Camping in Winter...bring it on!
by Tania Dalton IG @bessiebusandus
I’m not going to lie. When we saw the weather forecast the days we had booked to head over to Kangaroo Island, we really did consider cancelling. It was tipped to be rainy and one of the coldest weekends in South Australia (it even snowed in the Flinders Ranges), but we were so happy that we made the decision to go regardless because it turns out that winter camping on Kangaroo Island is truly spectacular.
Now, we aren’t strangers to this island paradise having visited numerous times over the last few years. With previous trips though, there was always an agenda; places to be, people to see and all that. The exciting part is that this trip would be different to the others. It was giving us a chance to park up Bessie Bus at a number of different campgrounds that we hadn’t been before. It would allow us to sit by an open fire and live life slowly. And it was an opportunity to see for ourselves the regeneration on the Western end of the Island that has been going on since the devastating bushfires early in the year.
After hopping off the ferry in Penneshaw and taking a couple of detours to get an inside warming hottie choc from Fat Beagle Café, take a wander on the KI Sculpture Trail and a quick stroll on the beach, it was off to the only winery with a view to Australia..
Located only 13km from Penneshaw, Dudley Wines cellar door is perched atop the rolling limestone hills of the Dudley Peninsula with a view across the water to the mainland that would be envied by many a vineyard owner. The Howard family, fourth & fifth generation Islanders, own and run the business and have developed their cellar door to be a “must visit” destination for any KI tourist. With a variety of tastings on offer, a golf hole for those that like to test out their skills with the sticks and a small but tasty lunch menu, it is worth stopping by Dudleys. Our hot tip; enjoy a Kangaroo Island Whiting pizza washed down with a glass of Dudley Bubbly.
Full from our time at Dudleys, we ventured another 10km along the road to the Lashmar Conservation Park South campground which is set along the Chapman River. It was here that we settled in for our first night, stuffed our face with campfire marshmallows, and where Brett caught his first black bream which left him with a childlike smile on his face for the entirety of his time on KI.
This National Park run campground is one of two in the Lashmar CP with the northern sites being closer to Antechamber Bay. We were keen to have a bit of river time, so elected to choose the Southern campground this time around. Priced at $16 for the site, we had access to a nearby picnic shelter with tables & seating and a gas bbq (which can be used all year round, even on fire ban days). Some of the sites also have firepits for use (check seasonal restrictions). Although they say there are no toilet facilities, they did have a couple of port-a-loos on site too. We don’t know if this will be an ongoing thing but it sure was welcomed! The majority of the 12 sites in the campground have enough space for up to 8 people, however sites 11 & 12 will take up to 20 people each, so great if you are travelling in a group. Bookings can be made via the parks.sa.gov.au site.
While we had planned to get a little active on day two, Mother Nature clearly had other ideas for us. So instead of exercising our legs, we decided to let our stomachs do the work.
Heading towards Kingscote, the rains began, so all plans to visit Pennington Bay and walk up the 500 steps up to Prospect Hill evaporated. I won’t say that I was disappointed as the idea of baked goods had got in my head, so we had to make a stop at the Rabbit Warren Bakery in Kingscote. Pies & sausage rolls demolished; we made our way to the KI Brewery.
The KI Brewery, most of which was built from recycled local materials by owner & builder Mike, is a great place to spend a winter’s day. With its cozy, rustic vibe, and of course blazing combustion heater to keep us toasty warm, we settled in for a tasting paddle and platter.
The call of gin then sounded, so off to Kangaroo Island Spirits we went. KI Sprits was the first dedicated gin distillery in Australia with owners Jon & Sarah Lark, crafting award winning gin from their Kangaroo Island shed since 2002. There’s absolutely nothing pretentious about this place. The staff are knowledgeable and friendly, the product is absolutely delicious and we got to sip away under the blossoms near a fire in the gin garden. That is just the way we like it.
Our day was going by way too quickly, and it was time to make our way towards our night two campsite. There was just one more stop to be had though at the gorgeous Vivonne Bay. This part of the Island was very much impacted by the bushfires, however the Vivonne Bay General Store was left standing after a fight to keep it safe by local volunteer firefighters. We had already eaten too much for the day (and our catch from the day before was on this night’s menu) but we saw a number of people walking out with the store’s famous whiting burger. The temptation to get one for ourselves was real, but we used every bit of willpower and drove away from this tasty treat down to the extremely beautiful beach instead. Best to take ourselves out of temptation’s way!
