Cape Willoughby Conservation Park

  • Information Office
  • Accomm
  • Kiosk
  • Toilets
  • Guided Tours
  • Disabled Toilets
  • Walking Trails
  • Bird Watching
PDF Park Brochure
Cape Willoughby - Photo by The South Australian Tourism Commisson
Cape Willoughby - Photo by The South Australian Tourism Commisson
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Cape Willoughby - SA Map

Home to South Australia's first lighthouse, Cape Willoughby Conservation Park provides visitors with opportunities to learn about maritime history and appreciate what it was like to live and work in such a harsh and remote environment. You can watch for whales from the top of the lighthouse and even stay in one of the lighthouse keeper's cottages.

About

Ever wanted to stay in a light keeper's cottage? This is the place do it. Cape Willoughby Conservation Park is home to South Australia's first lighthouse and rich in maritime history. Although the lighthouse operated to prevent shipwrecks, a number of ships did sink off the coastline, the remnants of which can still be found in the area.

Opening hours

This park is open seven days a week from sunrise to sunset (except Christmas Day).

This park is closed on days of Catastrophic Fire Danger and may be closed on days of Extreme Fire Danger.

Listen to the local area radio station for the latest updates and information on fire safety. 

Cape Willoughby Conservation Park Visitor Centre

Open: 9:00 am - 3:30 pm Thursday to Monday (except Christmas Day).

Lightstation Tours

Thursday through to Monday: 11:30 am, 12:30 pm, 2:00 pm
Daily during school holidays: 11:30 am, 12:30 pm, 2:00 pm, 3:00 pm, 4:00 pm

South Australian school holiday dates

Spring: 30 September 2017 - 15 October 2017
Summer: 16 December 2017 - 28 January 2018
Autumn: 14 April 2018 – 29 April 2018 

Tours run for approximately 45 minutes.

Please note: Access to the lighthouse balcony may be restricted during extreme weather conditions. Access involves climbing stairs. Children under 4 are not permitted to use the stairs unless they are in an approved baby harness or backpack.

Contact details

Cape Willoughby Lightstation

Phone: (+61 8) 8553 4466
Email: CapeWilloughby@sa.gov.au

Accommodation bookings and enquiries

Phone: (+61 8) 8553 4410
Email: KIParksAccom@sa.gov.au

Getting there

Cape Willoughby Conservation Park is located 27km south east of Penneshaw, on Kangaroo Island. Access is via Cape Willoughby Road.

You can get to Kangaroo Island from mainland South Australia on the SeaLink ferry. This vehicle and passenger ferry operates daily (except Christmas Day) between Cape Jervis (two hours south of Adelaide) and Penneshaw, Kangaroo Island. The journey takes 45 minutes for the 16km crossing.

Visit the SeaLink website for more information and bookings.

Dogs not allowed

Dogs are not permitted in this park.

Discover which parks you can walk your dog in on our find a park tool or read 12 dog-friendly walks in Adelaide Parks by Good Living for inspiration.

Assistance dogs

Assistance dogs are permitted in most public places and are therefore welcome in South Australia’s parks and reserves. Assistance dogs must be appropriately restrained on a lead and remain under your effective control at all times while in a park or reserve.

As per the dogs in parks and reserves policy, if the dog is not an accredited assistance dog, they must be trained to assist a person with a disability to alleviate that disability and meet standards of hygiene and behaviour appropriate for a dog in a public place. However, refusal may be given if the person with the disability is unable to produce evidence the dog is an assistance dog with the appropriate training.

Before taking your assistance dog into a park that does not normally allow dogs, it is highly recommended that you contact us so we can provide you with the latest information on any potential hazards within specific parks that may affect your dog. Please contact the park via the contact details provided under the contact tab or call the information line on (+61 8) 8204 1910.

Facilities

There is an information centre, accommodation, a kiosk, toilets, accessible toilets and guided tours available in this park.

Useful information

Traditional owners

Aboriginal peoples have occupied, enjoyed and managed the lands and waters of this State for thousands of generations. For Aboriginal first nations, creation ancestors laid down the laws of the Country and bestowed a range of customary rights and obligations to the many Aboriginal Nations across our state. 

There are many places across the State that have great spiritual significance to Aboriginal first nations.  At some of these places Aboriginal cultural protocols, such as restricted access, are promoted and visitors are asked to respect the wishes of Traditional Owners.

