110 km southwest of Adelaide, Kangaroo Island is the third largest Australian island after Tasmania and Melville Island. Its isolation has allowed the preservation of its nature and its fauna.
No concrete, free animals, beautiful sandy beaches, parks and reserves: the island of kangaroos, as large as half of Corsica, will delight lovers of nature and tranquility.
An Australian Noah's Ark to explore off the beaten track.
Kangaroo Island: an island off the coast of Australia
If it didn't exist, it would have to be invented. Moored 8 miles (13 km) off South Australia, a hundred miles as the crow flies from Adelaide, Kangaroo Island keeps all the promises implied by its name.
Not only do we see (finally!) kangaroos and wallabies in every corner of the bush, but there is also a colony of sea lions, Sea lions, koalas, platypus, echidnas, cockatoo… In short, the whole of Noah's ark in Australia, or almost, served on a (large) platter.
As big as half of Corsica (4 km400), KI (for those in the know) is no more populated than a large French village. Result: each inhabitant is "entitled" to nearly 2 km1! Nice spaces.
More than a third of the island is protected by a set of parks and reserves, especially the western part, where the Flinders Chase Range metamorphoses into arches and rocks sculpted by sea erosion. Further on, endless white sand beaches, battered by large rollers, border bays too extensive for a single pair of eyes.
Marked by a few shacks a little ragged, a motel and the umbilical cord of the power line, the dreary point of Cape Jervis bodes badly for the beautiful trip to come. Suddenly, at the end of yet another straight line, the port is there, with its skinny lighthouse, its five rather empty queues and the Sealink ferry which waits at the end.
It just takes 45 min to reach Penneshaw, at Kangaroo Island. An uneventful crossing, although tossed about by the strong currents of the Backstairs Passage. On the deck, a cool wind often picks up the caps, and the sea, gray-blue, puffs up with foam. There is no obstacle to stop the depressions which sometimes blow hard from Antarctica.
Very quickly, the flat line of the island emerges from the horizon. The landing stage offers little more than the landing stage. The Lashmar Conservation Park, 40 km away, seems ideal for a Robinson's first night.
The track descends between the allocasuarinas (kinds of casuarinas) towards Antechamber Bay, to come up against the campsite: a trio of large eucalyptus trees, bush, toilets and the supreme luxury of a fine sandy beach, wide and deserted.
In the morning, a first swim will accompany breakfast, before a stroll towards the end of the coastal barrier, delimited by the mouth of the Chapman River - to the width more Amazonian than European.
Seal Bay sea lions
Humans aren't the only ones who enjoy the caress of hot sand. On the south coast, at Seal Bay Conservation Park, a thousand sea lions Australians bask on a beautiful beach with some pink algae on it. Although not all of them stay there at the same time, they have one of their most important settlements here.
The only endemic pinniped species, almost exterminated in the 19th century, the Australian sea lion has a population of at most 15 individuals, 000% of which are located on the coasts of South Australia. It remains considered threatened.
Crossing the dunes, a wooden footbridge, 800 m long, joins two belvederes dominating - from a little far away - the animals slumped in the sun. Generally apathetic, sea lions are content to throw sand on their fragile skin as a form of observation! Young people pile up on their mothers, others await their return from fishing, impatiently waddling or chasing seagulls.
For a substantial supplement (and upon prior reservation), a ranger accompanies visitors who wish to reach the beach, a few meters from the critters. The opportunity to hear some males growl and regret that the wind was not stronger, that day, to chase away the smell of rotten fish that sticks to their skin ... There are even twilight tours , at sunset, time of great returns from the sea.
Spots for bird watching
As spectacular as the coasts of Kangaroo Island are, the hinterland - sometimes gently undulating, sometimes flat - unrolls a generally austere panorama. Enveloped by the bush, it opens onto fields or pastures for tasteless sheep.
