Kangaroo Island Camping
Travel writer Linda Lee Rathburn loves her Ultimate XTERRAN and loves travelling (who would have thought!). In this piece as featured in GoRV she visits Kangaroo Island for the first time in 17 years.
We recently returned from a glorious trip to South Australia’s Kangaroo Island, and to our delight, little had changed in the 17 years since we had been there last. The island is ideally suited to travelling with a camper trailer; we took our Ultimate XTERRAN off road camper across on the Sealink ferry with no difficulty at all. With a bit of planning, a trip to KI (as it is known by the locals) will give you a great adventure.
Getting to Kangaroo Island
Because of the cost of getting to Kangaroo Island and the unpredictable weather, a period of at least one week (two is even better) is ideal. You can move frequently from camp to camp so you don’t have to backtrack, or you can set up in two or three different spots and drive to various highlights. The options include caravan parks, national park campgrounds and council campgrounds.
Before you go, download a KI map or purchase a Kangaroo Island South Australia Flatearth map from a place like Maps, Books & Travel Guides (www.mapsbookstravelguides.com.au). Book your passage on the Sealink Ferry (Cape Jervis to Penneshaw). Fill up with fuel and water, and stock up with as much food as you can on the mainland (fuel and groceries are only available at a few locations and are expensive).
A mid-morning ferry allows you to head straight over to the south-west end of the island and to set up at one of the Flinders Chase National Park (NP) campgrounds or the Western KI Caravan Park (CP) & Wildlife Reserve. First though, stop in at the visitor information centre in Penneshaw to gather brochures and to purchase a Kangaroo Island Pass, which can save you money on entry fees and tours if you plan to visit Flinders Chase, Seal Bay, Kelly Hill Caves, and the Cape Borda and Cape Willoughby light stations.
Think in terms of doing sections of the island at a time. We always prefer to set-up our Ultimate off road camper and do tours from our camp rather than take down and set-up numerous times. The Flinders Chase campgrounds are very nice and give you plenty of privacy, but for a few more creature comforts like powered sites, a laundry and a camp kitchen, you can’t beat the Western KI CP with its prolific wildlife such as possums, kangaroos, wallabies, koalas and numerous bird species, including Cape Barren geese, black swans and black cockatoos.
The south-west area offers enough to keep you busy for the majority of your stay on the island. Flinders Chase NP includes numerous walks and hikes, many of which begin at the visitor centre. Wildlife abounds; be sure to look up into the trees for koalas. For four-wheel-drivers, the ride out to lovely West Bay is mandatory, as is the self-guided drive up Shackle Road to Cape Borda. A scenic drive south to the Remarkables and Admirals Arch is essential; watch for goannas sunning themselves on the bitumen along the way.
Also in Flinders Chase, at the north-west end, is the Cape Borda Lightstation with a dramatic tour; the 12:30 tour includes a canon firing. You can access this via the sealed West End Highway and then an unsealed section of the Playford Highway, with about 30km of dirt and corrugations.
KI Wilderness Trail
A recent addition to the Flinders Chase experience is the KI Wilderness Trail, a five-day walk. If you are interested, but aren’t set up for long-distance hiking and/or don’t want to leave your camping rig for that long, stay at Western KI CP because it offers its campers the option of doing sections of the walk with daily drop-off and pick-up at designated locations: they will drop your pack off for you along with food and drinks, or return you to your campsite where you can shower and spend the night in your own camper.
Another highlight of the south-west area is Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, with a ‘koala Walk’ and/or a ‘nocturnal tour’. You may be lucky enough to be joined on your koala walk by Maggie, an amazing kelpie/collie that understands why you are there and helps by ‘pointing’ koalas out in an astonishing display of intelligence.
A bit further east on the South Coast Road is Kelly Hill Caves. The tour into the cave is well worthwhile with some lovely cave decorations and enough of an open cavern to subdue claustrophobic visitors. There are also several rewarding bushwalks and this can be a great place to spot an echidna.
A trip to KI would be incomplete without a visit to Seal Bay to see the Australian sea lions. You can do a self-guided tour on the boardwalk, but it would be tragic to miss the guided tour on the beach with sea lions basking in the sun. The guides explain various ‘behaviours’ and this up-close experience will create a life-long memory. Watch for sea lions surfing in the waves and for adorable sea-lion pups waiting for their mums to return from the sea.
A visit to Seal Bay and a tour along the beach to see the Australian sea lions is a ‘must-do’ on Kangaroo Island.
The adjoining Cape Gantheaume Conservation Park with a scenic drive, bushwalks and two small, basic campgrounds is also a must. Vivonne Bay is nearby and is certainly worth a look and a visit to the shop for a few supplies and some fuel.
Camping on Kangaroo Island
There are a number of camping options if you want to spend a bit of time in the middle part of the island and/or the north-east (Kingscote). This is the more settled part of the island and lacks the wildness of the south-west. Stokes Bay is certainly worth a visit to a beach accessed via a split in the rocks. There is a basic council campground there and a funky restaurant with a very nice selection of food.
At Kingscote, there is a 1950s-style caravan park or you can stay at a more nature-based park near Emu Bay.
KI Marine Adventures offers two tours, one that explores the remote north coast of the island and a longer one that includes the chance to swim with wild dolphins; pick a calm, sunny day for an unforgettable experience.
Since the Sealink ferry arrives and departs from Penneshaw, it makes sense to spend a few nights at the basic caravan park peering out over beautiful Hog Bay. From here, you can partake in another water-based tour: KI Ocean Safari (again, choose a nice day). A drive out to American River is worthwhile if time allows. Those who prefer nature and scenery should explore the Dudley Peninsula with the Cape Willoughby Lightstation tour and the chance for some bushwalking and basic bush camping at the Lashmar Conservation Park, certainly the highlight of this end of the island.
Kangaroo Island has much to offer, especially for those travelling light in a camper trailer. By giving yourself plenty of time to explore, you will have the sort of adventure that seems harder to find in the hustle and bustle of the mainland. Like us, you will find that one visit is not enough!
Kangaroo Island Wildlife
Please consider the safety of wildlife at all times by driving well below the speed limit of 110km/h. Marsupials are nocturnal and come out by the sides of roads to forage in the late afternoon through to the morning.
Passengers can help the driver by scanning the sides of the roads for animals. During the day, watch for heath goannas which, in the distance, look like sticks on or beside the road.
KI markets itself with its wildlife, but the amount of roadkill suggests that a drop in the speed limit, especially between dusk and dawn, is in order. If you do accidentally hit an animal, please don’t leave it to suffer and die. Ring the KI Wildlife Network on 0477 334 898 or Natural Resources KI on (08) 8553 4444 for assistance and advice.