Located 110 km south-west of Adelaide and easily accessible by ferry, Kangaroo
Island is one of the nation's supreme scenic spots.
Kangaroo Island is Australia's third largest island (after Tasmania and
Melville Island) stretching 155 km from east to west, 55 km at its widest point,
and containing nearly 1600 km of sealed and unsealed roads.
The island was first settled by Aborigines but their history is scant and
complex. It seems they left the island about 3,000 years ago for reasons which
The first European to see the island was Matthew Flinders who, during his
circumnavigation of Australia in the 'Investigator' in 1802, explored, charted
and named the island.
Flinders and his crew killed 31 kangaroos and as he wrote "half a
hundredweight of heads, forequarters and tails were stewed into soup...and as
much steaks given....to both officers and men as they could consume by day and
by night.... In gratitude for so seasonable a supply, I named this southern land
Kangaroo Island ..." Flinders also named the strait between the island and
the mainland declaring "It forms a private entrance, as it were, to the two
gulphs; and I named it Backstairs Passage".
The following year the island was visited both by the French navigator
Nicholas Baudin and some American sealers who set up their operations on the
site of American River.
The sealers and whalers, who scoured the island's coasts for the next two or
three decades, were a wild and vicious bunch. Captain Sutherland, who explored
the island in 1819, described the sealers as 'little better than pirates'
depicting them as people who 'dress in kangaroo skins with linen, and wear
sandals made of seal skins, they smell like foxes'. They enslaved Aboriginal
women (mostly from Tasmania) and used them to capture and kill seals. The women
were prized by the sealers because they were highly skilled hunters who could
swim across to the seal colonies, move quietly amongst the seals and kill large
numbers of them without panicking the colonies.
The first official settlement of the island occurred in 1836 when the South
Australia Land Co. established a base at Nepean Bay. This eventually grew into
the island's main town, Kingscote. By 1837 shiploads of German emigrants were
being brought to the Island by the South Australia Land Co. but the soil was
infertile, the water supply was unreliable and consequently by 1840 it had
collapsed and most of the settlers had moved to the mainland.
Isolation, the poor quality of the soils, the scrubby nature of the
vegetation, an average annual rainfall of 50 cm leading to marginal water
supplies, all conspired to ensure that Kangaroo Island remained relatively
underdeveloped. Consequently, even today, the island has a population of less
that 5,000 and its economy is primarily driven by tourism.
At various times through the nineteenth century there were attempts to
establish viable industries. Salt was mined in the 1840s; a few farmers tried to
carve pastoral leases out of the thin soils; and by the late 19th century
eucalyptus oil production and gypsum mining were well established. Today
the typical industries are wool, cereal crops and fishing. Many islanders have
turned to alternative industries with production of Eucalyptus Oil, Honey,
Marron (fresh water crayfish) and Sheep Milk Cheeses.
By 1905 tourism was becoming important to the
islands' economy. Today the islands numerous natural attractions, and its large pristine areas, are the
centerpieces to an economy driven by tourism. Currently about 150,000
visitors come to explore the island.
There are about 30 animal, 250 bird and 850 plant species
native to Kangaroo Island. Although many of the islands' animals are
nocturnal, the Kangaroo Island Kangaroo, Tammar Wallaby, Brushtail Possum and
Short Beaked Echidna can be seen along the roadsides and in Flinders Chase
National Park. The Australian Sea Lion, and New Zealand Fur Seal have
breeding colonies along the South Coast and Little Penguins are found around the
How to Get There
There is a car/passenger ferry run by Kangaroo Island Sealink which leaves Cape
Jervis for Penneshaw four times daily. It takes about 1 hour to make the 16 km
journey. There are also a number of flights
from Adelaide Airport.
Kingscote is an attractive small settlement gazing over the waters of the Bay of
Shoals. Kingscote was first settled in 1836 and, as such, was the first town in
South Australia. There was even talk of it becoming the new colony's capital but
a shortage of reliable water terminated this discussion. It was named Kingscote
after Henry Kingscote, a director of the South Australian Company. It remained
an important port until the 1860s and, in the early days, provided the basalt
for the road which was built between Port Adelaide and the new town of Adelaide.
