Australia's third largest island after Melville and Tasmania, Kangaroo Island is located 70 miles off the coast of Adelaide. It was discovered by the West in 1802 when British explorer Matthew Flinders landed here (followed a couple of years later by Frenchman Nicolas Baudin). It is though that its original inhabitants, the Ngarrindjeri people, lived here before and after its break from the mainland around 10,000 years ago. Today, only a few thousand people live on the island. It is a unique island with a wealth of flora and fauna as well as 320 or so miles of dramatic coastline. For the tourist the possibilities are huge with hundreds of native plants and animals to observe and activities such as hiking, cycling, surfing, diving and caving to enjoy. Easy to get to and around and with a mild climate, Kangaroo Island is understandably one of the most popular destinations in Australia.
Perhaps the main reason people flock to Kangaroo Island is to see the fascinating wildlife with which the island is blessed. Each season offers something new: summertime brings kangaroos and Tammar wallabies at dusk and dawn as well as Little Penguins (Penneshaw is a good place to spot them), New Zealand Fur seals, Heath goannas, koala births and Australian sea lions (the country's third largest colony can be found at Seal Bay Conservation Park); in autumn it's time for Glossy Black cockatoos, courting black swans and the appearance of fungi; in the winter you can enjoy watching koala and kangaroo joeys leave their mothers' pouches, watch waders arrive, ospreys court in the air and spot the Southern right whale pass by the shore on their migration journey; and in spring the 40 or so endemic wild flowers sprout, eucalyptus production gets underway and the Cape Barren goose starts to nest. The island has 267 species of bird, many of which can be seen at Murray Lagoon at Cape Gantheaume Conservation Park. The best known national park is Flinders Chase where you can marvel at the unique formations of Remarkable Rocks and Admirals Arch which is a great place from which to see New Zealand Fur seals. Amongst the over 80,000 acres of landscape visitors can admire over 400 of the 891 native plants (of which 46 are endemic) on the island while many are also on show at the Stokes Bay Bush Garden. Being an island, the lighthouse holds an important place in its history and several can be visited such as Cape du Couedic at Weir's Cove, Cape Borda which also has a lightkeepers' cemetery and Cape Willoughby, South Australia's oldest. For history buffs there is Reeves Point, the first European settlement, the Hope Cottage Folk Museum which presents a history of Kangaroo Island and the Parndana Soldier Settlement Museum.
Kangaroo Island is a haven for the outdoorsy type. Inland hikers can choose between wading through forests or climbing atop the cliffs, at Cape Borda for example and the Clifftop Hike trail. Another great place for hiking is the Kelly Hill park where the Hanson Bay Hike is located while there are a set of caves here too for caving enthusiasts. There are a number of other coastal hikes as well as cycling trails all over the island. Something thrill-seeks should definitely experience is surfing down the beautiful sand dunes of Little Sahara. But it is in and around the coast where many people spend their time. The snorkelling and scuba diving is magnificent with dazzling fish and tens of shipwrecks to discover for both amateur and more advanced divers. The surfing around Kangaroo Island would suit mainly beginners although from time to time conditions are suitable for more advanced surfers. Those who prefer a more relaxed pace should catch a cruise and go sailing around the island - there are numerous routes and companies offering this service and you can even do it yourself if you are confident enough. Fishermen amongst you will find plenty of tranquil spots in which to partake in your sport while those who just want to sit and do nothing on a beach will have a huge choice. One of the most glamourous is Island Beach while Vivonne Bay was regarded as the finest beach in Australia several years ago.
Getting to Kangaroo Island is fairly straightforward. There are daily flights from Adelaide to Kingscote (the capital) from where a shuttle is available into town. If you have a car or would prefer not to take the plane then a vehicle/passenger ferry service leaves from Cape Jervis on the mainland and arrives at Penneshaw. The journey time is around 45 minutes (against 35 by air). In terms of getting around on the island, a car is a distinct advantage. Even if you do not have your own, there are several hire companies on the island. Alternatively, you can take motorised tours all year round with specialised companies.
Kangaroo Island is an extremely safe place and there are no special precautions to be taken when visiting. In order to protect their industries, it is forbidden to bring onto the island certain products such as honey or bees and potatoes or weeds. If travelling around the island by car you should be wary, especially at duck and dawn, of animals on the road.
Of course the quality of seafood in Kangaroo Island is excellent although one of the most highly prized catches in the marron, a type of freshwater crayfish. Prepared in several ways you must sample this during your stay. Another fish which you'll see quite a lot is the whiting, in particular the King George variety. Having been spared from mass food production, the island has many independent producers making sheep's milk cheese, excellent wines and honey. In fact, Kangaroo Island is home to the only known pure strain of Ligurian bee in the world. Introduced from Italy, the bees make a high quality honey which is also made into sweets and ice cream. Many of the island's new wineries, which grow many varieties of grape, conduct tastings (some with a meal) and you can of course buy by the bottle or the case.
To bring back
Unfortunately for those coming from the EU, there are strict controls on bringing back dairy products and honey. If you are staying for a while in Australia then we suggest you still buy some but polish them off before you return home. There are currently no restrictions on wine however which is good news so feel free to bring back a few bottles from one of the excellent wineries. Aside from food, why not bring back a piece of art or jewellery from one of the several galleries exhibiting locals' work.
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