Kangaroo Island (SA) [59]

By Stuart Trueman

Within a few months of being diagnosed, Sharon’s mother died of cancer 20th Dec 04. We attended the funeral in Adelaide on 29th Dec after which Sharon drove me to Cape Jervis.

Charts show that tidal currents flow through the Backstairs Passage at 3 knots. This movement of water means that a kayaker needs to be aware, prepare and plan as best they can. There are many factors that affect the tidal flows in the area and tide guides are just that, guides. I found that by looking at the tide guide & charts, I had an idea of what should be happening but by being aware and keeping an open mind, I’d soon find out what was actually happening.

I set off with the help of an ebb tide, which flows through the Backstairs Passage out to sea. The winds were blowing from the east creating bumpy wind over tide conditions, which eased as I got closer to KI.

As I approached Cape St. Albans, I found myself being pulled out into the open ocean and a boiling sea. It took quite an effort to release myself from the grip of the current running round the point. It was quite unnerving to find myself unexpectedly caught in the current being pulled out through the standing waves.

I climbed up to a navigation light on Cape St. Albans to get a bird’s eye view, which of course showed a pleasant river of current flowing past the point with calm, clear waters on the other side.

I got back into the kayak and allowed the current to take its grip, but from this angle things didn’t look so pleasant and the calm waters were nowhere to be seen. Things moved fast, there was no turning back, but after a short, sharp ride, I was relaxing in the calm waters round the headland and heading towards Pink Bay.

Pink Bay is a very inviting place on the East Coast, sporting a hammock, table & chairs in the shade and a big house overlooking it all. I resisted the temptation for a lay down while I had a bite to eat. Soon I was on my way; it was only five minutes before I was heading back to free a jammed skeg. This time the temptation was too much so I had a doze in the hammock until the incoming tide started to nudge my kayak around on the beach. I ended the day at Flat Mouth (Wilson River). A nice spot which would soon defend itself with nasty surf, if the swell built up.

From Flat Mouth I headed for Point Tinline for lunch. At one end of Wreakers Beach, I found an Osprey Nest. At the other end, I found a camp ground with a toilet block and a very welcome water tank. Refreshed I spent the afternoon paddling to a beach just past Cape Gantheaume where I spent the night with some of the local seal population.

After pushing through the surf, an otherwise uneventful morning paddle found me at Vivion Bay. I dragged my kayak over the beach into the river and soon found what I took to be the village centre. After getting into dry clothes I found that the shop was a few km’s away on the main road. I got a lift but if you find yourself in the same situation, paddle up the river a couple of kilometres to the bridge, from where it’s only 100 meters to the shop.

After a phone call, burger, coffee and a quick play on the Internet, to see if the weather on the screen was better than the weather on my radio, I was off again to Hanson Bay. From most angles Hanson Bay was guarded by breaking waves and reefs but after finding the correct approach angle followed by a sharp dogleg it was quite safe. A great little spot, well worth a visit.

The stretch from Hanson Bay to West Bay sports the tourist attractions – Remarkable Rocks, Admirals Arch and Cape de Couedic. I didn’t think that these areas stood out from the rest of the coast as being particularly spectacular. From a kayak they just blended into the equally spectacular south coast. This demonstrated to me that those who travelled by car had the chance to appreciate this coast at a few chosen, advertised spots but those who travelled by kayak were treated to its entire beauty.

The next morning I was up at 0600 to see dark skies & lightning on the horizon.

A strong W-SW change was forecast for later in the day, which would build up the seas along the West Coast, and I was worried that the gloom on the horizon was that change moving in early. I was on the water 0700, darkness was closer now, and the thunder could be heard. Convinced this would be my last chance for a few days to move on I put on a good pace focusing on Cape Borda.

It was not long before lightning was flashing down on all sides, there was no gap between the flash and thunder. I have been hit by lightning while climbing in the French Alps, waking up after a few seconds to find myself face down in the snow. I had a few thoughts about the consequences of a zap while paddling but in the end there was nothing to be done other than keeping my focus on the Cape. During the storm, winds blew from the East and I lost sight of Cape Borda in the rain. I kept off the coast, which would have offered shelter. As I was expecting 30-40 knots to hit me from the West at any time, I didn’t want to risk getting pushed up against the cliffs. As I rounded the Cape the clouds cleared and the sun came out. The relief when it was obvious things were calming down and not picking up from the west was soon dampened as I headed into the easterlies after rounding Cape Borda.

