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Hop to it! Head to Kangaroo Island

Hop to it! Head to Kangaroo Island

There’s always something special about islands by nature of their very isolation. That’s certainly true of Kangaroo Island, named by Matthew Flinders in 1802 because he saw a lot of western grey kangaroos here. Not far behind him was the French explorer Nicolas Baudin who gave this South Australian island many of its French names.

While the closest point of the island is less than 15km from the South Australian coast it hasn’t been easy – or cheap – to get here. You need to either catch the ferry from the Fleurieu Peninsula to Penneshaw (four departures daily) or fly from Adelaide with REX – it’s a 30-minute flight.

However, starting December 2017 QantasLink will begin a new Kangaroo Route and fly into Kangaroo Island from Adelaide three times a week, increasing to five flights a week in the peak summer season (December-March). It will also trial a direct flight from Melbourne three times a week from December 17 until January 28. It’s hoped that this new competition may reduce fares overall.

Flinders Chase National Park has two of the three iconic sights of Kangaroo island: Remarkable Rocks and Admirals Arch, right on the southwest corner. Midway along the south coast is the other: Seal Beach.

Don’t underestimate the size of Kangaroo Island. It has more than 500km of coastline and it’s a 150km drive from east to west. And, as South Australians have known for generations, Kangaroo Island is a remarkable place to visit. While most of the eastern end of the island is farmland the whole of the west is national park.

Nature touring

A feature of the island is its wildlife. We were fortunate to be shown around the island by Craig Wickham of Exceptional Kangaroo Island who found us kangaroos, wallabies and koalas in the wild. Exceptional Kangaroo Island is part of the Australian Wildlife Collection, a consortium of Australia’s best nature experiences.

We had a lot of time to observe this because, unlike my few other echidna encounters, this one ignored us and went about its business of finding dinner. We kept our distance and it walked with us. That's another benefit of visiting an island – the animals are not skittish.

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A highlight of touring with Craig was a visit to Lathami Conservation Park near the north coast. We had the whole reserve to ourselves.

While observing wallabies cautiously watching us, an echidna waddled past. Craig told us that the apparent waddle is because the spines go deep into an echidna’s muscle so they move as each muscle moves.

Exceptional Kangaroo Island truly proved its worth as we were leaving the island. Our REX flight was delayed so Craig rushed to the airport to tell us he’d seen a South Australian glossy black cockatoo just minutes from the runway.

We jumped in his 4WD and spent 15 minutes watching the bird with her spectacular red tail and yellow head flashes as she noisily cracked sheoak seeds.

That was very special because this bird once ranged across South Australia, however, by 1995, the population was restricted to about 200 surviving on Kangaroo Island.

There’s now a recovery program in place and the bird we saw is one of an estimated 350. So the population has almost doubled. Being whisked from the Departure Lounge to see it made the moment more special.

Kingscote

Kingscote is the main town of KI (as the locals call it) and it houses about a third of the island’s population of 4500. It has all the regular services you’d expect.

The local art and jewellery at Fine Art Kangaroo Island is especially worth a visit. So too is Island Beehive, which offers a range of unique KI honeys and other products in a large showroom with an active beehive on display.

There are some good local wines, too – and enough wineries for a tour. We visited the Islander Estate Vineyards and left with several bottles of its excellent Wally White 2015 semillon.

Southern Ocean Lodge

There’s no shortage of accommodation across KI from hotels, motels, guest houses, B&Bs, hostels and camping. However, one resort attracts inordinate attention because it is simply beautiful.

Southern Ocean Lodge is a spectacular all-inclusive luxury resort in a remarkable location. On a ridge above Hanson Bay and wedged between Flinders Chase National Park and Cape Bouguer Wilderness Protection Area, this glass edifice is theatrical in its simplicity.

It’s been rated as one of the Top 100 lodges in the world and the exquisite detail in the 21 rooms and in the Great Room plus the cuisine – and the range of freely available SA wines – could keep you housebound for days. That would be no hardship as the wild panorama outside is breathtaking.

Natural wonders

The lodge is also down the action end of the island. From here it’s a short drive into the National Park. On the way we stopped to visit some very active koalas and fields of lounging kangaroos.

Admirals Arch is accessed by a windswept, switchback boardwalk that makes the descent more like tacking than walking. While the arch is indeed grand, it’s the playful seals and sea lions down here that capture your attention.

Remarkable Rocks are just that. The wind-carved sculptured boulders daubed in golden lichen on a giant granite dome seem carved by a giant Henry Moore or another imaginative sculptor.

On the main southern road between Southern Ocean Lodge and the airport is Seal Bay Conservation Park. From the visitor centre you can go down onto the beach for a rare chance to walk among Australian sea lions. Up to 1000 sea lions visit here so there’s a very good chance you’ll find some at home – even pups cavorting in the tussock.

It’s exciting that the new air services will make KI more accessible than ever before. More of us will have the chance to discover a laid-back island community living with some of Australia’s greatest nature experiences and natural attractions.

Written by David McGonigal. Republished with permission of Wyza.com.au.