A Wild Island
with Wild Stories

 Islands across the world have more than one thing in common. They share a frontier bound by water and a history and culture of ingenuity, borne out of their inherent isolation. 

 Kangaroo Island's history is no different; it is full of interesting and compelling stories. Be sure to travel through time at one of the many museums and history - inspired attractions dotted across the Island.

 discover more about our wild island 

Reeves Point

Location: Governor Wallen Scenic Drive, Kingscote. 

Opening Hours: Open access. 

Reeves Point is the site of the first official European settlement in South Australia. The historic site features walking paths and interpretive signs that explain the significance of features such as the old mulberry tree, the first well, the old jetty and quarry sites, the German row, the landing site, the bullock track and the old post office. 

The Reeves Point area has been carefully revegetated with local species and the Pioneer Cemetery under the graceful Casuarina trees is especially evocative. Flagstaff Hill offers spectacular views of Bay of Shoals and beyond. The flagpole features a crows nest and flag bearing mast, rising from handcrafted stonemasonry representing the first settlers' ships. Kingscote school children made the engraved pavers around the site. Up to 50 species of birds can be viewed from the bird hide including several Cormorants, Australian Pelicans, Sacred Ibis, Black Swans, White-faced Herons, Musk Ducks, Chestnut Teal, Oyster Catches and several species of migratory waders over summer. 

Reeves Point is an ideal place for a picnic with shelter sheds, gas barbecue, tables, seats, playground and toilets in a secluded setting.

Hope Cottage Folk Museum 

Location: Centenary Street, Kingscote 

Opening Hours: 1pm-4pm daily September-July (extended in January 10am-4pm) 

Telephone:(08) 8553 3017 or (08) 8553 2667 or (08) 8553 3141 

Established and operated by the National Trust, this is one of the Island's most historic homes. The pioneering Calnan brothers built it in the 1850s with the proceeds from a gold-mining expedition to Victoria. Buildings surround the museum, with exhibits depicting the pioneering history of Kangaroo Island. Some of these are just as they have been rescued; others have been fully restored. 

The exhibition is very generous with many interesting articles on display. A feature of the working exhibits is the reconstructed light from the Cape Willoughby Lighthouse, and a re-created Masonic Lodge room. For a trip down memory lane view the 1950's-style garage and office. 

Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Distillery 

During the 1930s there were 48 eucalyptus stills in operation employing over 600 people on Kangaroo Island. Today, Emu Ridge is the only commercial eucalyptus oil distillery in operation in South Australia. The technology of this operation may surprise you! The rustic outlook hides some clever bush technology and processes which are simple yet effective. Emu Ridge is self-sufficient with solar and wind power. An extensive range of local art and crafts are also available from the gift shop and Rookery Wines have their cellar door on site with tastings available. Free entry, tour fee applies. 

Prospect Hill 

Location: Hog Bay Road. 

Opening Hours: Open access. 

Feeling energetic? Prospect Hill is the highest point in the area, and well worth a climb. First climbed by Captain Matthew Flinders, the top of the hill was used by the famous explorer to survey the Island. There are 512 steps leading to a rewarding view over American River, Pelican Lagoon, the Southern Ocean and Pennington Bay. On a clear day, you can even see Mount Lofty in the Adelaide Hills. 

Frenchman's Rock 

Location: At the east end of Penneshaw Beach. 

Opening Hours: Open access. 

In 1803 Captain Nicolas Baudin, the French explorer, anchored in Hog Bay and sent a party ashore to find fresh meat and water. While waiting for the water casks to fill, one of the sailors carved on a nearby rock, 'Expedition de decouverte par le commandant Baudin sur le Geographe 1803'. Translated it reads, 'Expedition of discovery by Captain Baudin in the Geographe 1803'. To protect it from erosion, the original stone is now housed at the Gateway Visitor Information Centre on Howard Drive, Penneshaw. 

