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Australia’s third-largest island is nestled off the coast of mainland South Australia.
With an abundance of native flora and fauna, Kangaroo Island is considered one of Australia’s foremost destinations for wildlife-viewing.
Known as a ‘zoo without fences’, the Islands’ isolation from the mainland during the last ice age transformed it into an ecological haven. One-third of the island is protected by national parks and the marine protected area on the southern coast encompasses twelve unique habitats.
Here, sea lions enjoy priority on the beaches. The local park rangers have built tiny homes for fairy penguins that come ashore each night, and kangaroos and echidnas have the right-of-way. Visitors can observe a colony of New Zealand Fur Seals and even swim alongside them without disturbing their daily routines. Several sea eagle nesting sites and an osprey site are only accessibly by sea, along with remote and untouched beaches.
Under the water, keep your eyes peeled for a leafy sea dragon while cruising through an ancient fossil bed that has been dated at more than 520 years old. These uniquely adapted seahorses draw divers from the world over, known for their delicate beauty and ability to camouflage against the kelp seascape.
Vivonne Bay is said to be one of Australia’s most beautiful beaches with sweeping views over a bay of bright blue, crystal clear water surrounded by white sandy cliffs. The curved beach is an idyllic backdrop for a lazy summer’s day on Kangaroo Island, and the perfect location for a morning stroll.
Nearby is Seal Bay, home to Australia’s third-largest sea lion colony and where visitors can come close to these endangered marine mammals.
Continue your discovery at Raptor Domain wildlife sanctuary, an environmental education and rehabilitation centre that offers interactive experiences with wildlife. Observe or take part in conservation efforts to protect orphaned and sick birds of prey in their care.
The west of Kangaroo Island is known for penguin colonies and striking coastal rock formations, most notably the Remarkable Rocks and the stalactite-covered Admirals Arch.
The Remarkable Rocks are a collection of giant boulders sculpted into strange shapes by wind and sea and delicately poised on the crest of a massive granite outcropping in Flinders Chase National Park. Weathered over 500 million years, they have earned their name resembling anything from bear’s heads to whale vertebrae. Poised overlooking the great Southern Ocean towards Antarctica, Kangaroo Islands’ south coast can feel like the edge of the earth.
Antechamber Bay, located on the north coast of the Dudley Peninsula, is one of Kangaroo Island’s finest coastal havens.
At one end of the bay, Lashmar Conservation Park is known for its lush bushland and native wildlife. Enjoy long walks along the bay, or swim in the clear turquoise water. Choose between kayaking up the Chapman River, or a walk along the river to discover historic gravesites and the Aboriginal Women to Kangaroo Island Memorial, which remembers the Aboriginal women brought to the island from the Fleurieu Peninsula to assist the sealers to survive on the island.
At the other end of the bay, Cape Willoughby extends into the ‘Backstairs Passage’, the narrow strait between Kangaroo Island and the Fleurieu Peninsula named by Matthew Flinders as the ‘private entrance’ to the two gulfs. Lighting this 14km wide strait is the Cape Willoughby Light Station. Hike the bold rocky headland to the Lighthouse, circled by crashing waves, and tour the Lighthouse Keeper’s cottage.
As romantic symbols of Australia’s rich maritime history, lighthouses have long captured the collective imagination of the Nation. These vital beacons stand tall to announce the dangers that lie ahead to passing ships but are also symbols of isolation and strength.
Cape Willoughby Conservation Park is home to South Australia’s first lighthouse and is rich in maritime history.
Once playing a vital role in the shipping trade of the young colony of South Australia before the arrival of efficient forms of land transport, the Cape Willoughby light station was built to assist the safe journey of ships passing through the treacherous stretch of water known as Backstairs Passage between Kangaroo Island and the mainland during a time of rapidly expanding coastal shipping trade between the eastern colonies and the colony of South Australia.
Kangaroo Island forms a natural breakwater for the Gulf St Vincent accessible only via Backstairs Passage, or the Investigator Strait. The unpredictable and rough coastline of Kangaroo Island claimed many ships and lives during the 1800s, most often wrecked due to inadequate knowledge or charts, poor navigation skills, or a result of wild and unpredictable seas and weather.
More than 80 shipwrecks have been recorded on Kangaroo Island following colonisation in 1836. Some like Loch Sloy, Loch Vennachar, Osmanli and You Yangs were both dramatic and tragic. Many, such as Portland Maru, offer fascinating and rewarding experiences for divers.
The Kangaroo Island Shipwreck Trail explores the history of the island from when Matthew Flinders became the first European to record it during his survey in the HMS Investigator in 1802.
British explorer, Matthew Flinders, commanding HMS Investigator, named the island “Kanguroo Island” in 1802, owing to the remarkable number of endemic kangaroos sighted after landing near Kangaroo Head on the north coast of the Dudley Peninsula.
He was closely followed by the French explorer Commander Nicolas Baudin, who was the first European to circumnavigate and chart much of the island. Although the French and the British were at war at the time, the intrepid explorers met peacefully.
Aboriginal peoples have been the custodians of South Australia for thousands of generations. The lands and waters of, and around, Kangaroo Island are of high cultural and spiritual significance to several Aboriginal Nations, in particular the Ramindjeri, Ngarrindjeri, Kaurna and Narungga, all of whom have cultural stories associated with the Island.
Known as Karta (Island of the Dead) by Aboriginal tribes on Australia’s mainland, the discovery of stone tools and shell middens confirm that Aboriginal people once lived on Kangaroo Island. It is thought that they occupied the island as long ago as 16,000 years before the present and may have only disappeared from the island as recently as 2,000 years ago.
In recent times, Kangaroo Island has become renowned for its ‘paddock to plate’ produce, from fresh oysters to wine from local vineyards. Benefiting from a clean and green environment, local producers celebrate natural processes to produce top-quality food products such as dairy and honey.
The wildfires that consumed vast swathes of Australia last summer started on Kangaroo Island in December 2019, after lightning strikes on the islands’ north coast and remote western bushland areas escalated, fuelled by high winds and temperatures. West of Vivonne Bay towards Flinders Chase, guests of Coral Expeditions ‘Across the Bight’ itinerary will see the damage caused the Kangaroo Island bushfires, and where vegetation has started its recovery.
Much terrain that was previously hidden under vegetation is now revealed, including a rolling formation of ancient sand dunes from many thousands of years ago.
Vegetation along the southwest coastline near Remarkable Rocks is expected to take longer to recover than vegetation on the inland of the coast. Grass trees (xanthorrhoea) have been flowering, feeding birds with the nectar produced from the flower. Wallaby and Kangaroo numbers are the first to proliferate, so we will see the numbers of these species increase as time goes by.