NSW Sea Kayak Club – ‘Hot Rocks’ on Kangaroo Island [75]

by John Wilde

“Oh shit”, or words to that effect, from me. Then it was immediate action. Harry Havu, behind me had just yelled “Behind” and a look over my shoulder confirmed the worst — a big set had just formed and was about to break on me. I had also noticed that the beach of the sheltered cove that I thought I was going to land in was in fact studded with rocks. Out the back Keith Oakford had stopped to take a photo and behind him Alan Thurman was waiting to see if there was going to be any survivors.

The heavily laiden boat seemed to take an age to turn, despite my frantic efforts and then to get it to accelerate seemed almost impossible. I crested the first wave without problem, but out the back things were not looking good, as the second and third waves were bigger and even closer to breaking. A grunt over the second wave, but I realised the third wave was probably going to get me.

“Never give up,” as the wave started to curl above me, a final stroke and the whole boat fired almost clear off the back of the wave and somehow I was through, adrenaline pumping, no longer worried about cramped legs or tired arms, just glad to be back out on the open sea, beyond the surf line again. Kangaroo Island had just taught us a lesson.

This was the second day of a two week trip around the island and the previous day the four of us had crossed ‘Backstairs Passage’ from Cape Jervis in fine style to the wonderfully sheltered Pink Bay.

Today we were paddling part of the southern coast, renowned for its big surf, strong winds and lack of sheltered landing spots. It was certainly living up to its reputation. A little later, as the open sea was so calm, but the two metre swell was creating havoc along all the beaches we saw, we decided to stretch our legs by rafting up, releasing spray-decks and dangling our feet over the sides of the boats, the only stretch we thought they were going to get in a 60 kilometre day. In fact the island is full of contrasts and soon afterwards Keith found the most amazing sheltered cove for a lunch break, full of reflections and mirror images as we pulled our boats ashore in the middle of the basin, with cliffs towering on every side.

Our goal that evening was ‘Wreckers Beach’, not an inspiring name when you are looking for shelter, but in fact a series of reefs protect this area well and make it an easy spot to land in sea kayaks. We found this situation at many of our landing spots. A close examination of charts and maps allowed us to choose sheltered landings every evening, despite a pounding surf along the shore line in many places.

The third day, with slight south-easterly winds, we headed to Vivonne Bay, another 52 km hop, but we promised ourselves a rest day after this, as the forecast was for strong headwinds the following day and the one shop we were going near on the island was beckoning, so a walk, fresh orange juice and burgers were the order of the day.

Two days later we rounded Cape Du Couedic, to what is regarded as the crux of the trip — the west coast. The cape itself is quite dramatic, with Admirals Arch carving out a massive cave at the base of the cliffs, surf crashing high onto the rocks, a narrow passage between the Brothers Islands and the cape, large numbers of seals in all directions, leaping into the sea and bobbing to the surface like curious labrador dogs watching our progress. Keith was so affected by the scene that he had his camera out recording every moment, but shortly after this he realised that it had parted from his buoyancy aid and disappeared. (If anyone happens to see a seal with a shiny new waterproof camera, taking photos in this area, could you please contact Keith so he can go back and reclaim it!)

We approached West Bay — the only reliable landing on the west coast — with some trepidation as it is renowned for big surf. We had already paddled 50 kilometres that day and if the surf was too big for a landing we would have another 30 to 40 km before we could try elsewhere, but we almost laughed as we got in close, discovering a six inch ripple onto the beach and another fine camp just above the water line.

This section of coast is renowned for shipwrecks, so the following morning we explored the cliffs, caves and limestone formations just north of West Bay and felt pity for the ship that had sailed flat out into the cliffs, en route from Scotland, one stormy night, with the loss of all 25 on board. This day”s paddle also took us around Cape Bourda to the north coast, a much more sheltered area with many more landing places and habitation and suddenly we could see in our minds the end of the trip.

Several days later we were brought to a halt by strong headwinds just past Cape Cassini and opted to camp in a sheep paddock for the day. It was agreed that we would head off as soon as possible the following day if the wind had died, so we retired early, but I woke in shock at 6 am to realise the others were up, fed and packing, so after a quick breakfast I was scrambling to catch up, with Harry already on the water in the darkness. It was only as I unpacked my boat at the end of the day on Point Marsden, that I realised I had left my book, note book, maps, spare batteries and reading glasses in the darkness at the last campsite. Feeling very peeved, I considered paddling straight back to get it, but group discussion convinced me it would be better to paddle into Kingscote the following day and catch a taxi to our old campsite. Then, just before dark, there was a hail from the cliffs above: “Have you guys lost something?” and there was a local fisherman, who had found my bag, located a phone number, and phoned my wife in Canberra, who had informed him of our whereabouts. He then drove 20 kilometres out from Kingscote, walked several kilometres to find us and delivered my bag. I hardly had time to thank him before he was off again in the gathering darkness. To say this was a wonderful gesture is hardly enough.

The following day Keith and I paddled into Kingscote for a break and I bought the fisherman a slab of beer — the least I could do.

So now we just had the crossing of “Backstairs” again, so we decided on another early start and at 4.30 am on a pitch black morning, we set off. For Alan this was a particularly big event, his biggest yet open crossing, 40+ kilometres, roaring tides and a 20 knot wind. By the end he was glad to get off the water, as the final tide race seemed to last forever as we ferry-glided across the final rip into the shelter of Cape Jervis. For his first big trip this was a real eye-opener and although there were a lot of new experiences, he survived with a smile and that dry northern wit intact.

What more could you want on a trip: lots of challenges, an island full of interest and beauty, super-friendly locals and three great paddlers to be with.

And the ‘Hot Rocks’? Well they could have been ‘Remarkable Rocks’, a group of massive boulders perched on the edge of a cliff ready to tumble into the sea at one of the capes, or they could have been the sun-warmed boulders we lay on at Hansons Bay after a cold finish, or they could have been something else… “What goes on the trip stays on the trip!”

Kangaroo Island Trip Details
Location Destination Distance (km) Average Paddling Speed (km/h) Paddling Time (h) Total Time (h) Wind (knot)/Direction Swell (m) Sea (m)
Cape Jervis Pink Bay 26.63 6.1 4.22 4.22 5-15 SE 0.5 0.5
Pink Bay Wreckers Beach 61.07 6.4 9.33 10.35 5-10 SE 0.5 0.5
Wreckers Beach Vivonne Bay 50.61 6.3 8.03 8.55 5-10 SE 0.5 0.5
Rest Day           20-25 SW    
Vivonne Bay Hanson Bay 36.4 5.9 6.1 6.23 10-20 SW 2-2.5 0.5
Hanson Bay West Bay 44.3 6.4 6.55 7.21 15-25 SE 2-2.5 0.5
West Bay Snug Cove 45.54 5.7 8.01 11.23 5-15 NE 0.5 0.5-1
Snug Cove Stokes Bay 35.69 7 5.05 6.41 10-25 SW 0.5 1
Stokes Bay Point Cassini 16 5.7 2.3 2.3 15-30 SE 0.5 0.5
Point Cassini Point Marsden 28.8 5.5 5.14 6.17 10-20 SE 0.5 0.5
Rest Day Kingscote 30       0-5 0 0
Point Marsden Cape Jervis 45.05 6.9 6.3 6.41 10-25 SW 1 0.5
Totals   420.09