Parndana Soldier Settlement Museum 

The museum tells the stories of the early years of Soldier Settlement on Kangaroo Island. This fascinating collection gives an insight into the early 1950's and the challenges and triumphs of turning thick native scrub into productive farming land. Be transported to a time before electricity when logging, chaining and dozing were part of everyday life. Enjoy tall tales, anecdotes and recollections from the settlers and learn how having a sense of humour was an essential part of survival during this tough but important period in KI history. The museum features a great collection of the machinery used in the 50's and 60's as well of extensive photo albums and historical records to research family connections. 

Penneshaw Maritime and Folk Museum 

Formerly the Penneshaw (Hog Bay) School, the museum is opposite the current Penneshaw School. In addition to a fine collection of items relating to the history of the Dudley district, a special nautical section highlights the shipping history of the Island. Fee applies 

Old Wisanger School 

Location: North Coast Road, Wisanger 

Opening hours: Open access 

Telephone: (08) 8553 5215 Enter a different era of education. Inspect the books and facilities of another century. Established as a school, community-meeting place and church in the 1880's, the school closed in 1945 but has been restored. The rules for use of the building and conduct of teachers make fascinating reading. Donation appreciated.

Early History

The first European explorers found the Island to be uninhabited, as evidenced by the lack of campfires and tameness of the wildlife.

Since the 1930s, Aboriginal campsites have been discovered in a number of areas around the Island,
including one near the sea lion colonies of Cape du Couedic.

  discover more about early history


Aboriginal Inhabitation

Today, it's believed Aboriginal people were living on the Island at least as long as 16,000 years ago (before the Island was separated by rising sea levels) and as recently as 2,000 years ago. Why the Aboriginal people abandoned Kangaroo Island - and how they left - remains a mystery. Intriguingly, mainland indigenous peoples called it ‘Karta' or ‘Land of the Dead'. 

Early European Settlement 

The first non-Aboriginal people to live on Kangaroo Island were sealers, escaped convicts and runaway sailors, who sought refuge here in the early 1800s. They led a self-sufficient, lawless existence, eating the local wildlife, and trading salt and skins for spirits and tobacco. 

Aboriginal women were frequently kidnapped from the mainland and Tasmania.

Modern Exploration & Settlement

In 1800 the British Government commissioned Captain Matthew Flinders to explore and map the southern coastline of Terra Australis in HMS Investigator. Flinders made the first recorded European sighting of the Island in March 1802.
He came ashore on the north coast, and named Kangaroo Island.

discover more about modern exploration & settlement


On the afternoon of 8 April 1802, as the Investigator tacked towards the mainland, a sail appeared on the horizon. It was the French corvette, Le Geographe, under the command of Nicolas Baudin. 

Despite Britain and France being at war, both parties soon realised that neither had hostile intentions. Information was exchanged about their explorations, with Flinders advising Baudin of the large island nearby with the opportunity to replenish supplies with fresh meat and water. 

Baudin returned to the Island in the summer of 1802-3, mapping much of the rugged south and west coastlines. Many of the features along this part of the coastline bear French names as a consequence of this visit.

Australia's First Free Settlement 

The South Australian Company was established by an Act of Parliament in England in 1834. Its charter was to establish the first colony somewhere along the coast between the Great Australian Bight and Port Phillip Bay. By 1836 the company had acquired a fleet of ships and chose Kangaroo Island to start Australia's first free settled colony. 

On 27 July 1836 the barque Duke of York anchored in Nepean Bay and began the first formal settlement in South Australia at the place now known as Reeves Point. Several other ships soon joined the Duke of York. Passengers were 'Capitalists' (as defined in the Company Prospectus) or carefully selected workers, many with families. Challenged by a shortage of water and building timber, the formal settlement was to last less than four years. At its peak some 300 people lived there, and 42 dwellings and other buildings were constructed. 

Some persistent individuals stayed on and formed the basis of a community that prided itself on a strong sense of independence. Reeves Point remains as testimony to the hopes and aspirations of the early pioneers. In 1982 the site was placed on the South Australian Heritage Register. Poignant reminders of the early days include the first European cemetery, site of the first post office, early house sites, original jetty remains, and the mulberry tree that grew from a cutting brought out from England with the first settlers.

