The name is distinctly Australian, that’s for sure. But it doesn’t sound quite as enchanting as you’d expect a 5-star destination to be, a place travelers have raved about for years.
Don’t let that fool you.
The third largest island off the continent’s coast, Kangaroo Island (KI) boasts some of the most diverse, unique natural wildlife in all of South Australia (and yes, there are more than just kangaroos). Most of the island is old-growth bushland, unspoiled by the presence of humans thanks to a remarkable responsible tourism initiative. And since the 4600+ local islanders are dedicated to preserving the nearly untouched nature of the place, as many of their ancestors did, they fish and farm locally to reduce their impact.
All of this lends to an experience you’ll literally find nowhere else in the world.
What To See
You won’t be able to go very far without someone, hotel staff or locals or the internet, telling you you must visit Seal Bay. Home to over 600 rare Australian sea lions, you can view this massive beasts at a safe distance, with no zoo bars or fences to destroy the experience.
There’s also plenty of other wildlife to see around the island, as it contains not one, but two national parks: Flinders Chase and Kelly Hill. Kangaroos, wallabies, echidnas, koalas, possums, and more can be found here; once you’re done exploring the national parks, finish off your day with a tour of the limestone cliffs jutting out majestically around various parts of the coast.
What To Do
Sometimes, getting a taste of local culture beats another day staying in your hotel. Almost every Sunday, you can visit either a farmer’s market or a local community market. If you’re lucky enough to visit KI during October, don’t miss out on the local Art Feast.
Yes, you read that right: feast. Local artisans mix with wine producers and chefs to produce unique dining and performances at around 30 different venues around the island.
And what would a trip to Australia be without a sheep-shearing contest? Head to the Parndana Hotel the last few weekends of November to see some of the fastest cutting around.
Where To Eat
Not surprisingly, the island can serve you up some of the most richly-flavored dishes you’ve ever tasted, drawing on its long history of local farming and fishing. The island has some of the best wine around, as well as delicious sheep cheese, fresh-caught King George Whiting, and even some world-class Ligurian-bee honey you definitely won’t find on the grocery store shelf.
Try the food & wine trail, called the Kangaroo Island Farm Gate and Cellar Door Trail, if you want a variety of sensations flowing over your tastebuds, or visit the Marron Cafe in the center of the island, where (unsurprisingly) you’ll be able to try out the local freshwater crayfish called marron in a unique range of dishes. Finally, if you’re staying at the Southern Ocean Lodge on the lower part of KI, go fishing for a day and then bring your catches to Chef Tim Bourke so he can incorporate them into your personalized meal.
Where To Stay
Speaking of where to stay, while you have a selection to choose from on KI, why not stick with the local theme of being a responsible tourist?
You can’t get much more responsible than the Southern Ocean Lodge. It’s Australia’s very first all-inclusive, true luxury lodge, featuring some of the most incredible architecture and sustainable choices around.
The entire resort was built keeping natural wind patterns in mind, so there’s no need for air conditioning. Everything relies on rainwater and a sophisticated greywater and composting recycling programs to keep daily life working normally, and even the chic, sophisticated rooms full of contemporary vibe contain local limestone floors and art and furnishings commissioned by local creators.
Combine this eco-friendly route with luxury, and you’re in for one heck of a trip. Each of the 21 suites at Southern Ocean Lodge contains massive king beds, sunken lounges, heated floors, room bar, internet, and glass-walled bathrooms with spectacular views of the ocean. The Southern Spa incorporates local salts and other ingredients, along with the Australian line of Li’Tay spa products, for a remarkably relaxing experience. And you already read how Chef Tim can use your fishing in meals at the hotel’s 5-star restaurant; dine in, or have food delivered to your suite. In short, you’re in want of nothing when you stay at Southern Ocean Lodge.
When To Go
Remember that because of Australia’s location, the seasons are switched around. June through August is actually colder than in North America, and yet it’s continually one of the most popular times to visit Kangaroo Island because the island is alive with growth; for example, the rivers are flowing powerfully through the inland, and much of the wildlife has just had babies, which is a joy to see up close and personal. If you do go during this time, temperatures don’t get any higher than 65 F on average, so make sure to bring warm clothing. Otherwise, visiting in the “fall” (around April) is a sure win for slightly warmer weather, and other times will be like summer but you’ll get to see those awesome art, food, and sheep-shearing festivals mentioned earlier.
Kangaroo Island is only 15km off mainland South Australia, so transportation is easy but varied. Rex Regional Express (or charter flights) fly out of Adelaide Airport to the Kingscote Airport on KI. The ferry can be taken from Cape Jervis to Penneshaw on the island, which means you can also take a rental car across the water to KI. However, note that many mainland companies have restrictions on which cars can be taken on the ferry and driven on KI, so it may be best to simply rent a car when you get to the island.
Obviously, there’s more to do on KI than looking at kangaroos (though you can do that, too). The wide range of experiences, sights, and luxuries are more than enough for making your trip so memorable you’ll just want to go back for more.
So are you ready to experience the natural beauty of Kangaroo Island?