Great Southern Land
The wild, windswept coastline of Kangaroo Island is a world away from everyday life.
Just like the striking rock formations, long stretches of turquoise-fringed, white sand beach and frolicking sea lions that dominate its shores, Kangaroo Island is a little bit different.
Australia’s third-largest island is only a short ferry ride from South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula but, disconnected from world-weary worries, it runs on gentle island time attuned to nature.
This is a place of beautiful isolation, where granite is sculptured by nature, and there are more kangaroos than people.
From the mainland ferry, you will make landfall at the townlet of Penneshaw on the Dudley Peninsula. Time your visit for the first Sunday of the month and you’ll be browsing the village atmosphere of the Penneshaw Farmers and Community Markets, tasting local produce and purchasing gifts to take home. Stay the night here and join a tour at the Penneshaw Penguin Centre, to watch Little Penguins return to their night burrows.
For seafood lovers, the next stop should be The Oyster Farm Shop at American River, named for the American sealers who landed in 1803 and mistook a narrow sea inlet as a river. Here you can gather a feast of sustainable island produce – including Kangaroo Island oysters, abalone, marron and King George whiting – and pair it with locally made sauces and condiments. Take a local’s tip and don’t miss trying the Sheaoak-smoked oysters while sitting on the jetty and enjoying the sea view.
Kingscote, a 60km drive from Penneshaw, is Kangaroo Island’s largest town. Pick up some local Ligurian honey, locally-made wine and other Kangaroo Island produce and enjoy the views overlooking boat-studded Nepean Bay. The airport is 13km from here.
More than a third of the island is dedicated to national and conservation parks – a visit to these areas brings great rewards. Seal Bay Conservation Park is a 45-minute drive from Kingscote. This is the only place in the world where you can walk on the beach while cheeky Australian sea lions play and bask in the sun.
A wooden boardwalk with viewing platforms leads down through the dunes to the beach into the heart of the colony. Visitors view from the boardwalk or take a guided, 45-minute walking tour down to the beach. You can’t go any closer than 10 metres, but it’s near enough to these large animals. Watching the seal pups chase their mothers and learn how to surf the waves is amazing.
Find Little Sahara Desert near the seal park for a bit of dune surfing action. The highest, coastal blowout dune sits about 70 metres above sea level.
On Kangaroo Island’s western side, Flinders Chase National Park has the Remarkable Rocks where boulders have been moulded by the wind over 500 million years. At the shoreline, you’ll find the sculptured vault of Admirals Arch, which is a playground for a colony of dark brown, long-nosed fur seals. Stalactites dangle from the former cave’s rocky ceiling.
There’s another cave to explore, this time part of an intricate system below the earth’s surface, at the Kelly Hill Conservation Park. Inside the deep belly of the limestone caves are stalactite and stalagmite formations which can be viewed on a guided tour.
If wildlife is your passion, Koala Avenue and Platypus Waterholes should be on the list. Koala Avenue is a long stretch of gum trees just outside Flinders Chase National Park. Stroll the track to see koalas in their natural habitat.
Platypus Waterholes is an easy, two hour return walk through Black Swamp which once was the home of ancient megafauna. Just remember to keep quiet around the waterholes if you want to see a platypus.
For another perspective on Kangaroo Island, stay at one of the three lighthouse keeper’s cottages at Cape Willoughby Conservation Park. Built from local limestone in 1907, the restored and heritage-listed cottages offer a glimpse of the isolation experienced by early residents. The substantial buildings have been decorated to accommodate six people comfortably.
Guests can sit around a well-stoked wood stove in the classic kitchen before retiring for the evening. Will your rest be undisturbed by the ghosts of past residents? Well, that might depend on how solidly you sleep, but if you wake because someone is shaking your shoulder, you have been warned. Check the visitor’s book for more hints on what sleepover spirits to expect.
It’s seven times the size of Singapore, sits on the same latitude as Canberra and has Australia’s Best Beach at Vivonne Bay, but Kangaroo Island is a world of its own with a community that makes visitors feel part of the family.
Photos by Tourism South Australia.