Exploring the Top Attractions of Kangaroo Island
Kangaroo Island ("KI" to the locals) is an eco-tourism treasure and a haven for wildlife. Australia's third largest island (after Tasmania and Melville Island), it lies off the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia and is about 112 km southwest of Adelaide. Dazzling scenery is one of the prime selling points. Sweeping white-sand beaches lapped by azure seas, steep coastal cliffs, giant wind-sculpted boulders, rolling green hills, caves, sand dunes, and nature reserves provide a striking canvas for photographers. The island is also home to a wealth of wildlife, both on land and in the sparkling clear seas. National parks and reserves protect more than a third of the island, and close-up critter encounters are one of the island's top draws.
Kangaroo Island also has a fascinating history. Aboriginal people lived here more than 16,000 years ago, when the island was still connected to the mainland. In 1802, British explorer, Matthew Flinders landed near Kangaroo Head, followed by a colorful cast of rag-tag castaways including sealers, escaped convicts, and runaway sailors. It wasn't until 1836, that Europeans arrived and established the first formal settlement in South Australia. But lack of water, food, and building materials led many of them to leave soon after and settle around Adelaide.
Luckily, things have changed today. Accommodation is plentiful (from cozy lighthouse cabins, and self-contained apartments to luxury spa resorts and eco-retreats), while campsites are also a popular option in the beautiful national parks. Foodies will be in heaven. The island's many restaurants and cafés capitalize on the wealth of locally sourced produce. Fresh-shucked oysters, southern rock lobsters, free-range eggs, and sheep's milk cheese and yogurt from local farms are just some of the homegrown gastronomic delights. The island is also famous for its Ligurian honey, which many visitors purchase a stash to take home as a souvenir.
Exploring the Island
On land and in the crystal clear seas, Kangaroo Island's outdoor adventures spotlight its breathtaking natural beauty. Sightseers can take a guided wildlife safari to see colonies of sea lions, kangaroos, penguins, and other charismatic wildlife, or explore the many walking trails that thread through the wildlife-rich national parks.
Kangaroo Island is also easy to explore by bike or car. Several scenic drives take sightseers to top attractions. A favorite is Rolling North Coast Drive where farm animals, wildlife, and beaches are the main features. Visitors can end the drive with a refreshing swim and a picnic at Stokes Bay. Those seeking an adrenaline rush can bounce through the bush in an all-terrain vehicle, explore underground cave systems, or head to Vivonne Bay where they can surf down towering sand dunes.
Kangaroo Island's crystal clear waters and abundant marine life make it one of Australia's best locations for temperate water diving. Steep walls adorned with colorful corals and sponges provide a stunning backdrop for a parade of marine creatures - many of which are only found in the waters off South Australia. The island is especially famous for its leafy sea-dragons. Wreck diving is also in demand. Many ships met their fate in these waters, and divers can explore some of the most intriguing sites such as 5,800-ton freighter, the Portland Maru. Other water sports include swimming, surfing at Pennington and Stokes Bays, fishing, and sailing.
Animal lovers will be in heaven at Kangaroo Island. Apart from friendly throngs of the namesake marsupials, the island plays host to a colorful cast of Aussie critters. Visitors can cuddle koalas, pat a possum, commune with Western grey kangaroos, and stroll among endangered Australian sea lions on the beach at Seal Bay. Echidnas, wallabies, and penguins are frequently sighted, and the island is a great place to spot koalas in the wild. Birds are also abundant. Hand-feeding flocks of rainbow lorikeets is a highlight, while Murray Lagoon is a great place to see water birds. Dolphins swim the sparkling waters, and a colony of New Zealand fur seals frolics off the island's west coast. In the winter, visitors may spot southern right whales and their calves near shore.
Flinders Chase National Park
One of the island's most famous attractions, Flinders Chase National Park, covers the entire western end of Kangaroo Island. Must-see tourist attractions include the Remarkable Rocks, wind-blasted boulders sculpted into bizarre shapes and perched upon a smooth dome of rock. Nearby is the improbable curve of Admirals Arch, the last relic of an ancient cave. Beneath the arch, at Cape du Couedic, thousands of New Zealand fur seals congregate on the beach entertaining guests with their antics on land and in the water. The park is also a prime spot for wildlife encounters with friendly kangaroos and the abundant birds. Sightseers can explore the park's waterways and forests on the extensive network of hiking trails and boardwalks. Campsites can be reserved in the park, and visitors can also stay in the lighthouse cottages at Cape Borda on the island's northwestern tip, and Cape du Couedic.
