A veritable zoo without fences, Kangaroo Island (Karta Pintingga) is a must-visit destination.
WORDS Helen Hayes
With The New York Times and Time Magazine both recently rating Kangaroo Island (Karta Pintingga) highly – Time named it one of the “world’s 50 greatest places” and The New York Times recommended it as one of the “places to visit in 2023” – it’s no wonder this island is shooting to the top of travel wish lists. So what is spurring this rightful surge of attraction to Australia’s third-largest island?
From conservation efforts making the island a wildlife-rich region to Tourism Australia’s 2023 beach pick, Stokes Bay, there’s much to Kangaroo Island that has visitors flocking to its shores.
Local wildlife and breath-taking views at Cape du Couedic, Flinders Chase National Park.
“In fact, it’s these hopping heroes that gave the island its name; when he landed on the island in 1802, Matthew Flinders saw a mob of kangaroos and named the place after them.”
PHOTOGRAPHY: Angus Chan; Alana Jayne Elgazzar
THE WILD SOUTH
Unsurprisingly, wildlife is one of the major draws for visitors, with animal sightings so regular it’s like being on a safari. The region is known for its conservation efforts in this respect; Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park played a big role in rescuing and providing sanctuary for more than 600 animals – including hundreds of koalas – that were injured or orphaned during the 2019 and 2020 bushfires that ravaged almost half of the island.
Visitors to the Park today will see 150 species of native Australian wildlife and can attend one of the koala sessions held daily to find out how those that were rescued are faring. It’s interesting to note that koalas are not actually native to the island, only introduced to the area in the 1920s on account of the fact there were no known predators around at the time. Now, these furry creatures feature as a prominent calling card for what the island has to offer; with many travellers spotting them out in the wild.
Also on the wildlife front, Kangaroo Island has its own sub-species of echidna, is home to the largest number of Tammar wallabies in the country, and has a unique species of kangaroo that is smaller and darker than its mainland cousins.
In fact, it’s these hopping heroes that gave the island its name; when he landed on the island in 1802, Matthew Flinders saw a mob of kangaroos and named the place after them. For spectacular wildlife spotting, visitors usually claim the coastline as a prime location. A guided visit at Seal Bay Conservation on the South Coast is one of the most popular experiences on the island, with groups taken out onto the beach with a ranger, keeping a safe distance from the endangered seals.
With about 1000 seals in the colony, it’s a nature-lover’s delight. Adult seals can be seen swimming to the edge of the Continental Shelf to feed. They’ll be gone for two to three days, repeatedly diving down around 60 metres. Understandably, when they return to their pups on the sand, they need a rest, lazing on the shore of Seal Bay in the sun.
Kangaroo Island also stars wildlife of the feathered variety. There’s a chance to admire swans against a backdrop of the Island’s formidable vivid-orange sunset at American River, watch yellow-tailed black cockatoos grazing in trees, or spot flashes of scarlet as endangered Kangaroo Island black cockatoos, with their dashing red-striped tails, soar overhead.
To witness more post-bushfire regeneration, the wild, rocky headland of Flinders Chase National Park is the place to be. Driving through the Park on its recently re-opened winding roads is a striking way to take in the incredible amount of regrowth from the bushfires. It’s certainly an education into fire ecology and how nature deals with the ravages of these blazes. At Remarkable Rocks – dramatic ochre-toned rock formations – fire-damaged boardwalks have been replaced to make it more accessible for visitors exploring the area. Seal Bay Conservation isn’t the only place to play spectator to amazing marine mammals, either. Flinders Chase National Park is also home to a colony of long-nose fur seals. Stroll down the boardwalk from the Cape du Couedic Lighthouse to spot them sunning themselves on rocks, play-fighting, or further around at Admiral’s Arch, lolling in the private pool that is a calm haven from the torrent of the sea.
SURPRISED AROUND EVERY TURN
As often gleaned from visits to places that offer diversity, Kangaroo Island is a treasure trove of hidden, begging-to-be-discovered delights.
Whether driving or walking, you can’t help but stumble across these delights. If you’re heading out on the Island’s inland country roads, you’ll notice a very ‘Game of Thrones’ feel due to the guard of honour formed overhead by thatches of tangled trees. Other surprising and worthy diversions include narrow paths through pockets of ferns, fields dotted with hay bales, a marvel at the mirrored reflections of the tree-clad Chapman River, and the recent silo mural in Kingscote. The cerulean water around the timber jetty is also quite spectacular, with dolphins often spotted in these waters. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all is Stokes Bay on the North Coast. This hidden gem was named ‘Australia’s Best Beach’ for 2023 by Tourism Australia – hidden because the only way to access it is by clambering through a short rocky alcove. Here, you will find a natural pool, pristine white sand and gin-clear water.
With an island that has something for everyone – from its precious Ligurian bee population to its award-winning gin distillery, surfable sand dunes, walking tracks, the charming townships of Kingscote, Penneshaw and Parndana, and the delectable seafood caught in the waters off the island – an honouring of sorts on must-visit travel lists is well-deserved. But it’s the island’s regeneration efforts that stirs the heart the most. Locals say how quickly the black, scarred landscape has been replaced by a sea of green, and important buildings, like the Flinders Chase Visitors Centre, have either been rebuilt or are well underway. Nature and the human spirit really are extraordinary – and Kangaroo Island is a testament to that.
“As often gleaned from visits to places that offer diversity, Kangaroo Island is a treasure trove of hidden, begging-to-be-discovered delights.”
A South Australian sojourn sharing the most beautiful parts of the southern coastline.
Join the inaugural 8-day Kangaroo Island and SA Coastal Adventure with Outback Spirit in 2024. Tours start from $6,295 pp twin share and run from October-December 2024.