around hoping for a glimmer of break-through support. In the end it was John Eaton of Walking SA who listened and provided the encouragement I sought. Although no longer officially with Walking SA he was still heavily involved in walking initiatives and was strongly enthusiastic for the Adelaide100, as it came to be known. I was on a range of walking councils, boards, and committees. I joined the Board of Walking SA as well. The Adelaide100 became a Walking SA project in 2015. The first portion, 1.6km of unmade road reserve at Norton Summit known as Monument Road, was completed on the 19th June 2017.

A local National Parks and Wildlife Service SA ranger, working on the roll out of the Adelaide100 trail through Morialta Conservation Park

It is nine years from the time the idea popped into my head. Walking SA has support for the Adelaide100 of the Minister for Environment and Water, David Spiers, his department The Department for Environment and Water, and the mayors of 13 LGAs. SA Health recognised the worth of the project and gave it significant support. An initial project launch at Pinky Flat on the Torrens River was attended by hundreds of people. A subsequent launch was part of Walking SA’s Hiking Expo at Belair which was attended by over 1,000 people.

The Adelaide100 is a long-distance loop trail of more than 100km in length. In addition, it roughly coincides with the boundary of the land title division, set by the South Australian colonists, of the Hundred of Adelaide. The Adelaide100 traverses the traditional plain of the Kaurna people from coast to foothills and extends over the range of the Peramangk people to its most eastern point Basket Range. The colonists chose the site, on the Torrens River, of the City of Adelaide around which the Adelaide100 loops. The current route traverses 13 LGAs, 9 big parks managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service SA, and SA Water’s yet to be opened Happy Valley Reservoir.

The Adelaide100 is currently 40-50% marked on the ground. There is an Adelaide100 website. There are electronic route files. People are walking it. People are running it.

Jim McLean leads the walkers out at the Adelaide100 section launch at Pinky Flat

The first completed sections of the Adelaide100 was opened last October, with a 7km showcase walk on the River Torrens / Karrawirra Parri. The trail section was officially opened by Stephen Wade MLC and Walktober Ambassadors Sandy Verschoor – Lord Mayor of Adelaide and Genevieve Theseira-Haese. It was a spectacular, sunny day with hundreds of walkers celebrating with a community walk along the River Torrens.

The Adelaide100 is designed around accommodation and food outlets being available along the way. It can be walked at a casual pace in six or seven days with nothing more than a day pack on the back. The yet to be signed portions, all in the hills, are currently being negotiated. Fine tuning of the route in these parts is continuing.

A volunteer installing an Adelaide100 arrow decal in Mark Oliphant Conservation Park

As well as the 9 big parks there are numerous smaller parks and reserves along the way. The Torrens Linear Park is traversed from the bottom of Black Hill to West Beach. Most of the Adelaide100 is shared-use. There are cycling alternatives for the walk-only bits. Signage is in place from the Black Hill Conservation Park exit, along the Torrens River to West Beach, along the coast to Kingston Park, and through the back streets to the entry at O’Halloran Hill Recreation Park. Signage is in place through the Sturt Gorge Recreation Park, the Belair National Park, and the Mark Oliphant Conservation Park. Belair and Mark Oliphant is shared-use and there is a cycling alternative for Sturt Gorge.

Walking SA received great cooperation and even generous enthusiasm from suburban and city councils along the way. Rangers of the National Parks and Wildlife Service SA and officers of the Adelaide Hills Council are generously giving their time to the location and fixation of signage through the Adelaide Hills. The brand new Glenthorne National Park is currently being developed by the NPWSSA with walking corridors. The Happy Valley Reservoir will be opened to the public at the end of the year. We look forward to working with the National Parks and Wildlife Service SA and SA Water to complete the routes through Glenthorne and Happy Valley when the time is right.

The two most common questions are: When will it be finished? How long will it be? Walking SA was hoping that it will be finished by the end of the year. Let’s say not long after that. My estimation is that the Adelaide100 will be between 130km and 140km. We will see.