“Oh my God, STOP!!” Lisa shrieked as yet another cute Australian animal appeared on the road in front of our rental SUV. This time it was a koala, eyes gleaming demonically in the glow of our headlights. Bryan slammed on the brakes and we caught our breath as we watched the creature, just sitting there like a bump on a log, clearly with no idea how close it had just come to being roadkill.
Flinders Chase (and the Scariest Drive Ever)
We were spending a week on Kangaroo Island in South Australia, and on this particular evening we were driving back to our cozy Airbnb. We were coming from Flinders Chase National Park, where we had just spent the day.
We really had not wanted to do any driving after dark on Kangaroo Island – the roadsides were a veritable graveyard of kangaroos, wallabies, and possums, and we did not want to contribute to the death toll. However, we had also learned that there were platypus water-holes at the park, and if you got lucky, you could see them at dusk. Unfortunately, the park was 2 hours away (that is, in ideal conditions during daylight) from our place.
We decided to go for it, and figured we would just take it nice and slow driving back home. We got to the park in the afternoon, and wandered around some of the trails for a bit. The trails seemed pretty devoid of wildlife at first, but then we found an old dirt road and discovered a field full of kangaroos! There were a bunch of them hanging around a pond, and we even found a mama and baby (toddler?) kangaroo.
They were remarkably calm around humans and we got to watch them for quite a while. They were very amusing, walking around on their short t-rex arms and using their tails for balance. It was also fun to see them hopping along. We even spotted a goanna (a big lizard) scuttling around on the trail.
We felt pretty comfortable wandering around in the wilderness here – after all, there were no big predators like bears or cougars to fear. But at one point, we heard some rustling in the bushes near the trail, and this quickly escalated into some crashing and snorting sounds. Whatever was in there had apparently started charging towards the path! Soon we saw a group of wild pigs, running towards us at full speed, and we panicked and started running as well. Luckily, we were able to avoid a close encounter as they veered off in another direction back into the cover of the shrubs.
As dusk approached, we headed off to the platypus holes to scout them out and figure out where we should set up. There were 3 different options, and finally we settled on one of the ponds that seemed to have the best vantage point. We jumped at every little sound on or near the water – platypus?! Sadly, it never was. We did hear some splashes and see ripples disturbing the calm water, indicating that one of the strange creatures may have surfaced and then dove down – but each time it happened too quickly for us to catch a glimpse.
Eventually it got dark, and after holding out a bit longer, we resigned ourselves to not seeing a platypus. So, we headed back to the car to make the long journey home. It took us close to 3 hours as we crawled along, glancing in all directions to try and spot any wildlife.
The good news was we saw a LOT of the wildlife we had come here for – approximately 50 possums, 40 wallabies, 5 kangaroos, an echidna, and a koala! The bad news is that most of them did not seem particularly savvy around cars at night – the possums in particular seemed to enjoy playing chicken with us, and their movements were completely erratic and unpredictable. We spent the whole ride home barely blinking, muscles tensed and prepared for a sudden stop. And we did make several sudden stops, fortunately managing to make it all the way home without any casualties (whew)!
A Wildlife Bonanza
Our Airbnb hosts mentioned that they often saw wallabies in the evenings right in the yard behind our basement suite! The first night we staked out the yard, and indeed, as dusk fell, Bryan took out his headlamp and spotted a couple hopping around. Then he heard a snuffling, and saw an echidna digging around in the dirt. He ran to get Lisa, and we both got to watch this cute little guy poking his nose into the ground for at least 10 minutes! What a great start to the trip.
We also had plenty of memorable wildlife encounters just driving or wandering aimlessly around other parts of Kangaroo Island. One day while driving down a road called Turkey Lane, we spotted a koala on the road. Most of the koalas we had seen had been up in trees, napping away in the heat of the day. So it was exciting to see one down on the ground, moving about. And soon we realized this one was extra special – she had a baby riding along on her back!
Once we stopped the car, she quickly made her way off the road and jumped up into a tree. We watched for a bit before moving on, only to discover another bigger koala lumbering around in the grass and then climbing up onto a fallen tree trunk. Metres away, we spotted another koala perched up between two branches – we didn’t see any turkeys, but Turkey Lane seemed to be koala central!
