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Off-the-beaten path Australia: Kangaroo Island
Know before you go:
Although there are a few luxury options for a visit to Kangaroo Island, such as the Southern Ocean Lodge and Lifetime Private Retreats, I definitely felt it was more of an eco-tourism/adventure destination. Conservation and National parks cover more than one third of the island, so you know you'll be spending a lot of time exploring the outdoors, flora, and fauna. There are tons of activities in terms of active sports, wildlife interaction, hiking, and experiencing a more rural, laid-back way of life. If you're the type of person who needs to be connected through technology all of the time, you may have a bit of a struggle here, as cell phone coverage is very limited (my Vodafone didn't work at all, but I was told Telstra CDMA or 3G work pretty good). If you have friends or family who will worry if they don't hear from you for a few days, I would definitely give them a heads up about this. One other thing worth mentioning is that there are no taxis on the island or real forms of public transport, so it is worth it to book a tour or rent a car.
If you have the time, I would recommend spending a couple days in Adelaide first and touring the Barossa Valley vineyards (shown right) and The Toy Factory, which is home to the world's biggest rocking horse as well as a really fun wildlife park where you can play with birds, kangaroos, sheep, and other animals. From Adelaide, you can take a Regional Express (REX) flight, which will take a little more than 30 minutes. The other option is to catch a Sealink ferry from Cape Jervis to Penshaw on Kangaroo Island.
Where to stay:
My friends and I stayed at the Ozone Seafront Hotel, which had a really great location right on the water in the town of Kingscote, which is the biggest city on the island and has the best selection of restaurants, pubs, and stores while still giving you direct access to nature. This hotel also has a seafront restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating as well as various bars and wine tasting options. While it depends when you go, it is sometimes possible to get rooms here for a little over $100 a night. For backpackers on a budget, there is the Kangaroo Island Central Backpackers Hostel in Kingscote and the Kangaroo Island YHA Hostel in Penneshaw, which overlooks the beautiful Hog Bay.
Do and visit:
Again, I would definitely recommend booking an organized tour or renting a car to do these activities. It isn't hard to find tours that encompass all or most of these suggestions. Click here to browse the different options. Here were some of the activities that I experienced and would recommend to others visiting Kangaroo Island:
Seal Bay Conservation Park
Seal Bay Conservation Park is definitely a sight to behold. Visitors get the chance to see hundreds of sea-lions, bulls, females, and pups, in their natural habitat on the beach. You are mandated to take a guided tour, which is actually good because you learn a lot about the seals and their habitat. You will get really close to them, but just be warned, although they are extremely cute they also smell really bad. The cost of the tour is $18 for a child and $30 for an adult.
Kangaroo Island is well-known for its ideal scuba diving location with an array of unique fish, beautiful Gorgonia coral, and historical shipwrecks. When underwater, you will be enveloped in a rainbow of colors, from red, white, and orange sponges to the florescent Blue Devil fish, neon Harlequin fish, and shiny silver and brown striped truncate coral fish. It is also likely to spot a very strange looking fish called the Leafy Sea Dragon, which literally looks like a bright yellow sea horse morphed with a leaf. Some tour operators that offer dives in the area are Kangaroo Island Dive and Adventures and Adventureland Diving & Sports Service, which you can e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at (+61) (08) 8553 1072.
Admiral's Arch and the Remarkable Rocks
Located in Flinders Chase National Park, Admiral's Arch and the Remarkable Rocks are an impressive sight as well as a vision that defies all laws of nature. Oddly shaped volcanic rock is fun to explore, and you can take loads of interesting illusion photos (who knew you could lift an entire boulder over your head?). Stand before the stalactite-adorned Admiral's Arch for an unique view of the ocean and Remarkable Rocks, as well as the myriad New Zealand fur seals that live on the rocks below the cliff face. When I was there there were actually so many seals in the colony I had to squint to see them, as they all blended together with the rocks. There are also many hiking trails in the park itself, so it's a great way to experience the outdoors. To enter the park, you can expect to pay $24.50 per family, $5.50 for a child, $7 for a student, and $9 for an adult.
Clifford's Honey Farm
Coming from Sydney, Clifford's Honey Farm felt like going back in time to when life was really simple. The farm started as a hobby for Dave Clifford in 1973 but soon became a business in 1993 when the family opened a successful honey shop, which you can still peruse today (and should!). Today, there are more than 300 honey producing hives on the farm, and you will get to see some of them upclose for yourself. With help from the family, Dave can produce up to 20 tons of honey each year, which is probably why there is such an array of products in the shop, from candles to cosmetics to candy to ice cream toppings and salad dressings. The honey flavors come from all different flowers, such as Sugar Gum, Bottle Brush, Mallee, Canola, and more. Make sure to sample the Chocolate Covered Honeycomb before you go, as it is one of the best things I have ever tasted.
Island Pure Sheep Dairy
This was one of my favorite experiences, not only because I got to see first hand what a day in the life of a sheep farmer is and how the sheep milk products are actually made, but because I got to take part in an extensive tasting session. Island Pure makes an array of cheeses that visitors can try, including Kefaltori, a creamy, smooth, semi-matured cheese, Manchego, a cheese with a mellow but rounded flavor, Haloumi (my personal favorite), a "twice cooked" cheese that originates from Cyprus, and Feta, a creamy textured, tangy cheese. You will also get the chance to sample fresh sheep's milk yogurt. Entry costs are $20 for a family, $4.50 for a student, $4.50 for a child (children under 5 are free), and $5.50 for an adult.
Emu Ridge Distillery
The Emu Ridge Distillery is more than just wildlife viewing, as it is actually known for its eucalyptus products and wine and cheese tastings. Eucalyptus oil was actually the first true overseas export for Australia, however, Emu Ridge is now the only eucalyptus oil distillery in South Australia and one of the only ones left in the country altogether. The farm itself sits on 650 acres, 250 of which is natural bush. There is a tiny, old post office which is really interesting to see, as well as a craft shop made from recycled materials that sells local handicrafts and eucalytus products. As for wildlife, you will see enormous emus, wallabies, kangaroos on the property as well as baby joeys inside the shop. Emu Ridge Distillery is free to enter, although if you want a guided tour a fee of $15 per child and $30 per adult will apply.
This is a really interesting, slightly disturbing look at how pelicans eat. When "The Pelican Man" feeds fish to the pelicans the birds swallow the meal whole and you can see the fish go down their throats. While you may flinch a bit, the experience is actually pretty educational as The Pelican Man will tell you more about the birds themselves. The feeding takes place daily at 5PM at the Kingscote Wharf behind the Kangaroo Island Marine Center.
For more information on traveling to Kangaroo Island, please visit the Kangaroo Island Tourism Board website.