Things to Do in Kangaroo Island
Lighthouses hold a romantic allure that regular buildings can’t muster, and the blinking light on the cliffs of Cape du Couedic is about as romantic as lighthouses come. Squired away on the southwestern cape of rugged Kangaroo Island, this light was commissioned after two passing ships met their ultimate doom on the rocks.
When visiting the windswept Cape du Couedic, you’re likely to be sharing the wave-battered rocks with colonies of wriggling fur seals. The Cape is part of the Flinders Chase National Park that occupies the western tip of the island, where shipwrecks, seals, and the sound of silence form the coastlines history and future. It’s only a short drive to Admiral Arch and the rock formations along the coast, and oceanfront boardwalks invite a relaxing stroll along the cliffs of the salt-battered coast.
On the south coast of Kangaroo Island, the Remarkable Rocks are one of the island’s most photographed landmarks. A geological wonder dating back some 500 million years, the series of gigantic sea-weathered granite rocks-- perched on the clifftops against a backdrop of the Southern Ocean-- make for a dramatic sight.
On the southwestern tip of Kangaroo Island, Admirals Arch offers one of the island’s most photo-worthy views. Framed by the jagged arch of an ancient cave—carved out of the sea cliffs by centuries of pummelling surf—the vast swathes of blue ocean and cloud-free skies are even more magical at sunset.
Kangaroos aren’t the only Aussie creatures that call Kangaroo Island home—you’ll also find one of the largest sea lion colonies in the world here. Seal Bay Conservation Park is dedicated to protecting and preserving the endangered animals, and gives you the chance to admire wild sea lions in their natural environment.
The iconic Aussie kangaroo might be the star sighting for those visiting Kangaroo Island, but the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park is home to many more native Australian creatures. Over 600 animals and 150 different species inhabit the 10-acre (4-hectare) park, including koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, echidnas, cassowaries, and little penguins, most of which came to the park as part of their rescue and rehabilitation work.
As well as guaranteed sightings of koalas and kangaroos, visitors to the wildlife park can learn about the cassowary breeding program, see the penguins swimming and playing, and watch the penguins, pelicans, and wombats being fed by zookeepers.
With wind-sculpted coastal cliffs, remote bushland trails, historic lighthouses, and woodlands teeming with wildlife, Flinders Chase National Park is one of Australia’s most diverse wildernesses. Blanketing the western tip of Kangaroo Island, the park is ideal for hiking, animal-spotting, and outdoor activities.
Everyone knows that the Australian mainland has swaths of wide-open desert, but it’s the southern coast of Kangaroo Island that has the most impressive system of sand dunes. Here, in the area known as “Little Sahara,” wind-sculpted dunes and shifting white ridgelines stretch out for a full square mile, with the tallest dunes rising to over 250 feet above the nearby ocean.
For as naturally gorgeous as they appear, however, the real fun in Little Sahara is in climbing the dunes, taking in the view, and then flying down the soft white slopes while strapped to a sandboard or toboggan. Much like snowboarding or riding a sled, sandboarding provides an adrenaline rush without the icy hard landing, and you can make tracks down the side of a dune in only your bathing suit or board shorts. Sandboards, however, aren’t the only tracks that you’ll find imprinted on the dunes, as early morning visitors will often find wildlife has left behind footprints in the night. Since the sea of sand dunes is devoid of shade and the sun can be scorching in summer, it’s only a short drive to Vivonne Bay and its famously turquoise waters. Not only can you cool down at one of Australia’s nicest beaches after a visit to Little Sahara—but also wash off all of the sand from high-speed tumbles in the dunes.
Kangaroo Island is known for its wildlife, but honeybees usually aren’t part of it. At the fascinating Clifford’s Honey Farm, however, hives of pure blood Ligurian bees create a strain of honey that is so tantalizingly sweet it has becomes a staple of Kangaroo Island. Sample honey that has been carefully collected from the world’s only purebred Ligurians, and savor the famous honey ice cream that draws visitors from the mainland and beyond.
More than just pleasing to the taste buds, however, a visit to the farm provides an intriguing insight to the complex social structure of bees. Learn the way they interact in the hive and the intricacies of the honeybee hierarchy, and watch as honey is collected from hives and bottled for visitor’s enjoyment. And while it might not have the same level of “wilderness” as the rest of Kangaroo Island, the swarms at Clifford’s Honey Farm might become your favorite animals of the trip.
The first Aboriginals to walk Australia’s forests discovered the power of eucalyptus oils. In addition to its trademark, earthy aroma, the oils contained in the eucalyptus leaves can naturally bolster health. Once the Australian continent was settled, eucalyptus oil became the nation’s first export and the global source of the product. Today, however, diluted sources from other nations dominate the global market, and the original eucalyptus oil industry has seen a steady decline into obscurity.
Here on Kangaroo Island, however, South Australia’s only eucalyptus distillers still operate out in the bush. With rusting relics scattered about the property and an eccentric taste of the outback, the family-run Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Oil Distillery still churns out the sweet-smelling elixir. Learn the ways that the oil is extracted from the narrow mallee leaves, and the healing benefits the oils can have for aiding wounds or illnesses. Group tours and self-guided tours help visitors experience the property, and in addition to the enchanting historical feel, there is a small bar attached to the farm where you can sample the locally made spirits.
