A 4-day SA trek is luring a new generation of pilgrims who follow in the footsteps of Australia’s only canonised saint.

Story Gretel Sneath  Photo Kai Ievins

On a wild winter morning, a small group of modern-day pilgrims sets off down the same town jetty wearing thermals, backpacks and sturdy hiking boots. They’re embarking on the 4-day Taste of the Aussie Camino, retracing the footsteps of Mary MacKillop, Australia’s only canonised saint. It’s a leap of faith on an unfamiliar path winding 85km through land that’s equal parts sacred, ancient and picturesque. The walk follows the back roads and mountain paths that 25-year-old Mary would have taken when she arrived from Penola in a buggy driven by her Uncle Donald MacDonald. The longest day is nearly 24km, but the pace is gentle and unhurried, allowing time for discovery and self-reflection.

“I actually do call this God’s country because it’s so plentiful and abundant and rich,” says guide Natasha Dawson. “We walk through lots of farmland, but it’s also a relatively young volcanic landscape that has got the most amazing underground and above-ground water resources and the diversity of habitats that go with that.”

Natasha has worked as an environmental educator in the south-eastern corner of SA for 2 decades, and slow travel is her passion. The Taste of the Aussie Camino is one of several tailored journeys offered by her company Walk the Limestone Coast. “The best way to gain a deeper understanding of a place is to walk it. Tread lightly, explore culture and history, support communities and share with others,” she says. “It’s also really healing and rejuvenating when you allow yourself the space to slow down, unplug, work through that mind chatter and just really see the landscape as you are moving through it. 

“Four days is the perfect amount of time for your body and soul to really connect; you have 2 days to wind down, detox from everything and find your rhythm, and then 2 days to reinvigorate.” 

In the tradition of the famous Camino de Santiago through northern Spain and Portugal, participants are given a scallop shell and a pilgrim passport before they embark on their journey. The official departure has a distinctly Australian flavour, with local First Nations elder Aunty Michelle performing a welcome to country on the foreshore.

This story excerpt is from Issue #152

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2024