About the Walking Trail
Spend 5 days hiking the The Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail along the spectacular coastline of south-west Kangaroo Island. Follow the Rocky River, walk along the wild west coast, take a side trip to Admirals Arch and the Remarkable Rocks, walk to Hanson Bay and return inland through the forests to Kelly Hill.
The trail opened in 2016, and is a 5-day trail with campsites along the way, although there are day walk options available through some tour operators. The first day in the Rocky River Section, and the 5th day in the Kelly Hill Section can be hiked by anyone, but the middle 3 days are only accessible to people who have paid the $161 trail trail fee.
The trail distance is 60.4km on the main trail, with 12.6km of return side trips (73km overall).
Each campsite has tent sites for self-guided walkers, and a separate area for group tour tent sites, a communal kitchen and dining shelter, toilets and rainwater.
We’ve listed each of the 5 sections on a separate entry, or read a summary of each below.
- Day 1, Rocky River Section
- Day 2, Maupertuis Section
- Day 2 or 3, optional sidetrip to Admirals Arch
- Day 3, Sanderson Section
- Day 4, Grassdale Section
- Day 5, Kelly Hill Section
Day 1: Rocky River Section
Rocky River to Cup Gum Campsite (near Snake Lagoon)
4 hours, 12km
Day one commences at the Flinders Chase Visitor Centre and takes you to the famous Platypus Waterholes where you may encounter the rare and elusive platypus. This shared section of the trail has plenty of interpretation and offers a great introduction to the park. When the path joins up with the Rocky River Trail you’ll be immersed in dense eucalypt woodland that is home to a diversity of bird life and native animals. Reaching the Pardalote Lookout you will see the meandering Rocky River far below you as it flows out towards the Southern Ocean. You will then pass through riverbank and mallee habitats where wildflowers provide stunning arrays of colour all year around, along with orchids and fungi in the cooler months. Traversing your way down from the ridge towards the river you will come across the spectacular sight of the Rocky River Cascades. The day comes to a close at the Cup Gum Campground, a peaceful setting for your first night’s rest hidden amongst tall sugar gums and old-growth cup gums.
Day 2: Maupertuis Section
Cup Gum Campsite to Hakea Campsite (near Cape du Couedic)
7 hours, 14km
Day two takes you along the Rocky River towards its mouth at the coast. Not long into the walk you’ll be rewarded with your first breathtaking view of the mighty Southern Ocean. Here at the edge of the world there is nothing but the deep blue sea between you and Antarctica. The trail then heads south along the island’s wild and rugged coastline where birds of prey may be seen flying over the land and sea, while on the water bottle-nosed dolphins often surface as they hunt for fish. If you’re visiting between June and early October, you may even by treated to the majestic sight of Southern Right Whales on their annual migration to the Great Australian Bight. Upon reaching Maupertuis Bay you’ll head down from the clifftop onto the bone white beach below. Seafarers found this wild coastline unforgiving, with the remnants of shipwrecks that cost the lives of many still visible today. The trail eventually winds its way back up to the rocky clifftop, bringing you ever closer to the famous Cape du Couedic Lighthouse that sits atop the headland in the distance. Pause for a final look back on your day’s journey along the spectacularly beautiful coastline of Maupertuis Bay. When the trail turns inland you’ll be treated to softer conditions underfoot for the final stretch to camp. Tucked away in a swale, the Hakea Campground offers you protection from the relentless coastal winds and will lull you to sleep with the relaxing soundtrack of crashing waves on the nearby cliffs. If time permits, you may want to venture to nearby Admirals Arch to finish the day with a spectacular sunset.
Day 2 or 3: Optional Sidetrip to Admirals Arch
Hakea Campsite to Admirals Arch and return
4 hours, 9km return
An early start is required if you wish to complete the optional side trip off the Wilderness Trail to view the popular sites of historic Weirs Cove, Cape du Couedic Lighthouse and Admirals Arch.
Here you’ll also be able to view the enchanting antics of Australian and long-nosed fur seals and Australian sea lions that breed along this section of the coast.
Day 3: Sanderson Section
Hakea Campsite to Banksia Campsite (near Sanderson Bay)
6.5 hours, 13km (15.3km with return sidetrips)
An early start is required if you wish to complete the optional side trip off the wilderness trail to view the popular sites of historic Weirs Cove, Cape du Couedic lighthouse and Admirals Arch. Back on the Wilderness Trail the track heads east towards Sanderson Bay and enters dense coastal mallee before breaking out to the awesome sight of the Remarkable Rocks. Here walkers are offered another side trip off the wilderness trail to visit this incredible geological formations. Continuing on, the trail hugs the coastline and offers cinematic views that inspire both awe and contemplation – be sure to glance back from time to time for an ever changing view of the captivating Remarkable Rocks. At the end of the day’s walk you’ll find the Banksia Campground located in a sheltered area close to Sanderson Bay. Drop your pack at camp and take a short walk down to the small secluded beach to cool your tired feet.
Day 4: Grassdale Section
Banksia Campsite to Tea Tree Campsite (near Grassdale)
6.5 hours, 13.5km (extra 700m return sidetrip to Hanson Bay Beach)
Day four offers high energy coastal trekking at its best, with massive swells, towering cliffs and extended views along the coast all the way from Sanderson Bay to the spectacular Cape Younghusband. Looking back you’ll continue to see Remarkable Rocks as it is rarely seen, framed by the surrounding wild landscape. When the trail meanders inland as it heads towards Hanson Bay you’ll be treated to a dramatic change in vegetation from low coastal heath to tall, dense mallee and tea tree. Upon reaching the South West River you’ll have the opportunity to use a punt to cross the river; a novel experience not to be missed. The river crossing marks the gateway to the Cape Bouguer Wilderness Protection Area and the most untouched area on the trail. An optional side trip off the wilderness trail to the nearby Hanson Bay headland and the small settlement of Hanson Bay offers walkers another opportunity to dip their toes in the crystal clear water. Back on the Wilderness Trail you’ll follow the winding river to Kelly Hill Conservation Park and the Tea Tree Campground, located adjacent to the historic Grassdale property. A short walk from the campground you’ll find the original cottage that housed the Edwards family who were pioneers in the early settlemenDay 3: Hakea Campsite to Bt of the western end of the island. At sunrise and sunset you will encounter Kangaroo Island kangaroos as they emerge from the shelter of the native vegetation into the open grassland to feed.
Day 5: Kelly Hill Section
Tea Tree Campsite to Kelly Hill Caves
2.5 hours, 7.5km
The final day’s walk is somewhat more leisurely, but no less spectacular and beautiful. The trail passes through a diversity of habitats, from recovering woodlands to freshwater lakes and ‘karst’ cave systems. Reaching the stunning Wilderness and Grassdale Lagoons, birdwatchers will be rewarded with sightings of local and visiting woodland and wading birds. The Wilderness Lagoon provides vital habitat even in dry years when other water bodies dry out. A relatively short walk through beautiful sugar gum woodland, rich with orchids and fungi in the wetter months, brings the trail to its conclusion at the famous Kelly Hill Caves. Here you can take a guided tour of the limestone caves and discover how the spectacular decorations are formed.