north coast kangaroo island australia

Though it’s minutes from mainland South Australia, Kangaroo Island feels a million miles away. Uninhabited when the French arrived in the 19th century, it still has a population of just 4,417 people. Even with its Victorian lighthouses and bee farms, this “Australian Galápagos” feels frozen in time. Half of it is nature reserves, conservation parks, and wilderness trails. A sanctuary for wildlife, including tammar wallabies, glossy black cockatoos, and more than 60,000 western grey kangaroos, and natural, rugged beauty, Kangaroo Island is where the wild things are.

 

Cape Du Couedic Lighthouse


The third largest isle off the coast of Australia, Kangaroo Island is surrounded by notoriously treacherous waters and boat-smashing cliffs. While European explorer Matthew Flinders safely landed on the island and began hunting small Kangaroo in 1802,  Kangaroo Island became infamous for its shipwrecks, “a sea of ghosts”. During the 1900s, up to 85 ships sunk to a watery grave. So, at the beginning of the 20th century, the South Australian Marine Board constructed a lighthouse at Cape du Couedic. Built from 2,000 pieces of local stone, it originally ran on kerosene. Because of its remote location, it was unmanned and electrically wired in the 1970s. While no tours are currently conducted at the lighthouse, it has a paved wooden walkway, surrounded by dramatic, jutting cliffs that are decorated with colorful moss and kooky, weather-worn rocks.

 

Remarkable Rocks


Nature is a patient artist. It took more than 500 million years for rain, wind, and waves to create the Remarkable Rocks in Flinders Chase National Park: a cluster of hefty, granite boulders covered in golden-orange lichen sitting atop a giant dome of lava. One of Kangaroo Island’s signature landmarks, these flat “sculptures” are most impressive in the early morning and early evening when their black mica, blue quartz, and pink feldspar give off an ethereal glow.

 

Admirals Arch


The remnant of an ancient cave that’s been broken open by ocean waves and turned into a natural bridge, Admirals Arch has a smooth bottom and stalactites dangling from its rocky ceiling.  The starting point of several hikes throughout Flinders Chase National Park, it has a viewing platform, where you can see southern right whales, dolphins, sea eagles, and New Zealand fur seals.

These grey-brown seals mainly eat squid and small mid-water fish. Occasionally, they’ll dive more than 780 feet to feast on conger eels, barracuda, jack mackerel, and hoki. Using their whiskers to locate their meals, New Zealand fur seals forage mostly at night, so visit Admirals Arch before sunset.  And, you’ll see the colony lazing around in the sun and splashing in rocky pools beneath the arch.

 

Seal Bay Conservation Park


A government-protected area located on Kangaroo Island’s southern coast, Seal Bay has the third largest colony of Australian Sea Lions—these non-migratory mammals are only native to the Land Down Under. One of the most endangered pinnipeds, there are less than 15,000 Australian Sea Lions left in the wild, so Sea Bay Conservation Park is the only place in the world where you can see them at close range without cages or enclosures. When you visit, a guide will take you into the heart of the colony, where you can watch males duke it out for supremacy, females nurse their newborns, and pups roughhouse. Though, you also can take a self-guided tour using a wheelchair accessible 2,952-foot boardwalk, which runs over untouched dunes to a number of viewing platforms.

 

Kelly Hill Caves


Discovered after a horse named Kelly fell into one of its caves, the Kelly Hill Caves have very steep steps, making them unsuitable for frail or disabled visitors. While the caves offer narrow crawl spaces, they’re not claustrophobic.  One of the few dry limestone cave networks in Australia, they have an impressive array of stalactites, stalagmites, straws, and the more unusual helictites that twist and defy gravity. After attending a 40-minute seminar, you’ll be able to go adventure caving, where you strap on a hard hat, use a flashlight, crawl through rocky tunnels, and view the fossils of plants and bones from the 1920s. With zero humidity, the Kelly Hill Caves also are a constant 60.8 degrees.

 

Clifford’s Honey Farm


It’s almost worth swimming across the Pacific Ocean for the honey ice cream, which is sourced from a rare colony of Ligurian bees, at this quaint family farm.  A bit off the beaten path, Clifford’s Honey Farm has over 300 honey producing hives. It sells honey beer, beeswax polishes, beeswax candles, honey lip glosses, and even bee-shaped honey drizzlers. At the back of the farm, there’s also a Honey Education Center. You can learn about the social structure of bees and how honey is manufactured—if you’re really lucky, you’ll even be able to spot the queen inside of a glass beehive. Have kids? There’s a sandpit and picnic tables outside. Heads up: because bees gather pollen from blooming plants and beekeepers harvest raw honey every three weeks, flavors vary by season.

 

Little Sahara


Everyone knows that Australia has swaths of wide-open desert: eighteen percent of the entire continent is covered in sand. Though, Kangaroo Island’s “Little Sahara” has the most impressive sand dunes. Naturally occuring, wind-sculpted dunes and shifting white ridgelines stretch out for a full square mile. Its tallest dune is 229 feet above sea level.  While it’s a little too small to feel like a real desert, the fun lies in the thrills and spills of sandboarding and tobogganing. It’s one of the most expensive activities on the island—one board costs $29 per hour.  After you rent your board and rub it with Ligurian beeswax, you’ll need to lug it up the sandy slopes. After you reach the top, you can surf the sea of white sand while standing, which provides an adrenaline rush similar to snowboarding, without the icy-hard landing. If you want to get down the dune in one piece, however, you’ll definitely want to choose the toboggan and glide down on your stomach or derriere.