Taking its name from Australia’s most famous resident marsupial, Kangaroo Island is the country’s third largest island, separated from the mainland by the strait of Backstairs Passage. While only 70 miles south west of Adelaide, the island feels a world away from the hubbub of the mainland — with native bushland and plentiful wildlife creating a pristine wilderness, ripe for exploration.
That’s not to say Kangaroo Island is an isolated speck of land bereft of heritage and culture, however. On the contrary, the island’s rich seafaring and agricultural legacy has contributed to a unique culture whose people are fiercely proud of their islander heritage. Add to that a long history of viticulture, and Kangaroo Island emerges as one of southern Australia’s most popular and highly-regarded destinations.
For those joining Scenic on a luxury tour of Australia, here we offer a complete visitor’s guide to Kangaroo Island, including a brief history of the island and a handful of its enriching highlights.
Long before rising sea levels separated it from the mainland, Australian Aborigines occupied Kangaroo Island, living among the native bushland in small tribes. Stone tools and evidence of shellfish feasts excavated from the island show that Aborigines lived here around 16,000 years ago, leaving only when rising sea levels cut the island off from the mainland.
For the next ten millennia, Kangaroo Island remained uninhabited, with only the resident wildlife left to forage and breed on the island. All this changed on 23 March 1802 however, when British explorer Matthew Flinders arrived on the island’s shores, later naming it Kangaroo Island due to its large population of western grey kangaroo.
Flinders was followed closely by French explorer, Nicolas Baudin, who became the first European to map the entire island (a fact which explains the island’s numerous French names). While the French and British were at war during this time, the two men met peacefully, and a community was established on the island in which sailors from around the world could trade.
In the decades that followed, Kangaroo Island flourished as a fishing colony, with the first ship ever constructed in south Australia built here in 1803. Despite its prominence as a centre for fishing and marine trade, the island grew infamy for its dangerous coastline, which caused hundreds of shipwrecks before the arrival of a string of lighthouses around the island. The island’s four original Victorian-era lighthouses continue to be operational today.
By the time south Australia’s main colony had formed in the middle of the 19th century, agriculture had become the main economy on Kangaroo Island, with islanders exporting grapes, honey, wool, meat and grain to the mainland. Traditional sheep grazing remains one of the island’s biggest sources of income, with fishing, wine production and tourism providing the remainder of the island’s revenue.
Today, Kangaroo Island has retained its native wildlife, and several national parks and reserves have been established to preserve the local population. The island’s largest settlement is Kingscote, whose traditional fishing cottages sit shoulder to shoulder with new restaurants, cafés and bars — creating an intimate and charming backdrop.
From its wonderful native wildlife to its fascinating seafaring heritage, Kangaroo Island has much to offer the discerning traveller. Here, we explore a handful of the island’s must-see highlights.
Flinders Chase National Park
Named after Kangaroo Island’s original founder, Flinders Chase National Park is the island’s largest protected nature reserve, containing much of its rare wildlife. The park is located to the west of the island, and contains three distinct areas, including Cape du Couedic, The Gosse Lands and Cape Borda — each comprising of its own unique features, flora and animal life.
As you’d expect, Flinders Chase is home to a number of different native species, originally becoming a sanctuary for wildlife in 1919. Kangaroos, goannas, echidnas and little penguins can all be found in large numbers within the park, and a number of non-native species also exist, including platypus and koala bears.
Seal Bay Conservation Park
Despite its name, Kangaroo Island is home to another permanent resident, seals. These aquatic mammals have made a permanent home on the island’s choppy south coast, and live in such high numbers that a sanctuary was created for them in 1967. Seal Bay Conservation Park stretches from the suburbs of Kingscote to the end of Vivonne Bay, and is considered one of the island’s most popular tourist destinations.
As well as seals, the conservation park is home to a raft of other marine life, including the third largest colony of Australian sea lions in the southern hemisphere. While visitors aren’t allowed on the beach unsupervised, guided tours are available for those hoping to get up close to these wonderful aquatic creatures.
Kangaroo Island Brewery
While wine is the order of the day in most parts of Kangaroo Island — thanks to the presence of thirty independent wineries; we want to introduce you to another, slightly more unique ‘cellar door’ experience, Kangaroo Island Brewery.
Located in the town of Kingscote, this small microbrewery is the first brewery ever established on Kangaroo Island — which is surprising, given its surplus of beer-producing crops. Though small, the Kangaroo Island Brewery has big ambition, and offers tastings of its signature brews in a rustic, hand-built bar area — perfect for those who have grown tired of the grape, and fancy switching to the grain.
Emu Ridge Eucalyptus, Macgillivray
Eucalyptus oil was Australia’s first major export, and much of it was produced at Kangaroo Island’s Emu Ridge Eucalyptus, Macgillivray. This historic site, which is the only remaining commercial eucalyptus oil distillery in south Australia, gives great insight into how eucalyptus oil has been produced over the past century. Guided and self-guided tours are available within the historic distillery, so you can trace the lineage of one of Australia’s oldest, grass-roots products.
What’s more, Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Macgillivray boasts an excellent retail outlet, where you can pick up many of the centre’s all-natural health and beauty products. There’s also an intimate dining area which extends out onto an alfresco terrace — the perfect place to enjoy a bite to eat amid beautiful surroundings.
If a visit to Kangaroo Island sounds like the perfect way to spend a couple of days during a luxury escorted tour, check out our collection of Australian tour itineraries. Alternatively, for further help and information, call us today on 0808 271 8435.