A pristine wilderness with plenty of subjects to photograph just off the coast of South Australia.
Remarkable Rocks, one of the most photographed attractions of Kangaroo Island.
If you’re looking for a scenic Australian location that’s easy to visit, it’s difficult to find a more photogenic venue than Kangaroo Island. With a landscape that includes white beaches, azure water, towering sand dunes, wetlands and dense forests, it provides subjects to excite photographers at all levels of expertise and with a wide range of interests.
Kangaroo Island’s remoteness has created an environment that is free from most of the mainland’s pests and diseases, making it a great place for native flora and fauna. The island offers a wide range of accommodation options, outstanding food and wines, and attractions to please people of all ages. It boasts a rich history, active artists and craftspeople and special events throughout the year.
At Seal Bay you can stroll on the beach and obtain close-up shots of Australian Fur Seals as they relax on the sand.
Where is it?
Kangaroo Island lies 112km south-west of Adelaide and only 13.5km to the south across the Backstair Passage from Cape Jervis on the Fleurieu Peninsula. Its largest town, Kingscote, is closest to the mainland and is the administrative centre. Several nature reserves have been established to protect the remnants of its natural vegetation and native animals, with the largest and best-known being Flinders Chase National Park at the western end.
The island is 150km long and between 57km and 90km wide, and covers 4405 square kilometres. Its highest point is 307 metres above sea level. It is separated from Yorke Peninsula to the north-west by Investigator Strait. A group of islets, the Pages, lie off the eastern end of the island.
Getting there/getting around
Most people travel to the island by one of the SeaLink car ferries that travel between Cape Jervis on the mainland and Penneshaw on the island itself. There are four departures daily, with additional services during peak times. Bookings are necessary. Mainland coach connections are available to/from Adelaide and Goolwa to Cape Jervis.
You can also fly to Kingscote from most Australian capital cities. Some airlines offer travel and accommodation packages and there are many tours available, ranging from coach tours to personalised 4WD adventures. Helicopter flights over scenic areas can also be arranged. Although most roads are unsealed, the majority are suitable for 2WD vehicles and rental cars can be arranged for visitors who fly in or arrive by coach.
There’s no ideal season to visit Kangaroo Island; each season offers something different. Summer is usually the peak season, due to school holidays. Wildflowers are out during this time; little penguins are moulting and unable to go to sea; the breeding season begins for both the New Zealand fur seals and the Australian sea-lions; and heath goannas take advantage of the warmer weather to lay their eggs in termite mounds.
Autumn sees an increase in rainfall, which turns the pastures green. Glossy Black Cockatoos and Little Penguins begin nesting and Black Swans begin their courtship. Winter is spectacular with lush green countryside, flowing rivers and abundant wildlife. Kangaroo, wallaby and koala joeys begin to emerge from their mothers’ pouches, while echidnas form ‘mating trains’. Migratory waders begin to arrive from Siberia, ospreys are courting and the Southern Right Whales pass close to the coast en route from Antarctica to the Great Australian Bight to calve.
In spring the wildflowers are blooming, Cape Barren Geese begin nesting in the grasses and platypus lay their eggs. Eucalyptus oil is in full production, filling the air with its scent.
A panoramic view of the picturesque Vivonne Bay on the south coast.
What gear to take
The gear you take will depend on what types of photography interest you. A standard zoom lens (24-105mm for 35mm format, 18-55mm for APS-C DSLRs or 14-42mm for M4/3) will cover most situations.
Photographers interested in wildlife should bring a telephoto lens ““ with a focal length of at least 200mm required to capture most subjects. In places like Seal Bay and near some lighthouses, the animals are close enough to obtain good photographs with shorter lenses, but you can’t count on getting really close to most creatures.
Some locations can only be reached by fairly long walks so, if you plan to visit them, make sure you have a comfortable camera bag. Take water when it’s hot as you can’t always be sure of fresh drinking water.
Underwater photography is possible in several places. If this is your passion, make sure you are suitably equipped with housings and a wetsuit. (The water can be cold, even in summer).
The lighthouse at Cape Du Couedic against one of the dramatic skies that attract photographers to Kangaroo Island.
Specific places to visit
There are three lighthouses on the island, all of which are located in spectacular places and all make good photographic subjects. Cape Willoughby at the eastern end, Cape Du Couedic in the south west and Cape Borda in the north-west corner.
Lightkeepers’ cottages at each site are available for rental by visitors who want self-catered accommodation. You can take a guided tour of the Cape Willoughby and Cape Borda lighthouses and the historic cannon at Cape Borda is fired each day on the 12:30pm tour.
Seal Bay is a popular place to visit because it provides opportunities to get close to a large colony of Australian Fur Seals. The boardwalk to the beach has signposts providing information about these animals.
There’s an excellent panoramic view from Prospect Hill, which overlooks Pennington Bay and the American River estuary. Pennington Bay has been described as ‘a photographer’s dream’, and offers good surfing in warmer weather and spectacular waves when strong southerly winds blow.
Vivonne Bay on the south coast is a short hop from Seal Bay and offers turquoise waters, white sand and the only safe harbour on the south coast. It is home to a fleet of crayfishing boats from November to May.
One of the iconic tourist spots on the island is Remarkable Rocks, a granite outcrop between Vivonne Bay and Cape Du Couedic, which has been shaped by years of erosion by rain and wind. These rocks are reached by a short walkway that is wheelchair-accessible. Visitors can walk among the boulders and there is a nice view along the coast to Cape Du Couedic.
A close-up view of the eroded, lichen-clad boulders that comprise Remarkable Rocks.
The Flinders Chase National Park on the south-western corner of the island has plenty of attractions, including the Cape Du Couedic and Cape Borda lighthouses. Admiral’s Arch is a short walk on a boardwalk that leads from the Cape Du Couedic car park. New Zealand Fur Seals can be seen frolicking in the waves here, framed beneath a dramatic rock arch.
The Rocky River hike is a 9km path that leads along a stream to a secluded beach on the western coast. Allow at least three hours to enjoy this gentle stroll on a path that is sometimes a little challenging. Platypus are occasionally seen in this river and rare orchids can be found blooming in winter and spring.
Further up the coast is West Bay, an isolated beach surrounded by hills that provide excellent views over the sparkling water. The nearby Sandy Creek hike takes you through tall dunes to a large sandy beach where you can watch the Southern Ocean waves pounding on the shore.
The northern coast contains a variety of beaches, the most photogenic being Western River Cove, Emu Bay, Stokes Bay and Snelling Beach. This area presents a mixture of rocky cliffs and sandy shores, many of which are suitable for swimming and snorkelling. They are backed by rolling hills and farmland and abound in bird life.
The Stokes Bay Bush Garden has an excellent collection of plants that are endemic to the island, as well as other Australian plants. A self-guided walk takes you through the garden and you can look up the different species. The best time to visit is in spring.
Kingscote, the main town, is attractively located on the rocky coast. It has a well-maintained seawater aquarium and provides nightly penguin-watching tours throughout the year. The best time to visit this facility is in the breeding season between April and November. (The facility is wheelchair accessible.) Pelican feeding takes place daily at 5pm, at the water’s edge behind the Kangaroo Island Penguin Centre on the Kingscote Wharf.
Little Penguins can also be seen as they emerge from the waters of Hog Bay at the Penneshaw Penguin Centre, which is within walking distance of the SeaLink Ferry. It’s closed for most of February each year as well as on Christmas Day but open each day during the rest of the year.
See additional images in Photo Review Mag app January 2014 issue, where this article was first published.