You would think that a beach voted “Best in Australia” would be a little more crowded than this. Serenely set along the southern coast of Australia’s Kangaroo Island, Vivonne Bay is one of the most scenic—and famous—beaches in all of Australia. White sand stretches out to the horizon and simply begs to be walked at sunset, and consistent waves crash on the shoreline in a fusion of turquoise and white. Playful dolphins and migrating Right whales can occasionally be seen swimming offshore, and the scent of the ocean wafts on the breeze as children splash in the surf. Even with all of its beauty, however, the long drive to the southern coast keeps the bay relatively empty, with long weekends and school holidays being the few exceptions to the rule.
Travelers staying in Vivonne Bay can pitch a tent just steps from the ocean at the popular Vivonne Bay campground, or share a romantic balcony with a view from the handful of coastal lodges. Watch as fishermen haul their catch from the rustic boat ramp and jetty, and for an up close encounter with island wildlife, stroll down the beach with dozens of sea lions along the neighboring Seal Bay shoreline.
More Things to Do in Kangaroo Island
With over 245 acres (100 hectares of coastal trails, bushlands, and Eucalyptus forests to explore, Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the best places on Kangaroo Island to spot native Australian wildlife. Koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, and echidnas are among the possible sightings, all free-roaming within the reserve’s natural habitats.
Beneath the ancient woodlands and bushland trails of the Kelly Hill Conservation Park lie one of the most impressive natural wonders on Kangaroo Island. Venture underground and discover an expanse of ancient limestone caves adorned with dramatic rock columns, multi-colored shawls, and towering stalactites and stalagmites.
As the island’s largest town and main commercial hub, Kingscote is the gateway to Kangaroo Island and the starting point for many island tours and day trips. Perched on the northeast coast, it’s a lively town with a rich history—founded in 1836, Kingscote was the first European settlement in South Australia and the original state capital.
American River is not a place you visit for scintillating nightlife. Rather, it’s the birds, the wildflowers, the oysters, and the fishing that define this coastal community, where a small township surrounded by bush looks out towards the Australian mainland. Sailors and cruisers from around Australia seek refuge in its protected harbor, which is a frequently shifting tidal basin between the sea and Pelican Lagoon. Even in spite of its small size, however, the basin offers the most protected harbor of anywhere on Kangaroo Island, and fancy cruising yachts and salt-covered fishing vessels all share the same respite from surf.
South of town is Pelican Lagoon, a protected wetland of 1,000 acres that houses dozens of species of birdlife, and to the north are the lights of South Australia twinkling away by night. Here in American River, however, nights are characterized by curious wallabies bouncing their way through the town, and relaxed visitors swapping fish tales about the size of that morning’s catch. It’s a town where time moves blissfully slow and is refreshingly in touch with nature, and the guesthouses help create a comfortable base for exploring Kangaroo Island.
When it comes to beaches on Kangaroo Island, many visitors head for the South Coast and never look back behind them. An hour west of Kingscote, however, Stokes Bay is a north coast outpost that can rival any south coast shoreline. In fact, the overall emptiness and rustic isolation add a degree of romance to this coastline, where a small campground and a handful of holiday homes are the only development around.
Aside from the white sand beach and the bluffs, the main highlight of Stokes Bay is the natural rock pool for swimming. This protected lagoon is the perfect place for wading in the water with small children, and you can listen to the rumble of crashing surf from the protected confines of the pool. Once finished soaking in the pool, head next door to Lathami Conservation Park on a search for endangered birds. The Glossy Black Cockatoo—of which only 250 remain—is only found on Kanagaroo Island, and one of the highest concentrations is located within this park less than a mile from the sands of Stokes Bay.
When the sun is shining and the winds are light, there are few nicer places on Kangaroo Island than the shores of Pennington Bay. Turquoise waters meet shimmering white sands that are completely free of development, and fisherman cast their lures in surf that rhythmically laps at the shore. The bay is a popular getaway for surfers thanks to the large, consistent waves, and occasionally dolphins will splash in the surf and are easily visible from shore.
For all of its captivating beauty, however, it’s the blissful emptiness that makes Pennington Bay a perennial visitor favorite. Stroll the length of the white sand beach and scour the shoreline for shells, or snap photos of this epic panorama of sea, sand, and sky.
Unless you fly to Kangaroo Island, there is a good chance you’ll pass right through the coastal town of Penneshaw. Though not large by mainland standards, the town of Penneshaw is definitely active with the comings and goings of visitors—many of whom are renting vehicles to explore the rest of the island.
The town of Penneshaw itself, however, has enough charms to shake the feel of being just another port town by the coast. Learn the history of centuries of shipwrecks at the Penneshaw Maritime and Folk Museum, or scour the nearby beaches by night in search of Little Penguins. Standing 13 inches when fully grown, the “Fairy Penguins”—as they’re known in these parts—are officially classified as the world’s smallest penguins and mate along the Penneshaw shoreline.
When you aren’t searching for penguins by night, soak up the sun on the sands of Hog Bay and its long, white sand shoreline, and splash in the water of the Backstairs Passage looking back towards the Australian mainland. From here, the inviting wilderness of Kangaroo Island literally sits on your doorstep, and it’s the first stop most visitors will experience on this famous “zoo without fences.”