In 2015, I was incredibly fortunate to find myself living on Australia’s third largest island for three and a half months. Without a shadow of a doubt, Kangaroo Island changed my life; the people I met, the lifestyle I led, the scenery that took my breath away, the wildlife I encountered – from the cute to the downright terrifying and the fascinating history, of all the above; the list goes on and on. Over two years later, I still get the occasional pang of, what one can only describe as homesickness, for a place that enveloped my world entirely, in such a short space of time.
For anyone visiting the glorious state of South Australia, which is often overlooked by backpackers, I suggest you jump on the ferry at Cape Jervis and go see for yourself, the wonders the island has to offer. Here are 23 things you’ll love about this little slice of heaven, to wet your whistle:
Hunting for koalas at Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary
Situated at the remote south-west end of the island, the main attraction at the sanctuary is the koala walk; a beautiful avenue, lined either side with mighty eucalyptus trees. On closer inspection, which generally involves a great deal of neck craning, squinting and patience, you can make out numerous little round, grey balls of fluff, balancing on the thinnest of twigs, or wedged uncomfortably into the tree nooks.
Spotting New Zealand fur seals on your walk down to Admirals Arch
Admirals Arch is one of the islands spectacular natural landmarks and was created by thousands of years of erosion. The rock bridge is laden with wonderfully jagged stalactites, perfectly framing the unruly ocean behind. The boardwalk to the arch is almost as exciting as seeing the landmark itself; on the way down, you will encounter a colony of New Zealand fur seals, lazing around on the rocks and playing in the shallow pools beneath the arch.
Taking a long, slow drive along the island’s beautiful north coast…
This requires some negotiation of unstable, corrugated roads, but the drive is magical and will lead you between secluded beaches and little farms tucked away amongst vast, rolling hillsides.
…and stopping to take in the views from Constitution Hill
You’ll begin to climb Constitution Hill soon after passing Snellings. The view looks out over the sloping green hills dotted with gum trees, which lead down to the sparkling coastline and distant, long, sandy stretch of beach.
Seeing a castle like no other
Constructed from recycled objects, festooned with knick-knacks and powered by some 40,000 lights. Read more here.
Delving deep into Kelly Hill Caves
Nestled beneath Kelly Hill Conservation Park lies a hidden network of dry limestone caves. Jump on one of the guided tours and discover an impressive array of beautiful rock formations and find out how the caves got their name; hint – it involved a horse!
Getting up close and personal with the critters at Raptor Domain
Meet some of Australia’s native species at one (or all, with the ultimate package) of Raptor Domain’s shows. Learn about deadly snakes and spiders in the Venom Pit, get interactive with some truly majestic birds in the In-Flight show and get the chance to handle a Fang-Tastic bunch of reptiles. The shows are incredibly educational, promote awareness and encourage the protection and conservation of these amazing creatures. Learn more here.
Appreciating the island’s lighthouses
The life savers of the island; steeped in history and truly unique. Cape Willoughby (built 1852) was the first lighthouse constructed in the whole of South Australia. Cape Borda Lightstation (built 1858) is Australia’s only square lighthouse and the tallest in its state. Cape du Couedic (built 1906-1909 and pictured above) was inaccessible by land for many of its early years, so goods brought over by boat were hauled up the steep cliffs by a winching system powered by two horses.
Visiting the pelicans in Kingscote
Until recently, the pelicans were fed daily on the wharf. Although the show was discontinued, these hefty birds continue to make an appearance.
Getting your hiking boots on
The island is popular amongst walking enthusiasts thanks to its pristine, untouched condition, scenic terrain and abundance of native wildlife, flora and fauna. With over 23 walking tracks around the island, there is something for everyone, from the 30 minute stroll, the 8 hour hike to the 5 day Wilderness Trail.
The Ravine des Casoars Hike (7.4km, 4hr return) is a moderate trek following the narrow ravine valley down to the coast, ending on a remote beach. The trail begins high up amongst thick, native bush. As you descend, the trees begin to open up, providing spectacular views across the ravine, until you eventually come to the valley floor, where you follow a river all the way out to the ocean. Don’t miss the sea caves on the beach!
Where: On the north-west side of the island, near Cape Borda Lightstation.
