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The native wildlife of Kangaroo Island

The call of the wild: South Australia

It's the native wildlife that makes a family holiday to Kangaroo Island worth doing, writes Mark Daffey.

Itís our first morning on South Australiaís slow-paced Kangaroo Island. As we gaze across the swells of the Backstairs Passage we soon spot a pod of dolphins swimming idly by and notice signs warning pedestrians against treading too closely to a colony of little penguins that nest in the hollows of the sea cliffs opposite us.

Since the abundant wildlife was our main reason in deciding to come here, itís a promising start.

kangaroo island with kids

What animals can you find on Kangaroo Island?

Itís highly unlikely Matthew Flinders would have foreseen the marketing fillip he gifted to Kangaroo Island when he christened it during his global exploration voyages more than two centuries ago. The islandís only natives back then were of the furry and friendly kind.

So friendly, in fact, that they practically hopped into the sailorsí cooking pots.

History almost repeats itself at our Rocky River campsite in Flinders Chase National Park. The plumpest possums Iíve ever seen stroll about at will; theyíre so bold that I have to forcibly herd them away at times.

One pair almost bowls over our boiling camp stove while my wife cooks dinner, so determined are they to chase each other away so they can feast on the spoils.

It soon becomes evident that the animals here are accustomed to people; tiny tammar wallabies hop around the campsite and an echidna practically shrugs its shoulders when our son Finn bends down to pat it.

kangaroo island with kids

We rise early one morning to see if we can find the elusive platypus.

Kangaroo Island kangaroos (which are endemic to the island), Cape Barren geese and drowsy koalas are almost completely unfazed by us as we hike through the native wilderness to the Platypus Waterholes from the Flinders Chase Visitor Centre.

Platypuses are most active at dawn and dusk, and are also timid creatures that scurry and hide at the slightest hint of danger, so we arrive at the string of billabongs just after sunrise.

Telltale water bubbles break the surface Ė a sign that they are present in the pools Ė but unfortunately we donít see any of the shy mammals.

kangaroo island with kids

What to see and do on Kangaroo Island

We spend a couple of days in the national park, hiking out to the Rocky River mouth on the wild west coast and driving down to Cape du Couedic to see Admirals Arch and the Remarkable Rocks.

Finn finds the contortions of the Remarkables perfect for scrambling over, into and through, and the boardwalk and stairway to the arch appeal to his energetic side.

However, heís less keen on the stench rising from the New Zealand fur seals lazing on the rock shelves.

Itís his second experience of seeing seals on the island.

Seal Bay Conservation Park is located midway along the south coast and itís here where a 600-strong colony of Australian sea lions has settled in.

You can see them from a distance via a viewing platform thatís accessible along a lengthy boardwalk. Better yet is the guided walk onto the beach, where you can creep within 20 metres of these hulking beasts.

Earlier weíd visited Raptor Domain, where Finn was fascinated by the owls, kestrels, falcons and wedge-tailed eagles that were paraded in front of us and gawked in wide-eyed astonishment as funnel web spiders, scorpions and tiger snakes were released inside the Venom Pit.

After lunch we move on to the Little Sahara sand dunes nearby where the three of us slide down the blustery slopes on sandboards, amazingly keeping our feet and avoiding munching on mouthfuls of sand.

But as always, itís the wildlife that the kids canít get enough of, and all sorts and species are found at the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park just outside the town of Parndana.

There are native quokkas, cassowaries and a saltwater crocodile, along with exotic interlopers like albino peafowls and kaleidoscopic macaws. The koala interaction sessions are hugely popular, and visitors delight in handfeeding the many kangaroos and wallabies prowling around.

kangaroo island with kids

Hidden Gems at Stokes Bay

Our last night of camping is on the north coast at Stokes Bay where the seas are calm and the roos are plentiful.

The beach is accessible down a short, sandy track from the caravan park and camping ground. The beach doesnít immediately reveal its charms Ė not, at least, until you notice an arrow directing you towards a hidden passage through the headland Ė guiding you to a gorgeous stretch of sand a kilometre long.

Finding our way through the maze was half the fun, the kids exploring like Indiana Jones arriving at the Treasury in Petra.

The tideís out and Finn immediately sees the potential for a game of beach cricket before we wade out into the shore breakers for a bodysurf. The clouds close in as we scamper back to our camp to witness one of the islandís more bizarre daily rituals.

Every day at 5pm, a natural raconteur generically known as the Pelican Man stands behind a rostrum handing out fish, squid and octopus to a ravenous assembly of Australian pelicans. Local resident John Ayliffe delivers a polished monologue thatís both informative and entertaining, and he has the crowd chuckling away throughout.

By the end of his brief presentation, he has us hankering for more. Much like the island itself, really.

stokes bay kangaroo island

This article featured in volume 48 of Holidays with kids. Enjoyed it? Subscribe to see more!

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