The recovery of Kangaroo Island has leapt ahead since its western half was ravaged by bushfires in January 2020. Most of the land is open and intact, while the eastern end is earmarked for major upgrades.
This summer many will be looking to holiday on KI, Australia’s third-largest island, with South Australia easing its border restrictions for double-vaccinated domestic travellers from November 23.
So, two years on, what’s new on Kangaroo Island?
New tours and attractions
Kangaroo Island Odysseys is operating a one-night Road to Recovery Tour, exploring many of the fire-affected areas. A local guide leads the small-group trip to Flinders Chase National Park to see the regeneration of the native vegetation and wildlife, before the group wanders among a colony of wild Australian sea lions. There are plenty of opportunities to spot kangaroos, koalas, goannas and birds in the bush. Priced from $650 per person twin-share, the itinerary includes pick up and drop off at Adelaide hotels, coach transfers, lunch, afternoon tea and accommodation at the Mercure Kangaroo Island Lodge.
The company has also reduced the price of two other day tours – to Seal Bay or Flinders Chase National Park – to $399 per person until the end of November.
AAT Kings has introduced an extra component to its “Tastes of Southern Australia” and “Great Ocean Road and Kangaroo Island” coach tours. The new experience is a visit to Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, which was completely burned down in the fires but is now on the mend. At this privately owned conservancy, which protects native plants and provides habitat for native fauna, you can learn the role that fire plays in this fragile ecosystem and discover how the injured animals are adapting to their new environment.
SeaLink’s new Sip & See Escape is an overnight experience, priced from $415 per person, which can also be condensed into a day ($185 per person). This tour visits the new False Cape Wines cellar door on Dudley Peninsula, Raptor Domain for a presentation on birds of prey, Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Oil Distillery for lunch, Clifford’s Honey Farm and Pennington Bay, before dinner at the Penneshaw Hotel.
Tour operator Exceptional Kangaroo Island has launched a curated selection of 11 walks – a total of 67 kilometres to be tackled over six days. The all-inclusive Walk Kangaroo Island, escorted by two guides, is designed to showcase the diversity of wildlife, landscape and community. Meals of fresh local produce and South Australian wines are served along the way, dining al fresco as often as possible, and walkers will meet some of the region’s producers, artists and ecologists.
Priced from $5995 per person, this epic trip includes private transfers from Adelaide, five nights at the Mercure and a dolphin-spotting trip by Zodiac, with an optional swim. The first departure is 10 December 2021, with other dates in January, February, April and May 2022. The company runs several shorter walks, too.
In TripAdvisor’s 2021 Travellers’ Choice Best of the Best Things to Do Awards, the number-one experience in Australia was a quad bike tour with KI Outdoor Action. Driving your own ATV, choose from a variety of different routes, including a family-friendly excursion, a beach ride, an all-terrain adventure or a scenic sunset tour. Heading off-road, riders reach viewpoints that other people don’t get to see.
For dinner with a difference, Gastronomo Wilderness Dining specialises in pop-up locations such as a 120-year-old fig tree, where you dine underneath and on its branches. The Feast is the latest dining event inside a secret candlelit venue built by early settlers. This progressive meal, priced at $145 including a local gin cocktail, operates on select days in November. The Enchanted Fig Tree will recommence in December through to April.
Places to stay
Oceanview Eco Villas opened in late 2019, “just before the bushfires and then a global pandemic, so it has certainly been a journey”, said co-director Tamsin Wendt. The off-grid properties are set on a 200-hectare rural block facing the coastline and a private cove.
Guests are greeted each evening with a cocktail and a three-course dinner, accompanied by wine, served in their villa. A two-course cooked breakfast is provided daily. Each villa has two bedrooms, an ensuite, living and dining space, a butler’s pantry and ocean views from every room.
“We take sustainability seriously, with 99 per cent of the build materials having come from within South Australia. This continues through to the food we prepare for our guests, with King George whiting caught locally by professional fishermen, and Kangaroo Island honey, which is a protected industry on the island, with our apiarist having his hives within five kilometres of our property,” said Ms Wendt.
“We take the time to share these stories with our guests, so that they leave here with a connection to place and some wonderful memories.”
Nightly rates start at $850 per adult ($650 per child) for the fully hosted experience and a minimum two-night stay is required.
Ecopia Retreat is another off-grid, solar-powered, eco-luxury haven. Nestled in a wildlife sanctuary, where koalas, kangaroos and echidnas roam, guests have exclusive access to Eleanor River. Prices start at $1980 per couple for a three-night stay in an eco villa or from $1950 in the new three-bedroom The Residence. Valid until the end of November 2021 (for travel before November 2022), special bonuses include a cheese board and nibbles on arrival, and a Kangaroo Island Spirits gin-tasting experience (use code ECOKI).
Hamilton & Dune, at Emu Bay, offers two gorgeous houses, a boat jetty, playground and cricket pitch – ideal for families or groups of friends. Owners Emily and Richard Young said: “We decided to open our homes, so that guests may experience Kangaroo Island in the style it deserves.”
Dune House (from $1200 per night for two guests) was newly built on a site overlooking the beach where the couple met, while the retro Hamilton House (from $800 per night) was Mr Young’s family “beach shack”, which has since been rebuilt, landscaped and had its deck expanded. Both homes have three bedrooms, sleep a maximum of six ($100 per additional guest per night) and have a three-night minimum stay required. A new offering is the private dining and wine-tasting experience in the kitchen with Kate Sumner from Kangaroo Island Source and Yale Norris from The Islander Estate Vineyard.
Meanwhile, the state government has invested in projects to encourage tourists to spend longer exploring different parts of the island. Flinders Chase National Park Visitor Centre, which was destroyed by the fires, will be rebuilt. Major upgrades are also planned in the less-visited eastern end, after the purchase of former private land.
This precinct will see a new multi-day walking trail created from Penneshaw to Cape Willoughby, upgrades to heritage accommodation and a cantilevered viewing platform added to South Australia’s oldest lighthouse.
The iconic Southern Ocean Lodge, tragically gutted in the fires, is also making a comeback. The clifftop site has been cleared in preparation for its next incarnation, aka SOL 2.0, and is expected to reopen in late 2022 or early 2023.