Kangaroo Island is one of the best places in Australia to see native wildlife up close.
By Marc Llewellyn
Kangaroo Island, 13 kilometres (8 miles) off the coast of South Australia and 30 minutes by plane from Adelaide, is brimming with native animals, some of which aren't found anywhere else. It is also home to an established artisanal food scene, and one of the world's best hotels. More than one third of the island is protected by conservation areas and national parks, while lush farmland and small towns make up much of the rest. The island, known to the locals as "KI", is divided into seven regions, with four major towns: Kingscote (the island’s relaxed capital), Penneshaw (where daily ferries disembark), American River, and Parndana. Most major areas are connected by sealed tarmac roads, and there are gravel roads elsewhere.
- Walk on the beach through a colony of sea lions
- Be surrounded by wildlife, pounding ocean and strange rock formations
- Stay at one of the world's top four hotels
How to get there
Kangaroo Island Sealink operates a daily ferry service from mainland South Australia to Penneshaw, a major town on Kangaroo Island. The ferry departs from the town of Cape Jervis, which is a 90 minute drive south of Adelaide (or take Sealink's shuttle bus service). Daily flights also transfer passengers from Adelaide to Kangaroo Island with the airline Regional Express. The island is surprisingly large, being 155 kilometres (96 miles) long and 55 kilometres (35 miles) at its widest; you'll need at least a weekend to explore it. Several tour operators offer guided experiences and multi-day trips. You can take a car on the Sealink ferry or hire a car on the island.
Top things to do on Kangaroo island
Walk among rare sea lions
The Seal Bay Conservation Park on Kangaroo Island's south coast is the only place in the world where you can walk among endangered Australian sea lions. You can walk along a 900 metre (2950 foot) wooden boardwalk on a Boardwalk Tour and see the animals on the sand and in the surf, or you can take a guided 45 minute Seal Bay Experience tour onto the beach itself. There is also a two hour Twilight Beach Tour. As well as being longer, this tour has fewer people. If you feel like taking to the water yourself, the safest swimming spots are off the north coast. Emu Bay, near Kingscote, is one of the most popular thanks to its clear waters and long shoreline. Stokes Bay offers a good camping spot and a sea pool enclosed by rocks.
Feast on exquisite produce
Kangaroo Island is a gourmet destination known in particular for its freshly caught seafood, cheeses and wines. Drink craft beer at the Kangaroo Island Brewery, or sip within the cellar doors of the island’s wineries, including Dudley Wines, near Penneshaw, and Bay of Shoals Wines, near Kingscote. Kangaroo Island Spirits makes small batch, handcrafted Australian gin, vodka and liqueurs that you can taste at a rustic cellar door. For exquisite sheep’s cheese, head to Island Pure Sheep Dairy, which makes sheep cheese, and for local eucalyptus products, try Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Oil Distillery. The Kangaroo Island ART FEASTivle showcases local art and food across the island in September and October.
Enjoy the incredible seafood
Eat a lunch of local seasonally available oysters, abalone, and King George whiting at the Oyster Farm Shop, in American River. Dine on local produce under a giant fig tree in a pop-up summer eatery called the Enchanted Fig Tree, near Stokes Bay. Or try a meal of freshwater marron – a native Australian freshwater crayfish – at the Marron Café in the middle of the island. Another seafood hotspot is Kangaroo Island Fresh Seafoods and Takeaway at Kingscote. There are also farmers markets featuring local produce at Penneshaw, on the first Sunday of every month, and Kingscote, on the second and fourth Sunday of every month.
Stay at the world's fourth best hotel
One of the best places to stay anywhere in the world is the breathtaking Southern Ocean Lodge. Located on a sea cliff on a rugged stretch of coastal wilderness, it's a regular on best hotel lists around the world, and was in ranked fourth in the 2016 Travel + Leisure awards. Designed by architect Max Pritchard, the hotel features 21 spacious suites with limestone floors, local artwork and expansive outdoor terraces. If you'd prefer a self-catered experience, the luxurious Kangaroo Beach Lodges are also set on rugged cliffs, with spectacular ocean views. There is a wide range of other accommodation available on the island.
Spot wild koalas, kangaroos and more
You are likely to see native animals and birds wherever you are on Kangaroo Island, but there are some extra special places where native Australian animals regularly gather. The best place to spot koalas is on the Koala Walk at the Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. You can find short-beaked echidnas and large goannas all over the island, and look out for troops of black swans around American River and dozens of Australian pelicans at the wharf in Kingscote. They come here to be fed fish at 5pm every day. With Kangaroo Island Odysseys, guides will give you the best chance at seeing wildlife. Next, head out to sea to find seals, bottlenose dolphins and whales on a cruise with Kangaroo Island Marine Adventures or Kangaroo Island Ocean Safari.
See the island's Remarkable Rocks
On the western side of Kangaroo Island, Flinders Chase National Park is a large natural sanctuary for many species of native Australian animals, like rare tammar wallabies and the elusive platypus. A major attraction here is Remarkable Rocks, a seaside collection of enormous orange-lichen-covered granite boulders carved into strange shapes by millions of years of rain, wind and waves. Another highlight is Admirals Arch, a distinctive stalactite-covered eroded rock bridge smashed by waves that sometimes plays host to basking New Zealand fur seals. Both attract tour groups and sightseers for their unusual looks, so be sure to bring your camera.
Visit a conservation park
Kangaroo Island is home to several conservation parks, which provide local wildlife with welcome sanctuary. Kangaroos and tammar wallabies are relatively common in several of the island's reserves, including Black Swamp in Flinders Chase National Park and Lathami Conservation Park. Several species of rare birds live on Kangaroo Island, including the critically endangered glossy black cockatoo, which lives nowhere else. Spot them in Lathami Conservation Park and Baudin Conservation Park. Beyond wildlife, you can mountain bike, bushwalk, or take a limestone cave tour at Kelly Hill Conservation Park.
Take a walk through the wilderness
A lot of Flinders Chase National Park is rugged wilderness, but it is accessible by normal cars and is cut by plenty of walking trails. One of the best is the 3 1/2 hour Ravine des Casoars Hike, which goes through a wooded valley to a remote sandy beach. Try to spot a platypus on the two hour Platypus Waterholes Walk, or weave your way through remote bushland on the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail. There are four secluded campgrounds within the park, but you can also stay in charming lighthouse keeper’s quarters at Cape du Couedic Lighthouse. Wherever you stay, you’ll be surrounded by the steep cliffs and remote beaches that make the park so unique.
Savour the sweetness of local honey
Thanks to the island's relatively isolated location and flawless natural environment, it plays home to what is believed to be the world's last remaining pure strain of sought-after Ligurian honey bees, which produce a gorgeously sweet honey. You can sample this local delight at Clifford's Honey Farm, but honey isn’t the only thing these bees are capable of creating. Find a range of honey-infused cosmetics, candles, mead, and a special craft beer called The Drunken Drone.
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