Widely regarded as Australia’s Galapagos, Kangaroo Island is the best place in Australia to see the widest range of free roaming native animals in their natural habitat – kangaroos, koalas, wallabies, seals, sea lions, penguins and platypus, to name but a few.
Situated in South Australia and seven times the size of Singapore, the island was separated from the mainland over 10,000 years ago. Animals and plants have evolved differently over this time creating species found nowhere else in the world, such as its own sub species of kangaroo.
The 335-mile coastline provides visitors with many stunning beaches and almost a third of the island is pristine wilderness or conservation parks, twenty one in total, with a rich diversity of flora and fauna, much of which is not found on the mainland. This is why Kangaroo Island is considered a ‘must see’ destination for all first time visitors to Australia.
Captain Matthew Flinders recorded the first European sighting of Kangaroo Island in March 1802 during an exploration along the Australian coastline on behalf of the British Government. The following month information was exchanged with Nicolas Baudin, commander of the French corvette, Le Geographe, who was also exploring the area. Baudin visited Kangaroo Island that summer and mapped much of the south and west coastlines which today still bear a number of French names.
Sealers, escaped convicts and runaway sailors were among the first Europeans to live on the island during the early 1800s. They were joined by Aboriginal women transported from Tasmania and mainland Australia to help with the difficulties of a self-sufficient life in a remote location.
In July 1836, the island’s first official settlers arrived on board the “Duke of York,” creating Australia’s first free settlement at Kingscote. However, lack of water and suitable building materials resulted in the settlement being abandoned in favor of Adelaide.
Sheep farming became the core industry during the late 1800s as wool could be shipped easily to the mainland. Barley and other grains were grown and the island’s residents made use of the natural resources, felling timber, snaring possums, kangaroos and wallabies and distilling eucalyptus oil. After World War Two, the population of Kangaroo Island increased as a result of the government’s war service land settlement program. Ex-soldiers and their families arrived to farm undeveloped land in the island’s central plateau and the numbers of inhabitants rose.
Kangaroo Island has preserved a number of its historic attractions, allowing visitors to delve more deeply into its past. These include South Australia’s oldest lighthouse, Cape Willoughby, built in 1852 and standing 89 feet high on the island’s most easterly point, as well as The Maritime and Folk Museum housed in the Old Penneshaw School, which highlights the numerous ships wrecked off the coast, the first of which was recorded in 1847.
Flinders Chase National Park is set in 74,000 hectares and is internationally renowned for its array of native Australian animals. It is also home to the instantly recognizable Remarkable Rocks and Admiral’s Arch. Remarkable Rocks consist of huge granite boulders shaped over centuries by the weather and perched on a dome that rises 240 feet out of the sea. Further along the rugged southern coastline at Cape Du Couedic, Admiral’s Arch is an impressive landmark that leads the way to a nursery of around 6,000 native New Zealand fur seals. Here visitors can watch the seals bask on the sun-drenched rocks or dive into the sea.
North east of Cape Du Couedic is Kelly Hill Conservation Park, where a network of walking trails lead along an undulating limestone ridge towards sinkholes and caverns until they reach the surreal Kelly Hill Caves with their amazing limestone formations.
Further east along theTravel Guide to Kangaroo Island Australia Admiral’s Arch south coast, Seal Bay Conservation Park is one of only two places in the world in which visitors have the opportunity to walk amongst a breeding colony of rare Australian sea lions. National Park Rangers guide people on to the large sandy beach, through dune areas and a boardwalk, to view the beautiful creatures as they nurse their young or rest in the sun after feeding at sea for days at a time.
Nearby, the area known as Little Sahara provides a stark contrast to the lush conservation areas and rugged coastline. A series of expansive white sand dunes surrounded by bush vegetation give the impression of being in the middle of an inhospitable desert, rather than a flourishing island.
Ornithologists will find much to delight in on Kanagaroo Island. Located on the edge of the Cape Gantheaume Conservation Park, Murray Lagoon features a network of walking trails that highlight the habitats of numerous species of water birds. Duck Lagoon is yet another area in which naturalists delight. Koalas can often be seen in the trees and there are many opportunities for bird watching. The unspoiled area of D’Estrees Bay also attracts visitors who come to see the shore wading birds and pelicans feeding on long stretches of beach and to hunt for shells along the shoreline.
Travel Guide to Kangaroo Island Australia SealThe towns of Penneshaw and Kingscote both lay claim to colonies of little penguins that nest in sandhills and rockfaces and can be seen as they return to the burrows at dusk, after fishing off shore. Penneshaw is a pretty Cornish-style settlement known for its safe, clean beach, while Kingscote is the island’s commercial hub and largest town.
They say nature makes a fine muse, so it is little wonder that the island inspires so many fine artists. From painters to potters, writers to woodworkers and spinners to silk painters, the art and crafts of local artists very much reflects their island life.
Fine Art Kangaroo Island and the Kangaroo Island Gallery in Kingscote and KI Artworks in Baudin Beach exhibit and sell only island-made works. There are over half a dozen other galleries visitors can pop into.
SouthAustralia.com is a good resource to the island’s sights and is invaluable for trip planning.
Kangaroos and tammar wallabies are seen predominantly at dawn and dusk.
Little penguins molt all their feathers and can lose up to half their body weight.
New Zealand fur seals give birth to chocolate-brown pups.
The Australian sea-lion breeding season begins with pups born from January to June.
