Kangaroo Island is named for obvious reasons, but the truth is this island some 70 miles southwest of Adelaide could as easily have been named Leafy Sea Dragon Island had British explorer Matthew Flinders had access to scuba gear in 1802. The temperate waters surrounding Kangaroo Island host much wonder, but it is the poetically surreal leafy sea dragon, the loveliest compilation of mix-and-match parts, that steals the show, endemic to — and prolific in — Kangaroo Island’s waters. How certain are local dive operators of filling your faceplate with these lacy creatures? At least one dive outfitter guarantees a sighting within two days of diving. If not, the next two days of diving are free.
You’ll find leafy sea dragons only in South Australia, but if you like their cousin the seahorse — and laid-back island attitude — visit Key Largo. Reef Adventures knows the waters; www.floridakeysdive.com.
While you’re inhaling this rare sight, you’ll also be mucking about in an unspoiled underwater (and over-water) realm, home to some of Oz’s most spectacularly plunging walls, festooned with soft corals and gaily colored sponges (try Snapper Point and Backstairs Passage). The waters are filled with seals and bottle-nosed dolphin; white sharks are a possibility. Endemic life? Roughly 80 percent of Kangaroo Island’s fish are found only in South Australia waters. Wrecks? South Australia’s sometimes-tumultuous seas have sent plenty of wrecks to the bottom. More than 50 recorded shipwrecks litter Kangaroo Island — from the 5,800-ton freighter Portland Maru to the 500-ton sailing barque Fides — making a wreck diver’s delight.
But if you choose to remember one thing regarding Kangaroo Island, remember this: The leafy sea dragon is just one facet of surprise. Fieldwork studies continually unearth new species. These are the kind of waters where rarities are not entirely rare. — KM
Need to Know
Getting There From Adelaide (South Australia), you can either drive 1.5 hours to Cape Jervis and take the SeaLink ferry to Penneshaw (trip time is 45 minutes to an hour) or take the ferry from Wirrina Cove (25 minutes closer to Adelaide) that puts in at Kingscote. There are plenty of daily plane flights from Adelaide too; flight time is roughly 30 minutes.
When to Go Kangaroo Island has a Mediterranean climate (warm days, cool nights) and temperate seas.
Dive Season November through April provides the best weather; best months for diving are January, February and March when water temps average 68-70°F.
Operators Kangaroo Island Diving Safaris (www.kidivingsafaris.com)
Stay The Aurora Ozone Hotel offers different townhouse and single room configurations from $120 (www.auroraresorts.com.au). Seaview Motel has rooms from $144 per night (www.seaview.net.au), or choose a KI Coast to Coast package including ferry ride and day tours for $300.