Far from locking up land in a nature reserve, Nature Foundation SA wants tourists to come and experience its 780sq.km property on the Eyre Peninsula.

Story Koren Helbig

After three long days at the end of rakes and shovels, it’s finally complete. Blisters are burning and backs are aching, yet no-one is complaining. In fact, this motley crew of 30-odd volunteers is elated: the 9.7-kilometre Mark Bonnin Walking Trail they’ve helped cut by hand through Hiltaba Nature Reserve will allow generations of conservation-minded tourists to experience this wild expanse of beauty for themselves. 

The millennium drought spelled the end of a century of sheep farming at the once-thriving Hiltaba station, a 780-square-kilometre pastoral lease on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula. De-stocked, run-down and with few buyers in sight, Hiltaba caught the attention of South Australia’s Department of Environment around 2011. Bordering Gawler Ranges National Park to the south, and edging west towards a group of protected areas known as the Yellabinna Reserves, this vast triangular property offered a chance to link almost 750km of conservation land all the way to the Western Australian border. Encouraged by state officials, the non-profit organisation Nature Foundation SA bought the pastoral lease in 2012, and soon after Hiltaba was declared a nature reserve under the National Reserve System.

“Hiltaba has a whole range of species that are either rare, vulnerable or significant to the property,” says Alex Nankivell, conservation programs manager at Nature Foundation SA. Since the change in management, bird life has increased, including majestic 1.5-metre-tall Australian bustards, vulnerable slender-billed thornbills and short-tailed grasswrens – a species found only in South Australia. Hairy-nosed wombats roam freely and South Australia’s western-most population of yellow-footed rock-wallabies – a species listed as vulnerable nationally – are slowly making a comeback. Just 14 animals were left when Nature Foundation SA took over.

This story excerpt is from Issue #118

Outback Magazine: April/May 2018