Overnight stays: American River Camping Ground, American River; Emu Bay Camp Site, Emu Bay; Rocky River Campground, Flinders Chase National Park
We changed our mind about visiting Kangaroo Island more often than Pauline Hanson on corporate tax cuts. I was always keen to see what it might offer, but for everything we could find out about it, nothing seemed that great, especially given the extraordinary cost of taking the ferry across. The deciding moment for us was when our friend Dan Nimmo, whom we met for about 10 minutes in Carnarvon Gorge, recommended it as a unique and great place, from his memory of their visit about five years ago.
So we bit the bullet and booked our ticket across from Cape Jervis, and raced down on the gorgeous drive from McLaren Vale, where farmland meets the ocean, supporting emus, roos, endless hills and spectacular cliffs. The one thing we noticed was that the further south we travelled, the wilder and untouched it became – perfect.
We promptly boarded the 6pm ferry and took the WomBatmobile on her second car ferry, bound for a The Roo.
The dusk drive to American River was a ripper. The road was paralleled by tall gums meeting in the middle, and the fading sunlight was peeking through the branches, giving us the feeling we were in a tunnel with strobe lights.
Another day, another echidna scurrying across the road for its life, knowing full well it’s the underdog against a 4.5 tonne Talvor Murana. From this moment I think we pretty much knew we were going to like The Roo. And the campsite, calm and quiet on the water was pretty good too, for a pittance.
Eager to see what all the fuss is about, we set off the next morning towards the island’s capital, Kingscote. This tiny town gave us an early indication of just how small and quiet KI is. I reckon I could’ve counted the amount of people floating around town on two hands, as I sat sipping my coffee while the girls looked for shops. I reckon I’ve been to primary school soccer games that have more people present than Kingscote.
We discovered that the island’s Fair was in town that day, so made our way to the oval for a relaxed morning watching horses, motorbikes, prized hens, and cake stalls.
The one thing we couldn’t quite come to terms with the entire time we were on the island, was the complete lack of people there were around. Loz joked numerous times how kind it was of the island to open up for us. But that’s honestly what it felt like. And when we pulled into Emu Bay, it was no exception. There was one single tent at the campsite, and us, who took advantage of a site looking out over the pretty ocean.
We reckon it must have been a reasonably quiet time to visit the island, but also noticed a lack of caravans and Stromatolites. In fact, we only spotted one single caravan the entire time we were there. We suspect the fact that because the ferry charges based on length of vehicle, it turns caravanners away in waves. It suited us motorhomers perfectly, costing not much more than a car.
The quietness lent itself perfectly to a chilled arvo and a nice long walk along the beach.
South Australia has already delivered some of the best sunsets of the trip to-date, and the one at Emu Bay that disturbed us while we were knocking down dinner outside, was no exception to the state’s remarkable colourful dusk talent.
Exploring the north
The following morning we decided to scour the remainder of The Roo’s north, which I think was the moment we went from liking KI, to loving it.
Western River Bay
The stunning descent into Western River Bay, over rolling green hills, admiring the sparkling turquoise ocean, is one of those brain photos you never hope to lose. And on arrival we again found ourselves the only ones around, with a cuppa on the cliff edge, overlooking the beautiful beach and rockpool, this was one of those special moments you hope for, but seldom get.
Snelling was another cracker, with unimaginable views surprising us as we popped over a hill, and rolled down into the bay, again, with no one around. We thought visiting KI was a thing, but it seemed one of SA’s best kept (or most expensive) secrets at this point.
King George Beach was forgettable, as was the main rocky beach at Stokes Bay. But, the not-so-secret beach, accessible only to people no larger than me, through rock tunnels and cavities, was a ripper. And here we saw some signs of civilisation, including sea gulls bigger than 2018 house prices drops.
We didn’t vibe the intended campsite there for the night, so continued our journey towards the north-western end of the island, bound for Borda Lighthouse.
Kangaroo Island has one main ‘highway’ loop road that is sealed. It gets you between the ‘major’ towns on the island and some attractions, but if you want to explore a bit more, as we usually do, you need to be prepared for gravel roads. We kind of have a ‘no gravel’ rule, but we’re willing to make an exception on The Roo, knowing it was a small island, and a couple we met before boarding said we’d be able to take the WomBatmobile anywhere on the island without any trouble.
Turns out they weren’t completely right.
The dirt road to Borda Lighthouse would be one of the longer roads on the island, and is an in/out to the top end of Flinders Chase National Park. Given the gravel we had been on to-date was great, our confidence was high, and the 30-odd kilometres each-way should be a walk in the park.