In places where protocols are not promoted visitors are asked to show respect by not touching or removing anything, and make sure you take all your rubbish with you when you leave.

Aboriginal peoples continue to play an active role in caring for their Country, including in parks across South Australia. 

European history

Cape Willoughby once played a vital role in the shipping trade of the young colony of South Australia before the advent of efficient forms of land transport.

Cape Willoughby Lighthouse was built to assist the safe journey of ships passing through the treacherous stretch of water known as Backstairs Passage during a time of rapidly expanding coastal shipping trade between the eastern colonies and the colony of South Australia.

The lighthouse was originally known as the Sturt Light after the explorer Captain Charles Sturt. The tower took over two years to construct and the workers lived in tents during this time. South Australia's first lighthouse was officially opened in January 1852, and manned 24 hours a day by 3 lightkeepers who lived here with their families.

Cape Willoughby Lighthouse was constructed from locally available granite and lime mortar. Quarrying is evident near the lighthouse atop the cliffs of Devils Kitchen. It is thought holes were hand-drilled into the rock in the quarry and filled with wood. This was kept wet and the expanding wood would crack the rock which was then shaped prior to construction. The result was a circular tower of roughly dressed granite masonry.

The walls of the lighthouse are 1.4m thick at the base and taper to 0.86m thick at the top. The tower, from the base to the balcony, is 20.5 metres high (67 feet and 3 inches) and is round for wind resistance. The interior base of the tower is one of the widest in Australia and the lightkeepers and their families were even known to have hosted parties and dances here.

The original Deville Lantern room housed optical apparatus (light) consisting of 15 multiple wick oil burner lamps. This was reflected intermittently by revolving reflectors powered by a weight driven motor, and appeared as a flashing light. Its greatest intensity was every 1.5 minutes and in clear weather could reach 24 nautical miles.

In 1925 the lantern room and light were replaced by a more modern and powerful Chance Brothers system. The light consisted of a pressurised incandescent kerosene lantern with a three ton revolving Fresnel lens. The lens floated in a bath of mercury to reduce friction when turning. It was driven by 146lb weights which had to be wound up every 2.5 hours working on a system similar in principle as a grandfather clock. The mercury proved to be a health hazard to the lightkeepers.

In 1959 the lighthouse was electrified by two diesel powered generators installed at the station.

The lightstation became fully automated in 1974-75 when 240 volts main power was connected. A standby diesel generator and battery bank provided backup during power failure. The lantern house was also removed and was replaced with new fibreglass lantern housing. The original housing was later installed atop a stub tower in the Kingscote Museum, where it remains to this day.

The original wooden jarrah spiral staircase was also replaced with a steel structure due to wet rot and continual use.

Cape Willoughby Lightstation was one of the last manned lighthouses in Australia. It was officially automated (unmanned) in 1992.

In 2003, the lightstation was downgraded when a ML300 beacon was installed, consisting of a 35 Watt 12 Volt lamp, which is visible for 11 nautical miles. In March 2011, this was replaced with a Vega LED beacon. It is powered by two 12 Volt batteries, and the battery float is charged from the mains.

See and do

Rangers recommend

We have picked the brains of our park rangers to find out what they would recommend you see and do whilst visiting this park.

  • Joining a guided tour of the lightstation. Enjoy spectacular views across Backstairs Passage from the top of the lighthouse. From here you can occasionally see large schools of salmon, or humpback, southern right and killer whales.
  • Gaining an insight into the working and living conditions endured by the early light keepers in this harsh and remote environment along the Cape Willoughby Lightstation Heritage Hike.
  • Visiting the Cape Willoughby park visitor centre which features a museum with a collection of old photographs of the lightstation, as well as equipment that was once used at the site.
  • Staying in one of the lighthouse keepers cottages is a must!

Bushwalking

Bushwalking is a fantastic way to connect with nature, keep fit and spend time with family and friends. 

South Australia's national parks feature a range of trails that let you experience a diversity of landscapes. Our trails cater for all levels of fitness and adventure and our classification system makes it easy to select an experience suitable for you.

