Kangaroo Island is a fantastic destination for a trekking holiday, with a range of walks to suit all levels of fitness. The Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail (KIWT) is a relatively new Kangaroo Island bushwalking experience created in late 2016. It has already become a popular Kangaroo Island attraction and makes for a rather unique adventure holiday.
With over 35 Kangaroo Island walks to choose (from 30 minutes to eight hours), a walking holiday on Kangaroo Island is do-able for everyone.
Also read: 35 Incredible Things To Do In Adelaide
- Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail
- Wilderness Trail Route
- How To Hike The Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail
- 5-Day Wilderness Trail Itinerary
- Temperatures On Kangaroo Island
- Essential Hiking Gear
- Best Walking Seasons
- Where To Stay
Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail
The best walking trail on Kangaroo Island is the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail (KIWT), which is a self-guided 62km walking holiday through pristine, rugged and remote landscape.
From dense eucalypt and tea tree woodland, along riverbanks through low coastal mallee and windswept coastal cliff tops, the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail offers stunning landscapes and wildlife experiences along the way.
Wilderness Trail Route
The Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail passes through much of the beautiful remote southwestern end of the island.
It is well signposted, and although a trail map is provided, you rarely need to use it.
Classed as a Grade 4 trail, the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail hike requires bushwalking experience due to some long, rough and slightly steep sections.
The full 5-day trek starts at the Visitor Centre in Flinders Chase National Park and ends at Kelly Hill Caves in the Kelly Hill Conservation Park.
How To Hike The Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail
There are several ways to tackle the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail:
1- As a self-guided walker using the KIWT Campgrounds for overnight stays carrying your own pack.
2- An easier option is to have a commercial operator carry your gear from one campground to the next.
3- Stay at nearby accommodation in Flinders Chase and have daily transfers arranged through that operator.
5-Day Wilderness Trail Itinerary
Day 1 – Rocky River to Snake Lagoon – 4hrs, 12.5km (Cup Gum Campground)
Day 2 – Snake Lagoon to Cape du Couedic – 7hrs, 14km (Hakea Campground)
Day 3 – Cape du Couedic to Sanderson Bay – 6.5hrs, 15km (Banksia Campground)
Day 4 – Sanderson Bay to Grassdale – 6.5hrs, 13.5km (Tea Tree Campground)
Day 5 – Grassdale to Kelly Hills Caves – 2.5hrs, 7.5km
- Day 1 and Day 5 can be done as a one-day Kangaroo Island walk but you will still need to pay a park entry fee.
- Day 1 is called the Rocky River Hike and Day 5 is called the Hanson Bay Hike.
- Days 2 to 4 can be walked only if you have bought a $161 trail pass, which includes the entry fee, car parking at the Visitor Centre, a trail guide and map.
Booking ahead is essential as daily numbers are limited to 12 independent walkers, and 12 in a group tour.
Day 1: Rocky River to Snake Lagoon
Everyone treats this day as a practice run, so get your legs in the mood and time yourself on the terrain.
Nevertheless, this Kangaroo Island walk is quite a nice one with different sections worthy of note.
The first section is particularly interesting as you head to and around the circular Platypus Waterholes, only 2 km from the Visitor Centre.
Platypus sightings are rare but do happen.
Curiously, they have been reported during the early afternoon rather than at dusk.
Leaving that area, join the Rocky River Trail and head through shady eucalypt woodland with impressive tall and very old grass trees.
Head to the lookout over the gorge and then down along the ridge to the Rocky River Cascades.
Watch out for Rosenberg goannas warming themselves on the rocks or camouflaged on the leaf-strewn paths.
The cascades are great for photography or for bathers, whatever motivates you more, or make it a lovely lunch spot.
Then follow the signs through Snake Lagoon to the KIWT Cup Gum Campground.
Don’t make the mistake of heading to the normal Flinders Chase National Park campground or you could miss your lift back to your accommodation, as we almost did!
Day 2: Snake Lagoon to Cape du Couedic
Today’s route is along the coastal stretch of beautiful Maupertuis Bay, which some say, is the hardest day because of the beach section but see for yourself.
First, there is the fabulous short section from Cup Gum Campground at Snake Lagoon along Rocky River to the mouth of the Southern Ocean.
This part is probably one of my favourite sections on the 5-day Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail.
The path goes over cliff tops but there is a 2.5 km detour you can, and should, take to the mouth of the river.
The boardwalks and rock formations along the river as well as the cliff caves at the river mouth are stunning.
And boy, they make for some beautiful landscape photos.
Also lookout for more goannas and small flighty, colourful tawny dragons.
Back on the trail, you hit the clifftops overlooking the Southern Ocean before descending onto Maupertuis beach for a long walk along the water’s edge.
