Flinders Chase National Park
Flinders Chase National Park and the adjacent Ravine des Casoars wilderness in the north-west, and Kelly Hill Conservation Park in the south-east, encompass the western end of Kangaroo Island. The interior of the national park is characterised by tree-lined gullies, gorges and eucalypt woodlands while the coast is a wild, wind-worn seascape, where pounding seas have sculpted strange shapes in the limestone cliffs.
Spring, summer and autumn
- Parks SA (08) 8204 1910
- Parks SA Kingscote (08) 8553 4444
- Cape Borda Lighthouse (08) 8559 3257
- Kelly Hill Caves (08) 8559 7231
- Rocky River Visitor Centre (08) 8559 7235
Island Parks Pass and camping permit required
33 040 ha (Flinders Chase NP)
73 100 ha (FCNP and Ravine des Casoars WPA)
Penneshaw (08) 8553 1185
Featured Activities in the National Park
Watch the sun set through Admirals Arch
Experience the friendliness of the island’s marsupials
Tour Cape Borda lighthouse
Walk to Ravine des Casoars and enter the beach caverns at low tide
A look at the past
Matthew Flinders named ‘Kanguroo’ Island in 1802 after he and his crew landed here and shot and cooked 31 kangaroos. When Nicolas Baudin landed in 1803, he captured some kangaroos and emus to take back to France, and as a parting gesture left two hens, a rooster, a boar and a sow on the beach. In the early 1800s the only island inhabitants were a ragged band of escaped convicts, runaway sailors and Aboriginal women from Tasmania and mainland Australia, who traded in seal and kangaroo skins. An ofﬁcial settlement party arrived in 1836, only to pack up and leave four years later.
Established in 1919, Flinders Chase was the second national park proclaimed in South Australia. More recently the adjacent Ravine des Casoars and nearby Cape Bouguer wilderness protection areas were set aside to protect the natural environment.
When Europeans ﬁrst arrived on the island there were no signs of people. Stone tools, charcoal and shelter sites indicate that an active Indigenous community once lived here, but when and why Aboriginal people ceased to occupy the island remains a mystery.
While most of the park is forested hills, sheltered creeks and scenic lagoons, the coastline is incredibly dramatic, with magniﬁcent cliffs facing the Southern Ocean. Cape du Couedic, at the south-west tip, is famous for its wild scenery and Admirals Arch, sculpted by wave action, is probably one of the most photographed places on the island and is easily accessible along a short boardwalk. Close by, the aptly named Remarkable Rocks is a formation of huge granite tors weathered into unusual shapes and perched precariously on a cliff top at Kirkpatrick Point.
The island has 891 native plant species, from the larger trees such as sugar gum, blue gum and cup gum to the delicate native iris and several native orchids. There are many plants endemic to the island, including Kangaroo Island fringe-myrtle, trigger-plant and dampiera, along with a number of grevillea and hakea species. In addition, 30 species are listed as rare or threatened in other parts of Australia, such as the island boronia, and the desert styphelia found in the mallee heathland. Some of the most vulnerable plants include the delicate late donkey orchid and the Kangaroo Island daisy (Achnophera tatei), which are only found around the park’s ephemeral wetlands.
Flinders Chase is renowned for its friendly animals and there are exceptional opportunities to observe them at close quarters. Safe from many of the mainland predators, the entire island is a wildlife haven, and a refuge for a number of species wiped out on the mainland by foxes and rabbits. The tammar wallaby, usually quite timid, is nevertheless a common sight. Kangaroos and emus are generally seen roaming around the visitor centre at Rocky River. Koalas, brought here in the 1920s, have prospered alarmingly to the point of almost destroying their habitat, the rough-barked manna gum. The platypus has also thrived since its introduction into creeks around the Rocky River area in the 1920s and 1940s. On the coast, New Zealand fur-seals breed at Cape du Couedic and you can watch their antics from the boardwalk at Admirals Arch. At Seal Bay Conservation Park (south-east of Flinders Chase), a colony of Australian sea-lions has staked its claim to the beach.
