From magnificent rolling waves to wildlife, this island jewel is a winner, writes Lee Atkinson.
Kangaroo Island punches well above its weight when it comes to things to see and do. Deserted white sand beaches and rolling surf, magnificent scenery, prolific wildlife, fantastic food and wine and accommodation to suit all budgets are just some of the reasons why Australia's third-largest island is fast becoming one of South Australia's holiday hot spots.
What it's known for
Close to half of the island is either natural bushland or national park, and it is home to some of the most diverse wildlife you'll find concentrated in one area anywhere in Australia, with large colonies of penguins, fur seals, sea lions, koalas, kangaroos, bird life and somewhere between 500,000 and 1 million tammar wallabies. One of the most popular spots for wildlife watching is the misnamed Seal Bay, a long, windswept beach where about 700 Australian sea lions haul out of the water to rest. You can join a 45-minute ranger-led tour of the beach, walking just metres away from the huge, sleepy animals (adults $32, children $18: tour times vary, ). Nightly penguin-watching tours are available in Kingscote and Penneshaw (adults $10-$17, children $6-$8.50). You're guaranteed to see koalas at the Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary (adults $5.50, under-12s $2.50).
What you didn't know ...
Kangaroo Island may be only 20 kilometres from the mainland, but that's too far for a bee to fly, making it the oldest bee sanctuary in the world. Moreover, despite being far from Italy, the island is home to the only genetically pure population of Ligurian bees in the world. You can check them out at Clifford's Honey Farm, 1157 Elsegood Road, open daily, 9am-5pm. Entry is free.
Ligurian honey is not the only local food worth seeking. Marron (freshwater crayfish), sheep's cheese, oysters, abalone, seafood, wine, cider and sweet liqueurs are all farmed, produced or harvested on the island.
Flinders Chase National Park, which covers most of the western end of the island, contains many of its most popular attractions and a wealth of wildlife. At Cape du Couedic, the rocks below the lighthouse are home to a colony of New Zealand fur seals, wallowing in the sun or frolicking in the surf under the dramatic rock arc of Admirals Arch. Nearby is another must-see, a cluster of huge weather-sculptured granite boulders perched on a granite dome that swoops 75 metres to the sea, appropriately called Remarkable Rocks.
Where to eat
The best fish and chips on the island are from Fish in Penneshaw, but phone 0439 803 843 first to check that it's open. The Vivonne Bay General Store is justifiably famous for its fresh whiting burgers, and it does a good coffee. South Coast Road, Vivonne Bay, (08) 8559 4285. In Kingscote, the main town on the island, Bella Restaurant has a range of tasty pizzas, grilled snacks and salads during the day, and contemporary Mediterranean and Asian cuisine at night. 54 Dauncey Street, Kingscote, (08) 8553 0400.
Where to stay
If money is no object, the super-luxe clifftop Southern Ocean Lodge above Hanson Bay on the south-west coast offers unforgettable ocean views, amazing food, an open bar and a range of guided activities in the all-inclusive $990 a person a night (minimum two-night stay) rate. For those with less boundless budgets, the Aurora Ozone Hotel in the heart of Kingscote has motel-style rooms from $156 or apartments from $260.
How to get there
Regional Express has 30-minute flights from Adelaide to Kangaroo Island, return fares start from $220. Kangaroo Island SeaLink ferries depart several times a day between Cape Jervis on the Fleurieu Peninsula (about 90 minutes' drive south of Adelaide) and Penneshaw. The trip takes about 45 minutes. Tickets cost $48 an adult, $92 a vehicle, each way. Check the website for departure times. 13 13 01.