Hopping Around Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island was initially described to me as ‘Australia’s Galapagos.’

So naturally, my first question was:

“When do we go?”

My entire journey in South Australia was a beautiful surprise, my favorite part was touring Kangaroo Island. The whole island  is like a delicious picnic with lots of room to spread out and watch wild animals, well, do what they do. Throw in some of the most gobsmackingly gorgeous beaches I’ve ever seen, aaannnnd done.

The Galapagos assertion is entirely true, by the way. KI was part of the Australian mainland until sea levels rose somewhere between 9,000 and 12,000 years ago. The wildlife that was isolated on the resulting island evolved differently from those on the mainland, resulting in all sorts of unique variations. For instance, the Kangaroo Island kangaroo is not only brown, but just about half the size of a gray or red ‘roo.

Modern-day KI is a 15-minute, small-plane flight from Adelaide and a popular getaway from the city. Australia’s third largest island (after Tasmania and Melville), KI is 93 miles across and has over 900 miles of unbroken Southern Ocean coastline. The interior, which hosts an amazing array of marsupials, seal lions, birds and reptiles, ranges from tropical paradise to dense eucalyptus forest to rocky plains and arid desert. With a population of about 4,500 people, the island has only one big town, Kingscote; Australia’s first non-convict settlement, this is now home to some of the country’s finest artists and a nocturnal flock of Little Penguins.

In other words, you can absolutely make Kangaroo Island a day trip…but you’d miss a lot. Better to allow two or three days to wander and get on the island’s wild, remote wavelength.

If you want someone else to do the driving (Australia = the wrong side of the road) and introduce you to this unique landscape, book a tour with Exceptional Kangaroo Island. Their guides, fiercely committed to KI’s pristine environment, can point out strange flora and fauna and educate you about the island’s greatest natural attractions. They can also swing you by artists’ studios, get you into a private winery and prepare you a lovely locavore’s lunch out in the bush.

Here’s some of what you can see on Kangaroo Island:

Exotic and indigenous creatures like the Cape Barren goose; heath goanna; southern brown bandicoot; Gang-gang cockatoo; short-beaked echidna; striated pardalote; spangled drongo; and grey currawong. (I haven’t seen all of these for myself, but don’t they sound cool?)

Flinders Chase National Park, which contains the aptly-named Remarkable Rocks, the lace-like Admiral’s Arch, and the Cape du Couedic fur seal colony. KI (home to Aborigines, at one point in its history, for thousands of years) was “discovered” by two European explorers in 1802: Britain’s Matthew Flinders and France’s Nicolas Baudin. They arrived separately but worked together to name almost everything here for the glory of their countries. (Kangaroo Island itself, though, they named for the gentle marsupials that provided meat after a long stretch at sea.)

Seal Bay Conservation Park, where for about $28 AUD, you can observe endangered Australian Sea lions in their natural habitat. Unless you think you’ll get bored sitting still on powder-white sand and watching little baby sea-lions take their first cautious/delighted swim in the ocean, I’d leave at least an hour for this.

Island Pure Sheep Dairy, where you can learn about sheep-milking and cheese-making, taste the freshest yogurt you’ll ever eat…and try to avoid looking any adorable lambs — which are intended for market — in the eye.

Island Beehive, which makes some of the world’s purest honey: KI has the world’s only remaining population of Ligurian bees (introduced here by Italian settlers in 1886), and has been declared a bee sanctuary to protect them. At the Beehive, take home some Cup Gum Honey in a plastic bottle shaped like a koala.

Andermel Marron, Two Wheeler Creek Wines and the Marron Café, where you might find yourself hanging out all day, eating and drinking. A marron is an Australian freshwater crayfish that looks not unlike a little lobster, and Andermel raises them in earnest. Their cellar door features tanks of marron, delicious sauces to accompany them, and a few of the best wines on the island. (Hello, sparkling chardonnay and lightly sweet lemon myrtle liqueur.) The café here serves a whole array of in-house for brunch, lunch and afternoon tea, and looks out over a peaceful swath of farmland.

You can also visit a lavender or eucalyptus farm, slide down some sand dunes in the Little Sahara, go limestone adventuring in the Kelly Hill Caves or run hand-in-hand along Vivonne Bay, my vote for the most drop-dead beautiful, gloriously empty beach on Planet Earth.

The island is full of B&Bs and vacation rentals, as well as home to two key resorts. One is the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat, adjacent to the entrance to Flinders Chase National Park. Home to a few stray wallabies, koalas and Queenie the kangaroo, KIWR is an entirely casual, outdoorsy place that happens to feature a high-end restaurant. (Be sure to ask the chef about locally grown produce like mountain pepper, lemon aspen, quandong, wattle seed, bush tomatoes, riberry and muntries.)

The spare, simple resort, which aims to blend with its bush surroundings, uses conserved rainwater and invites you to wander its nature trails in search of kangaroos, native parrots and rumbly, tumbly and spiky echidnae. ($265-360 AUD for courtyard, bath or spa suites)

The other resort is the Southern Ocean Lodge…for which I ask that you stay very, very tuned.

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My trip was sponsored by the South Australia Tourism Commission
and Qantas Airlines, but all opinions are my own.

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See also

Eyre Peninsula: Tuna, Dunes and Kangaroos
Barossa Valley: Old and New, Part Deux
Barossa Valley: Old and New and Koalas, Too
Adelaide Hills: Day(s) of Wine and Chocolate
Adelaide: From City to Bay
Discovering Down Under: South Australia
Flying High Above South Australia
TWT Travel Binder: Australia

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  1. […] farthest south I’ve yet been in the world is to South Australia’s Kangaroo Island, and it really does feel different than things that are, well, north. Sunlight is brighter, and a […]

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