A trip to Kangaroo Island offers the chance to spot wallabies, koalas and seals. And if that sounds like too much hard work, you can just sit back and watch the waves with a glass of homemade gin!
One big, furry and cuddly reason to come to Australia is for its wildlife. And when you get there, if it’s a mini-break with a difference you’re after, look no further than Kangaroo Island. This is where my partner and I took my parents for a surprise, memorable weekend when they visited in April.
We decided to drive from our home in nearby Adelaide as this was the cheapest option, but it was still expensive because of the ferry ride ($488 for four adults and a car). I had to hide the cost from my dad in case he tried to pay me back.
Having been promised the Australian Galapagos by many a publication, dad was expecting deserted wilderness and to sleep away from the shore on a boat. So he was disappointed to see plenty of houses hugging the coast, and to learn that we were actually staying on the island – but he was very happy when we got there, more on that later.
What to see and do
Our first activity was a 512-step light yomp up Prospect Hill for a stellar look-out across the coast. Back in the car we scrambled along gravel roads – my partner loving the chance to pay homage to Colin McRae, though not all drivers may be so keen on the terrain – to see the bees at Clifford’s Honey Farm, taste the honey icecream and buy some honey mead.
Cut off from the mainland, Kangaroo Island (or KI as it’s known locally) is a haven for many plants and animals. The Ligurian bees, originally from Italy, are the only disease-free ones in the world, while many other plant and animal species prosper away from the threat of foxes and rabbits.
We saw seals and sea lions, all lazing around Admirals Arch, rare sights in a world which has killed off much of the seal population. Entry to the Flinders Chase National Park - which included Seal Bay and the aptly named Remarkable Rocks (eerie formations, scooped out by the winds over time) - was $8.50 a head.
Koalas were guaranteed on the Koala Walk in Hanson Bay Sanctuary and there they were, scratching, yawning and of course sleeping. A tip for koala spotters – check the nooks of the trees as that’s where they like to doze. And do they like to doze! They sleep for all but one hour of the day. Entry for us was free as we were staying on the grounds, but otherwise it’s $2.50 per person.
Where to stay
We had a breathtaking view of Hanson Bay from our log cabins (Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary), one which we felt rivalled the award-winning Vivonne Bay further up the coast. We fired up the provided barbeque and sat on the balcony, drinking and watching the crashing waves running into two stunning bays.
That’s why dad wasn’t complaining – and it got even better.
There may be fewer tourists in the economic downturn, but the managers have already taken bookings up to next Easter. It was easy to see why.
Friendly tammar wallabies hopped up to our porch inquisitively, while bolder possums came even closer to beg for our hot-cross buns. Pests they may be on the mainland, but gorgeous they were here.
The people were also friendly, with plenty of advice on keeping the petrol tanks filled with few fuel stations on the island.
Cliff at Sunset Vines gave us an energetic, impromptu demonstration of grape crushing in his huge vat, while Jon at the fledgling Kangaroo Island Spirits even made my partner his own personal bottle of gin, signing it on request and noting it “Batch Number 1 of 1”.
While waiting at Penneshaw for the ferry to take us back, we dropped in at Fish which, you guessed it, serves fish and chips. But not just any old cod; the owner is Sue Pearson, a former chef at The Ivy, and her food was delicious.
This surprise capped off a weekend of them. All in all, KI wasn’t quite what we expected, but well worth the trip as a one-off, must-see.
You can’t miss Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. The log cabins are $230 a night for four adults, but if you book six nights you get the seventh free. There is also a budget option with them, though it comes without the spectacular view.
If hiring a car, check with the company if they allow gravel-road driving with their vehicles. Also, buying a roadmap is a must.
There is only one ferry company operating, SeaLink (www.sealink.com.au), and you must book ahead. You can also fly in to Kingscote Airport with either Regional Express (www.rex.com.au) or Air South (www.airsouth.com.au).