This story is about a bushwalk on Kangaroo Island, just one of many places devastated by catastrophic fires this season. Following the horrendous summer fires, this walk, like many around the country, no longer exists. It is sad to think of the devastating losses we have suffered this summer, including so many wonderful walks. Yes, the bush will eventually regenerate and path infrastructure will be rebuilt. Homes too will be rebuilt, and, emotionally people will regain some sense of balance, but, like a journey on a Camino, resilience will be needed as people journey onwards.
In a similar vein we recently received this message from our friends in the Blue Mountains. “We mourn the loss of our favourite trails and lookouts – Hanging Rock, Braeside, Pulpit Rock, Govetts Leap, Evans Lookout, Popes Creek, Rhodo Gardens, Blue Gum Forest… We mourn the loss of wildlife, nature habitat ancient trees… But nature will recover, and soon we will see shoots of green appearing and we can witness the miracle of bush regeneration.”
In a tribute to these wonderful places, and to those who fight so valiantly to return to a normal life, we publish this story. – EDITOR
Kangaroo Island is one of our favourite places to visit with remote, wild coastline, spectacular scenery, stunning wildflowers, diverse terrain, a variety of birds and animals, a sense of tranquillity, laid back lifestyle and relaxed and friendly local people. When we heard of the new Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail we decided to walk it in November 2016.
With our packs fully loaded and a sense of excitement we set off from Flinders Chase Visitor Centre on our five-day hike. The 66km trek is in the south-west of Kangaroo Island, costing five million dollars to build and some bushwalking experience and a reasonable level of fitness is recommended.
This is an ancient, weathered landscape with fossils, geological monuments and a more modern history of shipwrecks and farming. There are unique and rare plants and animals and sections of pristine wilderness. This fragile environment is protected by a network of parks and reserves.
Day 1 of the walk is a 12km stretch from Rocky River to Snake Lagoon, taking four hours. We looked for platypus in waterholes, and then walked through dense eucalypt woodland and riverbank and mallee country, with an impressive display of wildflowers. The track was well marked and easy to follow, with night one at Cup Gum campground. Much money and consideration has gone into the camp facilities, with sturdy, spacious three sided shelters complete with tap, sink, food preparation area and seating space, the rain water from a tank. Outside the shelter were tables and chairs for fair weather dining. A separate shelter housed hand basins and composting toilets. There were two areas for camping, one for independent walkers and one for groups but we had free choice of the sites as we were the only hikers. In fact, we saw no other walkers for the duration of our five day hike. With tent pitched on a specifically designed wooden platform, we set about lighting our trangia and cooking dinner.
Day 2 is a longer walk from Snake Lagoon to Cape du Couedic, taking seven hours to cover 14km. After a breakfast of muesli, powdered milk and a cup of tea we set off over a bridge and up a hill for our first view of the mighty Southern Ocean stretching all the way to Antarctica. With the salt wind and sea spray in our faces, we walked to the tune of thundering waves crashing against cliffs. Stunted plants grow in shallow soil on the rocks so there is no shade in this exposed section. Down on the beach where rips, freak waves and sharks make swimming dangerous we are content to paddle our feet in the blue green, glass like shallows. This section of coastline is untamed, wild, rugged and spectacular; a pristine seascape with only the two of us to marvel at it; although even in this isolation old ropes and discarded plastic wash up in the sand. Climbing up to the rocky clifftop we head inland to Hakea campground which is tucked away in a swale as protection from the coastal winds.Day 3 is a 13km 6.5 hour walk from Cape du Couedic to Sanderson Bay (with additional time and distance for optional side trips). After visiting side trips it’s back to the main trail and into tall and dense coastal mallee. Lunch time was spent exploring the fascinating Remarkable Rocks, trying to hide from the howling wind in this exposed area. Leaving here we followed the coastline, enjoying the vast views. Banksia campground is located in a sheltered area with a platform to pitch our tent.
Day 4: Sanderson Bay to Grassdale, 13.5km in 6.5 hours. Looking back, we continue to see Remarkable Rocks, their strange shapes gradually becoming more distant. Our morning of coastal trekking and grand views then heads inland with vegetation changing from low, coastal heath to mallee and tea tree. The track winds through twisted, gnarled trees behind the Southern Ocean Lodge which perches between the sea and the bush. We have heard that rooms at the Lodge start at $2000 which is slightly out of our budget. It’s the simple camping life for us. At the South West River we use a rope pulley system to pull ourselves in a boat across the river. Life jackets are supplied and we enjoy this novel experience. Tea Tree campground is our base tonight and a short walk takes us to the original cottage of the pioneering Edwards family where kangaroos graze in open grassland.Our final hiking day is Grassdale to Kelly Hill Caves, a short 7.5km in 2.5 hours. Today’s walk continues inland along Wilderness and Grassdale lagoons; wetlands where birds breed and at least four species of frogs are found. Sugar gum and banksia woodlands are followed by damp shaded gullies of bracken fern as we reach Kelly Hill Conservation Park. This is the end of the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail and a tour of the Kelly Hill Caves is a great way to finish our hike before we are transported to our car back at the walk beginning at Flinders Chase Visitor Centre.
Now it’s January 2020 and Kangaroo Island has been devastated by bushfire. It saddens us greatly to think of the lives, properties and businesses lost and vast areas of the island’s vegetation and animals destroyed. We saw many animals during our hike, including tiger snakes, kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, echidnas, possums, Rosenberg’s goanna, frogs and many birds. The area we walked in has burned, the Southern Ocean Lodge is gone and we expect all the beautifully designed camp facilities no longer exist. It will take a long time for Kangaroo Island to recover and we feel privileged to have walked the Wilderness Trail and travelled through this wonderful landscape in 2016.