I got to Harvey’s Return and landed through 6-inch surf onto a beach and had a well deserved lunch break. I got a forecast, which predicted the W-SW 20- 30 knot change with stormy gusts to 50 knots later that afternoon. The wind from the East had picked up and 10 minutes after setting off, I realised that to try and out run the change into a headwind, along cliffs for the second time in a day was pushing my luck. I returned to Harvey’s Return and wondered if this was the reason Harvey went back? That night the storm passed through.

I had thought that being on the North Coast and sheltered from the swells of the Southern Ocean I would have no problems with the condition of the seas.

I was wrong. The beach had been washed away, large dumping waves were smashing onto the rocks on all sides of the little inlet. The water had reached within a few feet of my kayak even though I had moved it up the rocks to what I thought was a very generous level. There was no need to ponder the options; I set off for a very pleasant walk to the lighthouse. I got back in the afternoon and was optimistic as the wind was dying down. I packed up and waited, wishing I was on that swell and heading east.

It was a tempting 40 meters until I would be in the clear.

The biggest problem was the 6-foot dumping waves across the entrance. These formed very quickly sucking up the weeds from underneath. As they crashed the wall of white water did not decrease in speed or size as the bay funnelled them towards the shoreline. As well as breaking across the entrance waves would break at another two spots in the inlet. As I saw it there was no room for error, to be swept back onto the rocks would seriously damage the kayak, at best. The depth of water meant that to be rolled would mean my head would be likely to hit the rocky seabed. I waited until 1600 then set up camp again.

Next morning things looked better. I got up at 0500 and after working things out made my move at 0700. I stood knee deep in surf amongst the rocks holding my kayak steady. The water drained out of the inlet and I quickly positioned the kayak, jumped in and snapped the spray skirt shut. The kayak gave a horrible gelscraping shriek as the incoming swell lifted me off the rocks. I gave it some good hard tugs on the paddle and pulled out of the inlet as a dumper formed under me. It was with much relief I turned to see the wave spray itself across the rocks of Harvey’s Return, I wasn’t going back there today!

Helped by the westerly wind and swell I pushed along the spectacular north western coast and made Western River Cove for lunch. I pressed on finally stopping at Smith Bay for the night which I mistook for Emu Bay but I was really too tired to care.

After an early start and stopping at Emu Bay for a phone call I had a leg stretch at North Cape before striking out for Cape Jervis. Worried that the currents could take me out to sea through Backstairs Passage, I set a course slightly north of the Cape. However the winds and current sent me even further north making the last couple of hours a real struggle as I fought to gain ground. With little left in me I pulled into the ferry terminal to find Shaz waiting on the beach.

My first impressions of Kangaroo Island were of a beautifully harsh coastline with little chance of finding water and limited safe landings. I also got a feeling remoteness, I only saw one other craft along the south coast and little evidence of man’s occupation from the water. This impression softened as many natural landing spots have access roads to a sprinkling of huts sporting toilet blocks with water tanks to accommodate the tourists who choose to camp. As with most of my paddles, I regretted not having more time to explore, that’s the down side of trying to get as much paddling in as I can.

I would like to thank Mike Snoad for his help in trip preparation and my wife, Sharon for supporting the trip after an emotional Christmas.

Date From To Distance (Approx)
30/12/04 Cape Jervis Flat Mouth (Wilson River) 51km
31/12/04 Flat Mouth (Wilson River) Cape Gantheaume 53km
01/01/05 Cape Gantheaume Hanson Bay 65km
02/01/05 Hanson Bay West Bay 43km
03/01/05 West Bay Harvey’s Return 26km
04/01/05 Weathered In    
05/01/05 Harvey’s Return Smith Bay 75km
06/01/05 Smith Bay Cape Jervis 65km


Weather Observations from Cape Borda
Date Direction of max wind gust Speed of max wind gust (km/h) 9pm wind 9am wind speed (km/h) 3pm wind direction 3pm wind speed (km/h)
30/12/04 NE 39 NE 24 NNE 17
31/12/04 SSE 54 NE 17 SW 22
1/01/05 SE 54 SE 31 SE 28
2/01/05     ESE 26 SE 15
3/01/05 WNW 61     NNW 22
4/01/05 WSW 81 WSW 37 WSW 39
5/01/05 SSW 43 SW 24 SSW 30
6/01/05 SSW 48 S 22 SSW 30