Less than months after we hiked Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail, an intense bushfire raced across the western part of Kangaroo Island. Two lives were lost, homes and buildings destroyed, including those in and around Flinders Chase National Park, and the abundant wildlife decimated. We are grateful for the week we spent on the island and heartbroken by the devastation of the fire. We hope that the land and wildlife recover and the people rebuild in time.
Nine excited Sole Sisters flew to Kangaroo Island in mid November to hike the five day Wilderness Trail in Flinders Chase National Park.
Day 1: Flinders Chase Visitors Centre to Cup Gum Campsite at Snake Lagoon (12km)
We checked in at the Visitors Centre and received a beautiful trail booklet. After savouring our last espresso, we headed out on the Rocky River hike, via the Platypus waterholes. The first day is an easy walk – the path is well marked, with interpretive signs and lots of flowers. We enjoyed our lunch break in the sunshine on the rock platform at the Cascades.
We were fortunate to see two koalas, tammar wallabies, goannas, barren geese and a feral pig with piglets. This trail hums with wildlife. In the following days we also saw snakes, kangaroos, echidna, seals, sea lions, a variety of birds, and observed many animal tracks in the path underfoot.
Cup Gum campsite amidst the sugar gums and cup gums has both wooden tent platforms and compacted sand tent areas. There is a clean toilet block with two toilets and a basin, and a three sided camp kitchen with picnic tables and stainless steel work benches including a sink. Luxury!
Day 2 Snake Lagoon to Hakea Campsite at Cape du Couedic (25km)
Given the total distance today, 14km to camp plus another 9km for the side trip to the lighthouse, we were up early to pack up our tents. Soon we were on the track to the Rocky River crossing. From here the path climbs a headland with tenacious windblown scrub and our first views of the Southern Ocean.
Along Maupertuis Beach we spied a hooded plover pair, terns and pied oystercatchers. The sand here is soft. A fellow walker had left some encouraging words for us along the beach: “Nearly there“.
The path on the cliff top alternates between sand and broken rock which can be challenging underfoot. In the distance, Cape du Couedic Lighthouse reeled us in.
Earlier, I’d read the story of the Loch Sloy shipwreck and the harrowing experience of the survivors as they climbed the cliff and then walked the coast searching for water (Rocky River) and help (May’s homestead at Flinders Chase). No feeling sorry for myself as I carefully picked my way through the endless sharp limestone and coagulated magma rocks – I have a clear path to follow, boots on my feet and food and water in my pack, unlike those survivors.
After pitching our tents at Hakea camp and eating some lunch, we set off for the lighthouse and Admirals Arch. There are lovely views of the sea caves on the way. At Weirs Cove, we spent a little time at the original lighthouse cottage reflecting on the fortitude of the early keepers and their wives bringing supplies up the cliff using a flying fox and managing a remote lighthouse and household.
Down at Admirals Arch, we were delighted by the antics of long nosed fur seals surfing confidently in the enormous waves surging in from the Southern Ocean. The seals lurched from the foaming sea onto the rocks to chill and socialise in the pools.
A sign amongst in the chilly space below the Arch indicates this is a place of last refuge during bush fires. I looked around at the damp rocks and stalactites and wondered why anyone would ever need to escape a bush fire here. How wrong I was.
Day 3: Cape du Couedic to Banksia campsite at Sanderson Bay (13km)
Day three takes you to Remarkable Rocks, a photogenic jumble of granite boulders precariously balanced and delicately coloured. We tucked ourselves under a rock overhang, out of the chilly sea breeze, to enjoy our morning tea with glorious sea view.
Later, we stopped along the cliff tops for lunch. Below us was a sheltered beach with many shallow rock pools – a seal nursery. While the seal aunts lolled in the sand above the high tide line, scores of baby seals were climbing on rocks, leaping into the water for a game of chase, wrestling at the waters edge. It was a joy to watch and we were reluctant to leave.
Banksia campsite feels like a botanic garden – there are flowers everywhere on the paths to our secluded tent sites. The campsites on this hike are thoughtfully designed and more than justify the small cost of the hiking permit.
We took the 2km side trip to Sanderson Beach in the late afternoon. A dead baby seal was washed up, the circle of life in this wild ocean.
Day 4: Sanderson Bay to Tea Tree campsite at Grassdale (14km)
The dawn bird song woke me in my flower garden. After breakfast, we left on the path towards Cape Younghusband, Hanson Bay and Grassdale.
Today’s excitement included using ropes to pull ourselves across a river on a little boat. Tip: if you lose your footing as you step into the boat, don’t grab the rope to steady yourself as the boat will take off across water! We walked the short detour to pretty Hanson Bay where some seals were fishing in the shallows.
Tea Tree is different to the other campsites – not least because there is a resident tiger snake living beneath the bridge across the creek between the campsites and the kitchen. Trip trip trap, who’s that crossing my bridge?
Our evening stroll led us to the cottage where widow Lucy Edwards and her son farmed. A large kangaroo mob were out feeding on the cleared grasslands. Back at our campsite, a koala was looking for a mate. It’s hard to believe any female would be enticed by that grunting snore-like call to action. We went to bed in our sand-gritty tents, our last night on the trail, to the comforting sound track of the night.
Day 5: Grassdale to Kelly Caves (7km)
I was feeling very peaceful after four nights on the trail, in the company of nature and my fellow hikers. I didn’t want to leave this island. I set out first, walking on my own so I could enjoy the last few kilometres in solitude. I walked past the Wilderness and Grassdale lagoons, through some forest and all too soon I was signing the trail guest book and stepping through the trail end marker at Kelly Hills Conservation Park.
After a tour of the caves, we hopped on the shuttle bus back to the Visitors Centre to fetch our cars. A truly lovely walk.
Map and logistics
We flew to Adelaide and then on to Kingscote, where we hired cars.
We stayed at KI Dragonfly Guesthouse in Kingscote, both before and after our trip. KI is a charming and well equipped guesthouse where Susi and Bruno were the most generous, thoughtful and helpful hosts. We highly recommend their accommodation.
Kingscote has a good supermarket for last minute hike food shopping , coffee shops and restaurants for a post-hike celebration.
Western KI Caravan Park provided daily luggage transfer between the Wilderness Trail campsites for a fee, allowing some of us to hike with lighter packs. We stored our gear in a secure trailer each morning and it arrived at the next campsite by lunchtime.
We included a free day to explore Kangaroo Island in our itinerary, catering for all our virtues and vices: gin tasting, oysters, honey, fine art, and even some shopping for reusable baggies from the awesome Home and Hardware store in Kingscote.
We took ourselves on a tour of the island, first climbing the 370 stairs at Prospect Hill. Intervals anyone? Matthew Flinders climbed this sandy hill more than 200 years before us: “At one o’clock reached the top of the eminence, to which was given the name Prospect Hill. Instead of a view into the interior of the island I was surprised to find the sea at not more than one and a half or two miles to the southward.“
We explored a number of bays: Emu Bay, Stokes Bay with a fun rock tunnel to access the beach, Vivonne Bay, and Seal Bay.
From the raised boardwalk at Seal Bay, we watched a mother sea lion beach from her fishing expedition, deal with an amorous bull, bat off an opportunistic pup trying to steal a feed from her, and then waddle up the beach calling for her pup. Behind us, in the dunes, we heard the frantic response and desperate shuffle of her little one. As mothers ourselves, we enjoyed the intimate scene that played out in front of us as mother and child were joyfully reunited with the pup quickly latching on for a feed as she lay back, closed her eyes and relaxed.