A lengthy stretch of unsealed road slices through the dense native bush of the Dudley Peninsula and leads to the Cape Willoughby Conservation Park. It is not the most relaxing of drives, but do not let the bumps in the road hold you back and you will be rewarded with a breathtaking view of Kangaroo Island from a fascinating historical artefact.
The Cape Willoughby Lighthouse is a 25 metre high white tower that ascends into the sky to mark the Backstairs Passage, a perilous channel that separates the island from mainland South Australia, and acts as a beacon for visitors to this popular tourist attraction.
Established in 1852 on the easternmost point of the island, it was the first lighthouse to be built in the state. It may be old, but the lighthouse and its grounds have been very well maintained. You can see for yourself and discover more of the maritime history of Kangaroo Island on a guided tour.
The entertaining and insightful tours are conducted daily at 11.30 am, 12.30 pm, and 2.00 pm with extra sessions held during the school holidays. The meeting point is at Cawthorne Cottage in the light keepers' settlement, which is now the Visitor Centre. It is open every day (with the exception of Christmas day) from 9 am until 3.30 pm and has souvenirs and basic refreshments available to purchase. The cottage is decked out as a museum paying homage to the seafaring past with lots of old photographs and nautical paraphernalia on display.
As well as learning about the operation of the lighthouse and life as a light keeper back in the day, the tour provides visitors with the opportunity to climb the 102 stairs and take in the spectacular view of Kangaroo Island from the balcony of the lighthouse. The uninterrupted panorama of the island's pristine wilderness bound by a windswept coastline is well worth the physical effort and the admission cost.
Sadly, the lighthouse lost some of its old world charm due to safety requirements and renovations over years, such as the original wooden staircase replaced with a generic steel model. The stairs become more like rungs near the top and require a certain level of physical fitness and ability. The climb is not recommended for very young children or people with a fear of heights.
It costs $14.50 for adults, $11.50 concession, $9 for children, or $38 for a family to take the 45 minute guided tour of the lighthouse, but the best way to explore Kangaroo Island is with a Parks Pass. The Kangaroo Island Tour Pass costs $68 per person with discounts available for concession card holders, children, and families. It allows entry to Flinders Chase National Park and a tour of Cape Borda Lighthouse, boardwalk access and a guided tour of Seal Bay Conservation Park, an underground cave tour at Kelly Hill Conservation Park, and the Cape Willoughby Lighthouse tour.
Visitors to Cape Willoughby can collect a tour brochure from the Visitor Centre to explore the lightstation grounds and follow a relatively easy 1.9 kilometre self-guided heritage trail. The trail takes about an hour to complete and costs just $2 per person (free for Parks Pass holders). The Thomas and Seymour Cottages, two of the old light keepers' residences, have been refurbished to provide unique heritage-listed accommodation in this wildly remote and ruggedly attractive area of Kangaroo Island.
It is situated approximately 27 kilometres southeast of Penneshaw and takes about 35 minutes to drive to Cape Willoughby Conservation Park. From May to October each year, it provides an excellent vantage point for whale watching. A weather station has conducted readings at Cape Willoughby for more than 150 years and they indicate that it is usually the windiest part of South Australia and the coolest place to be in the summer months, so don't forget your cardigan.