We were wrong.
The first 25km were a breeze, stock-standard solid gravel, giving you a false sense of security of what was to come. As the road hastily worsened, we slowed, and slowed, and slowed, until we were riding the corrugation slower than a snail.
It was a tough situation. We were so close to the lighthouse, for all we know, which could have the best views in the world, yet, at 6km/h we weren’t going to get there and back before dark. So we made the tough decision to turn around.
The road was barely wide enough to swing a cat, but with no traffic around I wasn’t too concerned on a three or four point turn, knowing we wouldn’t be holding anyone up. But the road was sandy, like super sandy. And we didn’t really noticed this fact until we stopped, an 8m long motorhome stopped across the road, completely covering both sides of the track.
Going in for my reverse leg of the second point of the turn, I realised I was accelerating to no avail. We were bogged, and were taking up the entire road, like a fish too big for its tank. Shit.
Thankfully we were onto it quickly enough and dug our tyres out of trouble, enough to get the wheels moving again, for the final point turn, and returning on the same deceitful road we had now come to despise. With no one around (apart from the odd goanna), I have no idea what we would’ve done if we couldn’t dig our way out 🤷🏼♂️. At least our home is also our car.
Flinders Chase National Park
The drive into Remarkable Rocks the next morning was another absolute beauty. And the rocks themselves, shaped over the past 500 million years or so were pretty impressive, with some perfectly formed ‘laxing’ chairs (as Liv calls them) sprawled throughout. The red rocks also reminded us of The Bay of Fires in Tassie.
Like most of the places we visit, we know very little about them prior to arrival, preferring the ‘wing it’ approach that has failed to fail us thus far. Admirals Arch was no exception, and when we rocked up and admired the scores of seals lazing and playing in the waters below, we became fixated.
When we descended almost into the actual Admirals Arch, watching the seal pups play in the naturally protected pool was pretty addictive. The seals were definitely the highlight, leaving the actual attraction of the arch to play second fiddle.
Scouring the south
Reasonably recently, someone built a 6-star resort on Hanson Bay. As one would expect, punters like us don’t get much of a look in, but the beach at Hanson Bay is another beauty.
But one thing we noticed about the south, was the winds. While the north was calm and still, the whirling winds seemed to come from the south, cooling the temp a few degrees and white-capping the otherwise pristine water.
I think the view we had for lunch looking across Vivonne Bay was one of our all-time favourites. Again, we were alone, parking up at one end of the bay, looking back across the gentle white caps splashing the bay waters, very very easy on the eyes.
Our first sand-boarding experience was in south-west WA, and we had one hell of a time, so were pretty pumped to hit The Roo’s dunes with Liv’s boogie board in-tow.
The experience was totally different, and when we wandered into the dunes we realised why it’s called Little Sahara, offering nothing but sand dunes for as far as the eyes allow. No water, and very little vegetation.
Sadly the sand dunes weren’t as steep as those in WA, so our little boogie board didn’t slide so smoothly. We did manage to find one small hill with enough slope to slide, which was a hell of a lot of fun in the glorious weather KI was putting on for us.
The advice we were given was that KI would likely take longer than we anticipated, but we were making extraordinarily good time, and weren’t in a hurry by any means. Luckily we weren’t in a hurry on the way to D’Estrees Bay when we found ourselves at tortoise-pace behind a full flock of sheep and their farmer, sprawling the entire width of the road for a number of kilometres. The farmer clearly either wasn’t used to tourists in the area or had little regard for them, as he showed no signs of urgency or apology. But we didn’t mind, and we laughed at how Australian this moment was – on a gravel road in the middle of nowhere, stuck in ‘traffic’ of the merino variety.
D’Estrees Bay itself was pretty ugly, and had the drive in itself not been beautiful countryside, we would’ve been disappointed. Despite some incredible looking freecamp options with beach frontage, there was stacks of seaweed on the sand, smelling worse than an isolated traveller who runs out of deodorant, so we shifted on.
We had almost ‘done’ Kangaroo Island in three days, which became a realisation when we had daylight to spare as we pulled in to check out Pennington Bay. It was another beauty, and the perfect place to finish our Roo, two nights earlier than expected.
The ferry had room for us that night, so rather than stick around for a couple more days, we agreed we’d seen all we came for, and wouldn’t leave disappointed.
The Roo really is a unique place, one difficult to describe. We had been given the advice to just check it out for ourselves, which although it sounds like a cop out, is 100% on the money. The drives, beaches, wildlife, and natural formations made our trip worthwhile, giving KI ‘a heart’, as Liv likes to encourage us to do when she likes a place.