The soft sand and slightly sloping beach is hard work but I soon learned to walk in other people’s footsteps, which makes it much easier.
It’s one of the few times where being a slow walker can be an advantage!
Watch out for the Hooded plovers too as they like this sandy beach area, especially when nesting.
There are also ‘dump’ collections for marine debris at both ends of the beach.
Join this local clean up system and pick up debris along the beach to drop it off at these points.
Help keep this pristine environment clean.
Then head inland for a short distance where you soon arrive at Hakea Campground.
An optional detour is a late afternoon walk to Admirals Arch at the end of the 14 to 17km day.
If you still have energy left, the sunsets can be particularly stunning.
Day 3: Cape du Couedic to Sanderson Bay
Leaving Hakea Campground heading east, you soon have a second chance of taking the side detour to Weir’s Cove, Cape du Couedic and Admirals Arch but you must leave early as this will add on another four to five hours return.
After this, the path heads inland back into the coastal mallee for quite a stretch.
Particularly noticeable are numerous digging holes and mounds from active echidnas as well as goanna burrows on the soft path.
You really have to watch where you put your feet or you could easily do an ankle!
Then it’s back to the awesome limestone clifftops with Cape du Couedic lighthouse behind you in the distance.
The Remarkable Rocks come into view and the harsh rugged walking moonscape is all forgiven as the vista woos you away.
There is an optional side trip to the Remarkable Rocks if you wish but give yourself a couple of hours to do this and make the most of it.
Rejoin the clifftop walk to take in the stunning vista of Sanderson Bay.
I found this section the hardest going, much worse than Maupertuis beach in fact.
The limestone rocky path is hard, jagged, sharp and irregular to step on.
Good shoes, balance and strong ankles are highly desirable.
After this windswept but cooling section, you soon head inland for a short distance to arrive at Banksia Campground.
There is also a 15-minute side trip down to Sanderson Beach from the campground if you want a cool swim at the end of the day.
Watch the video this section of the walk:
Day 4: Sanderson Bay to Grassdale
The first half of today proceeds easterly along the coastal clifftops towards Cape Younghusband.
Enjoying the breezes and stunning views of Sanderson Bay with Remarkable Rocks behind you.
Yes, more limestone paths will slow your progress a little.
Once around the Cape, Hanson Bay comes into view but then from the wind-beaten low coastal mallee, the route turns inland towards Grassland.
This offers slightly more shade cover and less wind with taller mallee shrub and tea trees.
A highlight is reaching the South West River which you cross on a boat pulled by a rope.
The trip is quite safe and comes with life jackets but on a sunny day the boat can get quite hot so perhaps splash it with cold river water or put something down first to sit on.
Once across the river, you have a choice of turning right for a 350m detour to the eastern end of Hanson Bay.
It’s quite stunning and is a must-do, especially for a cooling ocean dip.
Or turn left and follow the signs along the river to Kelly Hill Conservation Park.
You come across a path of flat, sawn tree stumps which lead you to the Tea Tree Campground across a small bridge.
Day 5: Grassdale to Kelly Hills Caves
I was definitely ready for this.
The final day, yeh!
The prospect of a short walk, although still 7.5km, to end the challenge is very appealing.
Leaving Tea Tree Campground, you pass through the flat grasslands of Grassdale.
The route takes you along the river’s edge and into eucalypt woodland, where Wilderness and Grassdale freshwater lagoons come into view.
Photo opportunities at the water’s edge can capture the resident birdlife, spoonbills and black swans to name a few.
An occasional goanna crossed our path as we proceeded into Kelly Hill Conservation Park.
Underfoot becomes slightly sandy, with a few short hills to climb.
Then you enter the Park, walking past sinkholes leading to the underground dry limestone caves.
There are numerous colourful noisy parrots and laughing kookaburras and even an echidna or two.
At the end of the line, you can sign the Trail Book and enjoy cold ice cream at the Kelly Hill Caves shop.
Temperatures On Kangaroo Island
Temperatures on the island are somewhat cooler than Adelaide.
The recommended months to do the 5-day KIWT are March to November so when planning your walk, check the following:
- March: 22/15 degrees C
- June-August: 16/9 degrees C
- Nov: 21/13 degrees C
- Dec–Feb: 24/16 degrees C
We actually did the KIWT in the first week of December and experienced a mini heatwave over two of the days.
Whilst we started at a very comfortable 25 degrees, it peaked at 32 degrees, which was a little too hot for my comfort.
Unfortunately, it brought flies in with a vengeance – aaargh!
Essential Hiking Gear
Our recent experience of the full five days was of rather mixed weather conditions but, as they say on Kangaroo Island, always expect the unexpected.