Moderate hikes

  • Cape Willoughby Lightstation Heritage Hike (1 hour, 1.9km)

    This hike will take you into the sheltered gully of the early 1853 settlement. It will give you an insight into the early light keepers' lives and how their demanding routine and sense of isolation was heightened by the distance between their homes and the lighthouse.

    A self guided walking trail brochure is available at the Cape Willoughby Lighthouse Visitor Centre. It gives information about the original lightstation settlement at points of interest along the trail.

    Access: this return loop hike begins and ends at the visitor centre.

    More information and maps can be found in the Parks of Kangaroo Island guide.

Stay in lighthouse keeper's accommodation

Heritage accommodation

Cape Willoughby is one of the very few places where you can stay in a lighthouse keeper’s cottage. You will find two cottages set on the rugged eastern point of the island overlooking the treacherous Backstairs Passage. 

The original lighthouse keeper’s cottages were in a valley, half a kilometre from the lighthouse. There was fresh spring water here and it was close to the beach where supplies were landed. Due to deterioration over time and the hardship of reaching the lighthouse in bad weather, new keeper’s quarters were built much closer to the lighthouse in 1927.

Recently renovated, they offer very comfortable accommodation for you, family and friends. Both cottages sleep up to nine people

Read a visitor review of Kangaroo Island featuring Seymore Cottage at Cape Willoughby on the Good Living blog.

Stay for five nights in the park's heritage accommodation and receive a complimentary Kangaroo Island Tour Pass!

Accommodation bookings and enquiries

Book online
Phone: (+61 8) 8553 4410
Email: KIParksAccom@sa.gov.au

Whale watching

Between mid-May and late October whales migrate from sub-Antarctic water to the comparatively warmer waters of the South Australian coast to calve and mate.  While our whale visitors are mostly southern right whales, we also have sightings of sperm whales, humpbacks, blue whales and the occasional orca. 

The Cape Willoughby Lighthouse is an ideal vantage point to see these majestic creatures, so if you are visiting during whale season, keep an extra keen eye on the ocean.

Mountain biking

Mountain biking is currently not permitted in this park. 

Lightstation tours

Step back in time and learn about what it was like to be a lightstation keeper at Cape Willoughby. The local guide will transport you as they narrate the history of this iconic and rugged site.

Guided tours

Thursday through to Monday: 11:30 am, 12:30 pm, 2:00 pm
Daily during school holidays: 11:30 am, 12:30 pm, 2:00 pm, 3:00 pm, 4:00 pm

South Australian school holiday dates

Spring: 30 September 2017 - 15 October 2017
Summer: 16 December 2017 - 28 January 2018
Autumn: 14 April 2018 – 29 April 2018 

Tours run for approximately 45 minutes.

Please note: Access to the lighthouse balcony may be restricted during extreme weather conditions. Access involves climbing stairs. Children under 4 are not permitted to use the stairs unless they are in an approved baby harness or backpack.

Fauna

Whales

There has been 29 different types of whales recorded in South Australia. The most common are the southern right whale, humpback whale, sperm whale, blue whale and orca whale (killer whale).  Of these you are most likely to spot a southern right whale along the South Australian coast.

Southern right whale
Every year, between May to October, southern right whales gather along the southern coastline of Australia to mate and calve, before returning to sub-Antarctic waters to feed.

The southern right whale is a large whale which can grow up to 17.5 metres and weigh over 80 tons.  The vast majority of southern right whales are black in colour with distinctive white patterns on their heads that are calluses formed by small crustaceans known as 'whale lice'.  The patterns are visible at birth and are unique to each whale allowing researchers to identify individual whales. 

Volunteering

Want to help?

To find out how you can help in this park or nearby, please visit Natural Resources Kangaroo Island – Volunteering.

Want to join others and become a Park Friend?

To find out more about Friends of Parks groups please visit Friends of Parks South Australia.

You could join others to help look after a park. You can take part in working bees, training and other events.

Safety

Bushwalking

The international Trail Users Code of Conduct is to show respect and courtesy towards other trail users at all times.

Ensure that you:

  • when hiking, wear sturdy shoes, a hat and sunscreen
  • be aware of weather conditions and avoid walking during the hottest part of the day
  • make sure you have appropriate weather proof clothing
  • carry enough water to be self-sufficient
  • please be respectful of other users at all times
  • stay on the designated trails and connector tracks for your own safety, and prevent the spread of declared weeds to other areas in the park
  • ensure someone knows your approximate location and expected time of return
  • take appropriate maps.
  • Walk, hike or trek - what's the difference?

