Looking down at the rocks by the water’s edge, I’m transfixed by a group of seal pups playing with each other, flapping their way towards puddles, tumbling down gaps. At the remote southwestern point of Kangaroo Island, I’m supposed to be looking at Admirals Arch, a dramatic geological landmark that forms a huge and jagged picture frame around a view of the tumultuous coastline. But the baby New Zealand fur seals… they’re just so cute!
Deep within Flinders Chase, an enormous national park, it’s often hard to know where to look. Do you spend time hiking inland amongst the mallee and stringybark, head for the stunning viewpoints on the coastal clifftops, or look for koalas and kangaroos (and lots of other wildlife) near convenient parking areas? One thing you must do is walk amongst Remarkable Rocks, aptly named for the gravity-defying shapes that have been carved out by 500 million years of erosion. These granite boulders have had the luxury of time to enjoy the island, but I’ve only got a couple of days.
With a tight schedule, I’m taking a two-day tour from Adelaide with SeaLink, the operator of the main ferry to Kangaroo Island. There’s also an option of a one-day tour but it’s a long day of about 16 hours, including bus transfers from Adelaide and the 45-minute ferry trip in each direction. I think it’s far too short and, in fact, even the two days feels quite rushed – something our tour guide, Adam Houchin, acknowledges.
“Our tours are a great way to see the island, but you need a week,” he says. “We’re a big island and we have so many things you can stop at – and you’re just not aware they’re there!”
We stop at the popular Seal Bay, where a colony of Australian sea lions lives, and I see more youngsters playing on the beach (have I mentioned how cute they are?), and rangers lead groups down to the sand for a special experience near the animals. The tour also takes us to the tourist attractions of Raptor Domain for a display of some birds of prey, and the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park where there are, among other native animals, koalas that were rescued from the January 2020 bushfires.
Even now, more than a year later, it’s hard to come to Kangaroo Island and not hear about the bushfire, which burnt about half of the island. Many of the endemic animal species found here were hit hard, but most of them are bouncing back (kangaroo pun intended). But many tourism businesses have either not survived or are still unable to open again because of the double shock of the pandemic.
That includes local producers, of which Kangaroo Island had been seeing significant growth over recent years – from gin and wine, to olive oil and eucalyptus oil. They’re not all regenerating as quickly as the landscapes. Our tour stops at Clifford’s Honey Farm, which has been operating for six generations, and family member Bev Nolan tells me the fires had a huge impact on the island’s unique honey industry, the only place in the world that breeds Ligurian bees.
“As the bush is recovering, it does take a bit of time for the trees to get to flowering cycle. We’ve had to move our bees to different locations since the fires so we can get the bees making honey again.”
Tourists have also had to move to different locations on Kangaroo Island – but luckily there are plenty of spots to choose from. You can see some evidence of the fires out the window as you drive past, and the new greenery growing amongst it, but most of the time it’s only questions from visitors that remind you of the natural disaster.
“The fire’s been there, but all the iconic photos will go back to normal,” Adam Houchin says. “The actual charm of the island will stay the same, but because right now the focus is still that fire, you do have that attention.”
SeaLink (and other local operators) offer recovery tours that focus on how fire is part of the cycle of nature. But, if you’ve never visited Kangaroo Island before, you may prefer just to focus on the incredible nature, local producers, and communities that were here before. If you have the time, I would suggest bringing your own car (you can take it on the ferry from Cape Jervis) and spending more than a couple of days here.
Do some of the hikes in the Flinders Chase National Park; find a secluded beach through a rock passageway at Stokes Bay; see the penguins in the evening on the rocks at Penneshaw; join a charter for some fishing; enjoy wine tasting; discover the maritime museum… and, oh, so much more.
Yes, Kangaroo Island still needs your support – but you also need to see Kangaroo Island. A natural playground with rugged cliffs, abundant wildlife, and quiet beaches, it is one of Australia’s gems and, as we all know, this is the time to be exploring Australia. Hop on over (yes, that was another kangaroo pun) and discover it for yourself… if you can tear yourself away from those adorable little seals.
WHAT TO DO:
– Take a tour from Adelaide with SeaLink as an easy way to get an overview of the island without having to do any planning
– See the stunning geological formations at Remarkable Rocks and Admiral’s Arch within Flinders Chase National Park
– Go down onto the sand at Seal Bay with a ranger to get closer to the sea lions
WHERE TO EAT:
– Locals claim that Cactus Cafe in Kingscote has the best breakfast on the island
– Being surrounded by water, it makes sense to have the fish at Kangaroo Island Fresh Seafoods in Kingscote
– For a comfortable pub experience with water views, the Penneshaw Hotel is a family-friendly spot for dinner
WHERE TO STAY:
– Just metres from the ferry terminal in Penneshaw, the Seafront has great views across the water
– In Kingscote, the Aurora Ozone Hotel has a range of rooms to suit every style of travel
– Or for something really special, stay at a modern secluded house at Hamilton & Dune