When you travel to Australia, there are many things you want to see: the Opera House in Sydney, Ayers Rock in the Outback, the Great Barrier Reef up in Queensland, blah blah blah. You know the drill. We all own TVs. We’ve seen the Fosters (Australian for Beer!) commercials.
But if you’re being honest with yourself about your Australian fantasies, there’s probably one thing that tops the list: kangaroos.
If you go to Australia and you haven’t seen kangaroos, have you really been there? I think not.
Well, my friends, we saw kangaroos aplenty when we traveled to a place called…wait for it..Kangaroo Island.
Planning a month-long honeymoon is all about choices: do we go to City A or Country B? Are we going to spend six nights in one spot, or two nights each in three spots? We struggled while planning our Australian adventure with whether or not to make the slightly-out-of-our-way trek to Kangaroo Island for an Australian-style safari, or to visit Melbourne, a city everybody declares lovely, civilized, terrible European, and possessing of the best food in Australia.
We chose Kangaroo Island and had two of the best days of our lives. Absolutely no regrets on the choice: we’ll visit Melbourne next time!
Honestly, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with Kangaroo Island: that’s the disadvantage of doing the majority of your research over the internet. Kangaroo Island is off the southern coast of Australia, a 25 minute flight (and hour-long ferry ride) away from wine-tasting mecca Adelaide. It’s the third-largest island in Australia, and is about 90 miles long and 35 miles wide, which means you can see the entire thing in a day…but a few days are recommended to get the full effect. Thank God we chose to spend two days there, otherwise we would have merely scratched the surface of what makes this island so special.
There are several different tour operators on Kangaroo Island, but after talking to some friends who’ve been there and scouring the Trip Advisor reviews, E. and I knew there was no option but Exceptional Kangaroo Island. If the other tour operators on the island are hamburgers, Exceptional Kangaroo Island is a big, thick, juicy, marbled steak. With lobster mashed potatoes on the side. (Where am I going with this analogy? I must be hungry.)
Exceptional Kangaroo Island, which has been in operation since 1986, offers small group and luxury private tours in a four-wheel-drive vehicle. You have several different tour itineraries to choose from, or can work with the operators and your private tour guide to create your own, bespoke tour. Just as when you’re on safari, no two tours with Exceptional Kangaroo Island are going to be the same, because your guide will tailor it to your tastes. Want to see kangaroos…or koalas…or sea lions…or wallabies, or eagles, or penguins, or dolphins? They’re all yours for the taking.
Pretty much the only thing E. and I wanted to see were kangaroos and koalas, which we worried would be in short supply. We shouldn’t have worried! By the end of the first day, after an embarrassment of animal riches–including some koalas climbing around in the eucalyptus trees right over our heads–we were like, “Yeah, yeah, another kangaroo. That’s nice. More wine, please!”
The Exceptional Kangaroo Island tours stop mid-day for a private white-linen-tablecloth lunch in the bush. Our guide Ron chopped up fresh greens and produce, sizzled fresh local fish (ours was King George Whiting, which goes for $50+ in many Aussie restaurants), grilled potatoes and veggies and cheeses, and poured us ample glasses of local Kangaroo Island wines. This was done in the middle of what was basically a jungle (I am so not using the proper botanical terminology, but I think you get what I’m saying), underneath a tarp. It all felt deliciously Out of Africa.
The tour we picked was the Island Life tour, which lasts from 9 am to 5 pm, and includes a trip out to Flinders Chase National Park and Seal Bay Conservation Park to get up close and personal with the adorable seal and sea lion pups and bulls. We were mere inches away from the world’s cutest little pups, who were sunning themselves on both the sand and the concrete path leading to the beach, and kept inching over to check us out. I think I might have mentioned a little something about all the kangaroos and koalas and wallabies…but it kind of bears repeating, because it was that exceptional. Pun not intended!
The following day, we had a group tour with Kangaroo Island Marine Tours, which was booked through Exceptional Kangaroo Island, who is their tour partner. E. and I were under the illusion that we’d be having another white-gloved private tour, so we were surprised to find ourselves on an inflatable raft along with 10 other people in the middle of the Bay: however, any misgivings disappeared when we were surrounded by dolphins for the remainder of the morning.
Some of the members of our tour even stripped down to their swimsuits and jumped in the water, swimming with the dolphins, which would have been extremely jealousy-inducing, except it was about 7 degrees outside.
The views were stunning and the Kangaroo Island Marine Tour operators were lovely, but if I was taking this tour again, I’d spring for the afternoon tour. It allows for more people (up to about 40) but includes a bathroom on board and is a sturdier ship, so is less likely to induce motion sickness. Don’t worry: the dolphins (and the tea, homemade cakes, and views) more than made up for it. It was a great tour and I recommend it when the weather is warm, you have a swimsuit, and you haven’t had a few morning cups of coffee requiring bathroom trips.
Exceptional Kangaroo Island also offers packages, so you can book your flight and hotel through them and get a deal all rolled up into one. We opted to book our own hotel, and stayed at the Aurora Ozone Hotel in Kingscote, only about 15 minutes away from the airport.
The Aurora Ozone is centrally located, just across the street from the beach, and features a nice restaurant and proximity from Bella Cafe, our gustatory home-away-from-home. I can recommend this hotel, but if you’re going to stay here, make sure you request a seaside view room, or (better yet) one of the private apartments on the 3rd floor of the new building. E. and I were upgraded to the 3rd floor apartments on our 2nd night and they were much better, including a kitchen, washer/dryer and a huge wrap-around balcony, to say nothing of the gorgeous views of Nepean Bay.
To get to Kangaroo Island, you’ll fly on Rex Express from Adelaide to Kingscote. There are only three flights a day, so plan accordingly. You can also take the SeaLink ferry from Cape Jervis (about 2 hours away from Adelaide) to Penneshaw (on KI), but it’s much longer and involves buses and all sorts of nonsense, so I’d recommend just springing for the flight.
Our trip passed by way too quickly: when we were on the flight back to Adelaide, we marveled at what a once-in-a-lifetime experience Kangaroo Island had been. As silly and cliched at it might sound, after seeing all the native, in-your-dreams animals and experiencing the remote, country life–seriously, it’s beautiful–now we feel like we’ve truly been to Australia. Kangaroo Island is a must.
Disclosure: While Exceptional Kangaroo Island and Kangaroo Island Marine Tours were kind enough to comp us our experiences, E. and I paid for our own stay at the Aurora Ozone Hotel. As always, all opinions remain my own.