The Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail in South Australia is like one big nature hug. From the moment you check in at Flinders Chase Visitor Centre to the final moments at Kelly Hill Caves.
Between Christmas and New Year 2016 we spent five days exploring this amazing new Grade 4 wilderness trail that opened in October, just a couple of months earlier. The trail has a stunning variety of landscapes and terrain and while is fairly flattish with undulations, the rocky or soft sandy tracks underfoot at times made it that little bit more challenging. And we loved it!
We caught an early morning ferry for a rocky crossing from Cape Jervis to Penneshaw and drove straight to Flinders Chase Visitor Centre approx. 2 hours away. Being right after Christmas the Centre was packed with holiday makers getting their passes and day visits sorted. To hear so many foreign languages in one room in the queue was really cool. KI is very much on the international map which is great to see for tourism on the island. We collected our permits, listened to the informative iPad instructions and introductions before collecting our packs, parking in the long term carpark and setting off with our newly acquired map and guide book.
To begin with the trails were busy with day walkers making their way around the shorter walking circuits near the visitor centre. Eventually though we found ourselves alone on the Rocky River Trail with just nature sounds to keep us company. The first day was to be 12km’s passing some beautiful scrubby scenery including the reflection pools where we tried spotting the elusive platypus. Instead we tucked into lunch and just sat in silence. It was gold to get this little pool and rest spot all to ourselves.
Later in our walk we caught a glimpse of a huge Marron walking between rock pools at the Cascades (my fave spot on Day 1) where again you could sit, watch and listen to the water rushing over the rocks. The track was relatively flat on this first day and while we had a great view point of Rocky River from up high you couldn’t tell we had climbed much. We found ourselves at Cup Gum campground at Snake Lagoon within about 4 hours of leaving the Visitors Centre. We saw goannas, birds, fungi and of course the giant marron. The sounds of nature were like loud music – in harmony and orchestral – it was a gorgeous welcoming committee. Insects, birds and reptiles scurrying into the bushes. It gave a feeling of wilderness and remoteness despite hearing the occasional car driving past on the road in the distance.
Snake Lagoon is shared by a nearby public campground as well as Cup Gum Campground so we didn’t feel like we were that far away from the action that first night. The campground was well set out with individual campsites and platforms for both self guided walkers and commercial tour groups. There was a cooking shelter with picnic tables, a sink with taps connected to rain water tanks and a food prep area. Even the well-maintained toilets came complete with toilet paper! It was a little breezy overnight but eventually the wind stilled and from a distance I could hear waves crashing on the sand on a distant beach. I mentally started preparing for the following day.
Our packs weighed about 18 kg at the start and I was known as “the pantry” so my load would lighten each day as we ate our way through the carefully planned 5 day menu thanks to some great recipe ideas from Xtreme Gourmet. Although we hadn’t walked steep hills on Day 1, our bodies were adjusting to carrying the weight. I was looking forward to hitting the coast.
The trail on Day 2 crossed Rocky River and climbed up slightly to reach the top of the cliffy coastline and from there our first views of the southern ocean began. The terrain made this a challenging day as we had a combination of very rocky paths underfoot and then soft beach sand while the tide was low. The beach walk was beautiful though as it allowed us to see oystercatchers and hooded plover birds (which are endangered), living and nesting in their natural environment. It was also a great chance to look at the odd shell, sea creature and interesting objects (I swear I found a fossilised whale bone) washed up with the tide. The wind was fierce and gusty though, lucky for us it was a tailwind so we were blown down the beach along with all the sand.
We stopped for a quick sandy snack before climbing up over the dune and made our way inland. Instantly it felt sheltered and a moment of calm washed over me after the sandy battles on the beach. I walked ahead a little way of hubby Ian, but not before I almost bumped into a huge tiger snake. Suddenly I felt very grateful for the gaiters I was wearing because this was the fattest snake I had ever seen. Luckily for me it was petrified at the fact that we had nearly collided on a bend and it quickly slithered into the bushes. I froze and called out to Ian to say it was a snake and for once I didn’t run away screaming, (what not to do when you see a snake!). Once my heart rate steadied we set off once again with the wind behind us.