There are 200 species of bird in the park. An isolated population of glossy black-cockatoos are the most vocal residents. These stately birds feed in groves of drooping she-oaks at West Bay and Harveys Return. More likely to be heard than seen is the endangered bush stone-curlew – there is a small population of these creatures at Rocky River and although nocturnal, their eerie call is unmistakeable. More easily seen are Cape Barren geese, Australian brush-turkeys, gang-gang cockatoos and mainland emus, all introduced in the early 1900s. Along the undisturbed cliffs and sea stacks are nesting pairs of white-bellied sea-eagles and ospreys. Both of these beautiful ﬁshing eagles are rare in other parts of South Australia. The park’s heaths and woodlands are full of bush birds; there are parrots and honeyeaters, and keen ears may even pick up the calls of the rare heathwren.
Other common sights are butterﬂies (26 varieties) and an array of reptiles, including the impressive 1.5-metre Rosenberg’s sand goanna (Varanus gouldii rosenbergi), the main native predator on the island and a close relation to Gould’s goanna.
Flinders Chase and surrounding reserves offer visitors possibly the widest choice of recreational activities of any park in South Australia. An excellent place to start is the visitor centre at Rocky River, which has high-tech educational displays as well as a restaurant where you can enjoy local produce while you decide where to go ﬁrst. Drivers are advised to take special care, particularly at night, because of the abundant wildlife on the island’s roads.
There are dozens of trails ranging from easy strolls to overnight hikes through bushland or along the coast. One of the easiest at Rocky River is Platypus Waterholes Walk (4.5 km), leading to viewing platforms overlooking pools where platypuses live. This walk connects with the half-day Rocky River Hike through riverside honeyeater habitat. On West Bay Road, west of the visitor centre, Snake Lagoon Hike (1½ hours return) passes through mallee and sugar gums then follows Rocky River to the Southern Ocean. Further along West Bay Road another walk heads to the coast along Sandy Creek through soft dunes to Sandy Beach. A third coastal walk (2½ hours return) heads from West Bay Road along the Breakneck River to its mouth at a pretty beach enclosed by limestone cliffs. Expect to do some wading to get onto the beach.
At Cape Borda, Harveys Return Hike (1.5 km) leads down the haulage way where supplies for the lightkeepers were brought up from the shore below. It is steep going but the scenery is spectacular, with South Australia’s highest cliffs just to the east. A challenging hike through Ravine des Casoars Wilderness Protection Area from Ravine des Casoars Road to West Bay Road follows an unmarked route, requiring walkers to lodge a trip intention form, and a shorter trail (7.8 km return, 3–4 hours, medium difﬁculty) loops through the ravine to the coast and returns along an elevated scenic route.
The island’s most memorable wildlife walk (outside Flinders Chase) takes you through the dunes and along the beach at Seal Bay, right among its resident colony of Australian sea-lions.
There are guided tours through Kelly Hill Caves in the conservation park to the east of Flinders Chase. Adventure caving is also available.
The island’s marine life is fantastic with walls of gorgonian corals, harlequin ﬁsh, blue devils and colourful sponges. These waters provide some of Australia’s best temperate-water diving including wreck diving.
Kangaroo Island’s ﬁshing is consistently good, with ﬂathead, salmon, snook, trevally, King George whiting and bream in the waters around the park, and plenty of great locations for rock, estuary and beach ﬁshing.
Maritime historic sites
The rugged western end of Kangaroo Island faces the stormy Southern Ocean and the reefs and shoals have claimed 14 ships including the Loch Vennachar. This ship disappeared in 1905 and the wreck was not discovered until 1976, off Vennachar Point. Only one of the 27 crew was ever found and his unidentiﬁed body is buried in the sandhills at West Bay, with a single wooden cross marking his grave.
A unique square lighthouse was built at Cape Borda in 1858 to aid shipping through Investigator Strait and any vessels venturing close to the shore were warned with a cannon shot. The signal cannon is ﬁred daily during summer, and while your ears are still ringing, take a look around the museum and historic cemetery or join a guided tour of the tower.
The southern Cape du Couedic lighthouse was built after a series of disasters in 1909 (there are several wrecks around the cape). The 3-kilometre Weirs Cove hike, and a gentler walk with interpretive signs, give an insight into the life led by lightkeepers and their families on this remote coast.
In the south there are lookouts at Remarkable Rocks, Weirs Cove and Cape du Couedic, and at Bunker Hill 17 kilometres south of Rocky River on the Cape du Couedic Road. In the north, there are impressive cliff-top lookouts at Cape Borda and Scott Cove. Midway along Shackle Road, which winds through the remote Ravine des Casoars Wilderness Protection Area, there is a lookout at Bullock Waterhole with breathtaking views from the road’s highest point.
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