The Platypus Waterholes Walk (4.7km, 2hr circuit) is an easy walk which takes you through Black Swamp to a number of viewing platforms overlooking some peaceful waterholes, which are home to the elusive platypus. Time of year, time of day and level of patience will help determine your success in actually seeing one! Don’t be too disheartened, along the way there is plenty more wildlife; echidnas, geese, kangaroos, wallabies and goannas to name a few.
Where: Begins at Flinders Chase National Park visitor centre.
Going on an Ocean Safari
During this 75 minute coastal safari you may encounter all manners of wildlife. I was lucky enough to see an osprey catch a fish, a pair of white bellied sea eagles nesting, a colony of New Zealand fur seals basking on the rocks and a pod of wild dolphins, which swam right beside our boat. Our skipper was incredibly knowledgeable, passionate and a barrel of laughs. For more information, click here.
Viewing some of the tallest cliffs in South Australia
At 863ft, the lookout at Scott Cove offers some of the best views of the north coast.
Visiting some truly Remarkable Rocks
Probably the most iconic landmark on the island. The Remarkable Rocks are found within Flinders Chase National Park and have been sculpted into a variety of unusual shapes by the wind and sea. You can walk right amongst them and gaze in awe at these orange stained boulders, which contrast so beautifully with the surrounding deep, blue ocean.
Surfing on sand
Known as ‘blow out dunes’, Little Sahara is made up of approximately two square kilometres of naturally occurring dunes, where sand has been blown from the coast and has then accumulated inland. Another example of this is the Henty Sand dunes in Tasmania. Today, thrill seekers sandboard and toboggan down these 7000 year old dunes, some of which rise as high as 70m above sea level!
Hanging out with the sea lions at Seal Bay
Seal Bay Conservation Park is home to the third largest colony of Australian sea lions. Reaching the critters requires a scenic 800m stroll down a walkway, which winds its way through the attractive cliffs and dunes, to then overlook the beach. Find yourself cooing over the chubby little seal pups playing on the sand, whilst their elders laze around in the sun and swim in the sea.
The island’s 540km’s of untouched coastline encompasses no fewer than 50 unique beaches, each charming within their own way.
West Bay is located in the middle of the west coast and is part of Flinders Chase National Park. It has an incredibly wild, rugged and secluded feel to it and makes a great camping spot.
Hanson Bay is another remote spot, which can be reached by driving to the end of an unsealed dirt track. The pristine water is great for snorkelling, swimming and fishing.
Vivonne Bay was voted one of Australia’s top beaches, thanks to its beautifully clear water and pristine sand. Take a pew on the jetty amongst the local fishermen and you may be lucky enough to see penguins, dolphins and seals.
Stokes Bay is a tranquil pool of water surrounded by rocks, which gives it a great deal of protection from the pounding ocean. The beach can be reached by squeezing through a gap in the rocks.
Snellings Beach is easily accessed from North Coast Road. It is a popular summer hangout for day-trippers, swimmers and surfers alike. Stroll towards the far end of the beach and you’ll come across Middle River, gently meandering out to sea.
Continuing on west from Snellings you’ll come to Western River Cove. It requires a bit of a winding drive to get to, however the scenery along the way is some of the best on the island, so it’s well worth the trip. There is a small river flowing down onto the beach and a short climb up the cliff to the right will reward you with some lovely views, from the rocks and reefs below, to the surrounding green hills.
Falling in love with the island’s abundant, unique wildlife
With roughly a third of the island being declared protected national park, it is unsurprising that wildlife thrives here. As well as being home to some of Australia’s famous exotic wildlife (the list is endless), there are also a number of species found only exclusively on the island. This is due to thousands of years of isolation from the mainland, creating a mostly predator free environment.
The Western Grey kangaroo is a unique sub-species, which has evolved to be smaller, darker and have longer fur than its mainland relatives. Tammar wallabies thrive on the island, yet are very nearly extinct on the mainland.
Kangaroo Island echidnas have distinctively ‘blonde’ spines.
Tiger snakes here are larger and more venomous than their mainland counterparts. They also don’t have their usual stripes; being completely black helps them to absorb heat faster.
Getting there – The island is a short, 45 minute jolt by ferry across the Backstairs Passage, between Cape Jervis and Penneshaw. Cape Jervis is a scenic, 2 hour drive from Adelaide. Alternatively , you can fly to the island in 30 minutes from Adelaide Airport.