Rising From The Ashes, Kangaroo Island Lays out the Welcome Mat
Six months after it was devastated by bushfire, green is the new black on Kangaroo Island
Is it weird that, after isolating for months during the coronavirus chaos, I crave isolation of a different kind?
I don’t feel the need for hordes of tourists. In fact, I’m still very wary of that. What I want is the freedom to move and an injection of nature.
Kangaroo Island’s pull is undeniable. It’s a favourite getaway – for adventure and water-based fun in summer, wildlife and wilderness in winter and great food and wine all year round. Then Sealink made the decision for me, announcing a post-Covid three-night package that’s too hard to resist – $327 a traveller including accommodation and ferry fare.
Was Kangaroo Island damaged by bushfires? The aftermath
This trip is more than just an escape from the confines that coronavirus inflicted. It’s also allowing me to check on bushfire recovery – something that has been brushed aside during the global pandemic.
Almost half of Kangaroo Island was wiped out by bushfires in January. The call was made just weeks later for people to return to inject some TLC – tender loving cash. I made that trip, lapping the island to help promote what had survived.
The land was charred, wilderness destroyed and wildlife devastated. The entire western end of the island was almost all gone. But there was hope. Community spirit shone and optimism poked through the grief just like the bright green shoots pushing through blackened tree trunks and up through the ash-covered soil. The island was bruised but not beaten.
Then coronavirus hit and sent everyone into lockdown. “Please don’t come,” was the new message. The island shut down and bushfire recovery was abandoned.
Can I visit Kangaroo Island now?
Fast forward – though it has felt anything but fast – and the green light for intrastate travel is shining bright and Kangaroo Island has laid out the welcome mat once more.
If only you could see the island now … You can. And you should. What a picture. Mother Nature has ploughed her energy into regeneration. The scars are still visible, but green is the new black, from the scrubland to the rolling hills of the north coast.
Instead of the odd shoot, many trees now sport “hairy legs” – they’re mostly comical figures and you can’t help but smile. Wildlife is returning to natural habitats. Koalas, kangaroos and wallabies can be seen almost everywhere, echidnas are on the march and birdsong has returned to the bush. Even the island’s rare glossy black cockatoos are breeding again.
Winter is usually quiet on Kangaroo Island. Some tourist operators and business owners take advantage of having fewer visitors to close for well-deserved breaks. Add the effects of COVID-19, and it’s whisper quiet – perfect for a soft reintroduction to travel.
What is there to see on Kangaroo Island?
The good news is that for the first time since January, Flinders Chase National Park is open. Visitors can drive, without an escort, along a safe corridor. Outside the national park, there’s also plenty to keep you busy – in fact, you’ll find it hard to fit it all into four days.
Here’s a rough itinerary. The only extra I would add is a guided tour if they’re up and running when you book. Guides such as KI Odysseys’ Gaylene Ingram and Nikki Redman offer an in-depth insight into all things KI.
Kangaroo Island top things to do: Itinerary
- Drive to Cape Jervis SeaLink ferry terminal for the 45-minute ferry ride across Backstairs Passage.
- Explore Penneshaw where the ferry docks on Kangaroo Island. Check out 200-year-old graffiti at Frenchman’s Rock. You can also shop, refuel and walk the 1.5km Sculpture Trail.
- Pennington Bay – For surfers and fans of rugged coastal views.
- Prospect Hill – Brave a few hundred steps for a 360-degree panorama. Explorer Matthew Flinders climbed up here to get the lay of the land.
- American River – A quiet spot to watch the birdlife in Pelican Lagoon.
- Kingscote – KI’s commercial hub and where you’ll find Kangaroo Island Fresh Seafoods selling the island’s best fish and chips – at the Caltex servo.
- Emu Bay – This protected bay with a 4km white-sand beach and safe waters comes highly recommended – it’s where actor Chris Hemsworth stayed so I think it’ll do. Emu Bay Holiday Homes is up the hill with a view to the water and cliffs beyond. Sunrises are spectacular.
Day 2 – North Coast
- Drive inland to Parndana. This tiny town was established after World War II as part of the Soldier Settlement Scheme.
- Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park – Sam and Dana Mitchell’s park became a koala hospital caring for more than 600 koalas injured in the bushfires. They’re still handfeeding about 40 joeys as well caring for hundreds of other animals including wombats, dingoes, all sorts of birds, alpacas, goats, alligators and even penguins.
- Western River Cove – There’s a winding, steep descent along the dirt North Coast Road to one of the most beautiful parts of the island, with folds of green hills and deep valleys dotted with sheep and cattle. At the base is a picnic and camping spot the locals keep secret. (We won’t tell anyone.)
- Drive to Snelling Beach and Stokes Bay along North Coast Road. Rocks cover the first beach, but if you follow the signs and climb through the cliffs, you’ll be rewarded with the “secret” beach, a shallow rockpool and, if you sit for long enough in the tiny caves, fish will offer a natural pedicure.
Day 3 – South Coast
- Seal Bay – This is home to about 800 Australian sea lions – Australia’s third largest colony. The boardwalk weaves over sand dunes, among resting and mating grounds, to the beach where sea lions play in the surf and lounge on the sand.
- Raptor Domain – A rehabilitation centre for orphaned and injured birds of prey, snakes, lizards and other critters. Learn about the deadly ones and get up close with the not-so-nasty ones.
- Vivonne Bay – About halfway along the 155km-long island, the bay’s charred sand dunes made for a striking landscape back in January. The black still pops against white sand and churning blue seas, but the bright green of new life is taking over.
- Vivonne Bay General Store – This is the last fuel, food, alcohol and grocery stop heading west, spared in the fires and surviving corona chaos. Here Michelle Peacock still makes her legendary whiting burgers and lamb burgers.
- Flinders Chase was razed in the fires, but it has now reopened and you can drive through to see Remarkable Rocks, Weirs Cove and Admirals Arch. You’ll be shocked at the devastation, but warmed by the regeneration.
Day 4 – Dudley Peninsula
- Kingscote – You can refuel and shop and the pubs and restaurants are back open for dining in. Visit Reeves Point to see where South Australia was first settled.
- Dudley Peninsula offers a different landscape full of farmland and huge old gums.
- Cape Willoughby – SA’s oldest lighthouse offers views back to the mainland.
- Chapman River – Secluded camping sites and a picnic spot by the river.
- Visit False Cape Wines and Dudley Wines, both now reopened.
- Penneshaw – For the ferry ride home.
1. Carolyne Jasinski, “Rising from the ashes, Kangaroo Island lays out the welcome mat” August 5, 2020, accessed July 15, 2021 https://www.escape.com.au/destinations/australia/south-australia/rising-from-the-ashes-kangaroo-island-lays-out-the-welcome-mat/news-story/ee2a85f8dcf8b9ea1f058c92c19aa9da.