Kangaroo Island is seriously spectacular and perhaps one of the most unheralded destinations for the quintessential Aussie self-drive holiday. As Australia’s third largest island – behind Tasmania and Melville Island up in the NT – Kangaroo Island is deceptively large, around the size of Bali. There are limited local transport options here, so travelling under your own steam will ensure you can access everything the island has to offer – including the most remote and stunningly beautiful areas of South Australia. Once your vehicle has rolled off the ferry at Penneshaw, here are your top ten must-sees and dos.
1. Walk with sea lions at Seal Bay
This is an absolute must. Managed by National Parks South Australia, join a guided walk with a ranger down onto the beach at the Seal Bay Conservation Park – within metres of the resident Australian sea lion colony.
There are about 1,000 members of the colony and you’ll see large males, feeding mums and playful pups, all doing their thing. The sea lions are not habituated with food in any way and there’s no direct human intervention in the life of the colony, except where a sea lion is entangled in rubbish or fishing line.
2. Meet more locals in Flinders Chase
In general, one of the best things about a visit to Kangaroo Island is the wildlife viewing. With no foxes or rabbits, the island provides a stable habitat for native mammals and birdlife and Flinders Chase National Park at the western end of the island offers the greatest concentration of wildlife. Drop into the excellent Visitor Centre for information. Even in and around the centre you’re likely to meet the endemic Kangaroo Island kangaroo, Tamar wallabies, koalas, Cape Baron geese and more.
3. Rewind time at Cape Du Couedic Lightstation
If you want to stay right in the heart of the Flinders Chase National Park, check out the Cape Du Couedic Lightstation heritage accommodation. There are three cottages, built back in the early 1900s. The icy winds coming in off the Southern Ocean may whip around your cottage at night but you’ll be toasty warm by the fire inside. Visit the historic lighthouse and take a run out to Weirs Cove to see the remains of a flying fox where supplies – delivered by ship every three months – were hoisted up the steep cliffs. Visitors used to arrive in exactly the same way!
4. Admire Australian fur seals at the Arch
The wildlife photo opportunities just keep on coming. Down at Admiral’s Arch on Cape Du Couedic you can visit a colony of Australian fur seals, and again, get incredibly close to the action thanks to a series of wooden boardwalks and bridges. Watch the seals coming in after a hard day’s fishing in the shark-infested waters, while their pups wait patiently high above the waterline.
5. Get amongst Remarkable Rocks
Kangaroo Island is not short of breathtaking natural vistas and one of the most striking is located close to Cape Du Couedic. The aptly named Remarkable Rocks sit on top of a large dome of sandstone on the edge of the Southern Ocean. Walk amongst the pieces, each one shaped by nature over thousands of years. The result is a collection of sculptures Picasso himself would have been proud of. Sunset is the best time to visit.
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6. Get subterranean at Kelly Hill Caves
If the Remarkable Rocks inspire you to learn more about Kangaroo Island's geological makeup, then the Kelly Hill Caves is the perfect place to do it. There are scheduled tours of the delicate limestone show caves, which run for about 40 minutes. For those wanting to take things a step (or crawl) further, there’s an adventure caving tour on offer.
7. Spend a day grape grazing
It may come as somewhat of a surprise to learn that agriculture sits side by side with the natural beauty of Kangaroo Island. There are rolling green fields dotted with contented dairy cows and about 100 hectares under vine. While this is a relatively young wine region by the mainland’s standards, it’s already getting a name for its bold Shiraz, Cab Sauvs and even the odd Bordeaux. Several wineries operate cellar doors. Dudley Wines has a superb deck with sweeping views and a range of gourmet pizzas.
8. Guaranteed gourmet experiences
Gourmet food experiences on the island abound and are guaranteed to keep the most ardent of foodies well and truly satiated. Marron – the large freshwater crayfish for which the island is renowned – is now farmed commercially at Kangaroo Island Freshwater Crayfish. The sheep cheese and yoghurt produced at the Island Pure Sheep Dairy are out of this world, while the homemade honey ice cream at Cliffords Honey Farm will go down well especially with the kids.
9. Cook up a storm yourself
Learn more about local gourmet producers at a cooking class at Kangaroo Island Source. Kate Sumner is the culinary whiz behind this operation, which seeks to introduce visitors to the best of the island’s produce in a farm kitchen overlooking picturesque Penneshaw.
10. Get arty in Kingscote
It’s not surprising that there’s a thriving local arts community on Kangaroo Island; it’s that sort of place. To find out more and perhaps pick up the perfect souvenir of your visit, pay a visit to Fine Art Kangaroo Island in Kingscote – a gallery of work from local creatives, including celebrated artist Janine Mackintosh. Her work is featured in the Australian War Memorial, and the uber-exclusive Southern Ocean Lodge on the island’s south coast. The writer travelled to Kangaroo Island with Park Trek Walking Holidays.