Kangaroo Island travel guide and things to do: The three-minute guide

WHY

Kangaroo Island is famous as a feral-free haven where native animals flourish. But if visitors are surprised at how easy it is to see marsupials, they're more astonished by the scale and diversity of the place. Kangaroo Island is 155 kilometres from east to west, a place of lagoons, white-sand beaches and sea cliffs pounded by thunderous swells. It's populated by just 5000 people and is home to a remarkably strong food culture as well as one of the world's most highly regarded luxury lodges. Perhaps most importantly, it also offers that quintessential island experience – a sense that time has slowed and the rest of the world is somewhere else. 

VISIT

Wildlife enthusiasts can lose themselves for weeks on the island, but most visitors confine themselves to five must-see animals. Australian sea lions take refuge in the stunning sands of Seal Bay, the place where you can do guided ranger walks among this threatened species. Koalas hang out at the entrance to Flinders Chase National Park, the vast forested refuge that covers a full third of the island. Endemic island kangaroos can be seen at dusk and dawn across the island's rolling farmland (a landscape as lovely as any). Within the island's labyrinth of quiet dirt roads, echidnas can be spotted on the verges. And don't miss the nightly 5pm feeding time of pelicans at the small capital, Kingscote, one of the most joyous affairs on the island.

EAT

Last year, the Enchanted Fig Tree (hannafordandsachs.com.au) at Middle River rightly found fame as a piece of ephemeral magic, and is now rated as one of South Australia's Top 10 experiences. The "restaurant" is a string of private dining rooms carved out of a 150-year-old fig tree and first class local fare is served as light streams through the roof and walls. Once the leaves begin to fall in April the restaurant closes until the following December.

The Rockpool Cafe does fish and chips for delightful Stokes Bay beach. Zest and Thyme (zestandthyme.com.au) near Willoughby offers good value food with priceless views. And the Oyster Farm Shop in American River sells a fresh-off-the-rack dozen for $12.  

Don't miss the very rustic, very cool KI Spirits (kispirits.com.au), where the nation's best gin is made (Old Tom – 2017, Australian Distilled Spirits Awards).

LOOK

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In October, Kangaroo Island opened its new five-day Wilderness Trail. The 61-kilometre trail takes in Flinders Chase forests, the surreal sculptures that are Remarkable Rocks, Admirals Arch, untrammelled beaches and mile upon mile of cliff top. New overnight camps have been brilliantly fashioned into the bushland for nights of barbecue and well-earned beers.

MUST

Find your own beach. It's easier than you think, with some 500 kilometres of coastline to explore by foot or car. Be surprised by 500-million year old fossilised tree stumps (Sanderson Bay), curious sea lion pups poking their heads out of the shallows (Bales Beach) and the rock tunnels leading to Stokes Bay. 

SLEEP

Southern Ocean Lodge (southernoceanlodge.com.au) is up there with the world's best luxury wilderness lodges. It's a seat of privilege perched on a cliff looking down on seas that are either turquoise and benign or grey and murderous. The $1500-and-up tariff includes alcohol, a menu of island experiences and meticulous work by chef Alistair Waddell.

See: Traveller's review of Southern Ocean Lodge

For equally lofty views, try the lighthouse keeper's cottages at Cape Willoughby or Cape Borda (environment.sa.gov.au) Or stay grounded in the nice old rooms above the Ozone Pub (ozonehotelki.com.au) in Kingscote. 

TIP

Kangaroo Island positively glows in summer, ensuring big visitor numbers. Winter sees numbers fall (and attractions shut), but island life goes on and the scenery turns raw and moody. The artists love it.

Max Anderson travelled as a guest of the South Australian Tourism Commission.

See also: Dream destinations: Australia's 20 best holiday islands

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