Agricultural History

From Wool to Wallaby Skins.
In the early days, as farmers battled to clear the land, their livelihood was principally derived from the bush. They felled and sold timber, snared possums, kangaroos and wallabies for their skins, collected yacca gum and distilled eucalyptus oil.

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At the end of the 19th century, the Island's pastoral industry was growing around sheep farming (wool was easily shipped to the mainland) and grain. After World War II, this was consolidated when the government established a war service land settlement scheme. Please see below for more information on the Soldier Settlement Scheme. 

The Ligurian Bee 

In the early 1880s August Fiebig brought 12 hives from the Italian province of Liguria, and established an apiary near Penneshaw. Since then, no other breeds of bee have been introduced to Kangaroo Island. Because of the Island's isolation, all present-day honeybees are descendants of those 12 hives. These bees are pure Ligurian and, as such, are unique in the world. 

Ligurian bees are renowned for their gentle nature and productivity. These characteristics, and the purity of the strain, make them a valuable genetic pool for breeding purposes. Mated queen bees are regularly exported interstate and overseas. In recognition of the bee sanctuary status legislation was introduced in 1931 prohibiting the importation of bees and second-hand bee-keeping equipment to the Island. Since then, the identification of Foul Brood Disease in mainland hives has necessitated the banning of all bee products to the Island, to ensure that the Ligurian bee remains disease free. 

Visit Cliffords Honey Farm or Island Beehive to learn more about the Ligurian bee and to sample some of the honey delicacies. 

Soldiers Became Farmers 

Ex-soldiers were to farm the undeveloped land on the Island's central plateau: 174 soldier settlers and their families came to the Island and were each allocated 1,200 acres with boundary fencing, two dams, a small house and implement shed, and were required to clear and develop 800 acres for pasture. The cost of the house, shed and fencing had to be paid back over 30 years. 

The Parndana Soldier Settlement Museum provides an excellent insight into these times.


Cape Borda Light-station 

Cape Borda Lighthouse stands testament to a long gone era. Perched high above the ocean, the lighthouse was built in 1858 to guide sailing ships arriving off the 'roaring forties' trade winds. In addition to guided tours of the lighthouse and museum (including the daily firing of the restored signal cannon on the 12.30 pm tour), you can also visit the light-keepers' cemetery, which offers a fascinating insight into the isolation and hardships of the lighthouse keepers and their families. 

Cape Willoughby Light-station 

Visit South Australia's first lighthouse. Cape Willoughby Light-station is located on a 17-hectare property comprising the Cape Willoughby Lighthouse (Sturt Light) and lighthouse keepers' cottages. Cape Willoughby Lighthouse was the first lighthouse built in South Australia, beginning operation in 1852 to assist the safe and economic operation of the rapidly expanding coastal shipping trade between the eastern colonies and the colony of South Australia via Backstairs Passage. 

A guided tour is a must, visiting the museum as well as climbing to the top of the lighthouse where the views stretch as far as the eye can see.


Since the first recorded shipwreck in 1847, over 50 ships have been lost around the coast of Kangaroo Island,
many with loss of life.

The largest vessel to be wrecked off the coast was the 5,800 tonne Portland Maru in 1935, which began taking water near Cape du Couedic before sinking close to Cape Torrens. One of the more notable, tragic events occurred to the Loch Vennachar,
which sailed into cliffs on the west coast in 1905 with the loss of all 27 crew. Only one body was found and buried, unidentified, in the sandhills of West Bay. For more information on Kangaroo Island Ship Wrecks, view the PDF below.


Kangaroo Island, South Australia

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Kangaroo Island Gateway Visitor Information Centre

Visit with our friendly staff at Kangaroo Island's only Accredited Visitor Information Centre and let us help you customise an itinerary as unique as you are to get the most from your time on Kangaroo Island.

Kangaroo Island Gateway Visitor Information Centre - Howard Drive, PENNESHAW SA 5222
Open: Mon - Fri 9am - 5pm, Weekends & Public Holidays 10am - 4pm, Closed Christmas Day.

TOLL FREE: 1800 811 080