Spotting Koalas among the Eucalyptus, hopping Kangaroos and wallabies, playful dolphins and exploring deserted beaches. Welcome to Kangaroo Island, South Australia’s outdoor haven…
Located eight miles off the South Australia coastline, Kangaroo Island prides itself on its incredibly wild setting. Cliffs soar high above the inviting turquoise water, seals laze among the jagged rocks, koalas nestle in tall Eucalyptus trees, and kangaroos hop freely in the open plains. The beaches? Well they are pristine, with silky-soft white sand that slips through your toes. Here is a little slice of undisturbed heaven, home to just 5,000 people.
Kangaroo Island’s Ocean Safari
There are Bottlenose dolphins, everywhere. Leaping across the front of our boat, dipping in and out of the water around us – their form is elegant, their bodies glistening in the early morning sun. And it’s beautiful to see.
Local skipper Tony Coppins, owner of Kangaroo Island Ocean Safari, turns the boat engine off and silence falls over us. The backdrop of rusty red cliffs providing a mesmerising scene. Our fellow travellers ‘ahh’ and ‘ooh’. The pod is 12-strong and it feels like they are putting on a show for us as they glide in and out of the water in unison.
Later, we refuel at the seafront Penneshaw Hotel, with freshly-grilled King George Whiting and chips – a true South Australian staple. But nature doesn’t take breaks – and while enjoying lunch, we spot dolphins leaping out of the water in the distance.
We drive southwest to Hanson Bay, where we are joined by the wildlife sanctuary’s trusty sheepdog, Maggie, for a walk among the Eucalyptus. A few minutes into the stroll Maggie stops, looks high into the trees, and looks back at us. We sidle up next to her and peer in the same direction. And there she is, a mother koala with her arms wrapped tightly around a young baby. Later that afternoon we are lucky enough to see three more babies protected by their mums.
At the end of the path, the trees clear and the grassy plains open out in front of us. Four Western grey kangaroos are feeding and an echidna slowly panders along the path. Wonderful.
At Flinders Chase National Park, we find the glorious sight of Remarkable Rocks – a uniquely sculptured rock formation, balanced on top of a granite outcrop. Nearby Admiral’s Arch is the place to spot the Australian and New Zealand Fur Seals, each individually basking out on the rocks, in the beaming sunshine. At remote West Bay, we wonder down the steps onto soft white-sand. The waves lap along the coastline, the sand feels like silk under my feet. The sea is a little cold, but that doesn’t mean a refreshing dip isn’t possible – it just depends how hardy you are. As the sun goes down, we watch the sky turn a fiery orange, then pink and finally a calm mustard-gold. It’s just us, a deserted beach – and life couldn’t be any more perfect right now.
Further along the south coast, at Seal Bay Conservation Park, we are guided along wooden walkways to the beach – home to Australia’s third largest colony of sea lions. At this time of the year (early summer in South Australia), the mothers have just left the pups and are now out at sea, feeding. Meanwhile, the young lie on the beach; playing and grappling with each other.
Unfortunately, the sea lions here have a sad story. Until 1953, they were hunted as shark bait – and numbers dwindled to dangerously low figures. When the Royal Society of South Australia requested their protection, they were declared a ‘protected species’ along the south coast of the island, and since then, happily, numbers have grown. It’s a privilege to be amongst them.
Luxury amongst the nature
Our final stop is to enjoy the beautiful vistas of Cape Willoughby. As dusk rolls in, the silhouette of a lighthouse twinkles in the distance. Waves lap along the shoreline and my partner Brad and I sit back to enjoy our view from our veranda Jacuzzi at the eco-luxury Sea Dragon Lodge. Owners Steve and Helen have kindly left a bottle of wine (a rich Shiraz from one of the 12 wineries here on the island) and a cheese board for us as a welcome and we couldn’t feel any more at home. I ask Brad to pinch me to make sure I’m not dreaming.
The ‘KI’ way of life
Laidback Kingscote is the biggest town on the island and the perfect place to get to know people. The local café serves up full English breakfasts, pies and steaming, buttery jacket potatoes and there are shops galore for any potential souvenir shopping. Further east, at American River, KI Tru Thai – the locally-loved street food stand, has locals and tourists queuing up for Green curries and Pad Thais on Thursday evenings. They are also against single-use plastic – that’s right, no plastic plates or cutlery – bonus. In Penneshaw, Sorrento Pizza serves up a delicious classic menu – with gluten-free bases also available.
Opposite the pub, Italian cafe coffee house and eatery, Eatalians (see what they did there?) serves up delicious sea food platters and a impressively varied ‘on-the-run’ menu for those who need a take away before catching the ferry out.
Local coffee shop Fat Beagle gets my vote of approval, however – mainly for their flexibility with dietary requirements. Gluten-free, lactose-free, almond and soy milk are all on the menu and their ice cream is free from palm oil. Meaning they do not support the deforestations of rainforests and wildlife habitats to provide us with desert. Just add in paper straws and refillable mugs and they’ll be top of the game.
We visit the team at the American River Fresh Seafood store to pick-up some unshucked fresh oysters (£17.50 per dozen). I enjoy mine with a little Tabasco sauce, lemon juice, salt and pepper, but it’s Kilpatrick style (grilled with bacon and Worcestershire sauce) that gets the Aussie thumbs up. Both are winners.
Getting in and out
It’s the small community of Penneshaw that wins my heart. This is where the ferry comes in and there’s something welcoming in the air about this port town. Hog Bay’s sweeping white sand and tranquil water is perfect for those wanting to try out Aussie favourite, paddle-boarding (visit American Beach for a real treat). Basically, you don’t have to go far to start feeling welcome.
Find out more at tourism.sa.gov.au
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