Question: Where is Australia’s best beach? No, sorry, Whitehaven Beach, in the Whitsundays, is incorrect. Bondi? Nope, nowhere near it. Cable Beach in Broome? Not even close. Ever heard of Vivonne Bay? Chances are that you haven’t – unless you’ve visited Kangaroo Island.
Located on the rugged southern coast of Kangaroo Island, Vivonne Bay was voted Australia’s best beach by a panel of environmental scientists.
Another fact that may surprise you is that KI, as it’s known amongst locals, is our third largest island, behind Melville Island off the NT and Tasmania.
From Adelaide, the island is an hour-and-a-half drive south, plus a 45-minute ferry ride from Cape Jervis on the mainland, to the town of Penneshaw on the island’s north-east corner. Or by boat, it’s around a four-hour cruise.
Named for its abundance of marsupial life by explorer, Matthew Flinders, who set foot on its shores in 1802, the island also has a French connection, with explorer Captain Nicolas Baudin being the first to circumnavigate and map the island in the same year. Baudin and Flinders actually met during their exploration, Encounter Bay marking their rendezvous point.
Speaking of wildlife, the island has been described as Australia’s largest native zoo and boasts a total of 21 conservation and national parks within its 155km length. Resident species range from kangaroos, koalas, wallabies and goannas, to sea lions, New Zealand fur seals and penguins, while its shores abound in a variety of fish species, including King George whiting, snapper and yellowtail kingfish.
The usual point of entry is Penneshaw, near the island’s eastern end, while the island’s main town is Kingscote, a little further west along the north coast. Other towns include Parndana and American River, while there are numerous smaller settlements spread around the coastline. The population of close to 5000 swells over the peak tourism period between November and March.
There are any number of local attractions, both natural and man-made, the latter including local wineries, wildlife reserves, points of historic interest, shipwreck sites, coastal walks, lighthouse tours and restaurants.
From a boating perspective, KI offers a couple of options. For trailer boaters, it’s simply a matter of driving onto the ferry at Cape Jervis for the 15km trip to Penneshaw. From there, it’s a matter of deciding where you want to enter the water, keeping in mind that serviceable boat ramps are mostly restricted to the eastern end of the island. Power and sail cruising options are, likewise, limited to some extent to the island’s eastern areas, with good mooring facilities available in Penneshaw, American River, Kingscote and Vivonne Bay on the south coast. The western part of the island is largely given over to wilderness, wildlife sanctuaries and national parks and doesn’t have much in the way of boating infrastructure.
But boaties need to keep a weather eye out for forecasts, particularly when venturing south, as there aren’t too many shelter options if the Southern Ocean turns nasty.
During our stay, the weather was next to perfect from a power boating point of view, but I abandoned the water for a day to explore the island by land, paying particular attention to the local marinas and mooring facilities.
Christmas Cove is a delightful little sheltered marina at Penneshaw. It’s a modern floating arm facility that accommodates 19 berths for vessels up to around 35ft. It also boasts a launch ramp, plus fresh water, power and sullage facilities, while the town centre is only a short stroll away.