Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail

For a lot of people, a ‘relaxing hiking holiday’ may be an oxymoron, but for us this was one of the attractions of the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail. Being fit and active, the distance or terrain were never going to be a challenge but we were looking forward to spotting some native creatures, admiring the clifftop views of the mighty Southern Ocean and marvelling at a few (remarkable!) geological formations as we enjoyed some rejuvenating time outdoors.

The Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail (KIWT) was opened in 2016 and aims to become one of Australia’s great long distance walks. At 61 km long (without side trips), there are four campsites for the five-day walk, although we elected to walk the last two days together completing the walk in four days.

Kangaroo Island echidna.

After checking in at the visitor’s centre and watching a short briefing video, we set off via Black Swamp which was once patrolled by marsupial mega-fauna, but now is home to Cape Barren Geese by day and kangaroos by night. After this more open area, the rest of the first day’s trail winds its way through dense eucalypt woodland and it made for pleasant walking. We had a very quiet lunch at the platypus waterholes, but it seems that I will have to try again somewhere else to spot this elusive monotreme!

Luckily after seeing lots of ant hills and scratch marks along the trail we did see the other monotreme – a lovely Kangaroo Island echidna. As per usual this one had its nose rootling around in the sticks and soil seeking ants for dinner, and wasn’t put off in this pursuit by our presence. By late afternoon we arrived at the first campsite, walking 12 kms in about the 4 hours listed in the walking guide, including lunch and stopping for numerous platypus checks along the way.

The campsites were a highlight of the walk, being new and well designed. They blended in well to the surrounding bush too which was good. Each site was named for a dominant plant at the campsite – Cup Gum, Hakea, Banksia and Tea Tree – and had a motif of this plant repeated in steel on the main shelter. There were designated spots to pitch the tent with tent platforms or sandy areas at some of the later campsites. Our tent platform at Cup Gum even had a built-in chair!

Hakea Campsite cooking shelter.

The campsites have communal cooking shelters with a couple of tables, a sink and water available. Even though it is not recommended to drink the water without boiling, the national parks staff told us that this is just what they have to say, but they have never had any issues drinking the water directly – we didn’t either! We had the luxury of having all the campsites to ourselves and could spread out our cooking utensils on one table and maps on the other, but it might get a bit crowded if the campsite was full. There is a maximum of 12 self-guided and 12 guided walkers per day.

After setting up our tent, I was immediately tempted out to the clearing near the main shelter, which was a chorus of twittering in the late afternoon. There were wrens, robins, numerous species of honeyeaters, parrots and of course wallabies coming out to feed on the grass. Lovely!

After dusk, we started cooking dinner and commented that it would be good to have a bit more light. Not long after, the solar powered lights clicked on, very convenient! The toilets also had solar powered lights and were very clean, very well-lit and even had toilet paper provided!

Rocky River inlet.

The next day we were up and walking early, crossing the Rocky River and then climbing an adjacent hill to be rewarded with a great view of the river mouth. The rest of the day’s walking was along the coast. This included both hiking along the cliff tops watching the powerful Southern Ocean waves sculpting the bluffs below, and trekking along Maupertuis Beach. The beach walking section (gratefully) wasn’t too long, and we shared it with some endangered Hooded Plovers and an osprey catching a fish.

Returning along the clifftops, it wasn’t long before we could see the Cape de Coedic lighthouse, although it was hard to judge how far away it was. We had lunch overlooking the coast, and then headed inland slightly and it wasn’t far to our next campsite, hidden in a swale (word of the walk!) Hiking time was around 5 hours for 14kms.

Admirals Arch, home to a few sealions.

In the afternoon, we ventured to the first geological side-trip – Admirals Arch. On the way we viewed Weirs Cove and saw the ruins of the pulley system used to haul up supplies, we marvelled at the isolation of the lighthouse keepers. We then headed past the lighthouse which is very attractive and boasts some great interpretative signs. My favourite being about the “insubordination of the second lighthouse keeper”. Not that there is ever any insubordination of the second walker on our trips!

Admirals Arch was fairly crowded with tourist buses, but was worth it to see the fur seal pups playing in the rock pools, while the adults lazed about everywhere else. Although advertised, there was no sign of the Western whipbird or Southern emu-wren…

The third day’s walk was back in the head high vegetation about a 1km from the coast (really to avoid the road between Admirals Arch and Remarkable Rocks). It was pretty quick walking as unlike the day before, there wasn’t a view to keep gawking at. We did, however, take our time at the Remarkable Rocks.

