Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia is a treasure trove of wildlife. Separated from the rest of the continent for about 10,000 years, its natural wildlife has thrived without humans or other pests and predators that have struck on the mainland. Over the centuries, some animals have evolved into distinct sub-species, earning this place the nickname "The Galapagos of Australia." More than a third of the island is protected parkland, ensuring that it will remain a haven for the native plants and animals.
KangaroosVisiting Australia for the first time, the entire family was super eager to see kangaroos. However, we probably weren't as excited as explorer Matthew Flinder who gave the island its name. Having been at sea for many months, he and his shipmates were tired of their diet of salted meat and longed for fresh food. Landing on the island in 1802, they came across a plentiful population of Western Grey kangaroos, some of which the men promptly clobbered and consumed.
|Kangaroos hopping across the road|
The species on the island differs from the Western Grey Kangaroos on the mainland by being shorter, darker, and with longer fur. Not surprisingly, kangaroos are all over Kangaroo Island. Like hopping across the road everywhere. We were cautioned to drive carefully at night, or perhaps just avoid driving altogether after nightfall, to avoid hitting them. If you want to pet some tame ones, make a stop at Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park.
|Feeding kangaroos at the wildlife park in Parndana.|
Cute, adorable wallabies — the smaller cousin of the kangaroo — are also easy to find. Kangaroo Island is home to the largest remaining natural population of Tammar wallabies in Australia. They measure 52-68 cm (20-27 inches) tall and are active at dawn and dusk. A group liked to hang out near our cabin on Hanson Bay. They are quite timid, so we had to make sure we stayed still and quiet while observing them.
|Tammar wallaby hiding in the scrubby undergrowth|
Another iconic Australian animal, the koala, also calls Kangaroo Island its home. However, they are not native to the area. To combat the declining population on the mainland, 18 koalas were released in Flinders Chase National Park in the 1920s, and the population has flourished over the years.
One of the best places to spot them is at the Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary Koala Walk. The animals are free to roam around the large sanctuary which is encircled by a fence to protect the koalas from feral cats. A sign in the main shop indicated that 23 koalas had been spotted the day we were there, although we were only able to find 9 while staring at treetops.
|Sleeping koala at Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary|
Australian Sea Lions
Nearly hunted to extinction in the 19th century, the worldwide population has rebounded to about 14,000 Australian sea lions. 85% call South Australia their home with the third largest colony located at Seal Bay on Kangaroo Island. A visit to the Seal Bay Conservation Park starts at the Visitors Centre and continues onto a 800 meter boardwalk with interpretive signs that takes you over the sand dunes and out to the sea lion colony. Access to the beach itself is by guided tour only. We took the guided tour, and I found it fascinating. The guide pointed out various sea lions and told us a little about each individual.
|Australion sea lions at Seal Bay Conservation Park|
A sea lion pup roamed the beach back and forth searching for its mother. Female sea lions typically head out to the continental shelf to feed, a journey which takes 3 days out and back. The guide said the reunions are always joyous both because the pup is happy to see its mum and it's eager to nurse by that time. Sometimes, the mom doesn't return, and entanglement with commercial fishing nets is the biggest culprit. Another visitor asked what happens to the orphaned pup. Sadly, none of the other mama sea lions adopts it. The Conservation Park has a "let nature take its course" policy and does not try to rescue the pup. The amount of money required to raise a pup who will never learn to feed itself and then sustain it through adulthood is cost prohibitive. The guide said the park uses what little money it has to lobby against commercial net fishing and promote research and other conservation efforts.
New Zealand Fur Seals
Admiral Arch in Flinders Chase National Park is one of the best places on Kangaroo Island to find New Zealand fur seals. They are smaller than the Australian sea lion and were also almost hunted to extinction. We knew to stay at least 30 meters away from these animals as they can be aggressive if they feel threatened, but the boardwalk kept us a safe distance away while still allowing us plenty of opportunity to observe the large colony. We probably spotted more than 100 of them.
|New Zealand fur seals at Admirals Arch, Flinders Chase National Park|
|A closer look at the New Zealand fur seals resting on the rocks.|
Unfortunately, I did not spot any platypus when we were in Australia, not even on a showing of Phineas and Ferb. We simply did not have the time (or the self control) to stand there quietly and wait for these shy creatures to emerge from their watery burrows. The Rocky River lookouts along the Platypus Waterholes Walk just outside the cafe at the Flinders Chase Visitors Centre are supposed to be one of the best places to spot them. Not native to the island, they were released in the park in the 1920s and are currently the only wild platypus population in South Australia.
Reading about another blogger's experience of seeing a wild penguin emerge from the water and walk up to her on the beach is one of the main reasons that I was drawn to visiting Kangaroo Island. Although I spent a few twilights on the lookout at Hanson Bay, I never encountered one. It turns out that the penguin population has greatly decreased over the last 5 years. The New Zealand fur seals that thrive in the area feed on the adult penguins as they swim ashore to feed their chicks, and the orphaned chicks end up dying, too. The Penneshaw Penguin Centre near the SeaLink Ferry still conducts night time tours to introduce visitors to the few wild Little Penguins left on Kangaroo Island, but TripAdvisor reviews indicate that a sighting is not guaranteed.
|Warning sign on the beach by the SeaLink Ferry in Penneshaw|
Sometimes, your best chance of seeing an animal is when it's not roaming around in the wild. The Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park has an assortment of Australian birds, reptiles and mammals. Visitors can have an upclose experience with many of them. Cuddle a koala, snuggle a snake, or feed a kangaroo. The park focuses on conservation and often takes care of young animals who have been orphaned, injured or abandoned.
|Echidna at the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park near Parndana|
Lodging - Hanson Bay Beachfront Cabins
Koalas - Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary
Australian sea lions - Seal Bay Conservation Park
Captive animals - Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park
Kangaroo Island Wildlife Experiences brochure
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