Getting to Kangaroo Island
Saturday morning, 6.30am. It’s time to wake up, the plane won’t wait for me! Quick shower, little breakfast, last bags check to make sure I haven’t forgot anything and I’m jumping onto the first train to the airport.
The plane from Sydney to Adelaide takes two hours and ten minutes, quite short when you already experienced traveling from Europe to Australia. Once we get there, my friend and I run into the car rental company (who never did this to be the first and avoid waiting ages!?), quickly check the car and let’s go for this 3 day adventure!
Kangaroo Island is accessible by both plane and ferry. We chose the second option for the way in and the first one on the way back to give us more time to explore the island. On the first day we stopped at many great places on the way to Cape Jervis where the ferry is but I will detailed this on a separate article later on.
Kangaroo Island is huge: over 4,400km² and 150km from East to West. It’s the third Australian island after Tasmania and Melville Island so we will definitely have space! Its limited accommodation choices combined with the size of the island makes it wild and isolated. We barely met other people but on biggest tourist sites – and even there, it wasn’t crowded at all. Wilderness also means poor or no network, a great way to disconnect from your day to day routine.
When we board on one of the last ferries to the island at the end of the first day, we were rewarded by a beautiful sunset over the ocean with red and orange colors. Once arrived, it was only a few minutes’ drive to the Airbnb we booked in Penneshaw, not far from the pier. That’s where I saw the first kangaroo of the trip, I’m starting to understand why the island is called that way!
Seal Bay and Little Sahara
Here we go, first day on the island. The planning is tight, so we better get ready quickly. Our first destination is the little beach of Pennington Bay, famous for its surfing and beautiful scenery. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t that warm so I am not going for a swim this time! A little walk among the rocks lead to the beach where the water is so clear I almost want to change my mind. Getting there early morning is probably the best way to enjoy the relaxing atmosphere of the place and slowly waking up while hearing the sound of the waves.
The next step is one of the most visited places on the island: Seal Bay Conservation Park, home to the largest colony of Australian sea lions. In the 19th century Australian sea lions were nearly hunted to extinction. Nowadays, with a total population of fewer than 12,000 the species is still considered as endangered but is recovering.
There are two ways to observe sea lions: by yourself walking on an upright footpath by the beach or with a guide on the beach. I am quite happy that I chose the first option – less expensive by the way – as you can still see them pretty well. Some are resting on the sand dunes few meters away from the boardwalk. I even got luckier when a mum with her pup came up very close to the path to say hello!
After an hour observing these fascinating creatures, it was time to go to the next place, Little Sahara. To be honest I wasn’t sure what to expect. I saw so many different sand dunes from huge to small and was a bit afraid to be disappointed. But I have to admit, I was surprised as that little desert is quite huge. It’s on a private property but god news, it’s free. It’s so different to what you’ll see on the island that I would say it’s worth a visit and if you’d like to have a bit of fun, you can hire a sand-board to ride down the dunes!
Nearby Little Sahara, Vivonne Bay will fill you with wonder. We found here an endless white sand beach and water with a stunning blue color. That is also one of the safest places to swim on the island as the bay protects you from big waves and streams. While driving along the coast we ended up to Point Ellen, the southernmost point of the bay. The long town’s jetty is nice to walk on, that’s also where all boats return at the end of the day with a fresh catch – must be a nice thing to witness as the sun goes down. If you still would like some extra sea air before going back to your car, there is a short walk leading to the Point Ellen light where you’ll have a perfect view of the entire bay.
Back to the car, we are now driving towards the south west of the island. Before reaching our next step we stop at the Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary & Café for lunch. The large fields around the café are filled with kangaroos and beautiful Cape Barren gooses, time to get some pictures. After lunch and as we were driving, we saw a long shadow moving on the roadside… After parking the car we have it confirmed: first snake of the day! At first sight I won’t be able to say what it is but we asked locals later on that day and we got an answer: that is a tiger snake. Known for their black color on Kangaroo Island, they are also known for their large size, aggressiveness and toxic venom… Lucky that we didn’t get too close!
