Looking out over the inky waters of the Backstairs Passage, Kangaroo Island seems normal enough. A little green smudge on the water.

Only friendly locals and the odd clued-in traveller know it for what it really is: one of Australia’s most beautiful and underrated wildlife sanctuaries, a time-warped isle whose clocks seem to stop in about 1973. Kids here still ride bikes to school and farmers chase ‘roos off their front lawns before dawn, but it’s the local wildlife that’s the real drawcard. Grey kangaroos, fur seals, dolphins, echidnas, koalas and dozens of other species that have flourished on the island without the threat of introduced species. Think of it as a mini Galapagos off the coast of South Australia.

Our Kangaroo Island tours

What to do on Kangaroo Island

Kick back at Vivonne Bay, Kangaroo Island

Kick back at Vivonne Bay

When the University of Sydney travelled the country to establish Australia’s best beaches in 2002 (and just quietly, how do we get that job?) Vivonne Bay, tucked into a little pocket on Kangaroo Island’s south coast, came out close to the top. Considering Australia has over 10,685 beaches, that’s a pretty good effort. Five kilometres of squeaky white sand (perfect for picnics), aquamarine water, cray-fishing boats puttering around the headland – Vivonne has a lot going for it. There’s even a BBQ near the jetty and an adjacent 887-hectare nature reserve. All you need to complete the picture is a towel and a good book.

Ride a bike around Kangaroo Island

Hop on a bike

Exploring Kangaroo Island on two wheels fits with the whole ‘eco ethos’ the place stands for. Low impact on the environment, plenty of fresh air and mile upon mile of stunning coastal scenery? Sounds like a winning combo. Some of our favourite riding trails on the island are up to Penneshaw Hill (Kangaroo Island’s highest peak…although ‘peak’ may be generous) and the rugged, unsealed wilderness of Three Chain Road – a challenging route that passes the island’s alien-looking salt flat. For beginner riders, there’s always the leisurely highway leading away from Kelly Hill Caves. Just watch out for the Tammar wallabies along the side of the road.

Go kayaking on the Harriet River, Kangaroo Island

Kayak the Harriet River

No raging torrents or waterfalls on this river, we promise you. Harriet is a tranquil stream that flows down to an estuary on the south coast of Kangaroo Island. The pace is laid back and the scenery gorgeous. There are usually two kayak tours departing during the day, one in the early morning and one in the afternoon. We recommend the arvo session: the fading light really makes the surrounding bush come alive. Keep your eyes peeled for koalas in the riverbank gums, as well as the occasional bream or salmon swimming underneath your kayak. Definitely the most peaceful form of transport on the island.

Soak in the spectacular scenery and views on Kangaroo Island

Soak in the views

Kangaroo Island is blessed with some of the most stunning coastal scenery on Australia’s south coast (sorry, Great Ocean Road. We still love you.) Wherever the land hits the sea here it does so in plunging sandstone cliffs, or windswept grassy bluffs that are crying out for a wide-angled lens. Our favourite places are the Remarkable Rocks (sort of a coastal version of the Devil’s Marbles), the lighthouse at Admiral’s Arch (along with its spooky coastal sea saves) and the idyllic cliffs at Cape du Couedic. If in doubt, just head out to the coast at sunset and face west. You’ll get the general idea.

Try sandboarding at Little Sahara, Kangaroo Island

Sandboard at Little Sahara

Is there a cuter name for a landmark than Little Sahara? We doubt it. In any case, this collection of silky soft sand dunes is one of the few places in South Australia, let alone Kangaroo Island, you can try your hand at sandboarding. Sitting alongside the spectacular Vivonne Bay, you’ll get some great views as you board or toboggan your way down the slopes (the biggest of which is nearly 70m high). You can hire all the gear you need in nearby Vivonne Bay town, but if you travel with us, your local guides can take care of all that logistical stuff. You just focus on looking gnarly (we’re bringing that word back).

Articles on Kangaroo Island