Fire

This park is closed on days of Catastrophic Fire Danger and may be closed on days of Extreme Fire Danger.

Listen to the local area radio station for the latest updates and information on fire safety. 

Fire restrictions

  • Wood fires and solid fuel fires are prohibited throughout the year.
  • Gas fires are permitted, other than on days of total fire ban.
  • Ensure you are familiar with the fire restrictions for this park.

Whale watching

Maintaining the legal distance from marine mammals such as whales, dolphins and seals is important, both for our safety and that of the animals.

The animals may be seriously injured if they are struck by a vessel or frightened young may become separated from their mothers. Even if there is no contact, coming too close can disrupt feeding, breeding and migratory behaviours.

Regular water users should make themselves familiar with all the rules for interacting with marine mammals by viewing the National Parks and Wildlife (Protected Animals – Marine Mammals) Regulations 2010.

In the Water

  • Prescribed vessels (high-powered craft such as jet-skis, hydrofoils and boats used for water skiing or paragliding): Never closer than 300m.
  • Other vessels (for example, cabin cruisers, yachts, ‘tinnies’, inflatables, kayaks, wind surfers and kite surfers): No closer than 100m.
  • Other vessels within 300m of a whale: No anchoring; maximum speed 4 knots; maximum time 60 minutes.
  • Swimmers (including surfers and boogie boarders): No closer than 30m.

On Land

  • No closer than 30m (or 50m if the whale is distressed, stranded or entangled)

In the air

  • Planes and remotely piloted aircrafts (drones) must be at least 300m from any whale or other marine mammal (additional Civil Aviation Safety Authority restrictions apply).
  • Helicopters and gyrocopters must be at least 500m from any whale or other marine mammal.

 Special rules exist for:

  • whale calves: all vessels and swimmers – no closer than 300m
  • distressed, stranded or entangled whales: all vessels and swimmers – no closer than 300m

Know before you go

Every national park is different, each has its own unique environment, it is important to be responsible while enjoying all the park has to offer.

Please ensure that you:

  • leave your pets at home
  • do not feed birds or other animals, it promotes aggressive behaviour and an unbalanced ecology
  • do not bring generators (except where permitted), chainsaws or firearms into the park
  • leave the park as you found it - place rubbish in the bins provided or take it with you
  • abide by the road rules (maintain the speed limit)
  • respect geological and heritage sites
  • do not remove native plants
  • are considerate of other park users.

  • Important: Collection of firewood within National Parks is prohibited.

Maps

Fees

Entry fees

Fees apply for accommodation, tours and self-guided walks of Cape Willougby Lightstation.

Lightstation Guided Tour

Adult - $16.00
Concession - $13.00
Child - $10.00
Family (2 adults & 2 children OR 1 adult and 3 children) - $42.00
School group (per student, no min people) - $9.00
Adult group (per adult, min 10 people) - $14.00
Cruise Ship Tour (per adult)  - $8.00

Self guided tour

Self-guided (per person)  - $5.00

Kangaroo Island Tour Pass

Experience some of Kangaroo Islands most iconic sights at a discounted price by purchasing a Kangaroo Island Tour Pass.

Camping and accommodation

Seymour Cottage and Thomas Cottage

Price per night (up to 2 people) - $225.00
Additional adult per night - $30.00
Additional child per night - $15.00
Linen is included and each cottage sleep up to 9 people. Tea and coffee facilities are provided in the fully functional kitchen.
(Reduced rates apply between 1st May - 31st August)

Stay for five nights in the park's heritage accommodation and receive a complimentary Kangaroo Island Tour Pass!

Accommodation bookings and enquiries

Book online
Phone: (+61 8) 8553 4410
Email: KIParksAccom@sa.gov.au

Park pass

Purchase a Kangaroo Island Tour Pass which offers you 12 months access to Flinders Chase National Park and Seal Bay boardwalk/lookout, as well as admission to the following Kangaroo Island tours:

The Kangaroo Island Tour Pass can only be purchased at selected Parks Pass Outlets.

Other fees and permits

There are no other fees or permits associated with this park. 

PDF Park Brochure