We found a little sheltered spot for lunch and enjoyed the views which were fantastic along the cliffy coastline. We were keeping an eye out for snakes and also the Loch Sloy shipwreck, but by this stage it was high tide and thankfully no more snakes for Day 2. We arrived into the Hakea campground near Cape de Couedic after clocking up 14km. It was a tiring day for our feet with the mixture of terrain and the wind had blown out a fair bit of our energy. We settled in for the night and caught up with our friendly fellow hikers. For the second night in a row I fell asleep when the sun was still up.
Day 3 was also to be a big day but that’s because we chose to do the extra side trips which offered us an extra 10km. We left our big backpacks and tent at the campsite that morning and took out a small pack with the essentials and headed out to Weirs Cove and Admiral’s Arch. Because we left early in the morning, we were stoked to have Admiral’s Arch all to ourselves! We watched the juvenile seals playfully fighting and then the big bull seals challenging each other for the pecking order and mating rights. It was amazing to listen to and to smell – wow do the seal colonies have a unique odour! We walked back past the Cape de Couedic Lighthouse and although we had a bit of a heavy rain shower on the way back to the campsite, it was warm enough to dry off and added to the already humid conditions. We woke up a sleepy pair of kangaroos nestled in the low bushes near Weir’s Cove, they were not fussed on how close we were – another very close encounter of the wild kind!
We returned to the campsite, had a quick lunch and packed up our tent only to find a small scorpion under our tarp. It was tiny but these little guys can still pack a sting. I’d never seen one before so close and so feisty. We repacked our backpacks and headed off towards the Remarkable Rocks. This would be a second side trip for today. The Sanderson section of the trail took us deep inland through white mallee woodland and for a while there we had absolutely no idea what direction we were walking in. Knowing that we couldn’t get lost (the trail was well signposted the whole way) we just continued in this tubelike ecosystem until it opened up again near the coast. Soon we found ourselves looking at Remarkable Rocks off in the distance. We dropped our packs and headed to the coast. It was crawling with tourists and we were unlikely to get this place to ourselves like we had at the Arch. We quickly took a few photos and headed back to our packs. Those rock formations are truly incredible and the different colours on the granite made interesting for photos – apparently very popular for photography tours.
Next stop would be Banksia campsite but not before following more rugged coast line once again. With tall cliffs, big waves pounding into the rocks and fabulous views, the sounds of the sea dominated the afternoon. We opted to skip the Sanderson beach side trip before camp and save it for the next day when our feet with fresh. It had been a long 24 km of walking and we were looking forward to setting up our tent, eating a big dinner and recovering. The beauty of this campsite is it is surrounded by Banksia trees and the seedpods are littered around the place and along the trail before you arrive. These are my favourite pieces of Australian flora reminding me of open frog mouths frozen in time. I just find those pods fascinating and unique. This was also where we first sighted an echidna! The echidnas on Kangaroo Island are a lot more orange than those on the mainland and while we had seen lots of scratching along the Trail to give us clues that they were around, they are very shy and evidently quieter in the summer months, so we felt pretty blessed to have come across one on Day 3. Our packs were getting lighter as we continued to eat through our food supplies, making my pack a little more comfy each day. We were also getting to know our fellow hikers and what an interesting and enjoyable group of people to mix with each night and each morning before setting off.