Remarkable Rocks – sculptural granite formations.

Unfortunately, the overcast weather meant that we were not going to get the iconic images of the orange lichen clad granite boulders against the blue sky and water for our photographs, but the rocks were still great. Up close there were all sorts of indentations and ‘beaks’ and forms that look like a modern art sculpture rather than something created by nature.

Views back towards the Remarkable Rocks.

Setting off again on along the cliff tops, I enjoyed how the Remarkable Rocks stood out from afar, perched majestically on the headland. These views are only available to those who are walking on the KIWT. We had lunch on a conveniently placed bench (it would be good to have a few more and mark these on the map) overlooking a lovely bay with views all the way along the coast to Cape Bouguer. On a bright sunny day this would have been absolutely stunning.

We then continued on to Banskia campsite in the early afternoon (without the time spent at the Remarkable Rocks the walking time was about 4 hours for 13 kms). Just because we are mad, after dropping our packs and setting up the tent, we went for a 10km jog up and back on the access track near the campsite. We also took a relaxed trip down to Sanderson Bay.

Mist over the cliffs on our last day of walking.

We had a few mice issues in the night… even without my glasses I could see the silhouette of a little rodent on the roof of the tent. But by then we had eaten most of the food and after the possums on the Overland Track, the mice didn’t seem very bad!

On our final morning there was some rain and lots of mist. There was lovely stunted vegetation on the cliffs and some parting views of the big ocean waves. The track then turned inland to navigate around Southern Ocean Lodge. We just couldn’t justify the $1200 per person, per night to stay there. If you camp in a tent, then as a couple you could go to Vue de Monde 3 times instead!

Crossing the South-West River.

We crossed the South-West River in a small boat (good fun) and the still water framed by vegetation was beautiful. Taking the short spur to Hanson Bay we were lucky that the sun came out just as we climbed over the sand-dune, illuminating the peaceful bay below. It was such a contrast to the Southern Ocean waves lashing the coast during the earlier sections of the walk.

We had lunch at Tea Tree campsite and it would have been nice to stay there. There was a fire pit which would have been great to enjoy in the evening, but the short walk of only 7.5km the next day then made the transport logistics a bit more difficult. Instead we continued on past the Wilderness and Grassdale lagoons. Looking into the sun, it was difficult to spot the birds on the far banks, if walked as recommended this section would be done in the morning which would have made bird watching much easier! We meandered through banksia woodland and then into the higher eucalypt forest of Kelly Caves. Here were we were greeted by many superb fairy wrens and our transport!

Rainbow over the beautiful South-West river.

One bugbear is the name of the walk – although there are some stunning natural vistas and the campsites are well located away from existing tourist infrastructure, it is not really a ‘wilderness’ walk. The first and last sections days can be walked without a pass by day-trippers (although we didn’t see many), and the side trips on the middle days will involve seeing herds of tour buses and their passengers at Remarkable Rocks and Admirals Arch. Not that this is a major issue, but you never feel that you are quite as remote as on other long distances walks, for example the Overland Track in Tassie.

It is also a bit logistically difficult, being on the far end of an island, but once we organised transfers through the Western KI Caravan Park is was much easier. If you plan on doing any other touring on Kangaroo Island, we would recommend hiring a car to get to Flinder Chase NP in the first place. Although the tourist info all warns of long drives, which is probably mainly catering to international tourists, the 90 minute drive to the Flinders Chase NP from Penneshaw (where the ferry arrives) is on good roads and is quite pleasant.

If you plan ahead and make use of the not-so-remote aspect and the close vehicle access to the campsites (some tracks are only for authorised vehicles), then there are some options which could be appealing for beginner bush-walkers or those who don’t want to camp. When we were picked up at the Kelly Caves, we heard about the shuttling service that can be provided to those staying at the caravan park allowing the trail to be day-walked, or backpacks being moved between campsites and even groups who had an esky brought out to them each day! A nice glass of red (or two) would have helped with the sleeping mat! Mark did enjoy his latest gear purchase, a hiking pillow, he’s getting too old for the spare clothes stuffed into the empty sleeping bag cover…

However you plan to walk, the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail is definitely recommended, and it is easy to follow the directions on the signposts and “Have a great day!”.

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