Got your attention didn’t I?
Obviously that is quite the statement but after visiting for a short two days a couple of weeks ago, I can honestly say that Kangaroo Island is my favourite place in Australia. Hell, it’s one of my favourite places in the WORLD.
It really does have it all: bleached white sand beaches with super clear water, more native animals than you can shake a stick at (and we did shake a stick at a giant snake we came across: more on that later), cute historic towns and friendly locals.
There was only one thing missing: hordes of tourists. And we were better off without them.
It’s crazy that this paradise exists in Australia but most foreign visitors don’t seem to know about it. South Australia is skipped over on a lot of Australian holidays with people preferring to stick to the East Coast and Melbourne. Man, they are missing out!
I guess another factor that could explain the lack of tourists is the high cost of getting to this pristine island. We nearly didn’t visit ourselves due to the steep ferry prices. It only takes 45 minutes from Cape Jervis on the mainland to Penneshaw on Kangaroo Island and it cost us $368 for 2 people and a car return. How insane is that!! Our car rental agent told us that is the cheapest he has heard people getting it for too and that it would usually cost about $500! The ferry is privately owned but maybe the South Australian Government needs to look at some type of subsidisation as it could earn them some big tourist bucks if the prices were more reasonable.
But then again, it would probably end up like the Great Ocean Road (read: a circus) and I would hate to see that.
Kangaroo Island is Australia’s third largest island at 150km long with over 500km of coastline. It is a sanctuary for wildlife with its own species of Kangaroo, the Kangaroo Island Kangaroo, which is both smaller and darker than the common Eastern Grey. There are large tracts of land that have been preserved in national park and nature reserves, which contributed a lot to the protected status of so many of the animals on the island.
The Island economy is primarily agricultural and there are twelve wineries on the island, as well as farms growing grain and raising cattle and sheep. Kangaroo Island is famous for its honey as it has the world’s only pure-bred and disease-free population of Ligurian honey bees. We tried some at Clifford’s honey farm, along with some excellently creamy honey ice cream. Those Ligurian bees make some damn good honey!
Arriving into port in the early evening, we didn’t have time to look around the small settlement of Penneshaw where the ferry docks as we had a 2 hour drive to the other side of the island still ahead of us. From what I saw it was a sweet village with stone cottages and historic shopfronts, set on a windy hill looking over the waters of Investigator Strait, and across to the mainland in the distance. There is a colony of Little Penguins living there but we only would have been able to see them had we been there around sunset. In our rush, we still managed to make time to pick up some red wine before hitting the road. Priorities.
As we drove through the middle of the island, firstly along a quiet paved road before it turned to rough gravel, we saw dead kangaroos in various states of decomposition along the road side. The landscape was parched from many rainless days. Past the yellowing stage, the grasses looked like bleached wheat in the evening shadows.
We reached the lonely Cape Borda with its lighthouse and cottages an hour before sunset, enough time to unpack and have a picnic dinner before taking our glasses of red out to the lighthouse to watch the stunning sunset; the sun dipping into the ocean in a haze of pinks and oranges. The light clicked on in the lighthouse and slowly scanned the darkening waters for ships in the night.
A Kangaroo and her young one ate the grasses around the lighthouse. She kept one eye on us while eating, ensuring we didn’t get to close to her baby. Trav passed by too close for comfort and she growled at him in disapproval. A cute wallaby was hanging out in the back fenced yard of one of the larger cottages and stared at me when I passed, unfazed.
Our tiny cabin was just perfect. It was rustic, with two single beds, a small fridge and a camp kitchen. The toilet was a two minute walk away at the back of a larger cottage and there was no shower. We didn’t need one for only a two night stay. I loved the simpleness of it, it was like camping.
There were no other people staying in the other 3 cottages and the National Parks Officer that lives on site was out for the evening, so it was just us and the kangaroos; alone at the edge of the island.
The Lighthouse Keepers Cemetery, a couple of kilometres from the Cape Borda Lighthouse, is an interesting place. Small and tidy, this patch of land is the last resting place of past Lighthouse Keepers and their families, with nearly half the graves belonging to young children. It was a hard life being a Lighthouse Keeper at remote Cape Borda in the late nineteenth century, and with no access to medical treatment Keepers and their families could die of simple ailments. An example of that is Captain Woodward, Cape Borda’s first Lighthouse Keeper, who died of an eye infection after being poked in the eye during a fall.
A short but strenuous return hike at nearby Harvey’s Return helps to demonstrate the hardships the Lighthouse Keepers faced. Supplies were transported from ships docked a little off shore, and up the steep and treacherous cliff and over land to the lighthouse. The descent was very steep and we made our way down very carefully. At the bottom is a beautiful and secluded beach where we saw penguin footprints leading from the shore into the rocks. Walking back up with tough. I couldn’t imagine what it would have been like with a heavy load on my back and having to make the trip back and forth all day, until all of the supplies had been transported.
