We all dream of getting away from it all. For some it’s escaping into the wilderness, leaving stress behind and detoxing from all the gadgets that keep us constantly connected and on call.
What if you could immerse yourself in nature, go for a gentle walk or trek through rugged country? What if that time out meant seeing some of Australia’s most intriguing wildlife, eye-popping scenery and iconic landmarks?
I’m talking about the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail — a five-day, 61km hike through the Flinders Chase National Park.
This is a way to escape the daily grind and replace the white noise with bird song, enjoy some exercise and fresh air.
It’s not easy, though. There is the swag to carry, plus sleeping bag, clothes, food and cooking gear for five days. It can be hot during the day but cold at night, so you’ll need to be prepared. Campsites are well equipped with shelters, toilets and water, and some offer raised platforms for swags. But you’re still out in the elements.
A TOUCH OF LUXE
You might be thinking that this is taking the great escape one step too far, and that a little ‘glamping’ might be required. You know, where you can soak in the wonders of nature during the day, but soak under a hot shower in the evening. Where you can hop out of bed in the morning ready for an adventure then hop back into it at night, where all you have to carry is your hat, sunnies and food and water without impacting the very environment that you’re here to admire.
Luckily for you (and for wilderness wusses like me), there’s a way to do just that thanks to Fiona and Mark Jago at the Western KI Caravan Park, located just outside the Flinders Chase National Park.
The couple have introduced a brilliant concept for park guests — daily transfers to and from different sections of the KI Wilderness Trail.
Now, I love a bit of bush bashing — a bit of it. But the entire trail? That sounds like too much for my creature comfort-loving, unfit (but optimistic) self.
Trekking 61km over five days I could manage. But it’s being ‘stuck’ out there for five days and carrying all that stuff that I’m not too keen on.
The opportunity to get dropped off at the starting point, hike 10-14km then get picked up again from the next campsite and returned to the comfort of a caravan park is too good to pass up.
That’s how a five-day slog in the bush turns into an almost heavenly hike.
And I’m not the only one who agrees.
Since Fiona and Mark started the trail transfers, they have transported hundreds of people each year into the wilderness.
They began with one bus thinking that if they could help 50 people a year, they were on the right track, so to speak. They had no idea it would be as popular as it is.
Now, with two buses, they run pick-ups and drop-offs to different parts of the trail several times each day.
“It certainly keeps us busy,” Mark says. “As well as dropping off guests, we also do the gear runs. That’s where some hikers opt to stay out on the trail and camp each night, but they don’t want to carry all their gear with them. They pack it into a trailer and we move it to the next campsite. When they finish hiking the next section, their gear is waiting for them.
“Families love it. Carrying heavy loads is too much for the kids and this way, the whole family gets to enjoy the trail without the hassle.”
A HIKE FOR THE AGES
A safety briefing at the park is a must before anyone sets out along the Trail. It tells you what to expect — especially the unexpected. Be prepared is the motto. Take water, a hat, sunblock, a snake kit (yes, this had me backtracking a bit) and a sense of adventure.
We sat in with a bushwalking group of about 15 from Victoria for our briefing. Talk about a lesson in humility. The average age of these avid hikers was 70 — they were no spring chickens. But they were a lot fitter and more mentally prepared than us. And they were in for the long haul.
Of course, they could opt out at any time or for any section of the hike — thanks to the bus ride to and from campsites.
But the only section some chose not to hike was on Day 2 — a 14km, mostly rocky limestone trail which has no mid-way ‘escape’. All other sections have a designated point at which walkers can be extracted if they choose.
Anne, 81, was one of the hikers, and quite the inspiration. She opted out of Day 2 saying: “I don’t see so well … almost blind in one eye, actually. They tell me it’s rocky and uneven underfoot, so I don’t want to hold anyone up.”
Her friend and cabin-mate decided not to walk it, either. But were they, like me, going to sit back and have a cup of tea?
Not very likely.
There were a few good hikes from the Visitor Centre that they could fit in.
It just goes to show, you don’t have to be young to do this trail, just young at heart with an interest in discovering what’s around us.
What can you expect on the trail? The terrain varies but, as an example, on day three we hiked from Remarkable Rocks to Sanderson Cove. It’s a 4WD walking track going over lots of limestone rocks and patches of sand. The ground is uneven with ledges and holes and it’s quite steep in sections.
The scrubby vegetation started at head height for me (I’m 5ft nothing) and shoulder height for my husband, Rick, but it dropped down to my waist as we weaved around towards the coast and was at ankle height at the cliff’s edge.
Typical coastal succulents thrive along here because they can hold in the water.
The scenery is many shades of green — mainly olive and dark colours with a few patches of bright green thrown in. And the coastal views are sublime. It’s also oh-so quiet — it really hits you just how isolated you are on the trail. There’s no sight or sound of another soul, but that’s actually really lovely. It’s just the birds and the wind for background noise.
During the day, it’s hard to believe that Kangaroo Island is home to about 45,000 kangaroos and a million Tammar wallabies as most shelter in the surrounding scrub to escape the heat.
Dusk and dawn are the best times to see them — but with that comes the need to slow down on the road as it’s one of their favourite places to congregate.
While exploring, also watch for Rosenberg’s goannas, koalas, echidnas, Australian sea lions and New Zealand fur seals and more than 250 bird species, including little penguins, rare black cockatoos and one of the world’s largest birds of prey, the wedge tailed eagle.
There are two only two types of snakes on Kangaroo Island — the pygmy copperhead and tiger snake — both deadly. So you really need to watch out for these, and pay close attention at the safety briefing.
LET THE JOURNEY BEGIN
The road trip to Kangaroo Island and the trail starts at the SeaLink ferry base in Cape Jervis on the Fleurieu Peninsula.
It’s a two-hour (110km) scenic drive from Adelaide with the road following the coastline, hugging the cliffs before winding around the hills back into farmland. Sheep graze on rolling hills, cows follow a well-trodden path back to dairy farms and century-old gum trees line the road. Norfolk pines stand guard along the coastal sections — a remnant from original settlement days when immigrants were given seeds to indicate European communities.
A long, steep road leads into the tiny town of Cape Jervis where SeaLink ferries dock for the 45-minute journey across Backstairs Passage to Penneshaw on Kangaroo Island. These ferries routinely carry passengers plus all sorts of vehicles and freight to and from the island.
The ferry loading can seem daunting. Cars are driven on forwards and follow an arc around the ferry so they can be driven off in the same direction. Big vehicles are reversed on board. If nerves get the better of you, the staff are happy to load your vehicle. We (and I mean my husband) managed just fine.
Once on board, there’s a cafe, air-conditioned lounge and TV interviews all about the island. Or stay out in the fresh air and hope to see dolphins that play alongside.
Once back on dry land, it is interesting to note that Kangaroo Island is 155km long and up to 55km wide — much bigger than most people expect. About 80 per cent of the island’s roads are unsealed and there is only one road grader on the island. Check road conditions with the locals before heading out on to dirt and limestone roads. Most are passable but at certain times of the year (straight after summer or school holidays) corrugations can be a killer.