Kangaroo island is Australia's third largest island and over recent decades has become one of the world's greatest wildlife destinations - an accessible isle that offers exceptional opportunities to observe birds, mammals and marine life in their natural habitats. This reputation was recognised by National Geographic Traveller, with 552 experts voting Kangaroo Island as the top island in the Asia Pacific for sustainable tourism and environmental protection. Meanwhile a University of Sydney selection panel has chosen Vivonne Bay on KI's south coast as Australia's best beach.
Many elements merge to make Kangaroo Island a special experience. The encounters with landscape, weather and wildlife fit together to create a vivid picture of life in progress.
With nearly two thirds of its original vegetation still intact, Kangaroo Island is one of the most significant ecological assets in southern Australia. There's a rich diversity of habitats: forest and woodlands, heaths and mallee scrub, sheltered lagoons and bays, wild surf shores and daunting clifflines. It also has among the most pristine freshwater catchments in temperate Australia. A relatively small number of people and the restricted road network help provide a buffer of protection for these domains. Even more critical to the island's natural integrity, is the absence of rabbits and foxes - the feral scourges of the mainland.
Kangaroo Island Landscape
In cross-section the island is wedge-shaped and slopes north to south from the high ironstone plateau to the low-lying southern shores. Geologically speaking, Kangaroo Island has the same ancestry as the Mt Lofty and Flinders ranges with underlying sedimentary rocks that formed in the Adelaide Geosyncline 800 to 500 million years ago. At different places around the island - most obviously in exposed coastal cliffs and shorelines - this ancient metamorphic basement is revealed. The island is home to significant tribolite specimens and other cambrian fossils, as well as megafauna fossils from the late pleistocene.
Most of the visible land surface in the south is, however, much younger. At times of higher sea level than today, much of the southern part of the island was suberged as ocean floor with an accumulation of marine deposits. In other glacial periods over the past million years - when sea levels were more than 100m lower than today – extreme winds blew calcium-rich sands inland. Over time these sands cemented together and added to the sheet limestone that now dominates the south coast. The same winds also created the massive dunes that eventually bridged the waterway that once separated Kangaroo Island from the outlying Dudley Peninsula.
Kangaroo Island Weather
Kangaroo Island has an excellent year-round climate. As with all islands, the maritime influence is a great moderator of extremes. Thus the average summer temperature is a very pleasant 23 degrees, while the winter average is only 8 degrees cooler. Winter rains freshen up the heath and woodland plant communities and bring new life into the creek systems. For many island regulars, the mid-year days of lush green landscapes and crisp light are their preferred time. Then again, spring brings spectacular wildflowers, while autumn is famous for its balmy days and long stretches of calm weather.
By South Australian standards the summers are mild, with temperatures only rarely pushing in the high 30s. As befits the home of some of the cleanest air in the world, be prepared for breezy weather at any time of the year. In winter, the blustery weather comes from the south and west. By summer, afternoon sea breezes from the southeast become the norm. Either way, Pink Bay's sheltered north facing aspect is ideal.
Kangaroo Island History
For Matthew Flinders and his men aboard HMS Investigator, the discovery of Kangaroo Island in March 1802 was a much-needed boost to morale. Just weeks earlier the expedition had lost seven men in a boating accident near Port Lincoln. Then the mangroves at the head of Spencer Gulf abruptly ended Flinders’ dream of finding a major waterway leading inland to the Gulf of Carpentaria. By contrast, Kangaroo Island’s green woodlands and bountiful supply of fresh meat and water did much to restore the expedition's spirit.
Flinders explored Nepean Bay and Pelican Lagoon before sailing east through Backstairs Passage to Encounter Bay - named after his unexpected meeting with Nicolas Baudin and the French expedition aboard Le Geographe. After wintering over in Port Jackson, Baudin returned to southern waters the following January to carry out the first circumnavigation of Kangaroo Island, including the hitherto unexplored south coast.
The smattering of French names Baudin attached to these shores - D'Estrees Bay, Cape Gantheaume, Cape Bouger, Cape Du Couedic and the like - contrast with those Flinders gave to features on the north coast. Thus Kangaroo Island endures as a fitting memorial to two great navigators who shared their discoveries while, on the other side of the globe, their countries were at war.
Kangaroo Island Life
As well as its natural assets, Kangaroo Island has a strong local community of farmers, long-time residents and creative spirits. While 'wheat & sheep' continue to be the main agricultural pursuits, cattle grazing is common in higher rainfall areas and there's a growing mix of specialty crops and food production, from cheese and honey, to grapes and free-range eggs. Not surprisingly, the island is an active seafood producer with a diverse fishing fleet and aquaculture ventures producing oysters, abalone and freshwater marron.
Annual events include Feastival in May, the Food, Wine & Art Fest in October, the Coopers Kangaroo Island Cup Carnival in February and Penneshaw's Easter Art Exhibition.
Kangaroo Island Towns
The main towns on Kangaroo Island are:
See also: Accommodation in kangaroo island