When visiting a lighthouse on the far tip of the island, we walked one of the trails but didn’t see much of interest. As we headed back to the car, we saw a couple of kangaroos in the parking lot, and decided to do some more exploring, but just around the parking area. This was an unexpected bonanza, as we found a bunch of wallabies hanging out in the shade!
We were both focused on watching and taking photos of the cute little wallabies, when Lisa turned over to say something to Bryan and saw an echidna shuffling along on the path between us! It looked like a little alien waddling along, and it stopped in the bushes to snuffle around the dirt with its long snout, while we watched in delight.
This was really exciting, as it was our first good daylight echidna encounter! The best part about this amazing parking lot area was that we had it all to ourselves, which was a big bonus!
Swimming with Dolphins: A Natural High
Aside from the adorable and entertaining wildlife on land, Kangaroo Island is also a place where you can snorkel with wild bottlenose dolphins. We got up early one morning to take a boat tour with Kangaroo Island Marine Adventures.
The tour got off to a nice start, as we spotted some white-bellied sea eagles and various other seabirds on our way out to a bay where dolphins hang out almost every day. Our guide informed us that they love to play in the shallow waters there, and sometimes they even get high by chomping on the resident puffer fish – puff, puff, pass, anyone? Poor little puffers! Apparently then the tour group might find a few of them puffed up and floating around on the surface.
Upon arriving, we spotted some dolphins, got our gear on, and then waited until the moment was right to jump in! We rotated through in small groups. The water was brisk, but once you adjusted it wasn’t too bad, and totally worth it for the moments we had in the water when pods of dolphins (including some babies) swam by. Some of them were quite curious, while others just carried on past us. Some of them played around in the sand, stirring up the bottom. It was an amazing morning!
Other than that, we really enjoyed driving around and checking out a few of the numerous beaches around Kangaroo Island. Some of them were impressive to look at – wild with steep cliffs and pounding waves. Others had calm clear water gently rolling up onto white sand. Some of them were even accessible for vehicles, and you are allowed to drive right onto the beach!
Kangaroo Island was definitely one of our highlights in Australia. Although the ferry wasn’t cheap, it was totally worth it for the encounters with iconic Australian wildlife, beautiful scenery, and laidback beach visits.
Innes National Park: We came. We saw. We
conquered were chased by an emu.
While staying in Adelaide, we also made a day trip to Innes National Park. The park boasts dramatic coastal scenery and beaches, but we were mainly there to try and spot some emus in the wild, since we knew we wouldn’t be able to find those on Kangaroo Island. We stopped at the visitor centre to check in with a park ranger, who informed us that we were pretty much guaranteed to see them if we drove around for a bit.
Sure enough, we quickly spotted a group of young emus with their father, chomping away on some bushes at the side of the road.
We got out of the car to take some photos, and soon they started wandering over closer to us. Lisa was a bit hesitant and asked Bryan if we should back off a bit. Bryan brushed her off with his trademark “don’t worry.” What could possibly go wrong? They were just emus! He proceeded to approach closer to get a better photo (but was still mindful to keep enough distance that he didn’t disrupt their behaviour).
Eventually they were stepping out onto the road, and as a car rushed around a corner, we shrieked as one of them almost got hit. Luckily, it jumped out of the way just in time. But then, when the next car came, one of the emus decided to run away – head down, at top speed – right in our direction! Lisa screamed and ran for the car, thinking how stupid it would be if we were injured by some big flightless birds after surviving all those grizzly bear encounters in Alaska. Bryan also ran, but his concern was mainly that if he survived the emu collision, Lisa would surely kill him for getting her into this situation.
Fortunately, the emu veered off its course before charging right into us. We caught our breath and enjoyed watching them for a little bit longer, laughing at our absurd encounter.
We had been told that South Australia (and specifically Kangaroo Island) was the place to go for great wildlife encounters with most of Australia’s iconic creatures in their natural habitats. Our time there did not disappoint, and we would highly recommend this region to anyone looking for authentic wildlife encounters (or even just some beautiful beaches and nice wineries)!