The town's attractions include the Ozone Seafront Hotel (just up from the jetty)
which was opened in 1907 and by the mid-1930s had become 'the' place to stay for
wealthy holidaymakers from Adelaide. It enjoys excellent views across the ocean
and the harbor. We had dinner at the restaurant our last night on the
The Mulberry Tree
This huge and historic mulberry tree was planted by some of the island's
earliest settlers. No one knows for sure who planted it and a sign indicates
that there are no fewer than four families - the Powells, Christians, Kleemans
and Baeres - all believe that their forebear planted the tree. The argument is
that each of the four families had an ancestor who planted a mulberry tree at
Kingscote. No one is quite sure which of the forebears planted this particular
tree although the Kleeman family, which had grown to 2,562 people by 1969, claim
that the original Friedrich Wilhelm Kleeman planted the tree in 1837.
Seal Bay Conservation Park
A substantial park covering 750 hectares and including both the Seal Bay area (a
carefully managed section of coastline where, under supervision, people can see
seals lying on the beach) as well as the fascinating Little Sahara set of sand
dunes which lie between Seal Bay and Vivonne Bay. At its peak Seal Bay is home
to a population of about 500 sea lions. There are walkways which allow people to
go down to the viewing points above the beach and, on a regular basis, there are
guided tours which allow visitors to get closer to the animals.
There is nothing more here than a General Store and a jetty. However the views
across the bay are quite stunning and the sands are extraordinarily white.
Nearby is the Vivonne Bay Wildlife Reserve which is a private park with 40 km of
walking trails. It is a popular destination for school groups eager to learn
about the fauna and flora of the island.
Flinders Chase National Park
Flinders Chase National Park, which takes up most of the western half of the
island, is one of the largest national parks in South Australia. Many visitors
to Kangaroo Island head straight for the national park for while it is very
isolated it also happens to contain such interesting attractions as the
Remarkable Rocks, the Admirals Arch and the Cape Borda lighthouse, one of the
most inhospitable lighthouse locations on the whole of the Australian coastline.
It is also here that the alert bushwalker and coastal explorer will come across
sea lions, sea eagles, ospreys, Cape Barren geese, kangaroos, wallabies and
black cockatoos on trails which wind through a variety of vegetation from gum
forests to mallee scrub.
Formations like Remarkable Rocks and the Admirals Arch (which is located at
Cape du Couedic) are fine examples of the unrelenting power of the winds and the
oceans.Remarkable Rocks are a collection of rocks weathered by the sea which
form fantastic and unusual shapes. Admirals Arch has been carved out of the
rocks. It is possible to see New Zealand fur seals lying on the rocks near this
Cape Borda Lighthouse
When the French sailor Nicholas Baudin first sighted this rugged cliff he named
it after the French mathematician Jean Charles de Borda. The Cape Borda
lighthouse was built in 1858 on a cliff 155 meters above the sea. In the early
days there was a cannon (which is still at the site) which was some times used
to warn ships of the danger they were in. The cannon is now fired daily. The lighthouse is extraordinarily isolated and it is hardly surprising that
there is a small graveyard nearby where 13 people are buried.
This small settlement was named by the American sealers who settled there in the
early 1800s. Today it is a pleasant destination which is popular with
holidaymakers who want to enjoy aquatic activities including fishing, swimming,
boating and sailing. The town also boasts the first house (dating from 1844 and
built out of pug and split pine by John Buick) on Kangaroo Island and there is
also a plaque to the American brig Union with an anchor which was recovered near
the town's wharf in 1969.
A small township on Backstairs Passage which has become important as the major
entry point to the island. A ferry crosses the 16 km passage between Cape Jervis
and Penneshaw bringing both visitors and their cars to the island. Both Matthew
Flinders and Nicholas Baudin moored here at Christmas Cove and Frenchman's Rock
respectively. Baudin scratched an inscription on Frenchman's Rock (translated it
reads 'Expedition of discovery by Captain Baudin in the Geographe. 1803) but the
sea and the weather damaged it so much that it was removed to the South
Australian Museum in Adelaide and a more durable 'facsimile' put in its place.
The original Frenchman's Rock is now housed at the Gateway Visitor Information
Centre, Howard Drive, Penneshaw.
Maritime Heritage Trail and Shipwrecks
Kangaroo Island has a total of 23 shipwrecks around its coastline. The earliest,
the William, was wrecked in 1847 and the most recent, the Portland Maru, sank
off Cape Torrens in 1935. A number of these vessels can be explored by
experienced scuba divers.
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