Island Tour

Myself and Jeremy have a bit of a passion for getting on our bikes and going places, and one of the places on our list for quite a while has been Kangaroo Island. Just by virtue of being an island it is a romantic destination, and the challenge of the rough roads only added to its appeal. Pristine environment, isolated bays, wildlife and great local food and wine – how could we resist! So we set aside 3 days over the Australia Day weekend, and with a minimum of planning, left the mainland behind.

It is easy to get to KI from Adelaide without a car – for a charge of $10 per bike we could put them on the coach and then on the vehicle deck of the ferry, safely tucked out of the way. Jeremy took his Avanti with a few modifications to set it up as a touring bike, loaded with front and rear panniers and carrying our cooking gear and supplies, and I took my trusty Xtracycle, carrying our tent and essential snacks. Between us we had carrying capacity for 17 litres of water, an important consideration on KI where most campsites don’t have water.

The ferry landed in Penneshaw at 10am, and after a little bit of meandering around, and calling into the Visitor Information Centre where we filled up our water bottles, we set off for the easternmost point of the island, Cape Willoughby. This required a long steep climb out of Penneshaw, but we were rewarded by the most beautiful view of the mainland. Shortly afterwards we were on the famous KI dirt road. Oh boy. The stories are true – the road was quite an experience. A word of advice ladies – make sure you have a really good sports bra when going cycling on KI! But after the initial shock, it became clear that one simply has to slow down, relax, loosen the body to go with the bumps, and laugh a lot! There were soft sand traps galore, corrugations like an old farm shed, potholes like swiss cheese, interspersed by stretches of beautifully graded hard white dirt stretching off into the distance. We had plenty of hills to keep us working, and whenever we gathered speed on the downhills, my bell would be set off at the slightest indentation, functioning as a “bump-o-meter”, and ringing constantly as we flew along.

As we came up to the lighthouse at Cape Willoughby, we were covered by a fine mist that covered the Backstairs Package on our left, in contrast to the clear skies and views of the South Coast cliffs on our right. We were cheerily greeted by the two National Parks blokes manning the Visitor Centre, who shared stories and jokes with us as we ate our picnic lunch. “Welcome to the Cape Willoughby experience” said one as we all watched a four wheel drive pull up, sit for a minute, and then drive away.

Fully refreshed, we started the next leg to American River, which took longer than we thought, as our average speed on the dirt roads was about 10-12 km/h. We were staying with friends that night, who happened to live at the top of a very steep hill. The cold beers were most welcome! However, the next morning we were reminded that dehydrated cyclists should always drink PLENTY of water in between bottles of Coopers and bottles of KI red… consequently we got off to a very slow start on Sunday morning, and had to revise our itinerary.

Our plan was to ride to Kingscote and check out some of the attractions, but as we were heading to D’Estrees Bay to camp that night, we needed to head off in that direction, with just a little detour to sample the wares of Clifford Honey Farm. Highly recommended, we had our picnic lunch under the trees with Honey Ambrosia to drink, followed by awesome homemade honey ice cream. We once again discovered how friendly the locals are, especially one gentleman from Penneshaw who was showing some French friends around the island, who had a chat with us and then offered us the use of his shower once we were back in Penneshaw!

We left the honey farm loaded with produce, and pushed on to D’Estrees Bay and the wilderness of Cape Gantheaume National Park. We found a campsite at least a kilometre from the nearest campers, and enjoyed the moon and stars and the sound of marsupials scampering around. In the morning we went swimming at the beautiful Wrecker’s Beach, with crystal clear water and the whole place to ourselves.
Then it was time to load the bikes up again, and head back to Penneshaw. We reached Prospect Hill after midday, where we climbed up 512 steps to the lookout for a view of the narrowest part of the island and enjoyed our cheese sandwiches and the 360 degree vista. I was obsessed about calling into at least one winery while we were on KI, and I could see Sunset Winery on the map only 6 kms out of Penneshaw. What we didn’t realise was the grade of the hill to get there! At that point of our journey, faced with a curving gravel driveway that reared up like a wall, we got off our bikes and pushed them all the way up. Actually, Jeremy rigged up a rope from his bike to mine and TOWED it up the hill, with my rather pathetic assistance.

But it was worth it! The view was fantastic, and the wine was great, and we happily spent some money there. Luckily the driveway looped around to rejoin the main road at the top of the huge hill, so there was no more suffering. All that remained was to make our way down the 11% grade hill into Penneshaw, flying down at 60 km/h to the renowned “Fish” café where the fish’n’chips were calling us. We collected our order and sat on the grass with a couple of beers, exhausted but exhilarated by the whole experience, waiting for the ferry to take us back to the mainland, and already planning our trip back.

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Comment by Gus on February 8, 2010 at 18:53
Great post Sophia, thanks for sharing. I have not been to KI and now it has been bumped to No.1 on my list of places to go. Jeremy's photos are a good illustration as well.
Comment by Sophia MacRae on February 8, 2010 at 19:05
Hi Angus - yes, I am now officially an AC blogger! Thanks for the link to Jeremy's photos, adds consideraly to the story!
Comment by Becca on February 9, 2010 at 10:50
Ah yes. The 11% grade hill back into Penneshaw... is not so tremendous on the way UP!
I naively attempted to cycle up it late last year, with my trusty peddly and full panniers... but alas, I've lived too long now on the Flat Westernish Plains of Adelaide, so my distance training was no help! Hill climbing for a newbie tourer was perhaps a bit too ambitious! But the view from the cemetery atop the hill was splendid, and the thrill of going down hill that fast still lingers in my bones...
One day I'll get back there...
Comment by Sophia MacRae on February 9, 2010 at 17:05
@Jim.... actually I'm not so sure I was properly equipped, my Xtracycle is a pretty heavy bike, and I didn't even change my tyres from my normal city slicks (very well used) to knobblies.... but I think I had an appropriate attitude, ie, "wtf, let's just do it! And to hell with how long it takes!"
Can't wait to get back and check out the west, and the north, and the northwest, and south....

@Becca... one thing I learnt about KI.... don't be ashamed to go slow, and even get off and walk when necessary!
Comment by Simone Cross on February 11, 2010 at 19:10
We cycled with panniers all the way from Victor Harbour to Cape Jervis in one day prior to getting on the ferry to KI. We reached 75km/hr coming down the hill into Cape Jervis with the huge blades of the wind turbines beside us. Magnificent ride across the Range Road and straight onto the ferry! Unforgettable.

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