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Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island Map

Introduction

Kangaroo Island is Australia's third largest island, after Tasmania and somewhere called Melville Island, which is just north of Darwin, but we'd never heard of previously!

It's a place that came highly recommended to us and this was recently backed up by National Geographic Traveller magazine who named it the best island in the Asia Pacific region.

The island itself is much bigger than you might expect - it's just over 150 km long and up to around 60 km wide - so driving from the eastern side to the western side of the island takes around 1:45. It is also only sparsely populated, with around 4,000 residents though around 140,000 tourists visit annually.

It's very much the wildlife and wilderness that's the draw here - to an island that is 'a zoo without fences'. The two full days we had on the island were just about enough, but flew by.

Getting there

If you're on a driving holiday like we were, you'll need to catch a ferry over to Penneshaw from Cape Jervis, which is about two hours south of Adelaide. There are also flights available from Adelaide to Kingscote.

The drive down was very easy 1:45 for us, but we left Adelaide CBD at 07:00 on a Saturday to catch the 10:00 ferry, so the roads were deserted. I'd recommend getting there relatively early if possible, because the ferry is quite a tight squeeze in an unfamiliar car and the last arrivals all get the joy of backing on! You'll do best to book well ahead for the same reason.

At least the passengers have to board separately so that you can concentrate on what you are doing! Blind faith in the guys helping is definitely the secret.

The last few miles into Cape Jervis take you along the pretty and windy coastal roads of the Fleurieu Peninsula. Once you get to the ferry port, there's not a lot there, but there is a cafe at the check-in terminal. The ferry itself then takes 45 minutes and can be quite a choppy experience!

It's worth having an idea of where to find petrol on the island, as you can go a long way without seeing very much. We found petrol stations at Penneshaw, Kingscote, American River and our hotel, Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat.

Some fuel is pretty pricey compared to the mainland and apparently it can be difficult to find anywhere open after 18:00. ATMs are also pretty scarse - we used one in Kingscote and I believe the only others are in Penneshaw.

Like much of Australia, it's worth slowing down at night when much of the wildlife are particularly active.

Where to stay

Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat, or KIWR as they call it, is in a fantastic location, next to Flinders Chase National Park and its Admirals Arch and Remarkable Rocks attractions - the most popular destinations on the island.

If you catch an early ferry, you can visit the attractions on the south side of the island on the way to the hotel for the first night, which makes for a really good day. There are no restaurants close by, but the in-house food is pretty good. Hand feeding the wallabies 'roo food' is a real highlight too.

What to do

Kangaroo Island is all about wildlife and the rugged natural environment. Along the south coast, the big attractions are Seal Bay, Kelly Hill Caves, Hanson Bay Koala Walk and then Remarkable Rocks and Admirals Arch in Flinders Chase National Park.

I would only recommend the 45 minute Kelly Hill caves tour ($12 each) if you haven't been to any limestone caves recently, if at all. We felt a bit of 'seen one, seen them all' and wished we'd spent more time at some of the other Flinders Chase attractions - ideally you'd set aside a whole day there.

If the weather is good and you have a bit of extra time, Vivonne Bay won an award as Australia's best beach in 2003. The weather in August isn't brilliant though and the beach wasn't spectacular when we visited in the rain :o) It's also worth remembering that the southern beaches are notorious for having strong undertows though, so are for strong swimmers only.

There's also Litte Sahara for a bit of sand surfing if you're feeling athletic!

Along the north coast, you could start at Cape Borda lighthouse for the sheer remoteness of it all. You'll want a 4WD car to get there in a decent time though as the roads are unsealed and it could take forever otherwise. We ended up abandoning our trip out there 15 km in because of the slow progress. With a 4WD, the north coast road is supposed to offer some beautiful sights and you'll have better access to the unsealed roads that criss-cross the centre of the island.

In good weather, the 4 km beach at Emy Bay just north west of Kingscote offers a good chance for a swim, but it is a long way to go if the weather lets you down. We didn't think much of Kingscote itself either - and if you're looking to buy waterproofs that you didn't think to pack, the Flinders Chase visitor centre is a much better bet!

Wherever you are, keep your eyes out for an echidna - unusual for being an egg laying mammal. They're bigger than you might think and very cute to watch! Apparently the spines are strong enough to puncture car tyres!

Seal Bay

Strangely, it's Australian Sea Lions you get here, rather than seals! It was the first major attraction we visited and we weren't prepared for the weather. The 400m boardwalk ($10) is very exposed other than a small shelter at the very bottom and without proper waterproofs, we got wet and cold pretty quickly!

Still, it's an awesome photo op and a really special chance to get so close to what is estimated to be 10% of all sea lions world wide.

For an extra $4 each, you can join the guided beach tour to get even closer. These leave hourly, but are sometimes booked up a couple of hours ahead. They are the only way you are allowed onto the beach in order to protect the colony.

Flinders Chase National Park

A massive 85% of Flinders Chase was destroyed by the bushfires of December 2007 and though there were still burn scars to be seen, the major tourist attractions in the south of the park were fortunately largely unaffected.

Park entry costs $8 each, payable at the excellent visitor centre and the coast is then a fun 15 km winding and cresting drive further on.

Admirals Arch should be the first point of call and there is a pretty lighthouse just by the car park. A long boardwalk cuts across the cliff edges and gives superb views of the ragged seas.

Steps take you down to the arch itself and bring you up close to a colony of New Zealand Fur Seals. If you thought Seal Bay was good, this will blow you away - it's the island highlight for sure and we could have stood watching for hours.

Remarkable Rocks are very photogenic naturally and bizarrely sculptured rocks, though obviously less precariously balanced than they appear! It is amazing what a bit of wind and rain can do here :o) If you time it right, you can get some truly incredible pictures here at sunset.

Take note of the warnings towards the back of the outcrop. The seas are vicious here and people have died in the waters as recently as 2003.

We were lucky to catch both completely empty, which would be unheard of in the UK. A coach party arrived as we were leaving Admirals Arch though, so make the best of the quiet moments you get!

Hanson Bay Koala Walk

A $2 honesty box contribution gives you entry to Koala Walk, which is home to around 15-20 koalas all year round. We stopped in right at the end of the day, but the fading light made it quite tough to pick out the bears in the tall gum trees, so it might be better to go earlier. A decent zoom lens on the digital SLR camera will pay dividends here.

Winter brings baby koalas and wallaby and kangaroo joeys out of mum's pouch - an incredible sight if you are as lucky as we were! There is a wonderful smell of Eucalyptus in the air, but you begin to wonder how much koala poo you've trodden in when it comes back into the car with you!

What else can you do?

Paul's Place offers an intimate hands-on experience and the Penguin Centre at Penneshaw would be worth a look if you don't plan on visiting Phillip Island.

Murray Lagoon is supposed to a lovely area for walking and observing bird life and the Island Beehive might be worth a look to see why Kangaroo Island is so famous for its honey.

You can even feed Pelicans at 17:00 each evening at the Kangaroo Island Marine Centre at Kingscote Wharf. It's not just your average birds on this island you see!

Where to next?

Robe


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