Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail - The Call of the Wild
By Heidi Lewis
** Unfortunately due to the bushfires on Kangaroo Island in January 2020 the KI Wilderness Trail is closed until further notice **
Photographer Heidi Linehan captures the rare beauty of the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail.We interviewed Heidi about why a busy mum and business owner who is about to move house, would decide to spend five days hiking alone through the Kangaroo Island wilderness and in winter no less? Heidi said she did it for the love of adventure and excitement, but in doing so, found true peace and a new sense of contentment.
The Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail only opened in early 2017 but the walk is becoming increasingly popular globally. The 61 kilometre, five day trek weaves through spectacular vegetation and coastline all the way to the rugged shores of the Southern Ocean. The beauty of the Eucalyptus woodlands, deserted beaches and the rocky clifftops was incomparable.
“On the clifftops I wanted to keep looking out to sea, but had to watch my feet with all the rocky outcrops.”
The trek starts at Flinders Chase National Park and finishes at Kelly Hill Conservation Park. Both parks are located on the far western end of Kangaroo Island, about a one-and-a-half hour drive from the ferry terminal in Penneshaw or just over an hour’s drive from Kingscote. Both drives offer stunning views of both coastal and inland landscapes.
Heidi says that on the whole, it’s an easy trek, clearly marked and with few ascents or descents. Hikers should expect to manage between three and seven hours a day, not including time for side trips. Heidi is an active 37 year old, who has hiked regularly for years. She challenged herself by doing the trail independently, however there are also opportunities for small group tours.
Heidi is first and foremost a photographer, and made many stops along the way to capture the region’s unspoiled beauty. With its dense bushland, soaring cliffs, sandy white beaches and pristine rivers and lagoons, the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail takes hikers through some of the island’s most iconic natural and historic attractions. At Hanson Bay, Heidi was so overcome by the idyllic scenery; she stopped and meditated for an hour, before watching a brave man take a dip in the icy water.
At the end of each long day of walking, Heidi was able to relax in the relative luxury of well-designed campsites. There are four dedicated overnight camping areas along the trail (Cup Gum, Hakea, Banksia and Tea Tree). Each campground has 24 tent platforms, with plenty of privacy, well-lit toilets, water, food preparation shelters and basic camp furniture.
“I’m used to campsites with just a rainwater tank with a tap so I actually found it quite luxurious,” laughs Heidi. “There was even a fire-pit at one of the campgrounds, but unfortunately I couldn’t use it because of the rain.”
For walkers who are not so keen on camping, there is also the option to stay in accommodation off the trail and be taken to and from the different checkpoints each day. The rain and the temperature was challenging. The best time to hike the trail is between March and November, although every season has something special to offer. Heidi is someone who feels the cold and the trail in winter was tough.
“I was so cold I was just curling my hands around my mug of tea trying to get warm. The first night was particularly chilly. I started wishing for daylight to come well before the birds started singing… well before.”
The next day the sun came out and slowly, Heidi’s body adjusted to the cold and her mind relaxed into the solitude.
“When I was walking under the forest canopy I’d have these ‘aha moments’ of clarity and tears would creep into the corners of my eyes,” she says. “Along the clifftops I was in complete awe and I’d comment out loud to myself about how beautiful it was.”
Kangaroo Island is a haven for Australian wildlife due to a large portion of the island being preserved. The Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail is an ideal location to see native animals as they should be seen – in the wild. For some of the animals that live on the island, this is their last stronghold. Hikers will see many Kangaroo Island kangaroos, and if lucky enough, there is the possibility to come across many different types on the island, including echidnas, the Tammar wallaby, Rosenberg’s goanna, brush-tailed possum, western pygmy possum, southern brown bandicoot, koala, seven species of microbat, six species of frog, Kangaroo Island tiger snake and pygmy copperhead snake. Depending on the time of year, sightings of long-nosed fur seals, bottlenose dolphins and migrating whales in the water are also not uncommon.
The trail also treks through many historic locations that are famous to the island. Prehistoric megafauna fossils and ancient Aboriginal campsites just some of the significant locations hikers encounter. As the trail heads towards the iconic Cape du Couedic Lighthouse, walkers will follow the footsteps of the handful of shipwreck survivors who fought against seemingly insurmountable odds and lived to tell the tale.
Though Heidi was travelling on her own, but she was never alone. There were two hikers behind her the entire trip and would meet every evening at the next designated campsite. She never once felt unsafe on the trail, despite the occasional Tiger Snake slithering across the track.
With one day to go, Heidi had a breakthrough moment.
“I was walking through forest near the Southern Ocean Lodge and I found myself almost in a trance. I was walking without fully realising where I was. As the wind was whipping over the treetops, I began visualising rolling waves of colourful music and then I just started to cry. I realised that I was living a week that I had always dreamed about; travelling, experiencing new things and taking photos. I felt weak and strong all at once.”
At the end of the five days, Heidi felt rejuvinated.
“Being a mum, running my own business and prepping for a house move I’d hardly had any time to sit down and relax in the lead up to the hike so I was a bit worried about how exhausted I’d feel afterwards. I didn’t feel tired at all though, I actually felt really refreshed. I didn’t expect to have such a good time, but I loved it,” she says.
So would Heidi walk the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail alone again?
“In a heartbeat”, she says.
Interested in experiencing the five day Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail? See the SeaLink Website for a range of packages or tours that include ferry travel to Kangaroo Island, accommodation, transfers and your walking pass for the trail.