Why is Australia’s Kangaroo Island a nature lover’s paradise?
Kangaroo Island is a naturalists’ heaven. Below is an account of our experience of this amazing place.
Please note that parts of Kangaroo Island were badly affected by the bushfires in early 2020, and tragically, the beautiful Southern Ocean Lodge has been lost. However, the Australian bush is resilient and this spectacular property will be rebuilt over the next few years. In the meantime, it is still possible to visit Kangaroo Island, staying in smaller private villas – and the islanders need our support through tourism. Our thoughts are with them at this incredibly challenging time.
Australia‘s third-largest island after Tasmania and Melville is a naturalists’ heaven and one of the country’s best areas to see large populations of endemic animals up close. Separated from the mainland eons ago, Kangaroo Island is home to more than 65,000 kangaroos and just under 5,000 people.
In 1802, British explorer, Captain Matthew Flinders, discovered the island while mapping the south coast of Australia. As he and his companions landed, they came across a large number of kangaroos, which Flinders likened to those on the east coast. These were shot and eaten by the crew, who were beginning to grow increasingly hungry as a result of the small food rations on the ship. In his journal, Flinders wrote, “In gratitude for so seasonable a supply, I named this southern land Kanguroo (sic) Island.”
Many of Australia’s other unique creatures are found, including koalas, wallabies, possums, bandicoots, echidnas and platypuses. There are also about 200 different species of bird on Kangaroo Island and the country’s biggest bird of prey resides here: the wedge-tailed eagle. The climate is extreme; in general, the winters can be very wet and cold and the summers hot and dry, so spring and autumn are the best time to view wildlife.
I was on Kangaroo Island in April, when autumn was in full swing, staying at the preeminent Southern Ocean Lodge, which has one of the most memorable locations of any hotel I have visited in the world. Set on a secluded clifftop facing out to sea, it is so sensitively designed that it blends seamlessly with this rugged, untouched landscape. With nothing between the lodge and Antarctica, the ocean crashes along the shore for most of the day, which is fantastically beautiful to watch, especially at sunrise and sunset. Although the colour of the waters are every hue of turquoise, the currents are too strong for swimming here and a fair few great white sharks are seen off these wild shores. However, swimmable beaches protected by reefs are only a short hike away.
All of our guides are long-term residents who are passionate about their home. Some are farmers or small business owners and others are naturalists, but most are born and bred here. They are true storytellers – not rattling off something they have pre-learnt but bringing this amazing isle to life before your eyes. We encourage our clients to spend at least three nights on Kangaroo Island. Our guides will take you to observe sea eagles and osprey, view ancient fossil beds and take a private boat out to swim with bottlenose dolphins in shallow and protected waters – a truly magical experience.
One of my favourite days on the island began with a walk to see the massive Remarkable Rocks, which look like a dramatic natural sculpture perched on top of a granite dome that emerges from the ocean. From there, we continued on foot to Lathami Conservation Park to meet with our wonderful guide and wildlife expert – always looking out for wallabies (which are almost extinct on the mainland) and a kangaroo species only found here, and learning about local birds and plants. We stopped along the way at Stokes Bay, a hidden, white-sand beach, for a quick dip before a delicious barbecue.
Later, we travelled by road to Seal Bay for a private encounter with the Australian sea-lion colony there. I finished the day at the Southern Ocean Lodge’s private historic cottage, which looks out to dozens of kangaroos in their natural habitat. Here, we sat with a glass of wine and watched the roos in the quiet stillness of the bush, as the last rays of sunlight cast a dusky glow over the island.
Another highlight was the opportunity to meet the world’s leading authority on echidnas. Dr Peggy Rismiller has been researching the natural history and ecology of short-beaked echidnas on Kangaroo Island since 1991. In recent years, she has expanded her project to include Rosenberg’s goannas, a large monitor lizard that shares the echidna’s habitat and is an important predator of these spiny mammals. Accompanied by Peggy, our clients can explore this natural habitat and learn about the life history and biology of these two ancient species, which have survived global change for millennia.
Kangaroo Island is the kind of place where slow travel is a way of life. This is not somewhere you go to tick boxes, but somewhere to relax and tune into this leisurely pace. The isle is big and the distances to cover can take up big chunks of the day, so we focus on the quality of the guided experiences rather than the quantity.