So you will need to cover all the options.
This equipment list is not exhaustive but I want you to know what I found particularly useful:
Strong walking shoes or boots
I had both (part of my OCD personality), just in case one pair gave me blisters.
Well, both gave me blisters even though they were well worn in.
The KIWT varies from a soft, leaf-strewn path to beach sand to hard sharp irregular limestone rocks.
Personally, I wouldn’t recommend soft-soled trainers on those sections.
First aid kit
Yes, you might come across a snake but really the odds are you are going to get blisters or take a fall, more than anything.
So take lots of band-aids, gel plasters, callous sponge plasters, Rocktape, you name it, carry it.
Take it from me, you can’t have enough!
Good walking socks
Ask any good hiking store for their recommendations and think about wearing two thin pairs to minimise blisters.
They always say to take some but actually, our main problem was millions of flies, particularly on hot windy days.
I tested my 100% Deet cream to no effect whatsoever.
Which leads me to my next recommendation…
I know, a flyscreen hat is not a fashion statement, but, when you are swallowing extra protein every time you stop to do up a shoelace or check the map…
Take it from me, you will have wished you bought a whole-body fly screen, not just a hat.
I am traditionally pretty bad at this and I got badly sunburnt.
While some of the paths through the forests provide shade, other more open areas don’t.
You can be trekking through low coastal mallee in the midday sun with additional windburn and constantly looking down at the trip-laden limestone rock path means you burn especially on the back of your neck.
Despite my 12+ and later 50+ sunscreen application, I still paid a price.
So, do as I say, not what I do!
Make sure they are polarised.
You get beautiful views of the Southern Ocean, rivers and lagoons along the trail.
They will help cut the glare and maybe spot the odd whale, dolphin or shy platypus too.
Water, water and more water
This really applies to the warmer months, however, there are no water sources along the trail until you get to the KIWT Campgrounds.
You also need to treat your own water for drinking purposes.
So take note.
Lunchtime or snack nibbles
For shorter walking days, this isn’t so important but for the longer treks, you will need something to nibble on.
Bathers and towel
There are some opportunities on certain days for a dip to cool off.
Check the day’s map for river, lagoon or beach accesses.
Microfibre towels are small and lightweight too.
Mobile phone (preferably a satellite phone)
The phone reception around the island, in general, is poor but on the KIWT it is virtually non-existent.
You may get an odd signal here and there but it is unreliable.
So you could be stuck in an absolute emergency.
Be prepared or carry an EPIRB (personal locator device).
Oh my God, do NOT forget this! Some of the views are simply awesome.
I carried two holstered heavy Nikon SLR’s with a wide and zoom lens AND a tripod.
Yes, probably overkill but I wasn’t about to miss out on taking the photo of a lifetime.
Oh, did I mention my OCD tendencies before?
Or it can be a small compact camera or even your phone but make sure you bring extra batteries or a battery pack.
You will kick yourself if your phone dies mid-selfie with the Remarkable Rocks or Cape du Couedic in the background!
PS. Drones are not allowed in the National Park.
Best Walking Seasons
In Autumn (March to May) the rain starts and wildlife come out, especially in the cool nights.
Glossy black cockatoos are looking for nesting hollows whilst Cape barren geese choose their nesting sites in swamp areas.
In Winter (June to August) it’s cold, wet and windy, but lush green.
While the echidnas may be hibernating, there is abundant food for other wildlife so look out for kangaroos and wallabies in the scrub.
Southern right whales also pass by the south coast from May to September.
Look out for coastal raptors as they start breeding in May to December but if you’re keen to see raptors any time of the year go to Raptor Domain.
Spring (September to November) is the mating season but with chilly nights.
Koalas are actively breeding (October to March), with many joeys seen out of the pouch.
Rosenberg goannas are everywhere, as the wildlife flower season starts, and shearwaters migrate along the coast and sea-lions come onto the beaches to chill out.
Summer on the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail
Summer (December to February) can be hot and dry, so watch out for snakes.
Black swans live in the freshwater lagoons before they dry out.
Fur seals breed and Hooded dotterels nest on the sandy beaches in January.
Where To Stay
You can do the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail in two ways, under the stars or under a roof, camping on the trail or from nearby accommodation in Flinders Chase.
Kangaroo Island camping
As part of a Kangaroo Island camping holiday, you can be totally self-sufficient and camp overnight in designated KIWT Campgrounds.
However, you can only stay for one night at each campground.
Also, note the KIWT Campgrounds are separate from the other nearby park campgrounds.
So at the end of each day’s hike, follow the KIWT signs only.
These super modern and architecturally designed campgrounds took six to eight months to construct and are reputed to be the best in South Australia.