Despite many clouds in the sky, Hanson Bay looks beautiful. I can easily imagine why many people choose the place to stay overnight and enjoy fishing at the end of the day. This small and secluded bay is the gateway to the iconic wilderness trail which will take you all the way to Cape du Couedic on a wonderful coastal track. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to do the hike and reached the Cape by car.
Once we entered Flinders Chase National Park, we were amazed by its never ending and meandering roads between hills. The park is huge, there is no network or place of residence and is located at the southeast end of Kangaroo Island making it one of the most pristine wilderness and rangeland areas in Australia. Flinders Chase National Park is full of wildlife and if you pay close attention to your surroundings you’ll see plenty of it! On our way we saw an echidna digging around to find some insects and a big goanna feeding on a termite mound. We couldn’t have asked for more.
Remarkable Rocks and Admiral Arch
I knew Kangaroo Island was wild but I wouldn’t have expected to encounter that many animals or even witness some of the most beautiful landscapes in Australia. But we were on the way to be even more astonished by our next destinations: Remarkable Rocks and Admirals Arch. As we were about ten minutes away from Remarkable Rocks, we left the bush and eucalyptus forest to drive along splendid and steep cliffs.
Perched at 75m above the sea and atop a rocky dome of fossilized lava, you can’t miss them. Formed over a period of 500 million years by rain, wind, and waves, these granite boulders look like magnificent sculptures. The short wooden boardwalk leading to them gives you plenty of time to appreciate the moment as you come closer to the rocks. If you haven’t read about it before, you wouldn’t expect that are natural elements that shaped them. Many of the rocks have some small cavities to hide into or are easy to climb – for the smallest – if you’d like taking a picture at the top. I don’t know how many pictures I took but definitely a lot. The orange lichen spread over the rocks combined with the late afternoon sunlight makes wonderful pictures. Remarkable indeed!
Because we wanted to watch the sunset at Admirals Arch we went back to the car for a short drive to Cape du Couedic. The treacherous waters around claimed 79 lives and at least three ships sank before the lighthouse was established in 1909. Built with local stones, the lighthouse was only accessible by sea during the first years and the area still remains very wild today. As we started walking from the upper car park down the hill on a stony little walk, we gazed at stunning landscapes.
Before going down to the Arch and as we continued on the path along the coast, we passed a colony of New Zealand fur seal resting on a pebble beach at the foot of the cliffs. Further away, a kangaroo with her baby came nearby feeding on the grass, neither alarmed nor intrigued to see us. Do you now understand why I consider the island as one of most incredible place I went to?!
It’s time now, and as the sun is setting on the horizon, we are making our way to the Arch on the scenic boardwalk near the cliffs. A group of friend also came to watch the sunset but beside them we are alone and will have plenty of space to enjoy the moment. After walking around few blocks of rocks we can admire it. The view is splendid. It’s like an art masterpiece: it took thousands of years of erosion for the Arch to form. From the viewing platform we can see the ocean and waves cracking on the rocks with the sun behind them. A couple of seals are also playing in the rock pools underneath Admirals Arch, what a majestic time!
We definitely saw more than we thought on this first day – but wait we were not ready for what was coming. Back on the road, we are very careful as nightlife is very common. On our way to the campsite we may have encountered something like ten kangaroos and as much as possums, an owl and other nocturnal species. But the most priceless moment came about twenty minutes after we left when a koala crossed the road in front of the car! A bit scared by the lights, we tried to move the car quickly enough to not blind the cute marsupial but still had time to capture that moment. I couldn’t believe it…a koala! My head full of memories I could sleep peacefully. What a wonderful island…
Because there is so much to see on Kangaroo Island, I decided to split my story into two articles, this one detailing my first day along the south coast and another one with places I explored the following day on the northern part of the island.