Any adventure from abroad to Australia feels like a journey to the ends of the Earth. But just imagine the sensation of awe and wildness that awaits when going even more “down under” than mainland Down Under. Seventy miles from Adelaide (the warm and friendly capital of southern Australia) lies Australia’s third-largest island, known for its raw and rugged 300-mile coastline, delicious local wines and honey, and endemic wildlife that the island’s isolation has thankfully naturally protected.
Kangaroo Island (or Karta Pintingga in the language of the Kaurna people) is home to mass numbers of native Australian species, including kangaroos, platypus, New Zealand fur seals, Australian sea lions and one of Australia’s largest koala populations, which thrive in the manna gum and eucalyptus trees. A day spent getting to know the local flora and fauna followed up by an evening sipping a glass of wine from one of the 12 wineries on Kangaroo Island makes it hard not to be both fully engaged and fully relaxed on this island playground.
Nearly a quarter of the island has been conserved as either a national park, conservation park or Wilderness Protection Area. The main protected areas are Flinders Chase National Park, Seal Bay Conservation Park, Cape Gantheaume Conservation Park, Cape Bouguer Wilderness Protection Area and Ravine des Casoars Wilderness Protection Area. On our southern Australia trip, we spend time leisurely exploring the far western part of Kangaroo Island (often called KI), a region marked by sanctity and solitude.
Platypus: A Curious Creature
On an expedition inside Flinders Chase National Park, we wake up and walk to waterholes with the intention of spotting the wonderfully wonky semi-aquatic platypus, unique to Australia and introduced on the island in the 1920s when conservationists grew concerned about their declining population on the mainland (where they were extensively hunted for their fur). This is a 100-million-year-old egg-laying mammal with a wide duck-like bill, otter-like webbed feet, a tail reminiscent of a beaver and the aforementioned fur. It has thrived in two Kangaroo Island rivers during a century when it has unfortunately faced near-extinction on the mainland. Later in the day, we search for kangaroos, Tammar wallabies, short-beaked echidnas, southern brown bandicoots, possums and bats.
Koalas on Kangaroo Island
Koalas were also introduced to the island, and their populations have flourished so much that their preferred food source, the manna gum, is at risk of local extinction. The state government has even begun to use sterilization methods for population control in an attempt to keep the local ecosystems balanced. On a positive note, a disease called chlamydophilia pneumoniae, which is widespread in most koala populations in mainland Australia, is not present on Kangaroo Island due to the location’s isolation from other koala colonies. The high number of koalas in KI ensures that these furry little critters are easy to spot in the trees, either dozing or munching languidly on leaves.
Birding on Kangaroo Island
Birders will be happy to know that Kangaroo Island has been identified by BirdLife International as an Important Bird Area (IBA). The island is the last southern Australian refuge of an endangered subspecies of the glossy black cockatoo, the Calyptorhynchus lathami halmaturinus. The unique island ecosystem supports populations of the vulnerable fairy tern, the near-threatened bush stone-curlew, hooded plover and western whipbird, and the biome-restricted rock parrot and purple-gaped honeyeater.
KI additionally supports more than 1% of the entire world population of Cape Barren geese, black-faced cormorants, Pacific gulls and pied oystercatchers. Lucky visitors to Kangaroo Island may even catch a glimpse of the less-often-seen musk ducks, blue-billed ducks, freckled ducks, Australian shelducks, chestnut teals or banded stilts.
Fur Seals & Australian Sea Lions
On our Nat Hab expedition, we also have the chance to check out the unique wildlife that gathers along the azure coastline. One stop we make is the Remarkable Rocks – and the name says it all. These photogenic rock formations were carved by 500 million years of wind, waves and rain. We also venture to Admirals Arch, a rock bridge that gives us an ideal perch for observing long-nosed fur seals that reside nearby.
At Seal Bay Conservation Park, we have the opportunity to hang out with the Australian sea lion; an endangered species hunted practically to extinction in the 1800s. With a population of only about 800, this is Australia’s third-largest colony of Australian sea lions. Out in the dunes, we can quietly observe as pups play, bulls do whatever they can to mark their supremacy, and momma seals nurture their young.
Local Ligurian Honey & Kangaroo Island Wine
Kangaroo Island is also pretty famous internationally for the honey made by its Ligurian honeybees. These bees were imported from Italy in 1884 and are currently the only pure strain of bees left in the world. The Island was declared a bee sanctuary in 1885, and the populations here are disease-free. Because of this, the exportation of queen bees is a big industry on KI. In an effort to protect this industry, there are very serious quarantine restrictions on bringing any bee products or bee-handling equipment onto the island. But as for taking bee-related products off the island, local Ligurian honey makes for a wonderful souvenir to take home.
Another local product to indulge in, or to bring back as a gift, is Kangaroo Island wine. The island has 30 wine growers and 12 wineries and is arguably one of the most picturesque wine regions in the world. The temperate weather here is devoid of any extremes (the average summer temperature is a pleasant 77°F), and this helps craft some noteworthy bottles of Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Kangaroo Island’s location makes it incredibly convenient to get to other southern Australia natural destinations, such as the Great Ocean Road starting from nearby Melbourne. Even though it is in such close proximity to KI, the landscapes and even the wildlife to be spotted are much different. On our southern Australia adventure, we take this drive that guides us through coastal rain forests and ancient volcanic plains, where we can see giant tree ferns and cool our feet in freshwater streams or an upland waterfall. We reach Cape Otway at the southern tip of Victoria’s west coast, near where the Southern Ocean meets the deep blue Bass Strait. We are always hopeful we can find the rare spotted-tail quoll, commonly known as the tiger quoll.
So, if you’re considering planning a trip to enjoy nature, why not head to a place where, on top of having some of the prettiest coastal views on Earth, 80% of flora and fauna are endemic? The plant life and animals you will see here in southern Australia are both unique and intriguing, having adapted to their environment over the course of 30 million years of geographical isolation—meaning that an adventure here really is full of extraordinary experiences that can’t be had anywhere else on the planet.