Ask anyone ten years ago, and Australia’s third largest island, Kangaroo Island, didn’t need a detailed explanation…the clue was in its name.
It was best known for kangaroos and not much else… aside from chilly winds and Australia’s third largest sea lion rookery. But, that’s all changed…or at least its perception has (Kangaroo Island is still bloody cold, y’all).
A recent influx of investment and start-ups has made the podium for best in Kangaroo-Island-show a little crowded – especially with an award-winning distillery, fromagerie and Marron farm to its name.
With at least three major food groups covered (cheese, gin & seafood), there’s good reason Kangaroo Island is quickly becoming a foodie’s destination de-jour.
If you’ve been wondering what lies south of the Garden City, here’s my recommendations on what to see and do on KI – one mouthful, adventure and photo at a time:
1. Travel from lighthouse to lighthouse on Kangaroo Island
Lighthouses on Kangaroo Island do more than just plot the course for ships – they’re the perfect tool to plot your self-drive holiday around.
I’d recommend, you make like a skipper and drive between the icons – or at very least travel Cape Willoughby to Cape du Couedic Lighthouse (east to west) if you want to see the best the island has to offer.
Cape Willoughby is the oldest lighthouse in KI’s family of four, dating back to 1852. If the winds here don’t blow you away, the views certainly will as you stand at the eastern most tip of the island.
Pack your walking shoes – there’s a one-hour walking circuit around Cape Willoughby, which is worth braving the elements to see the Southern Ocean in action.
2. Take bae to Seal Bay
If the opportunity to walk on the beach with sea lions doesn’t have you booking a flight direct to Kangaroo Island this minute – check your pulse you tin man with no heart.
Home to Australia’s third largest colony of sea lions (yep, 85% of the Aussie sea lion population take a vacay to KI each year too), you have good reason to move Seal Bay Conservation Park to the top of your to-visit list.
This is a no-cages, no-enclosures kind of wild experience, where for $35/adult, a guide will walk you onto the beach where pups play, mothers catch some zzzs and bulls sumo wrestle like they do in wildlife documentaries.
You’re likely to see seal pups each winter – and you can easily run out of memory card just photographing them.
3. Taste Ligurian Honey…more than once
There’s no doubt – the world is a buzz with boutique honey. It just so happens that Kangaroo Island was 132 years ahead of its time – an accidental-hive-hipster, if you will.
Ligurian bees were introduced to the island back in 1884 to protect their genetic identity from external threat, making KI the ultimate trendsetter.
Today the island lays claim to a disease free and genetically pure Ligurian bee, and is a main player on the world stage when it comes to bee protection.
Although you’ll see the insects everywhere – there’re only two key outlets to steal the amber gold direct from the monarchy – Clifford’s Honey Farm and Island Beehive – and both manufacture just about every honey product you could imagine. Honey hair masque, anyone?
4. Get your wine on
If there’s one thing the custodians of Kangaroo Island know, it’s wine.
The island has 12 wineries to sate the appetite of the 4000 odd people who live here – a wine : population ratio I could get used to!
Time your visit to coincide with lunch and enjoy a cheese platter with a vine-selection, while lapping up views of one of the most enviable coastlines on the planet. Trust me, Bay of Shoals Wines – just outside of the capital, Kingscote, has views as good as its vino.
Aside from the obligatory hard, soft and blue cheese– you’ll also get a taste of their fig salami made on the island’s very own figgery, which will change the way you look at quince paste ever again.
5. Did someone say cheese?
If you weren’t aware already, you are now – if I did a body composition test at any one time, I’d be at least 40% pecorino cheese.
Needless to say, the opportunity to visit a fromagerie that specialises in sheep cheese ticked a few boxes for this little blogger.
For less than five dollars, Island Pure will give you a cooks-tour of the farm, meet the girls (the sheep) and taste your way around their dairy cabinet.
From the hardness of their Manchengo to the softness of their Labneh, they’ve got every cheese lover catered for.
Sure, the tasting tour is an absolute bargain, but they’ll have the last laugh as you hand over your credit card for take home supplies (I guarantee you’ll leave laden). I left with armfuls of their sheep yoghurt… Ligurian honey flavoured of course.
6. Soak up #nofilter views
If you’re chasing Instagram pictures to ignite serious co-worker envy, stop in at Pennington Bay Lookout – for a beach that’s seriously a babe.
You’ll fill your camera roll with pictures of waves crashing down the southern side of the island – the same aspect that Southern Ocean Lodge (the most luxurious place to stay) has over the island.
