Backstairs Passage (Cape Jervis to Kangaroo Island)

Backstairs Passage (Cape Jervis to Kangaroo Is.)


Previous crossings to Kangaroo Island had been plagued with strong winds, so we were pleasantly surprised to see the weather forecast for the weekend was predicting winds of around 5 knots and the odd shower. The plan was to paddle from Cape Jervis to Antechamber Bay on Kangaroo Island for an overnight camp and return the next day. After organising carpooling to Cape Jervis, seven kayakers gathered at the Sea-Link terminal for a pre-trip briefing and to double-check the required safety equipment under the leadership of Malcolm and Phil. We spent about 30 minutes discussing the impending trip, with Malcolm having put in an excellent effort in organising the trip with some well-produced plans, maps and forecasts for us to familiarise ourselves.

We loaded up the kayaks and paddled out of Cape Jervis to head towards KI in idyllic conditions. There was a small and gentle swell rolling in, however the water was smooth with not a white-cap in sight. Although there were impressive cloud formations over the mainland and light rain on KI, we experienced a sunny crossing for the majority of the trip. We took advantage of the ebb-tide and veered southeast towards Antechamber Bay, stopping regularly for rests and snacks.

After paddling for an hour the island seemed no closer. After paddling for 2 hours it seemed only slightly closer. The sheer distance of the trip was becoming quite apparent.
Out in the middle we passed a fishing boat who (from seeing his report and photos on a SA fishing website) was pulling up snapper… and half-snapper… yes, you can guess what happened to the other half! Fortunately we never saw any of the sharks, and it was reassuring to see that Malcolm and Phil both had shark-shields* on their kayaks.

After 3 hours the island was starting to feel closer and we paddled into a misty rain that produced a spectacular rainbow. Finally after 4 hours and 21km of paddling, we made it to KI just west of Antechamber Bay, and then continued to paddle close to the rugged and rocky coastline until we reached the beach. We negotiated a dumping shore-break and landed at Antechamber Bay then proceeded to portage the kayaks into the Chapman River. About 300m further upstream, on water that resembled a mirror, we were greeted by a campsite with a shelter shed complete with gas BBQ, rainwater tank, long benches with chairs and a flush toilet – very civilised!

We set up our tents amongst the melaleuca trees and brought out a diverse array of cooking equipment to cook up the evening meal. After tea we rugged up even further to huddled around the flame of a Trangia for warmth, sipping the many and varied wines that we’d brought, sharing stories and enjoying a few laughs late into the night. The next morning we were greeted with similar conditions to the previous day – little wind, plenty of sunshine, with the odd light-rain cloud hovering around.Following breakfast, we paddled down the Chapman River to the mouth, then portaged across the beach once again to negotiate the small surf and paddle further east towards Cape St Alban. After an hour (and heading into a brief and squally rain storm) we landed on the rocks at the base of the Cape St Alban light-house and climbed to the top. The views were impressive in the sunny conditions – we could see from Cape Willoughby to the Pages Islands to Waitpinga in the distance, then to the rugged coastline of Deep Creek and around to Cape Jervis.

Back in the kayaks we took advantage of the incoming flood-tide and headed for Cape Jervis, being careful to point towards Deep Creek to ensure that the flood tide didn’t pull us past Cape Jervis and up into the gulf. The return trip from Cape St Alban was 25km and we were paddling at a decent speed to get back to Cape Jervis before we hit the outgoing ebb-tide. On the way we were visited by a pod of dolphins and a very friendly seal, but otherwise the trip was made in flat conditions with a slight tail wind and a tail current – perfect!

A big thank you goes to Malcolm for his excellent leadership for the weekend, and to Phil and Geoff for their support in leadership as well. With their expertise and knowledge and ideal conditions it made the crossing both a great achievement and a fantastic experience.
*(A shark-shield is essentially a waterproof battery with a long hose, about 4ft long, that drags in the water and the hose gives off extremely strong electrical pulses, which sharks don’t like. We put our hands in the water when it was on and you can feel the zing of the electric shock in your fingers.)