By Day 4 we found ourselves walking with another couple from Brisbane, Donna and Michael, at different times along the trail. They too had morning tea with the giant tiger snake on Day 2. It was nice to know I hadn’t imagined the ginormity of that snake. They had also had a close encounter and agreed it was the biggest fattest snake they had seen too. The Grassdale section of the trail followed the cliff line along the coast giving awesome views of Cape Younghusband and also some seal colonies on the rocks below. The trail headed inland around to Hanson Bay where the most exciting little water adventure was waiting for us. We had to use a little boat attached to a pulley to cross the wide South West river. If you didn’t want to use the boat you could walk along the road to Hanson Bay and cross at the beach. But we tried the boat and it honestly added to our adventure. We left our packs to check out Hanson Bay and what a gorgeous little sheltered swimming beach we found there too. Perfect on a hot day. We collected our packs and headed a few kilometres inland towards our campsite at the Tea Tree Campground.
We walked through the open grassy fields of Grassdale, saw kangaroos, and more echidnas. We were greeted by a couple of wallabies, frogs croaking along the creek bed and more kangaroos could be found near the old homestead about 5 mins walk from the campground. The campsites areas were on one side of the creek and the cooking shelter and the toilets were on the other side making it a spacious, beautifully laid out campground. There was also a communal fireplace which during the winter months would be an awesome place to meet and chat with fellow hikers. Our last night on the trail was also New Year’s Eve. A couple of other hikers had snuck in a small stash of alcohol but the rest of us could only have a massive cook up with any leftover foods and watch those drinking a can of G & T with envy. We all chatted until around 10 PM and then most people headed off to bed.
Our final day, Day 5 was to be a short one. Only 2 hours and we would be at Kelly Hill Caves. We were all keen to spot a koala on our last day but instead we saw little frogs and froglets jumping across the trails as we passed the huge lagoons and lake. The forest had tall gums, lots of birds and it was a beautiful scrubby walk through the Kelly Hill section.
We booked on the 12 o’clock tour of must-do tour of Kelly Hill Caves led by the local park rangers. Fascinating cave system with excellent lighting and stories. Amazing what you can see in the stalagmites and stalactites. The shuttle bus collected us and our bags to take us back to the start line at 2:15. With a bit of time to kill, we even managed to use the shelters at Kelly Hill Caves Conservation Park to cook up some final food for lunch and make hot drinks for our fellow hikers before parting ways.
We exchanged contact details with our hiking friends and said our goodbyes. Walking and meeting new people who love adventuring as much as us, really added fun, laughs and great conversation on the trail and at the campsites. Big shout out to Rowena, Louise, Donna, Michael, Sally, Andrew, Kane, Gab and Scott if you are reading this.
The walk was full of so much fauna, flora, fungi and creatures big and small. Scorpions, colourful beetles, froglets, marron, lizards, echidnas, seals, wallabies, kangaroos and many birds, plus the diversity of the different landscapes left me feeling embraced by nature.
Ask yourself, when was the last time you had a nature hug?
Notes about the KIWT:
- Although we carried packs and went the self-sufficient camping option, you can do this trail as a series of day walks, without camping, for more information contact Lisa.
- Phone coverage on the track is sketchy (which is a good thing for going off the grid!) but as this is a bushfire prone area, you do need to check your phone for any urgent messages from the rangers so pack a battery pack or solar charger. The campsites are serviced each day by Park Rangers to relay urgent messages or if there are evacuations due to catastrophic fire danger.
- Doing the #KIWT, you are rewarded with nature, space, wildlife and a chance to bond with fellow hikers who come from all over the world to walk this trail.
- Weather can be changeable here even in December it was hot, wet, humid and windy so you will need to be prepared for all sorts of conditions with weather protection.
- You MUST book to walk this trail even as a self-guided walker. The DEWNR website has info on packing lists, booking the shuttle from Kelly Hill Caves back to the Flinders Chase Visitor Centre and where to book your spot – cost is $161pp and an extra $25 pp to include the shuttle.
If you want to know more about the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail, Big Heart Adventures can help you. We have small group departures later this year staying in comfortable accommodation and day walking sections of the trail each day and opportunities to walk the trail and camp.
We can also assist you with booking your self-guided camping and non-camping (glamping) options. If you like to know more, please contact Lisa at Big Heart Adventures on 0478 825 144 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail information page to see our touring options for 2017.