Double your viewing-trouble, by following Pennington Bay Lookout with a trip to the top of Prospect Hill for full-blown aerial views of this nugget of an island.
Trust me, the view from the top is worth every one of the 512 steps up to get there.
7. Go crazy for crustaceans
It seems somewhat odd that the meat speciality on Kangaroo Island is not a mammal at all, rather a freshwater crayfish called Marron.
There’s one true spot to get your fix – Andermel Marron – a marron farm/restaurant/tourist attraction where you can sample the island’s finest crustacean.
Take a guided tour of the farm, where you’ll see marron from juveniles to adults, before they’re served on your plate.
If you’re like me – I’d suggest taking the tour after you’ve eaten. I don’t ever like to look my meal in the eye.
8. Go deep underground
Blink and you could easily miss the turn off to the Kelly Hill Caves on your way to Flinders Chase National Park – but trust me – these crystal-caverns are well-worth the detour.
For just $16/adult, you can go under Kangaroo Island’s surface and delve into a limestone cave system that’s 500,000 years old.
Regardless of the temperature outside, it’s a cool 16 degrees and 80 per cent humidity inside the caves – a nice break of the wintery winds if you choose to travel over June, July and August.
Stalactite, stalagmite, shawl, helictite and column formations – they’re all here – and an experienced guide will point out the difference for you if your rock knowledge only covers kitchen benchtops.
Hot tip: The tours run on the hour – so you might like to bring your hiking boots for a short burn around the walking tracks while you wait for your tour.
9. Wrap your laughing gear around a local drop
A wise British writer once wrote “A perfect martini should be made by filling a glass with gin then waving it in the general direction of Italy” – Noël Coward.
I trust Noel never tasted Old Tom Gin from Kangaroo Island Spirits, because he wouldn’t have filled a glass, it would have been a goblet – this gin is #boss. It’s not just me who thinks so either. Kangaroo Island Spirits’ (KIS) own Old Tom Gin was crowned Australian Gin Champion at the Australian Distilled Spirits Awards (2016), after beating out 44 Aussie competitors.
Gin isn’t all they brew here – they’ve got vodkas and liqueurs too, which can make drawing short straws for designated driver a tricky task.
What’s more, all KIS spirits are a vision of ‘health’, made according to the “slow spirit” practice – distilling’s answer to the slow food movement.
You haven’t heard of the slow spirit movement? Well, pull up a barstool and ask chief brewers Jon and Sarah Lark about local ingredients and old-school distilling processes, and settle in for a lesson in brewing basics.
10. Brace yourself for something Remarkable
Flinders Chase National Park is undoubtedly the crème dela crème of Kangaroo Island’s natural attractions – best known for the granite Remarkable Rocks, Admirals Arch, lighthouses and various lookouts.
It took mother nature 500 million years of rain, wind, and pounding waves to create these geological masterpieces, so you’ll want to give them atleast a day of your time to explore properly.
The Remarkable Rocks are a photographer’s dream – covered by bright orange lichen, set against the deep blue waves of the Southern Ocean.
Build in time to explore Admirals Arch because there are several seal distractions on the way. This time, New Zealand fur seals who inhabit the western tip of the island. If nothing else, I promise you’ll leave KI a seal expert.
Hot tip: The coffee shop at the Visitor Centre is home to the best coffee on the island.
Car or no car?
Don’t let a cursory glance at a map deceive you – Kangaroo Island is bigger than she looks – spanning 150 kilometres nose to tail. It’s definitely the kind of place you need a car to get around – but make sure you’ve got unlimited kilometres because the sights will have you crisscrossing the island.
How long should you stay for?
We stayed three nights, four days, which was optimum to tick off the sites. Sure, you could spend less time…but where’s the relaxation or flexibility for naps in that?
Getting to the island?
It’s easy enough to arrive into Adelaide airport, collect your car, and make it to Kangaroo Island all in one day. The drive from Adelaide to Cape Jervis where Sea Link ferry departs is only 107-kilometres. Mind you, the Fleurieu Peninsula and McLaren Vale Wine Region separates you and the ferry, so allow enough time for distractions *cough* wineries.
Things they don’t tell you online?
The passage between the mainland and KI is rough, so pack your seasickness tablets and landlegs.
There are supermarkets on the island, but expect food to be island-prices.
Still have KI questions? Drop me a line and I’ll get back to you.
**This blog was written in the opinion of the writer, uninfluenced by external sources.