“Off the South Australian coast in the windswept Southern Ocean sits Kangaroo Island, a little gem with much to offer. Visiting here you will experience some of the most amazing wildlife, rugged coastline and pristine scenery to be found anywhere in Australia. I recommend you visit this stunning little island at least once in your lifetime.”
A short 45 minute SeaLink passenger/vehicular ferry ride across Backstairs Passage takes you from Cape Jervis on the mainland of South Australia to Penneshaw, gateway to Kangaroo Island. Here you will find farmland, pristine wilderness, dense forests, sheer windswept cliffs, marshlands, stretches of white sandy beaches and quaint towns. If you like wilderness camping, wildlife, nature walks, photography, history and spectacular scenery this is the island for you.
Cape Jervis is only 106km from Adelaide and you can drive this distance and catch the ferry relatively early in the morning. Eight trips are made each day from Cape Jervis to Penneshaw with the first leaving at 9.00am. If you are camping I would suggest a night in the campground at Rapid Bay about 20km from Cape Jervis on the Fleurieu Peninsula before catching the ferry. Rapid Bay is named after Colonel Light’s ship which landed here in 1836. B.H.P. mined limestone on the headland and evidence can be seen of the mine workings and the lovely brick cottages perched above the bay. The Rapid Bay jetty is well known to divers who plunge into the crystal clear water to view the leafy sea dragon. It’s a very scenic overnighter.
Travelling across Backstairs Passage and arriving at Penneshaw your first stop should be the Visitor Information Centre. Trained staff will help you plan your visit to Kangaroo Island or K.I, as the locals know it. Penneshaw has resorts, hotels, museums, cellar doors and galleries. There is something for all tastes and budgets but as my wife and I were camping in our slide-on camper we headed for the historical and natural attractions of Kangaroo Island. In Hogs Bay, near Pennenshaw, don’t miss Fisherman’s Rock where one of the Captain Nicolas Baudin’s sailors came ashore in 1803 and left an inscription on a rock. It is now housed in the Visitor Information Centre to save it from erosion.
Close to Penneshaw on the Dudley Peninsula is Cape Willoughby Lighthouse. The road is sealed for about 10km and the last 15km is gravel. The main roads on K.I. are sealed but the majority of roads are gravel. Some are good gravel but some are corrugated and with care all can be travelled by 2WD. In 1852 Cape Willoughby became one of South Australia’s first lighthouses. Guided tours are available to the top of the lighthouse while self-guided walking tours cover the precinct around the lighthouse. A walk takes you along the cliffs overlooking the Southern Ocean down to Moncrieff Bay where the lighthouse keeper had his cottage and you are able to retrace his footsteps up the hill to the lighthouse. There is a feeling for the hardship and isolation suffered by these early settlers as you make this walk.
Brown’s Beach, just south of Penneshaw is an excellent camp spot and has self registration for camping. We encountered a husband and wife who were camped here and used this camp spot as a place to leave their caravan and explore the island. The beach is easily accessible and suitable for swimming and fossicking along the shoreline. Picnic tables, barbecue and toilets are provided. Beautiful sunsets from the headland are a sight to behold. The campsite can be a little sandy so be careful when looking for a place to set up.
Further east is Prospect Hill which is the highest point in the area. There are 512 steps leading to amazing views of American River, Pennington Bay and the Great Southern Ocean. The hill was first climbed by Matthew Flinders in 1802 to survey the island. He named the island and it was near Kangaroo Island he met the French Captain Nicolas Baudin. The French captain charted much of the southern coastline and many of the coastal features still carry French names as a result of his visit.
Cape Gantheaum Conservation Park
Leaving the sealed road just past Prospect Hill you can take the gravel road south and explore Cape Gantheaume Conservation Park. Here you will find an unspoilt wilderness coastline with many bays and beaches. There are great opportunities to swim, fish, surf or just relax. There are two very quiet, isolated campgrounds here. One is at Wreckers Beach and the other at Wheaton’s Beach. Relics of K.I.’s early pastoral history can be found here. There is an old rocky grain-threshing floor and the ruins of an old cottage. How did people survive in this harsh environment? A short walk meanders through regenerated vegetation to a lookout above Tadpole Cove which is named after the unusual rock formation in the centre of the inlet. Located closer to the entrance of the park is Murray Lagoon where birdlife is abundant. There are 3 walks here but the Bald Hill walk gives a great view of Cape Gantheaume Conservation Park and over the lagoon. Look for the families of Cape Barren geese.
Along the southern coastline of the island there are many places of interest. At Seal Bay Conservation Park there is a Visitor Centre and guides will take you onto the beach to interact with Australian Sea-Lions. Vivonne Bay is a must to visit and has been proclaimed “best beach” in Australia. At Kelly Hill Conservation Park it is possible to take a guided walk through Kelly Hill caves. Here you will find a fascinating underground world of sinkholes and caverns. Above the ground there is a shady picnic area and close by is a wonderful walk which allows you to explore the wildlife and bushland.