Over fifty ships have been lost in the turbulent waters around the island since the first recorded shipwreck in 1847, which is why there are three lighthouses: Cape Du Couedic and Cape Borda on the west coast and Cape Willoughby on the east coast. Along with staying in one of the cottages at Cape Borda, we visited the Cape Du Couedic lighthouse in Flinders Chase National Park one windy afternoon.
From the Cape Du Couedic lighthouse there is a trail that leads to the edge of the coast, where towering cliffs drop to the frothing waters below. On plateaus of rock, cropping out into the ocean, dozens of New Zealand fur seals and Australian sea-lions laze around or bark at each other, lunging in a territorial dance. We walked down the zig-zagged boardwalk to view them closer up and in a large cavern where they were chasing each other around in the water.
The amount of native Australian animals on Kangaroo Island is staggering. During our stay we saw countless Kangaroos (both alive and dead), wallabies, an echidna, dolphins, seals, sea-lions, galahs, a small shark and a tiger snake. I have never seen so many varieties and sheer numbers of native Australian animals in one place before. It was incredible.
As well as visiting the Cape Du Couedic lighthouse in Flinders Chase National Park, we also made a stop at the Remarkable rocks, which were indeed remarkable. They looked like a pile of hatched dragon eggs on top of a granite capped hill surrounded by thick bush. You could walk on the granite base to truly explore the rocks, which are coated in a brilliant orange fungus. Sitting on the sloping surface, we looked out over the ocean and the beautiful coastline. Serene and untouched.
Voted one of the best beaches in Australia, pristine Vivonne Bay is a delightful cove with white sands and gorgeous pale blue water. Firstly we headed to the long, wooden wharf as the clouds rolled in, threatening rain. I will pretty much always take blue skies over dark clouds but the clouds made the water look almost ethereal and it created a very atmospheric panorama. Walking along the rickety wharf we noticed two pods of dolphins moving closer to us. Everything was so quiet, creating an otherworldly feeling. The dolphins passed slowly by and we could see them moving fluidly under water, breaking the surface intermittently to take a breath. It was one of my favourite Kangaroo Island experiences.
Unfortunately when we visited the beach at Vivonne Bay the sand was soggy and wet from the earlier rain and a cold wind was blowing off the sea, but it still looked beautiful. It just wasn’t beach weather.
We had an early dinner at the cute Vivonne Bay General Store. The Whiting burger was delicious and a cheap way to try some local seafood.
Along with all of the natural attractions of the island, there were also a lot of cultural pursuits on offer in the form of Art Galleries, Potters and Wood Working Studios and Museums. We dropped into one of the Island’s Art Galleries, Rustic Blue, to avoid the rain and were pleasantly surprised with friendly owners, yummy hot chocolate and lots of beautiful local art and crafts.
We couldn’t go to Kangaroo Island without visiting its biggest town, Kingscote, so we dropped by for lunch one day. Anywhere else it wouldn’t be called a town at all: all there was to it was a short main street lined with historic buildings. We picked up pies and donuts from the only bakery in town, and then sat by the coast, waving away the overeager seagulls. They weren’t getting a bite of my lunch, especially not the donut.
The drive to Stokes Bay was a windy detour off the main Island highway, past brown fields and a dammed lake. The Bay itself was pretty but non-descript, a rocky cove with a couple of small houses and a café overlooking it. We took a short path that weaved through the rocks and under a cliff and emerged at a secret beach and tidal pool. On a sunnier day I would have swum there but we retreated to the lovely local café back on the other side of the trail for a coffee instead. I saw my first echidna ever when we were walking back to the car. He was ambling along slowly but surely with his cute snout sniffing the air.
Emu Bay was the last place we visited and it turned out to be my favourite. A long stretch of beach with more pearly white sand and translucent water, like Vivonne Bay and Harvey’s Return before it. We walked from the jetty at one end and along the beach for an hour, passing only a couple of people and a few four wheel drives that were driving along the sand. I found a beautiful abalone shell and we saw a small shark right by the shore that appeared to be eating something in the seaweed. I couldn’t get over the fact that there were virtually no people on one of the most incredible beaches I have ever seen. It didn’t seem right.
Kangaroo Island is one of the few places that I was really sad to leave. We only had two days there but we managed to see so much. Everything we saw amazed us. The natural beauty of the place was astounding.
If I had only one recommendation to anyone planning a trip to Australia it would be – Don’t miss Kangaroo Island.
See it before everyone else finds out about it.