A large open but undercover communal kitchen has tables and generous bench surface for cooking.
The sinks have a filtered pump tap and a normal tap with non-potable water. Yes, you are warned to treat it if you want to drink it.
The dining shelter is large with a whiteboard to leave messages or weather/bushfire warnings and lights are solar-powered.
Each campground has a large bathroom block, with unisex eco-toilets and toilet paper (shock horror, you DON’T have to bring your own – wow!).
But alas, no showers, sorry.
There are separately constructed campsites for independent hikers or tour groups, most reasonably shady and well-spaced for privacy.
As I don’t profess to be a camper at all, if you want more camping information, then go here for a detailed review.
Western Kangaroo Island Caravan Park
Want Hot Showers And A Roof Over Your Head?
I am not a camper. Never have been. Never want to be. So, if you are like me and camping is not your thing, then book yourself into the Western KI Caravan Park.
For the last 5 years, Mark and Fiona Jago have managed the 17 ha, 4-star ranked Western KI Caravan Park & Wildlife Reserve.
Since the inception of the KIWT, they are one of the licensed operators of the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Walk.
Free trail maps and Flinders Chase National Park passes can be bought from them or the Flinders Chase National Park Visitor Centre.
The pre-walk induction safety video can be watched at either venue.
The caravan park is a 10-minute drive from the Visitor Centre and no more than 30 minutes from any of the KIWT campgrounds.
They can provide a drop-off and pick-up transfer service with their KIWT Uber van.
This allows for day walk options and they can even offer a daily pack transfer for walkers camping on the trail.
Now that’s a great service allowing flexibility for doing the trail.
With the use of a satellite phone, you can call Mark for a personalised pickup.
Then you can do each day’s hike in the comfort of your own timeline.
A hot shower awaits you back at the caravan park, a roof over your head and a nice soft mattress.
That’s my sort of camping!
The 12 fully self-contained on-site cabins start at $120 for two people per night. The park also has powered and unpowered caravan and tent sites from $35 and $30 a night.
The large modern amenity blocks have showers, toilets and the large communal camp kitchen is next to the reception. BBQ facilities are provided too.
To freshen up those dusty walking socks and sweaty T-shirts, the easy-to-use laundry beckons.
To keep the children occupied while you’re busy, there is a dedicated children’s playground.
That’s if the koalas aren’t using it!
Self-Catering Or Restaurant Menu?
The caravan park reception also doubles as a fully stocked general store selling everyday supplies such as dry or tinned food, as well as frozen food and pre-made meals.
And with their own liquor license, you can purchase the occasional cold bottle of bubbly too.
A great enticer to finish the whole 5 days!
Oh, and did I forget to mention the highly-rated Nicolas Baudin Restaurant just 500m up the road?
Well, it’s also open to the public.
So with the money you have saved on accommodation, you can enjoy a special celebratory evening meal there.
While you may miss out on stargazing at night, you won’t miss out on a Kangaroo Island wildlife experience.
The Western KI Caravan Park comes alive at night, well, in the late afternoon and dusk actually.
The park is home to numerous koalas, Western kangaroos, Tammar wallabies, possums, echidnas, and a few hundred Cape Barren geese.
There is a Koala Walk walking trail in the park but you don’t need to go there as koalas are everywhere around you.
We even had a mum and baby koala hang out for a few days in a eucalypt tree right next to our cabin. And then, brazen as hell, a large male koala strutted his stuff in broad daylight right across the open bush playing field.
In full view of park visitors, he strode 100m past the children’s playground to his chosen tree.
Scaling the tree to only about 4m high, he started calling his next female. Priceless. What an experience to see!
Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat
If you like to be pampered, you may prefer the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat, which is 500 m from the Western KI Caravan Park as you head towards the Flinders Chase National Park entrance.
It offers a variety of luxurious accommodation set in 113 ha of natural bushland.
Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat offers 5 or 6-night Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail packages that include transfers from Kingscote Airport, daily trail transfers, and an international buffet breakfast.
Courtyard Suites look out on to a small wildlife hub near the reception, next to the Nicolas Baudin Restaurant.
The rooms come with minibars and coffee and tea facilities only.
Bath and Spa Suites are similar but in addition, offer a large bath or spa and are suited to those anticipating the need for a hot soak for aching muscles.
Eco-Lodge Rooms are set in the surrounding eucalypt forest and Eco Lodge Apartments are the only type of accommodation at Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat to offer kitchen facilities.
Unless you are in the Apartments, you have to eat at the Nicolas Baudin Restaurant.
Now, that’s not exactly a problem as the food is definitely 5-star, however, take into account the additional cost of meals over five or six days, as dinners are not included in the package deals.
So, what are you waiting for? Now you know it all, the trail awaits YOU!
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