Kangaroo Island (dubbed KI) is considered an icon of Australia.
Not only is the wildlife worth the visit (and yes you will see kangaroos), but it also offers surfing, swimming, snorkeling and diving opportunities along with the best off Australia’s shores, along with gourmet food and a rich history that really is worth exploring.
Located just 15 km or just less than 10 miles of the southern coast of South Australian, not far from Adelaide, Kangaroo Island is the third largest island in Australia, after Tasmania down south and Melville Island up north.
It covers an area of about 4,500 square kilometers (which is about 1,700 square miles), and it has a coastline that stretches 540 km or 336 miles. The highest point on the island is the 307 m- / 1,007-ft high Prospect Hill.
The island is a highly popular tourist attraction and more than 140,000 people visit it each year. But if you hope to get more than a glimpse, you’re going to have to spend at least three days here, ideally staying in different parts of the island.
There are about 4,400 permanent residents living on Kangaroo Island, many of whom are farmers (farming a wide range of produce from sheep to oysters) and fisherman whose families have lived there for generations. You’ll also find winemakers who produce some of Australia’s top varietal wines, and beekeepers who produce world-famous Ligurian honey, made by honey-bees exported from Liguria in the north of Italy.
The island also boasts numerous eateries, from humble cafés to elegant restaurants that offer the best of fine dining; and of course these come with a cross section of restaurateurs, publicans, hoteliers and all those dedicated people who help to house and feed travelers and tourists. They too form part of the local community.
While not everyone is into the history of the place they are visiting, there’s an intriguing mystery about Kangaroo Island’s past. There is archaeological evidence that Aborigines lived on this island at least 16,000 years ago; yet nobody so far has been able to explain why they left or where they went. There are legends that tell of how the island was divided from the mainland by a great flood, and how those who had lived in this part of the country drowned trying to get back to the mainland. It is unlikely we will ever know the truth.
The island was only rediscovered in the very early 19th century, by Captain Robert Clark Morgan. However it was Matthew Flinders, a British explorer, who gave the island its name after landing there in 1802. Soon afterwards a French explorer, Nicolas Baudin arrived on the island, and he went to work mapping the island. This, it is thought, is why so many parts have French names.
Sealers were the first to try and make a living on the island. There are many stories of how these “rough”, probably ex-convicts kidnapped Aboriginal women and forced them to work for them in the sealing industry.
If you “dig” the past and want to dig further, you don’t have to visit stuffy museums.
Instead you can:
- dive wrecks,
- visit old lighthouses and read the diaries who lived there (often not very happily),
- climb the steps that Flinders did to see the island from near the top of Prospect Hill,
- even see some of the remains of stone tools from ancient Aboriginal camp sites.
And of course there is a lot more.
You’ll find there’s lots of wildlife on both land and sea, from kangaroos to sharks! More than 25% of the island forms parts of national parks, within five wilderness protection areas.
Animals that are native to the island include:
- The Kangaroo Island dunnart, a little mouse-sized marsupial that is endemic to the island.
- A sub-species of the Western grey kangaroo, commonly referred to as the Kangaroo Island kangaroo.
- The tammar wallaby, which is grey in color and the smallest of all the wallaby species.
- The common brushtail possum, a nocturnal animal, and the largest of the possum species.
- The short-nosed Southern brown bandicoot, a small marsupial that is relatively common throughout Southern Australia.
- The short-beaked echidna, a spiny anteater that could be mistaken for a kind of hedgehog.
- The southern fur seal – also called either the New Zealand or Australian fur seal.
- Rosenberg’s sand goanna, a monitor lizard that the Aborigines refer to as “bungarra”.
Kaola bears, the common ringtail possum, and the semi-aquatic platypus, which is endemic to eastern Australia, have been introduced to the island and are often seen. Sea lions are a common sight in Seal Bay.
Kangaroo Island is also an important area for birds, as a number of threatened and vulnerable species are found here, including the endangered glossy black cockatoo.