Heath goannas lay 10-17 eggs in termite mounds which act as the perfect incubator.
Koalas, wallabies and kangaroos give birth to tiny young, which are naked and blind.
March – May (Fall)
Glossy black cockatoos and little penguins begin nesting.
Black swans begin their courtships with wing-raising, neck-stretching and loud trumpeting.
Fungi start to appear on damp ground and rotting wood.
June – August (Winter)
Land mammals, predominantly night/dawn/dusk feeders, frequently come out by day.
Koalas emerge from the mother’s pouch and begin to ride on her back.
Kangaroo and wallaby joeys start to emerge from the mother’s pouch to feed.
Echidnas form ‘mating trains’, up to eight males will follow a female for up to four weeks.
Waders, on their migration from Siberia, begin to arrive.
Ospreys show off to their mates in spectacular courtship fights.
Southern right whales pass from Antarctic waters to the Great Australian Bight to calve.
Wildflowers are in abundance with around 40 endemic floral species to be found.
Eucalyptus oil is in peak production. One ton of leaf can produce up to 8 gallons of oil.
Cape Barren geese nest on top of the native iris grasses to incubate their eggs.
Platypuses lay two eggs in a burrow up to 65 feet long.
Getting There: Regional Express and Air South fly daily from Adelaide. SeaLink (website) operates up to ten daily 45-minute passenger and vehicle ferry crossings from Cape Jervis, a ninety-minute drive south of Adelaide, to Penneshaw. Ferry prices are $43 AUS ($2 off if booked online in advance) per person, one-way; $127 AUS for a car and 1 passenger ($121 online).
Getting Around: Rental cars are also available on the island from Hertz (08) 8553 2390, website), Budget (08) 8553 3133, website) and FCBS 4WD Hire (08) 8553 7278, website).
A coach service runs twice daily between Kingscote, American River and Penneshaw connecting with SeaLink ferry services. A transfer service operates between Kingscote Airport and Kingscote township and other locations on request. Bookings for both services are necessary.
Kangaroo Island Transfers, 0427 887 575, website
Smartcar Kangaroo Island, 1300 887 121, website
Driving Tips: Make sure to fuel up in towns before leaving as gas stations are limited and some close at 6pm. Watch for wildlife at all times – especially at night – and drive slowly. Some roads are unpaved so travel with caution and always make sure you have a spare tire.
Weather: If you wish to see wildlife, the best time to visit is the winter (June – August) though it can be cold and rainy and many smaller businesses are closed. Summer heat (January – February) means less wildlife during the day, but temperatures are cooler than on the mainland. October and November are good months to visit – before the summer school holidays.
Currency: Australian Dollar (AUD); rates in this article are quoted in AUD
Kangaroo Island, home to 30 vineyards and 18 wineries, already has a reputation for its dynamic food and wine culture, including pure Ligurian honey, exceptional seafood, cheese and olive oil. Restaurants and cafes feature many Kangaroo Island (KI) products so be prepared for kangaroo, emu, marron (crayfish) and more.
2 Birds And A Squid and Fish (North Terrace, Penneshaw, website) are both set up and run by renowned British born chef Sue Pearson (formerly of The Ivy Room in London). Fish is a takeout fish and chips shop while 2 Birds and A Squid caters for visitors and events. On the last Friday of each month (December – March), Pearson holds cooking demonstrations in the shop. Open October – April only.
Sorrento’s Restaurant, (Kangaroo Island Seafront Resort, North Terrace, Penneshaw, (08) 8553 1028, website), is slightly more up-market than the other restaurants on the Island. A specialty is the ‘Outback Taste’ – kangaroo, crocodile and emu with dipping sauces ($18 AUD appetizer). For a taste of local seafood, try the Ocean Experience – KI lobster, KI whiting, KI yabbies, KI squid, KI oysters, KI marron, a side salad and dipping sauces ($120 for two). Expect to pay $80 – $100 AUD for two (including a bottle of wine).
Andermel Marron Café, (Harriet Road, Central Kangaroo Island, (08) 8559 4114, website), located in the heart of the island, is a great place to try the local marron (freshwater crayfish). The grounds also are home to Two Wheeler Creek Wines cellar door and a marron farm. Try the ‘Poaches Platter’ – Andermel marron, scallops, prawn skewers, served with trio of homemade sauces – $70 AUS for two. The platter pairs perfectly with their Two Wheeler Creek Sauvignon Blanc ($25 AUS).
Located in the heart of Kingscote, the Aurora Ozone Hotel Restaurant (The Foreshore, Kingscote, (08) 8553 2011, website), has been a long-standing favorite with locals. Try the KI Kangaroo – rare with red currant jus and rocket oil on a bed of crushed baby potatoes, green beans and a red onion for $26 AUS. Dinner for two around $80 AUS.
Kangaroo Island Fresh Seafood & Takeaway (Telegraph Road, Kingscote, (08) 08553-0177) is a fish and chip shop with arguably the best, freshest seafood on the island, located somewhat incongruously next door to the Caltex Petrol Station. You can either buy the fresh fish and cook it yourself or you can have them cook it. $15 AUS for two will fill you up.
Chapman River Cellar Door (Off Cape Willoughby Road, Antechamber Bay, (08) 8553 1371) is a cellar door located in an old airport hangar decorated in a bohemian style. Here you can grab a bottle of wine and enjoy a platter of local seasonal products. Expect to pay $50 AUS for a platter and bottle of wine.