Set back from the road network, satellite images nonetheless reveal another island, with multiple lakes and brackish ponds. Often round, rarely large, they take on a characteristic reddish hue at times, before evaporating completely and leaving only their blinding white surface visible. Of many species of birds find refuge there.
In winter and spring (roughly July to November), in the mudflats of Timber Creek, on the Murray Lagoon, the stilts keep company with the pointed-tailed sandpipers. And at Bald Hill Lookout, it is the elegant black swans, the grebes, the ibises and the coots that abound.
We find the same at Pelican lagoon, alongside egrets, spoonbills and numerous oystercatchers, moving in tight troops at the slightest alert. In the evening, the rare black cockatoos (Latham's), endemic, appear in turn.
Another place, other customs. On the quay of Kingscote, the "capital" of the island, John the Pelican Man gathers every day at 17 pm a small crowd of curious people come to attend the dinner of the Australian pelicans. Not shy, they climb over his head for their share of fish. They can swallow 2 kg at once. Pigeons and chihuahuas too, says John.
Hanson Bay Sanctuary: koalas and wallabies
In the large open-air zoo on Kangaroo Island, a landmark stopover: the Hanson Bay Sanctuary. This private estate nestled in the west of the island, at the gates of the large Flinders Chase National Park, covers more than 20 km2 of grassland and trunks, as they say here - a sort of scrub mixed with brush and small trees.
We walk there in the hope, very real, to be able to admire the darling of Australia, the adorable koala. About twenty of them roam the area. It remains to have a sharp eye: the animal spends most of its day basking in the fork of a eucalyptus, looking sleepy, tend to muddy.
To observe it in full activity, it is better to register for a guided night walk : it is at this moment that he swallows most of the 1,5 kg of leaves that he consumes daily (i.e. one tenth of his weight!). We will then have a good chance of crossing short-nosed echidnas (the Australian hedgehog) and giant monitor lizards.
Not far, the Kelly Hill Conservation Park opens onto another world, underground, where stalactites, stalagmites, draperies, fistulas and other helictites cover the walls of a cave that is at least half a million years old.
In the evening, towards Grassdale, another emblem of the country begins to flourish. Coming out of the bush, the wallabies from Île Eugène, the smallest of all (about 60 cm for 4 to 9 kg) colonize the prairie, which they graze avidly. Beside them, the kangaroos of Kangaroo Island (weighing over 50 kg for males) seem like real giants!
Marine arch and remarkable rocks
Already almost a hundred years old, the Flinders Chase National Park covers 327 km2 in the west of the island, in three disjoint sections. We can even observe platypus, introduced to Kangaroo Island around 1900, at the same time as the koalas ! It is extended to the sea by a marine reserve and, on the land side, by the protected area of the Ravine des Cassoars - so named in 1802 by the French explorer Nicolas Baudin.
Le Cap du Couedic lighthouse, completed a good century later, stands at the southwestern tip. The three families of guards who took care of it were originally supplied only every three months, by boat, thanks to a rickety jetty slipped below in a rocky crevice, from which the goods were hoisted by cable ...
From there a wooden staircase descends to Admirals Arch, a large rock window open to the ocean, with a ceiling bristling with stalactites. At his foot, Sea lions New Zealand furry coats bask in the sun, waiting to defy the crashing waves below. Opposite, an impregnable island is also floundering in the swell.
Perched on a marine promontory, facing the prevailing winds, the Remarkable Rocks can be seen from afar. These enormous blocks of granite, tirelessly sculpted by grains and spray, have taken on strange shapes. Orange lichens line them. Some seem to have been hollowed out with a teaspoon, to keep only a thin shell of rock rolled up on itself ... Remarkable, certainly.
Hiking on Kangaroo Island
Still wild on almost half of its territory, Kangaroo Island lends itself well to hiking, even if it is better to avoid the hot summer temperatures and the trails crossing somewhat monotonous areas of bush a little too long.