Hours: Open daily, day visitors must leave the park at sunset; Flinders Chase Visitor Centre is open daily 9am-5pm, closed Christmas Day
Admission: Adult $10, concession $8, child $6
Location: 110 km west of Kingscote
The capital, commercial center, and principal port of Kangaroo Island, Kingscote presides over a peaceful harbor dotted with boats. Kingscote is also where European settlers established their first base at historic Reeve's Point. Restaurants, cafés, and shops line the streets and the jetty is a popular fishing spot. The honey, lavender, and dairy farms in the surrounding district also welcome visitors.
The fishing village and holiday resort of American River lies near the isthmus leading to the Dudley Peninsula. It takes its name from the American seamen who built a boat here in 1803-4. Perched on a bush-cloaked hillside, the village overlooks Eastern Cove, an outer bay where locals and visitors love to fish and sail. The inner bay of Pelican Lagoon, is a great spot for birders with black swans, pelicans and important breeding habitats on the islands in the lagoon. American River is also home to the island's oyster industry and visitors can purchase some of these delicacies while they're here.
Penneshaw, on the island's northeast coast, welcomes visitors arriving by ferry from Cape Jervis. Hog Bay Jetty here is a popular spot to cast a line, and visitors love the colony of Little Penguins. Nightly tours provide an educational look at these charming critters. For beautiful views across to the mainland, visitors should climb up Cape Willoughby Lighthouse.
Kelly Hill Conservation Park
Kelly Hill Conservation Park, in the southwest of the island, is known for its beautiful limestone cave system. Stalactites, stalagmites, and stunning crystallized columns adorn the caves, and guided tours share fascinating information about how they are formed. Thrill seekers can don a headlamp and helmet and clamber through the underground maze of caverns on an Adventure Caving Tour. Above ground, the walking trails are a good option for claustrophobics. From here, visitors can hike all the way to Hanson Bay with its woodlands, freshwater lagoons, and seascapes. At the Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, visitors can enjoy close-up encounters with koalas, kangaroos, echidnas, and possums. Birders will also be rewarded with possible sightings of crimson-breasted rosellas, honeyeaters, and black cockatoos.
- Park: Open daily, day visitors are requested to leave the park by sunset.
- Kelly Hill Caves Visitor Centre: Open daily, 10:15am-4:30pm, closed Christmas Day
Cape Gantheaume Conservation Park
Cape Gantheaume, on the southeast coast, is a haven for budding naturalists and birders. The largest freshwater lake on the island lies here, as well as the Murray Lagoon wetland habitat that attracts an impressive number of birds, including swans, ducks, and wading birds. Experienced hikers can embark on the Cape Gantheaume Coastal Trek, or take one of the shorter marked trails around the lagoon. Once a whaling spot, D'Estrees Bay is great for fishing and camping. Visitors can learn about the bay's history on an 8 km self-drive tour. Access to Southern Kangaroo Island Marine Park with its sea lion colony is also possible from the park.
Hours: Open daily, 24 hours
Location: 40 km southwest of Kingscote
Tips and Tactics
The following Tips and Tactics will help maximize the potential for fun when visiting Kangaroo Island:
- For safety, drivers should stay under 60 kmph on unsealed roads.
- Fuel is available at the larger towns on the island, but drivers should fill up before a day of sightseeing as some of the gas stations close at 6pm.
- Public transport on the island is limited, though a shuttle bus travels between the major towns.
- Wildlife is more active at dawn, dusk, and during the night. Drive slower at these times. Drivers who spot animals on the road at night should slow down and dip their lights to avoid blinding the animal. Stay alert when driving during the daytime as lizards often warm themselves on the roads.
- Never feed wildlife and always keep children in close proximity.
- The Aussie sun can be strong. When heading out into the wilderness, wear sunscreen and a hat. Hikers should also seek shelter in the scorching heat of day and wear sunglasses to protect their eyes.
- When packing for long island hikes, take basic first aid equipment, register the planned route, and advise friends and family of an estimated return time. Sturdy shoes or boots are recommended.
- Take binoculars for a close-up view of birds and other wildlife.
- Neat, casual clothing is acceptable throughout the island.
When to Visit
Kangaroo Island is beautiful all year round with a moderate Mediterranean climate. Summers are warm with cool evenings and winter can be chilly. Visitors should pack warm layers during the cooler months from June through September.
- Regional Express (REX) operates direct 30-minute flights from Adelaide to Kingscote Airport, which lies 14 km from the town center.
- Kangaroo Island SeaLink runs two vehicle and passenger ferries, between Cape Jervis on the Fleurieu Peninsula (about a 2-hour drive from Adelaide) and Penneshaw on Kangaroo Island. The ride takes roughly 45 minutes and advance bookings are essential. Ferries depart at least four times daily.