Picture of a grey kangaroo and mother on Kangaroo Island, Kelly Hill Conservation, South Australia

A kangaroo cleans a joey on Kangaroo Island.

Photograph by Robert Harding, Alamy Stock Photo

Peter Turner

Only half an hour by air from Adelaide, sleepy Kangaroo Island seems more like decades away, but wildlife tourism is waking the island from its rural slumber. Sea lions, seals, koalas and, of course, kangaroos are commonly sighted, and many other species live in the island’s large wilderness areas. Pristine, near-deserted beaches dot the coast, and the wild Flinders Chase National Park dominates the western end. The main settlement of Kingscote in the east has old-fashioned charm, while the rolling farmland of the interior has local produce, art, and winery trails to explore.

Map of South Australia

Wildlife

Kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, goannas, echidnas, platypuses, sea lions, seals, and more reside on and around the island. Sighting these animals is never guaranteed, but dawn and dusk are always prime wildlife-spotting times. Ask locals for good locations, or take a tour. Exceptional Kangaroo Island has exceptional wildlife tours.

Kangaroos and small, cute tammar wallabies are scattered all over the island. Both are most active at sunrise and sunset, when they can be a hazard for traffic. Koalas—introduced to the island in the 1920s, when they were at risk of extinction on the mainland—have bred prolifically and now number more than 13,000, per the last government survey in 2010, with control programs failing to limit the population. The national park is a good place for sightings—ask rangers for likely locations—or just look up into the gum trees and keep your eyes peeled. Also in the park, you might get lucky and sight the shy, elusive platypus on the park’s platypus water holes walk. Echidnas are also rare but not so elusive as the platypus.

The island’s biggest wildlife attraction is at Seal Bay, where you're guaranteed to see scores—if not hundreds—of sea lions basking in the sun on the beach. They number around a thousand but can be visited only on guided beach tours with a ranger. Self-guided tours are cheaper but restricted to the boardwalk farther back in the sand dunes. To see New Zealand fur seals, head to the colony at Cape du Couedic. Penguins, bottlenose dolphins, and whales can also be seen from the island.

Kangaroo Island is a bird-watcher’s paradise, with some 260 avian species. For sea birds, there’s a blind at Reeves Point in Kingscote, and Duck Lagoon has a blind for waterfowl. Around the island, keep an eye out for glossy black cockatoos and majestic wedge-tailed eagles.

Parks, Walks, and Beaches

Flinders Chase National Park is the island’s main wilderness area. A lighthouse overlooks the southern tip at Cape du Couedic, where a boardwalk leads down to the seal colony and Admirals Arch, a massive rock arch carved by the sea. Farther east, Remarkable Rocks is an aptly named collection of granite boulders perched above the ocean. Walking trails lead out from the park’s headquarters for wildlife spotting, and the park offers some good coastal tracks. The Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail, currently under construction, promises to be one of the country’s great coastal walks.

Cape Bouguer Wilderness Protection Area includes Kelly Hill Caves—which has regular tours and a walking trail to Hanson Bay—and Grassdale, home to a large mob of kangaroos.

The island has lonely surf-pounded beaches on the south coast, as well as sheltered beaches on the north coast for swimming. Hanson Bay and Vivonne Bay in the south are standout beaches, as are Snelling Beach, Stokes Bay, and Emu Bay in the north.

TRAVEL TIPS

Getting There: A car ferry runs from Cape Jervis to Penneshaw, and Regional Express has daily air services from Adelaide.

Where to Stay: The exclusive Southern Ocean Lodge is a pinup for the island. Snaking down a cliff, this stunning luxury lodge has breathtaking ocean views and rates that include gourmet meals and guided tours. Hotels, lodges, and farm stays are dotted all around the island, and the national parks service has historic lighthouse keepers’ cottages for rent.

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