Unspoiled scenery and pleasant beaches
Off Fleurieu Peninsula, South of Adelaide. Reached by ferry between Penneshaw, American River and Kingscote, at the tip of the Fleurieu Peninsula. The Philanderer II takes you across Backstairs Passage. Kangaroo Island lies just 12 km off the mainland, and is Australia’s third largest island (after Tasmania and Melville Island near Darwin). It is 150 km long, 30 km wide, and has over 400 km of coastline. There is much unspoiled scenery. Pleasant beaches (sheltered north, surfing south), can be explored along reasonable unpaved roads. It’s windy here, especially in the south (nothing between here and Antarctica). The whole place is refreshingly empty. The very remoteness of the island has long made it popular with Australian wildlife. Over the years this has included escaped convicts, walruses, platypuses, parrots and rare cockatoos. All but the first continue to thrive. Indeed, the last scarlet fantailed glossy black cockatoos, of which there are now 310-330 (according to the most recent consensus in 2006), all live on Kangaroo Island. And of course there are the kangaroos – which even the meat-starved early explorers, rooskin-suited escaped convicts and roaming modern gourmets have not managed to finish off.
Recent archaeological excavations have shown that this spot was inhabited by Aborigines 11,000 years ago, a millennium before it became separated from the mainland.
You can see fairy penguins in Christmas Cove west of the ferry harbour, and after dark they often come into town on food sorties. But this is just the start. The best sights are along the south coast. Seal Bay has a colony containing literally hundreds of sea lions. (An astonishing 10 per cent of the world’s sea lion population waddles and grunts here.) Nearby Vivonne Bay has a beaut of a beach, but only swim near the jetty as there’s a dangerous undertow.
Further on you come to Kelly Hill Caves. A horse called Kelly inadvertently discovered these caves, disappearing forever into their depths beneath his rider, who managed to scramble to safety. (Some say the caves received their name because his rider swore at him, others because he was grateful.) If you fancy exploring the caves, contact Adventure Caving Tours, tel. +61 (8) 8553 4464; www.tourkangarooisland.com.au.
The entire western end of the island is occupied by Flinders Chase National Park (http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/parks/Kangaroo_Island/Flinders_Chase), the largest in the state. Here wildlife such as koalas and emus abound amongst the gum forest. You can drive down the bumpy track south to Remarkable Rocks – some of which look like the fossilized remains of large cracked-open dinosaur eggs, and some of which just look remarkable. Here you’ll also see seals basking on the rocks, and nearby there’s an abandoned lighthouse.
The shoreline of the island has plenty of wrecks, and these are best explored by scuba diving. You can learn to scuba with Adventureland Diving and Sports Services, at Penneshaw, tel. +61 (08) 8553 1072.