Goes to Kangaroo Island Once, Writes a Story About It
Come for the wildlife; stay for the wine, geological wonders, and Southern Australian hospitality.
It’s true: hell is other people’s vacations. What’s worse than someone who just got back from some place and needs to tell you about it nonstop? I apologize in advance, because I'm about to do just that. But hear me out, because I'm not kidding when I say that Kangaroo Island, just off the coast of South Australia, is magical. Everyone should go for its stunning rock formations, wild seals, farm-fresh food and farm-related activities, fine wines—and, of course, kangaroos you’ll want to smuggle onto your flight home.
Kangaroo Island is about half the size of Puerto Rico. You can enjoy a meat pie, the beautiful scenery, and free WiFi on the 45-minute ferry ride from the small town of Cape Jervis, which is about a 90-minute drive (or 20-minute flight) from Adelaide. Two years ago my girlfriend and I were staying in the Adelaide Hills and read in a brochure at the rental-car counter that Kangaroo Island was a must-visit, even if just for a day. We were like, Yeah, why not? We love kangaroos, we love islands, how could we not have a good time?
Our first stop was Clifford’s Honey Farm, an apiary and education center where you can pick up honey ice cream and honey beer. You can also learn about the last genetically pure population of Ligurian honey bees that were brought to the island from Northern Italy in the 19th century. They sell all sorts of adorable bee-related crafts, and there’s even a toy-filled play area for the kids if you want to deposit them somewhere and sip a honey beer in peace.
The rustic country-store vibes continued at Emu Ridge Farm Eucalyptus Distillery. You can find every eucalyptus oil-infused product under the sun here, as well as grilled cheese sandwiches (“jaffles”) and local hard cider. The island cherishes its wild animals, too. You can’t talk about Kangaroo Island and not mention the kangaroos. They didn’t name it that just for kicks; you’ll encounter them literally everywhere as they roam freely around the island. And, look out for koalas who are found throughout, usually perched sleepily watching from trees. If you want to see a wider variety of animals, visit Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park. It’s so cute when they get up close to eat kibble from your hands. Look for the tall, muscular males who walk around flexing their deltoids. I filmed two kickboxing each other on my phone while saying “Worldstar!” to myself. It almost felt like they were showing off for tourists.
For a slightly more chill experience, head to Seal Bay Conservation Park, a stunning nature preserve where seal families sun themselves on the beach just feet away from tourists. And if you’d prefer that your natural attractions didn’t move at all, there’s always the Remarkable Rocks. The bright-red boulders are exactly as advertised: geological wonders that have been shaped by the wind into ideal Instagram backdrops.
Flinders Chase National Park is another must-see for nature lovers; it’s home to Admirals Arch, a cave that has been formed into a rock bridge by thousands of years of erosion. Some people come to the island to camp in Flinders, but there are plenty of boutique hotels for visitors who aren’t the sleeping-outdoors type. Sea Dragon Lodge is a small place with its own private beach with a local seal colony, the more middle of the road Kangaroo Island Wilderness Lodge and the charming BnB-type “Molly’s Run” are solid choices. One luxurious option is Southern Ocean Lodge, an eco-friendly hotel with a full spa, serve-yourself bar, and dramatic cliffside views, which was voted the best hotel in Australia in Travel + Leisure’s prestigious Top 100 Hotels List 2019. Located in the far southwest corner of the island, the cantilevered suites are the last buildings before you hit Antarctica. The grounds are gorgeous, the food is amazing, and while I can’t say I slept there (rooms are about $1,000 a night), it’s a standout on the island. You couldn’t go wrong anchoring your trip there.
What else is there to say about Kangaroo Island? Oh, the wine. There’s Dudley Wines Cellar Door, a popular winery that serves pizza on their lovely deck. Judging from what locals told us, and the online reviews, it seems to be the best place for tourists to drink on the island. If you’d rather hang with the locals, try the Penneshaw Hotel. The lively, one-of-a-kind bar is a little weird and rough around the edges in all the best ways, just like the island itself.
We’d only planned to go for the day, but that was before we ran out of gas an hour’s drive from the ferry. (Let’s just say the island isn’t known for its gas stations.) We happened upon a friendly local who sold us some petrol he kept in his garage, but by the time we got to the dock, the last ferry for the night was long gone. Problem was, our flights back to the US were early the next morning—out of Adelaide, about three hours away.
The ferry captain took pity on us and said his pilot friend could fly us to Melbourne for a few thousand bucks. A nice idea, but unrealistic, and plus his friend wasn’t even licensed to fly at night. So we drove back to the island’s main town, Penneshaw, and asked around about hotels; they were all closed. Someone said we should try Tandarra Lodge, an affordable hostel. That had closed, too, but the owner, an all-around lovely woman named Dallys, still helped us out. She let us use her landline to change our flights and rented us a room. Dallys, if you’re out there, know that Ryan and Rachel from New York will never forget our night drinking wine under the stars in your lawn chairs, wondering how we ended up there and whether we even wanted to go back home.