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
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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, which only occur in South Australia and Western Australia. You can walk along a 900 metre (2950 foot) wooden boardwalk on a Boardwalk Tour and see the animals surfing in the ocean or sunning themselves on the sand, or you can take a guided 45 minute Seal Bay Experience tour onto the beach itself. You might see giant bulls fighting each other, or baby sea lions playing just a few metres away from you. There is also a two hour Twilight Beach Tour. As well as being longer, this tour has fewer people on it (a maximum of 12 instead of 25) and there will be no other tour groups on the beach. As the sun drops low into the golden sea, even more sea lions come onto the beach. If you feel like taking to the water yourself off one of the island's 50 or so beaches, 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. Thanks to the island's relatively isolated location and flawless natural environment, it is also 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. Sample this local delight – and find a range of honey-infused cosmetics, candles and mead, and a craft beer called The Drunken Drone – at Clifford's Honey Farm. You can drink more craft beer at the Kangaroo Island Brewery. The island also has four wineries with cellar doors, 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. The island's many other producers include Island Pure Sheep Dairy, which makes sheep cheese, and Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Oil Distillery, which manufactures oils and beauty products. 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.
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. 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. Both attract tour groups and sightseers for their unusual looks, so pack your camera. You may also see basking New Zealand fur seals on the rocks around Admirals Arch. As well as plenty of bird species you are most likely to see large goannas, rare tammar wallabies, a unique subspecies of echidna, and the Kangaroo Island kangaroo (a shorter version of the western grey kangaroo found on the mainland). You might even spot elusive platypus in the streams. A lot of the park is rugged wilderness, but it is accessible by normal cars and is cut by plenty of easy, moderate and harder walking trails through low woodland, open forest and along the coastline. One of the best is the 3 1/2 hour Ravine des Casoars Hike, which goes through a wooded valley, along a river and to a remote sandy beach. The best places to see platypus on the island is on the two hour Platypus Waterholes Walk. There are four secluded campgrounds within the park and you can also stay in heritage lighthouse keeper’s quarters at Cape du Couedic Lighthouse. The park's coastline has steep cliffs, pounding surf and remote beaches.
Spot wild koalas, kangaroos and more
You are likely to see native animals and birds wherever you are on Kangaroo Island – the island is sometimes referred to as a "natural zoo" – but there are some extra special places where native Australian animals regularly gather. Koalas spend much of the day resting high up in eucalyptus trees, and the best place to see them is on the Koala Walk at the Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary on the island’s south-west coast. You can find short-beaked echidnas and large goannas all over the island (watch out for them crossing the roads). Kangaroo Island kangaroos and tammar wallabies are relatively common in several of the island's reserves, including at Grassdale in Kelly Hill Conservation Park, at Black Swamp in Flinders Chase National Park, and at Lathami Conservation Park and in the surrounding paddocks. 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. Look out for troops of black swans in the estuary around American River and dozens of Australian pelicans at the wharf in Kingscote. They come here to be fed fish at 5pm every day. Many native animals are more active at dawn or dusk. For your best chance at spotting wildlife, jump on board with Kangaroo Island Odysseys. Their expert guides know all the best locations to find native species, so you can just sit back and enjoy the adventure. Once you've ticked all the land animals off your list, head out to sea to find seals, sea eagles, ospreys, bottlenose dolphins and whales on a boat cruise with either Kangaroo Island Marine Adventures or Kangaroo Island Ocean Safari.
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.