There is no shortage of options in Flinders Chase National Park, especially on the Platypus Waterholes Walk (count 2 hours for 4,5 km), where you can expect to catch a glimpse of platypuses. Not far, the (rather arduous) route leading to the Ravine des Cassoars (7 km, or about 3 h 30 round trip) through woods, river and beach, is among the most beautiful on the island.
Trekkers will fall for the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail, a nice little adventure of 5 days and 61 km, which leaves from the Visitor Center in Flinders Chase Park to reach the caves of Kelly Hill. The hike, difficult in places, is chargeable (A $ 161) but this includes entrance fees and camping fees, with water (to be treated), toilets and shelter available at each stopover.
Several tour operators, as well as the Western KI Caravan Park, offer to walk while regaining the comfort of a more "civilized" lodging each evening, or by transporting your luggage from one camp to another ... Only 48 people are allowed to leave each day, so it is imperative to book well in advance. You should also remember to book the return shuttle to Flinders Chase to pick up your car, or use the services of private operators for transfers to / from the trail.
Be careful, trails and campsites may be closed during drought periods, when the risk of fire is very high. The non-claustrophobic will be interested in the adventure tour offered by the Kelly Caves : the opportunity to crawl and wade through the mud!
All Kangaroo Island hiking trails in one site
Find all the practical information, tips and addresses in Routard Australia in bookstores.
Consult our Australia online guide
Official South Australia Tourism Site
Australian Tourist Board website
Kangaroo Island official website
How to get there ?
- By plane: since December 2017, the Qantas airline has been connecting Kangaroo Island (Kingscote) directly from Adelaide (5 times / week) and Melbourne (3 times / week). Regional Air also provides 3-4 daily flights from Adelaide (in 35 min), for a few dollars less (from 139 A $, or 92 € each way).
Find your plane ticket.
- By ferry: Kangaroo Island Sealink offers a daily ferry service from Cape Jervis, a 1 hour drive south of Adelaide, to Penneshaw, one of the island's main towns. Departures are every 30 to 1 a.m., from 2 a.m. to 6:21 p.m. (45:5 a.m. to 30:22 p.m. return). Bad news, the price of the passage is very high for such a short period: 15 A $ (98 €) / person the return trip and 65 A $ (196 €) more for a vehicle. The company also offers a combined bus-ferry service twice a day from / to Adelaide, to Kingscote.
- Getting around Kangaroo Island: the island is big. It stretches 155 km long and 55 km at its widest point. While different continental and local tour operators offer excursions, we cannot recommend you enough to rent a vehicle if you did not take the ferry with your own. The Budget and Hertz companies are located next to the airport. The main towns are linked together by paved roads, and everywhere else they are mostly (good) tracks. Watch out for kangaroos crossing the road!
When to go
We wouldn't necessarily think about it, but thehiver (June-September) has some advantages: slightly lower hotel rates and, above all, fewer people to better feel the exceptional wildness of the island. It is then greener and it is at this time that the young wallabies, kangaroos and koalas start to come out of their mother's pouch… So cute.
Sea lions congregate at Seal Bay, and occasionally right whales pass offshore. That being said, it rains generously and it is not very hot in winter… between 8 and 15 ° C, with strong gales coming up from Antarctica. These influences also moderate the summer heat (20-24 ° C from December to February, with peaks above 30 ° C).
To appreciate the colors of the vineyards, the ideal is to come March April. The sea is then calm and the period is favorable for hiking (too hot in summer ...), but there are often fewer sea lions.
For walks, the spring (September-November) is another good choice and you can also enjoy the carpets of wild flowers.
