The ranger is keen to ensure I have everything I need for a successful hike. First there’s a five-minute induction video, then I am given a waterproof/tearproof topo map and a quality 135 page guide book. She drops the weighty tome into my hands and I smile, trying to quieten the little voice inside that protests, “but that’s got to be at least another 250 grams!” It’s just one of the many little touches that the developers of the new Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail in South Australia have devised to ensure a first class experience for hikers.
The trail has only been open a month when I step foot on it, a 61km route beginning at Flinders Chase at the western end of the island and finishing at Kelly Caves further east. I begin on well-maintained trails close to the Visitor Centre through Black Swamp, a site famous for revealing the bones of the megafauna that roamed here between 45,000 and 100,000 years ago. Giant seven foot tall kangaroos and wombat-like creatures the size of rhinos once made this area home and while the real deal have long gone, life size cast iron cut-outs of these ancient beasts still manage to startle me, suddenly appearing from around bends or behind bushes.
I soon venture beyond the day trails and onto the KIWT proper. The Platypus Waterholes are quiet of action in the midday warmth so I carry on through dense eucalypt woodland to the Rocky River Cascades. Cool tannin-stained water rushes over a ramp of gently sloping rock. I lay down feeling the sun warmed rock beneath me, one hand trailing in the water, and start to feel that delicious peace and happiness that nature always brings.
Twelve kilometres in, a discreet steel and wood sign welcomes me to Cup Gum Campground. This is cool camping – thoughtfully laid out with everything a hiker needs and constructed in materials that blend in with the environment. Individual campsites are tucked away up short paths offering a touch of privacy, some with timber decks complete with inbuilt seats. Near the communal cooking shelter I find a wooden sun lounge facing a grassy plain dotted with grazing kangaroos. It’s the perfect place to relax.
Cliff top panoramas
On day two the bush trail meets the Southern Ocean, and a rough and rocky track climbs to the cliff tops where a stiff wind buffets my entire body. The forecast estimates 35-48kph winds for the middle three days of my walk. It’s not ideal for a trail of which nearly half is coastal – next stop Antarctica – but nothing can take away the beauty of the vast blue water whipped with white caps. Perhaps if it was less windy I’d have lingered at the divine cliff top views but I push on, reaching the next camp at Cape du Couedic by noon.
Listed trail times are generous and there is plenty of time to do a 9km side trip to the cape’s lighthouse as well as Admiral’s Arch, a partially collapsed limestone cave hung with stalactites. I shelter from the wind in the lee of the rock and watch the seals and sealions who live and play on the basalt platforms below.
Critters and Creatures
Wildlife is all part of the appeal of this trail – birds, frogs, echidnas, koalas, plentiful goannas sunning themselves on the trail, and even the island’s very own unique breed of kangaroo. At night I stretch out in my tent, dig out my new guidebook and discover the many interesting factoids about the flora and fauna contained within it. (Who knew a microbat could eat 600 mosquitos in an hour?) By the time I finish the trail I’ve read it cover to cover.
Day three brings another trail highlight, the Remarkable Rocks. I last visited these rocks ten years ago but I’d forgotten how remarkable they were. Five hundred million years worth of wind, rain and raging waves have carved out these giant granite boulders, creating sculpted works of art. There are great gaping overhangs and areas of smoothed rock pocked with holes like a giant Swiss Cheese. In places bright orange lichen sweeps across the rock making a striking contrast against the blue ocean. I spend half an hour staggering around the boulders in the near gale force winds, fearing I might be blown off out to sea, before retreating to shelter.
The trail weaves inland more on the last few days, with a few short detours to sumptuous bays filled with soft white sand and water of a colour that belongs in the South Pacific. Alas the guidebook warns against swimming – apparently the prevalence of marine mammals in the area attracts large predators “such as sharks” – so I content myself with just watching.
My fourth and final night on the trail is at Grassdale Camp, a lovely spot straddling two sides of a river and complete with fire pit surrounded by bench seats. It’s yet another thoughtful design feature by the makers of the trail, offering a great hub for walkers to celebrate the end of a fantastic hike. Across the water I catch sight of a koala leaping from one branch to another and on dusk well over a hundred kangaroos feed and box with each other on the open grassland nearby. It’s a special place.
It takes only a few hours to walk the final kilometres to Kelly Caves. On the way I pass two huge lagoons, home to tonnes of birds, and follow trails lined with sugar gums, beautifully gnarled and flaking with bark. I’m just starting to fall into that glorious space when you feel like it’s just you and nature, but the trail is almost done.
The Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail has done it’s magic on me!
**Want to do this hike yourself? Check out my KIWT planning advice.