We chose the Western KI Caravan Park as our home for the night. Despite being right in the heart of the bushfire, all but a couple of cabins were kept safe. Truly amazing. A stay in this park makes you feel like you are in the middle of the bush, only you have all the amenities to make your stay comfortable. At the time of our visit, the owners were in the process of building a brand new camp kitchen, so we look forward to seeing how that turns out.
We particularly loved the park’s fire pit area which made the perfect place for us to cook up Brett’s bream catch from the day before and enjoy a bottle of Dudley’s Shearing Shed Red while it sizzled away.
Heading into Flinders Chase National Park on day three was one of the experiences we were most looking forward to. Fire had absolutely ravaged this part of the Island, reducing the once thick bushland to acres of lifeless looking black twigs. We had visited the Island shortly after the fires and it was absolutely heartbreaking to see such devastation. Nine months later and Mother Nature has certainly put on a show with a stunning amount of regrowth both around the Island and inside the National Park. The native grass trees in particular are looking amazing as they stand proudly along the edge of road.
We stopped first at Admirals Arch during our Flinders Chase visit. It was all about the seal puppies here. The colony here is huge and there were so many littlies frolicking around, jumping around in the water and playing on the cliffs. The views from here, and the Arch itself are spectacular, but it was these little guys that stole our hearts. We could have watched them all day, except the wind & cold did get the better of us. Best to rug up so you can enjoy this beautiful place properly.
Cape de Couedic lighthouse has always been a favourite of mine. Situated on the most south westerly point of the Island near Weirs Cove, the waters claimed a number of ships before the lighthouse was actually built. It was first lit in 1909 and has been automated since 1957. Love that it’s both pretty and practical.
You may not have been to Kangaroo Island before, but if you know anything about KI, it’s probably because you’ve seen an image of Remarkable Rocks. The Rocks would easily be one of the most photographed and recognisable attractions on KI with tourism bodies and the like highlighting this natural wonder in print all around the world. These incredible granite formations are just as their name suggests; remarkable. Over 500 million years of wind, rain and the ocean battering the coast has sculptured these slabs of granite into towering forms & hidden corridors. If you think this rock is a little underwhelming, you should see what’s behind us!
For our final night on KI, we really wanted to find a spot near the beach and we found that with Western River Cove. Wow, this place had it all with rolling green hills, the Western River meandering by and a secluded beach overlooking turquoise waters. This really was something special.
Like many of the campgrounds on the Island, this one was run by the council. Facilities are basic, but super clean. There’s a picnic shelter complete with bbq, tables and bench seats, and a drop toilet. Sites here were $17 for two people. Bring your cash as you will need to make payment via the envelope provided on site.
Before we came to Western River Cove though, we did quite a bit of research on the roads leading to it to work out if Bessie Bus would be up for the challenge. There were plenty of mixed reviews, especially when it came to large vehicles & towing caravans due to the dirt roads and steep descents that need to be made. One thing we suggest is coming in from the West. Coming in from the other direction will mean some creative driving (i.e. lots of reversing) when you reach the campground. It’s also a bit kinder on your brakes as the descents are a little less steep.
After a cold, wet and fish-less night (yes, Brett did get out and give it a go from the beach despite the weather), we woke for sunrise and took ourselves down to what felt like our own private beach. We scrambled over the rocks, wandered along the beach and basically just wished we had more time to enjoy this piece of paradise. It was a perfect start to the day, and having it all to ourselves made it even better.
One part of the Island that we had looked at staying at was Brown Beach. Another council campground, this beachside location is only about 14km from Penneshaw and has some excellent sheltered sites with a picnic shelter, bbq and toilet facilities. While we didn’t stay for the night, we made the most of the grounds enjoying a late brekky with a view before heading for the ferry.
There is no doubt that Kangaroo Island is somewhere very special. We only had three and a half days and didn’t even scratch the surface of what can be done. Whether you are a solo traveler, couple or a family, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
Sure, KI is amazing in Summer, but don’t be scared off by Winter, there’s so much to see and do even when it is grey and cold. Pack those winter woollies and get out there and experience it. With less people around, you may even get your own private taste of paradise.
Follow along with Brett, Tania & Bessie Bus on their adventures @bessiebusandus