After 20 years of visiting Australia, my English mother-in-law was feeling disappointed. "How is it that I've yet to see a live kangaroo out in the wild?" she wanted to know. "I'd love to visit a part of the 'real' Australia with long stretches of red earth and boundless wildlife."
I replied, "Lady, not only am I going to take you to an island that serves as a 'best of' everything our fine country has to offer, but it has so many freaking kangaroos it's named after them." Time to travel to Kangaroo Island.
Located a mere 14 kilometres from mainland South Australia, it's Australia's third-largest island, offering visitors a spectacular wilderness that encompasses 509 kilometres of dramatic coastline (such as Hanson Bay, pictured). Serving up 1600 kilometres of remote outback roads – many of them unsealed, wildlife laden and criss-crossed through lush forest and endless sienna dust landscapes – this is 4WD territory. Whether you travel from Adelaide to Cape Jervis and take the Sealink Ferry across with your own, or fly in and hire a car, you'll want to enjoy those long treks in comfort.
Wait a minute, you might ask, didn't the bushfires last summer devastate a third of the island? The short answer is yes. The good news is that regeneration has been swift; shoots began to reveal themselves mere days after the fires swept through and many of the hardest-hit regions, such as Flinders Chase National Park, are well on their way to bushy recovery. Parks, walking trails and beaches have all been reopened but our KI mates could do with a few more visitors to help assure financial recovery.
Unique wildlife experiences top most visitors' must-see lists. Kangaroo Island's wealth of conservation parks and wilderness protection areas play host to an extraordinary range of animals, from large colonies of seals basking on pristine white beaches and sea lions barking on rocky shorelines to koalas and kangaroos, many of which have been released from rehabilitation at Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park.
You can swim with pods of wild dolphins with Kangaroo Island Marine Adventures, take a guided tour of one of the world's largest sea lion colonies at Seal Bay Conservation Park, visit the fur seals sunning themselves at Admirals Arch, or book in to see the good work being undertaken at the aforementioned wildlife park.
My mother-in-law finally got to witness mobs of kangaroos bouncing around every time we got in the car – and yes, she said it was worth the decades-long wait.
Lesser known is that the island's a gourmand's dream, its 155 kilometre east-to-west, 55 kilometre north-to-south landscape dotted with artisanal producers and vineyards. You can pop in at Bay of Shoals – the island was declared a wine region in 2001 – or pick up a bottle (or six) of The Islander Estate's flagship cabernet franc, The Investigator. If you've got a craving for something a little harder, you can enjoy a tasting at Kangaroo Island Spirits' cellar door.
Feeling hungry? A tour of The Oyster Farm Shop is best followed by homemade lavender scones and ice-cream among the fields of Emu Bay Lavender Farm. Whether you're after honey, craft beer, olive groves or just a stunning place to sit, eat and watch the inquisitive wildlife looking to break bread (or run off with it entirely), you'll be spoilt for choice.
A victim of the bushfires, the iconic Southern Ocean Lodge might be gone for now (it's anticipated it will re-open in early 2023), but there are lots of scenic accommodation options. I've always been a huge fan of Nick Hannaford's Lifetime Private Retreats in Snelling Beach, but the luxury homes of Hamilton & Dune are a study in coastal chic. The more moderate A Dune Escape is a popular choice with families and there are plenty of Airbnb rentals and campgrounds to boot.
One year on, my mother-in-law – now imprisoned in England (oh, the irony) – is desperate to come back. Is it the grandchildren she's dying to see, or an Aussie summer she's keen to enjoy? Nope, the only thing that keeps her going is Kangaroo Island.
"Will we go back as soon as I can fly over?" she asks.
"Yes," I respond.
"Oh good, because I want to see the kangaroos …"
Dilvin Yasa was a guest of the South Australian Tourism Commission.