An update on the 2020 bushfires on Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island Bushfire recovery more than 2 years after January 2020

Like the rest of Australia, Kangaroo Island regularly experiences fires during the warmer months. Yet, the ‘Black Summer’ of 2019-20 saw large-scale bushfires in Australia making news headlines worldwide.

A disaster at a level never experienced here before, the bushfires on Kangaroo Island significantly impacted the landscape. Here is an overview of what happened, and how the island is recovering over two years later.

The 2019-20 summer bushfires on Kangaroo Island were the largest in the island's recorded history and burnt more vegetation than any fire on the island.

Country Fire Service, South Australia

How did the Kangaroo Island fire start?

During a scorching summer unusual for the regular Kangaroo Island weather pattern, lightning strikes ignited fires first on the north and north-eastern coasts of the island on 20 December 2019, then in Flinders Chase National Park ten days later.

Over several weeks, the Kangaroo Island fires burned 211,474 hectares of land, almost half of the island. It is unknown how many of the island’s wild animals perished, along with the estimated 32,000 head of stock and domestic animals that died. The widespread fires also damaged or destroyed homes, businesses—including some tourism venues—grazing land, forests, crops, machinery, and infrastructure, and two people tragically lost their lives.

Is Kangaroo Island still on fire?

No. Once the bushfire zone was declared safe on 6 February 2020, emergency aid was received from many organisations and individuals, including the Red Cross, the Australian Defence Force, BlazeAid and many volunteers.

Since then, the entire community has worked together to rebuild homes, re-establish the hard-hit primary production sector, and protect surviving wildlife. Islanders are ready for visitors to return and experience the fascinating and dynamic process of the Kangaroo Island Bushfire recovery journey first-hand.

How are the natural attractions recovering after the Kangaroo Island fires?

Fire plays a vital role in Australian landscapes. Bushfires in Australia trigger seed germination in some species and help provide nutrients. Fire is a natural ‘reset button’ and the recovery process can be seen everywhere. The island is bouncing back with deafening birdsong, content kangaroos and koalas, and flourishing flora. It must be seen to be believed.

Nature is a dynamic multi-tasker. Nature can adjust and process so quickly and subtly that we are not always aware of what is happening.

Dr P Rismiller, Pelican Lagoon Research and Wildlife Centre
Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail

Burnt trees with hollowed-out logs have become havens for insects and provide an important refuge for birds and small mammals seeking shelter and nesting sites. The regeneration of native vegetation is astonishing following the Kangaroo Island fires, with some wildflower species now being seen that haven't been recorded in more than 70 years.

Contact the Kangaroo Island Landscape Board to find out more about Kangaroo Island's biodiversity, along with specific programs and volunteer opportunities.

What does the Kangaroo Island Bushfire recovery look like elsewhere?

Ever since the fires, the island’s agricultural sector and community have shown inspirational resilience in the face of adversity, and the recovery has been truly remarkable. The sheep industry lost almost 10% of its stock during the fires but has now rebuilt most of the infrastructure, including thousands of kilometres of fencing. Crops have now been resown and pastures regenerated.

Kangaroo Islanders have worked together to turn the challenges from the 2020 bushfires into a more positive experience and have developed risk management plans to help prepare for future disasters.

What is open on Kangaroo Island?

The majority of the island is open for business over two years after the devastating Kangaroo Island fires. Local tourism operators are welcoming visitors back to explore and enjoy everything the island is known for—pristine wilderness, wildlife and a thriving food and wine industry.

It is easy to fill your holiday itinerary here whether you are travelling alone, with a group of friends, as a couple or with a young family. Kangaroo Island offers a wide range of fun-filled outdoor activities, relaxing beach locations, wineries, distilleries, breweries and plenty of outstanding eateries to suit everyone.

Visit the Kangaroo Island map for further information about what there is to see and do in South Australia's premier holiday destination.

Plan your trip

Can I visit the National Parks on Kangaroo Island?

Yes, absolutely. Six of the island’s parks were unaffected and continue to provide visitors with opportunities to experience the island's nature and heritage.

96% of the internationally renowned Flinders Chase National Park on the western end of Kangaroo Island was severely affected by the bushfires, with much of the infrastructure and surrounding areas destroyed. Now the park has been reopened and iconic sites such as Remarkable Rocks and Admirals Arch are accessible again, along with some walking trails.

Heritage sites such as the lighthouses and cottages at Cape du Couedic and Cape Borda were not destroyed by the Kangaroo Island fires. Much has happened in the last two years, and the green vegetation springing out of the blackened landscape shows the true resilience of nature and the landscape. Visitors are also appreciating a rare opportunity to see bushland regeneration firsthand.

The world-famous Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail has been modified and is available for day-walkers who book with one of the licensed tour operators. A popular destination for passionate hikers and photographers, the trail gives hikers the opportunity to see plenty of wildlife.

For more up-to-date information on the park, including what trails are open, visit the National Parks and Wildlife Service South Australia website.

Admirals Arch