Or sleep ?
camper on Kangaroo Island, in contact with nature, seems obvious, if only to limit costs (accommodation is expensive in Australia). The choice is great, with in particular 7 campsites located in 4 state parks: Flinders Chase, Ravine des Cassoars, Cape Gantheaume and Lashmar (we really like the latter, facing a very beautiful beach). Almost all have potable water, but only the Rocky River Precinct course in Flinders Chase has showers. For bush camping, you must check with the rangers. More info www.parks.sa.gov.au
To this are added 6 campsites dependent on the Kangaroo Island Council, one of which is based in Vivonne Bay and the other in Emu Bay, near two of the island's most beautiful beaches. Much quieter: Duck Lagoon, inland, for bird watching. More info www.kangarooisland.sa.gov.au/camping
To complete the choice, there is still 4 private lots, in Penneshaw (where the ferry disembarks), Parndana, near Kingscote (the “capital”) and the very pleasant Western Kangaroo Island Caravan Park, where koalas and wallabies live (including Dot, an almost tame female!). More info on www.westernki.com.au
Among the great pleasures of staying at Kangaroo Island are the various options forheritage accommodation - housing in old public buildings in state parks, such as stone cottages where rangers resided, or former lighthouse keepers' living quarters. They can be found in Flinders Chase, Cape du Couedic, Cape Willoughby and Cape Borda (the Woodward Hut, smaller and basic, is the cheapest on the whole island). Apart from the latter, sheets are provided. All without exception have heating and have enough to cook, but think about food! Be careful, the departure the next day is quite early (from 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. depending on the location). More info www.parks.sa.gov.au/kiaccommodation
There are of course also some nice private options, like the pleasant Vivonne Bay Lodge, very close to the beautiful beach of the same name. Its 5 rooms for 2-4 people (120 A $, approx 80 €) share common sanitary facilities, a large lounge, a huge wooden terrace, a barbecue, 206 ha of bush, 15 km of trails and a pretty collection of wallabies grazing on the grass ... Those who stay there for more than 2 nights are entitled to a free bicycle or kayak for a walk, or even a sandboarding session on the nearby dunes of Little Sahara!
We should also mention the 1 and 3 bedroom cottages at Waves & Wildlife, wonderfully overlooking the sea at a (short) distance, in Stokes Bay, a 5-minute walk from Secret Beach. In the evening, wallabies and kangaroos flock there! Count 150-180 A $ (100-120 €) for two, 20 A $ (13 €) per additional person and 10 A $ for bedding (minimum 2-3 nights).
Another privileged location with the 6 cabins of the Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary (min 2-3 nights), set on a short cliff, in beautiful solitude. We are hard at work here to go and observe the koalas! There is a wood stove in each cabin, but the prices are already higher: 190 A $ (125 €) for the "standard" model, which could be a little warmer, and 300 A $ (200 €) for the 2 superb modern cottages with panoramic windows.
There are a handful of B & Bs on the island, as well as a variety of small hotels and motels. Cream of the crop, Kangaroo Island is also proud of some of the most beautiful hotels in Australia, like the Southern Ocean Lodge (minimum A $ 1 / pers !!!)…
Where to eat ?
We don't necessarily expect it, but Kangaroo Island likes to think of itself as a gastronomic destination, renowned for its fish and seafood (oysters, crayfish ...).
Colonized only since 1836, the island has seen the development of cattle and sheep farms, then farms more in tune with the times: vineyards (there are 4) with tasting cellars, artisan cheese dairies, honey, lavender exploitation, etc.
It distills gin and brews several local beers (the Drunken Drone and those of the Kangaroo Island Brewery). The Art Feastival, in September-October, highlights all of this. There are also farmers' markets on the 1st Sunday of the month in Penneshaw, the 2nd and 4th Sunday of the month in Kingscote (where you will also enjoy the stopover at Kangaroo Island Fresh Seafoods & Takeaway).
A fun place: the Enchanted Fig Tree, a pop-up restaurant that only opens in summer (Dec-April), in Middle River, near Stokes Bay. You can enjoy a unique menu (115 A $, or 76 € anyway!) Served in the cocoon formed by the branches of a secular banyan tree.