Amazing Things to Do on Kangaroo Island
Kangaroo Island probably offers the best wildlife viewing opportunities of any location in Australia. The sheer variety of animals and their relative ease with people mean that viewing and photographic opportunities are almost guaranteed. On top of that, there are fantastic beaches, great coastal scenery, and a wide mix of habitats. Highlights are the sea-lion and fur seal colonies, the koala viewing, the heath goannas, the glossy black cockatoos, and the little penguins.
What is so special about Kangaroo Island?
Kangaroo Island stretches approximately 150K east-west and 50Km north-south and in all is 4500 sq. Km, making it Australia’s third-largest island. The main population centers are Kingscote (the capital and airport) to the north and Penneshaw (the ferry port) at the eastern end. However, the population is only 4300 so the vast majority of the island is essentially wilderness. Many of the visitors to the island are day-trippers who only visit the main sightseeing destinations so there is no problem getting away from the crowds. Fully one-third of the island is given up to National Park or Conservation Area status.
Is it worth going to Kangaroo Island?
Take extreme care driving between dusk and dawn for the sake of both the animals and your car. If a big grey decides to cross the road just as you are passing it won’t stop to check first and normally there will be another following right behind. And during the daytime lookout for what look like sticks in the road, I have seen countless goannas and snakes have their sunbathing sessions cut short.
Get an island parks pass. If you are going to visit more than 4 parks, or if you are planning multiple visits to parks, this will save you money.
Don’t feed the wildlife! The instruction is given the world over, and I know it’s hard to ignore the begging ‘roos and wallabies at the visitors’ center car park, but you will be doing them no favors whatsoever if you hand over the remains of your sandwiches and crisps. And if you don’t want to lose your alfresco dinner then watch out for the brushtail possums – they’re everywhere and they’re fearless! On my last visit, they even followed me into my room before I could close the door on them.
Are there kangaroos on Kangaroo Island?
The roos on the island are the KI subspecies of the Western Grey and to my mind are the prettiest of all the roo species. There are plenty of places around the island to see them by possibly the best is on the meadows around the visitors center at Flinders Chase NP. They can be seen at any time of day but the first light is best. If you are patient and move quietly they will let you approach within a few feet. Joeys are born at any time of the year but there is a peak in the summer months. These newborns will start to leave the pouch after about nine months.
Nearly extinct on the mainland, Tammar wallabies are so numerous on KI that regular culling needs to take place. The best places that I have found for viewing are probably the Western KI caravan park and around American River where they can be seen at any time of day, but they are found right across the island
Echidnas are found across the island and are pretty easy to find. Just take a walk in any woodland and keep an ear out for the rusting sound. I have found that the best locations are to the north alongside the dirt roads where the soil is loose and easy for the echidnas to probe into, but you are pretty much guaranteed sightings anywhere. If you keep quiet and still it is possible to get echidnas to walk right up to you.
The only place to see the Australian sea lions is at Seal Bay Conservation Park on the south coast where you will be escorted by an NP guide onto the beach. You will be kept a minimum of 20 meters from the seals so bring a long lens/binoculars. Tours run from 9 to 5 and the sea lions tend to become less active as the day warms up so get there early. In winter the 9 AM start is quite close to dawn which makes for the best light but to be honest the grey of the seals against the light-colored sand means that photo opportunities exist throughout the day. Look for the bulls fighting.
New Zealand fur seals are seen at Admirals Arch at the western end of Flinders Chase NP where there is a resident breeding colony. Access is via a boardwalk and it is possible to get quite close. However, most of the views are from quite high above the animals so picture opportunities are quite limited. Make sure you take warm clothing, regardless of how warm it might feel when you leave your car, and be prepared for the stink!
Koalas were introduced to the island at a time when their existence on the mainland was felt to be uncertain. They found the conditions on the island to their liking and now numbers are thought to exceed 30,000. This has led to widespread damage to habitat and there is a continuing debate about ways to control the population. Flinders Chase NP is a great place to see them, as is Western KI caravan park. Listen for the males’ groaning call to find out where they are, or just wander around looking for lumps in trees. It is also not too difficult to see them on the ground, moving between trees.
Platypus was introduced to the island and can now be seen in Flinders Chase NP. However, the platypus pools are pretty dark even during the day so getting pictures is near impossible, even if you are lucky enough to see one.
The penguin parade is at Kingscote harbor. Every evening you can watch the Fairy/Little penguins returning to their roosts. Forget traditional flash photography and use a red filter so as not to blind the little chaps.
Pelican feeding at Kingscote happens every afternoon when 50 or so of these magnificent birds will fly in for free fish. Worth a visit, make sure you have a couple of bucks to donate and wander further north to Emu bay for great views and lots of shorebirds.
Glossy Black Cockatoos
Lathami ConsevationPark was created to conserve the habitat of the KI sub-species of this endangered cockatoo but I’ve also seen them at several places along the north coast so just keep an eye and an ear open whenever you’re near pine forests. You should also be able to see the yellow-tailed black cockatoo, sometimes in flocks of 20 or more.
Found across the island (but rare on the mainland) you will probably see them on roads, both dead and alive, and if you walk quietly along with one of the forest pylon clearings you will most likely come across one or two, especially if it is in the warmer months and not too early in the morning.
How do you get to Kangaroo Island?
Two options here, either take a 20-minute flight from Adelaide or drive two hours from Adelaide to catch the 45-minute vehicle ferry from Cape Jervis on the Fleurieu Peninsula. Hiring a car from Kingscote is no problem.
When to go
KI’s climate is typically mild, although at times in summer it can get pretty hot. Winter averages are 13-15 degrees Celsius and summer is 20-25 degrees Celsius. The majority of the rainfall occurs in winter.
For wildlife viewing, any time is good, although if it is specifics you are looking for, such as viewing the Southern Right Whales as they pass the coast then obviously you need to time your visit carefully. However, the vast majority of what is available to see is there throughout the year.
Plenty of accommodation scattered around the island, including the ideally located Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat, a personal favorite. Also worth checking out is the National Park accommodation.
The kangaroos and wallabies may let you get quite close but the birds won’t, and the National Park staff are going to keep you away from the sea lions. So long lenses if you’re going for the photography and binoculars if not. On top of that, remember the following:
- Polarizing filter
- Plenty of memory capacity or film
- Cleaning cloth and brush – sand could be an issue
- Wet weather gear
- Good flashlight
How many days do you need on Kangaroo Island?
If it’s for photography then two weeks still won’t see you bored, if it’s for viewing then don’t try to do the island in less than three days. Plenty of people get the coach tour from Penneshaw and are back off the island the same day but they miss so much.