Kangaroo Island, South Australia: Hiking to Remarkable Rocks, Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail

On the south coast of Kangaroo Island, I'm hiking towards one of South Australia's most impressive natural features, but not everybody in the group believes in the veracity of the name Remarkable Rocks.

"How can they be remarkable?" 11-year-old Hannah asks as we walk through the morning and the low scrub of Flinders Chase National Park. "They're just rocks."

But a couple of hours later, as we wander among the sculpted granite boulders, it's an opinion that's quickly trumped. "These rocks rock," my son Cooper declares.

What's equally remarkable is the walk that's brought us here. We're hiking the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail, a 61-kilometre route around the south-west corner of South Australia's largest island.

Created in 2016, it takes in many of the island's finest natural features, including the Remarkable Rocks, Hanson Bay and Cape du Couedic with dedicated campsites dotted along its length.

But ours is a walk with a difference, a dedicated "family adventure" hike. In the group are five adults, five children aged between 11 and 15, and two guides from Primal Adventures. Trails on Primal Adventures' family adventure hikes are chosen so that the days aren't arduous. Our longest day on the Wilderness Trail will be just over 13 kilometres. Beaches and features such as the Remarkable Rocks dot the way, our packs are transferred by vehicle between the camps each day, and there's no mobile-phone signal, compelling eyes and minds into the landscape and experience rather than into screens.

The Wilderness Trail is a five-day hike, but we're walking for just four days, beginning at Cape du Couedic near the end of the trail's second day. It begins in a crowd, not of people but of seals and sea lions, which shuffle about inside Admirals Arch like clumsy slugs as a huge ocean swell surges ashore around them. A sea eagle seems to dangle rather than fly on the strong wind, and the heads of seals intermittently pop through foam that smothers the ocean.

From Cape du Couedic, the trail heads east atop limestone cliffs so pocked with caves they resemble a troglodyte settlement. The prevailing winds have pruned the scrub down to the height of our knees, and around each bend the Remarkable Rocks appear in the distance, looking a tiny bit larger every time but still only like knuckles on a granite fist. "Imagine how big they'll be when we get to them," Cooper muses. As is so often the case when hiking with children, the things imagined are almost as important as the reality.

At several points the Wilderness Trail loops inland. The first of these is as we leave Weirs Cove, the site of a jetty and flying fox where supplies were once brought ashore every three months for lighthouse keepers at Cape du Couedic.

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As the walk cuts away from the cliffs, we rise through ever-taller bush to reach Hakea Campsite, draped across the trail's highest point, a less-than-lofty 150 metres above sea level.

The design of the trail's campsites is as impressive as any in the country. Pathways radiate to level tent pads, with an undercover kitchen area containing plenty of seating and tables. The sites still have the sheen of newness three years after the trail's launch, and feature the ultimate in hiking-camp luxury – lights in the kitchen and toilets. Timber benches form a couple of meditative areas tucked into the scrub.

In the evening, our guide Jake runs the kids through map reading and navigation skills. Each morning now, they will collectively deliver the group a briefing on the day's walking distance, time, weather and terrain, giving them a sense of ownership about the hike.

As sunrise ignites the sky the next morning, the campsite becomes a sound-and-light show of glowing clouds and booming oceans. The winds have turned to the north, warming the air and the trail is sandy and soft underfoot as we return towards the coast.

We come to the Remarkable Rocks, a sculpture-like jumble of granite boulders scoured hollow by erosion and made even more spectacular by the effort of having walked for two days to get here. In the figures of the rocks, some children see the beak of an eagle, while others see the trunk of an elephant. It's a game of ink blots in stone.

We lunch among the rocks, and continue hiking east along the cliffs, heading through a brilliance of colour – green shrubs, red succulents, bone-white limestone and the orange lichen on the Remarkable Rocks, which now resemble a coastal Stonehenge behind us.

As we round the next headland, the Remarkable Rocks slip from view, but dozens of seals come into sight, lounging along the base of the cliffs immediately below us. Half-a-dozen seal pups swim in a rock pool, looking much like a bunch of kids at a public pool. Our own swim isn't far away. Notched into the cliffs, just a kilometre's walk from our camp this night, is tiny Sanderson Beach, which can only be reached on foot. It's a chance to wash away two days of hiking, and we plunge into the sea in sight of seals hauled up on the shores of an adjoining bay.

Soon there are children bodysurfing, a frisbee being thrown and cheese and biscuits laid out beside a makeshift shelter constructed from driftwood. It's a family day at the beach, Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail style.

The walk continues east the next morning, and as we approach Cape Younghusband, the cliffs are reminiscent of the Great Australian Bight. Though we're walking along the coast, there are times when it's like wandering through a desert; there are patches of grass but otherwise just exposed rock, as though we're walking across the bare bones of the earth.

"I was just thinking that we haven't seen a single kangaroo," my daughter Kiri ponders. "It should be called Seal Island."

Past the cape, the track cuts inland again, skirting Southern Ocean Lodge and entering a tall swathe of bushland. In here, there's the risk of boredom for the children, but the time passes in word games until we come to the banks of South West River, which is crossed in a dinghy moored here for hikers.

Through a field of dunes, we now approach Hanson Bay, a perfect pair of white beaches – one a surf beach, the other a calm swimming beach – split by a limestone headland.

The trail leaves the coast for the last time at Hanson Bay, so we linger. A couple of hours pass in water play and lunch before we stroll on towards our final camp, following the course of South West River and then along the fringes of abandoned farmland.

Gumtrees now rise taller than anywhere behind us, and as we set up our tents at Tea Tree Campsite, a large red kangaroo nibbles at the shrubs beside us. Across the river, in a large clearing around the old farm homestead, dozens more kangaroos graze the sun-crisped lawns.

Finally, the island that has lived up to all my hopes for a family adventure is also living up to its name.

FIVE MORE KID-FRIENDLY HIKES

Freycinet Peninsula,Tasmania

Follow the tourist trail to the Wineglass Bay lookout and then loop around the peninsula, crossing Mount Graham. Children will love camping on Wineglass Bay. See parks.tas.gov.au

Thorsborne Trail, Queensland

Four days and just 32 kilometres, sprinkled with fine beaches, swimming holes and constant conversations about the (unlikely) prospect of crocodiles. See queensland.com/journey/Thorsborne-Trail-Hinchinbrook-Island-National-Park

Wilsons Promontory, Victoria

An old hikers' favourite, this coastal loop provides short days and plentiful beach walking. See parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/wilsons-promontory-national-park

Jatbula Trail, Northern Territory

Set out early each morning and you'll have the children swimming all afternoon beside camp. See jatbulatrail.com.au

Three Capes Track, Tasmania

Abundant boardwalk, heady cliffs and the country's plushest public hiking huts. The longest day (19 kilometres) can be done almost entirely pack free. See threecapestrack.com.au

TRIP NOTES

Andrew Bain travelled as a guest of Primal Adventures.

MORE

traveller.com.au/south-australia

southaustralia.com

FLY

Qantas has daily flights to Adelaide from Sydney and Melbourne, with connections from Adelaide to Kingscote on Kangaroo Island. See qantas.com

HIKE

Primal Adventures' four-day Kangaroo Island Family Adventure trip costs $1650 a person including all food, pack transport and most camping equipment. See primaladventures.com.au

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