Flinders Chase National Park
A very scenic place to stay at the West End of the island is Western K.I. Caravan Park and Wildlife Reserve. This Park is very close to the Flinders Chase National Park, the icon of Kangaroo Island’s Parks. This caravan park is situated on 550ha of natural bush and grassland, has abundant wildlife and is a great place to charge batteries, do the washing and just relax.
Flinders Chase National Park is not to be missed. The Visitor Centre has a wealth of information and passes may be purchased here. The outstanding natural attractions are Admirals Arch with the New Zealand fur-seals and Remarkable Rocks at Cape du Couedic. Campsites are available at Rocky River, West Bay, Snake Lagoon and Harvey’s Return. There is a number of walks in the park ranging from 400m to 9km and you will encounter rugged coastal scenery, unspoilt wilderness areas and cultural heritage sites.
On the north-western tip of K.I. sits Cape Borda Lighthouse and can be reached along the Playford Highway which is about 30km of corrugated gravel. This road is very well used and this area is a highlight not to be missed. The rectangular lighthouse is a testament to a bygone era when the lighthouse keepers and their families did it really tough. Isolation added to the hardship of receiving day to day supplies. At nearby Harvey’s Return you are able to scramble down the old steep track to the picturesque cove below. This track was once used for transporting supplies off the visiting ships using a horse and capstan and small rail cars. Supplies were unloaded in the cove, stored and then transported up the steep slope – a truly magnificent feat of survival.
Stokes Bay And Kingscote
Along the northern section of the island the weather is much milder and you will encounter deserted sandy coves, rich rolling farmland and stunning views. Stokes Bay has a flat grassy campground and a cafe. I would recommend the potato wedges and sweet chilli sauce, beautifully served in a cardboard cone on a unique wooden frame. When on the road this is a real treat. To the east of the bay follow the signs to the “Beach” and make you way through a rocky tunnel headland and discover a beautiful white sandy beach part of which is a large rock pool that provides protection from the surf.
On the way back to Penneshaw you will find three towns worth a visit. Emu Bay, Kingscote and American River. Kingscote is home to shops and is the ‘commercial hub’ of K.I. Just outside Kingscote you will find Reeves Point on Nepean Bay. This was the first European settlement in South Australia and the area features a walking track that explains the history and significant sites. Above Reeves Point is Flagstaff Hill offering spectacular views of the Bay of Shoals and beyond.
From here it is possible to make your way back to Penneshaw for your return journey to the mainland. If you have enough time a very enjoyable overnighter is the campground at Antechamber Bay. You will probably have this isolated beach to yourself and looking across Backstairs Passage a good view of the mainland can be had. Swimming, picnic areas and toilets are available at this campground.
K.I. is a small island but has 1600km of roads and is the third largest island off the Australian mainland. We spent a week on this scenic island and while moving along fairly quickly we were unable to see everything. We camped and covered the island’s natural beauty on a budget but there are many ways to enjoy a holiday on K.I. You may like to take your caravan, motorhome, tent or stay in luxury accommodation but be aware the length of your vehicle determines the cost of your fare across Backstairs Passage. Whichever way you like to tackle your holiday on Kangaroo Island I suggest you definitely make this trip at least once in your life time.
Kangaroo Island is south of Adelaide off the Fleurieu Peninsula. This unique island is 155km in length and home to some of the most amazing scenery and wildlife. The early settlers were sealers, escaped convicts and runaway sailors. Farming began in the late 1800s with sheep and grain being prominent.
SeaLink offers ferry service each day and has Customer Contact Services in Adelaide and K.I. Contact can be made on 133301 or www.sealink.com.au
SeaLink can also help with tours.
It can be quite expensive to take your vehicle as cost is determined by the length of the vehicle, hence caravans and camper trailers are much more expensive than cars, slide-ons or motorhomes.
Kingscote Nepean Bay Tourist Park Ph (08) 8553 2394. www.kingscotetouristpark.com.au
Western K.I. Caravan Park and Wildlife Reserve Ph (08) 8559 7201. www.westernki.com.au
Kangaroo Island Shores, Penneshaw Ph (08) 8553 1075. www.kangarooislandshores.com.au
American River, Browns Beach, Stokes Bay, Vivonne Bay and Western River Cove.
Flinders Chase National Park Ph (08) 8553 4490, email: email@example.com Rocky River, West Bay, Snake Lagoon, Harvey’s Return
Cape Gantheaume Conservation Park Ph (08) 8553 4444. Murray Lagoon and D’Estress Bay
Lashmar Conservation Park Ph (08) 8553 4444. Antechamber Bay
Visitors are asked not to bring bee and honey products, declared weeds, potatoes for consumption and planting, foxes and rabbits.
Honey products may be left at the SeaLink office at Cape Jervis and retrieved on your return journey.
A really informative little booklet is “Parks of Kangaroo Island” produced by the Department for Environment and Heritage. Information on accommodation, camping, walking trails, parks and tours are well covered in this booklet.