In 2015, I had the privilege of living and working on Kangaroo Island for three and a half months. Kangaroo Island is Australia’s third largest island and home to some of the most incredible wildlife and natural beauty, as well as a fascinating history.
2020 update: In early 2020, over one third of the island was ravaged by bushfires. As a result, homes, businesses and lives have been destroyed and endangered species now face extinction. Now, more than ever, the island needs tourism to help assist with its recovery.
Due to the bushfire damage, some areas of the island remain closed until further notice. You can keep up-to-date by visiting their individual websites or check out the National Parks and Wildlife Service for alerts and closures.
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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 that Kangaroo Island has to offer. In doing so, you will not only have an amazing time, but your visit will also be directly supporting the community.
Here are some things you’ll love about Kangaroo Island:
Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary
Situated at the remote south-west end of the island, the main attraction at Hanson Bay Wildlife 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.
New Zealand fur seals at Admirals Arch
Created by thousands of years of erosion, Admirals Arch is one of the islands most spectacular natural landmarks. 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.
The 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.
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.
A castle like no other
Constructed from recycled objects, festooned with knick-knacks and powered by some 40,000 lights. Read more about the castle here.
Kelly Hill Caves
Nestled beneath Kelly Hill Conservation Park lies a hidden network of dry limestone caves. Jump on one of the guided tours, discover an impressive array of beautiful rock formations and find out how the caves got their name. Hint – it involved a horse!
Meet some of Australia’s native species at one 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 educational, promote awareness and encourage the protection and conservation of these amazing creatures.
The lighthouses of Kangaroo Island
The life savers of the island; steeped in history and truly unique. For instance, Cape Willoughby (built in 1852) was the first lighthouse constructed in the whole of South Australia. Then there’s Cape Borda Lightstation (built in 1858), which is Australia’s only square lighthouse and the tallest in its state. Finally, 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. The show is now discontinued, but these hefty birds indeed 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, 3hr 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!
The Platypus Waterholes Walk (4.7km, 2hr circuit) is an easy walk which takes you through Black Swamp to a number of viewing platforms. The platforms overlook 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 disheartened, along the way there is plenty more wildlife; echidnas, geese, kangaroos, wallabies and goannas to name a few.
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.
Some of the tallest cliffs in South Australia
At 863 feet, the lookout at Scott Cove offers some of the best views along the north coast.
Truly Remarkable Rocks
Probably the most iconic landmark on Kangaroo 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. Today, thrill seekers sand board and toboggan down these 7000 year old dunes, some of which rise as high as 70 metres 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 800 metre 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.
Kangaroo Island’s 540 kilometres 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 you can reach by driving to the end of an unsealed dirt track. The pristine water is great for snorkelling, swimming and fishing.
Thanks to its beautifully clear water and pristine sand, Vivonne Bay is voted one of Australia’s top beaches. Take a pew on the jetty amongst the local fishermen. You may be lucky enough to spot penguins, dolphins and seals!
Stokes Bay is a tranquil pool of water surrounded by rocks, giving it a great deal of protection from the pounding ocean. You can reach the beach by squeezing through a gap in the rocks.
You can easily access Snellings Beach 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.
The abundant, unique wildlife
Wildlife thrives on Kangaroo Island, thanks to roughly a third of the island being declared as protected national park. As well as being home to some of Australia’s most famous wildlife, 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. It 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. What’s more, they don’t have their usual stripes; being completely black helps them to absorb heat faster.
Getting to Kangaroo Island
Kangaroo Island is a short, 45 minute jolt by Sealink 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.