You can be pretty sure when visiting Kangaroo Island in South Australia you’ll spot a koala dozing up a tree, seals playing on the beach, dolphins swimming in the sea, and of course, kangaroos bouncing around.
Along the 155km length of Australia’s third largest island, you’ll also discover soaring cliffs and rugged coastlines, dense national parks, towering sand dunes, and untouched beaches.
Most of the island is preserved and protected giving you a natural and pure experience for years to come.
We were ecstatic to finally be visiting this diverse and stunning location just off the South Australia mainland. We visited Kangaroo Island on a road trip for four nights and I would have liked at least one extra night as we didn’t have enough time to experience the west coast in more depth.
The Dudley Peninsula
If you arrive in Penneshaw on the morning Sea Link ferry, escorted by the local dolphins, we recommend driving straight down to enjoy the Dudley Peninsula.
Cape Willoughby Lighthouse
Who doesn’t love a white lighthouse perched on the edge of a cliff?
The lighthouse, built in 1852 is on the easternmost point of the island and is open for daily tours. You can also stay at the lighthouse keeper’s cottages.
Zest and Thyme Cafe
You have a tough decision here – either have lunch at Dudley Wines with amazing food and views (see next) or have lunch at Zest and Thyme with amazing views and food.
Since we arrived straight from the early morning ferry, we had a mid-morning snack of soup and scones and cream at Zest and Thyme.
The views are exceptional. It’s right next door to the lighthouse so you can easily fit in both.
Moroccan lamb pizza and a glass of award winning Shiraz with the most beautiful vineyard views I’ve ever seen will possibly be the visual I now associate with the name Kangaroo Island.
What a first-day introduction! We may have lingered here a little longer than anticipated, but that’s what travel is for right? Stopping where the heart feels called to do so.
We walked out with a bottle of chardonnay and Shiraz, both outstanding wines.
I nearly lost both of them to the back of the plane when we aborted landing coming back to Sydney. I was more worried about stopping them rolling than what was happening with the plane.
Kangaroo Island is a growing notable wine region with over 15 wine growers and around 15 hectares of vines. Dudley Wines produce a 100% Kangaroo Island product – all their wine is grown and handcrafted on the island.
Antechamber Bay was our first beach experience on Kangaroo Island. A bit of a stunner, isn’t she?
Not much else to say about that.
Where the beaches on the north side of the island can be quite calm and flat, the surf here at Pennington Bay pounds. You can see why surfers love it.
If surfing is not your thing, there’s a wide expansive white sandy beach to play on and rocks to scramble around. We stopped here for an afternoon play and had the beach all to ourselves.
Kingscote is the capital of Kangaroo Island and the largest town on Kangaroo Island. Rest assured it’s not too big or busy.
We grew up in a town with plenty of pelicans and have seen countless pelican feedings. I used to work in a restaurant where we threw them the fish scraps every afternoon at 3 pm.
Pelicans are the funniest animals and fascinating to watch. So, of course, we went to the pelican feeding that’s at Kingscote every afternoon at 5 pm.
The pelican feeder has an entertaining and informative talk and has been doing it for years. He’ll ask you for a donation of $5 per adult and $3 per child after it.
These pelicans were hilarious.
The girls and I could not stop laughing at the one greedy fella who held a huge stash of fish in his beak. The mob attacked him, and he ran over the side of the jetty and stuck his head down over in between the rocks so they couldn’t get to his stash. At first, I thought they had killed him, but he was just lying deathly still so they’d leave him be.
Swim with the dolphins – Kangaroo Island Marine Adventures
This tour with Andrew and Kangaroo Island Marine Adventures is worth doing on your visit to Kangaroo Island. We didn’t even get to swim with the dolphins and we still think it’s worthwhile.
Unfortunately, for us, we had an extremely rare day when the dolphins didn’t show up.
Andrew can count on one hand how many times this has happened, and the tours run almost daily. It’s the wild, so you’re working around their groove.
We did see dolphins – a little out into the open waters of the bay when we first started the tour. A mother was teaching her baby to fish. They swam right behind the boat and later surfed and jumped out of the waves.
We contemplated jumping in to swim with those but since we had just started the tour, it was really cold, and we were out in the less protected waters, we decided we’d wait to get to the shallower calmer waters near the shore at the dolphin’s home!!
But, the dolphin’s home is spectacular! I can only imagine how incredible the experience would be swimming with them here. It was cold when we visited, but in summer the water temperature can be quite warm, and the dolphins love to play.
We loved zipping around the bay, learning about the marine life from Andrew and the stunning scenery. We saw plenty of sea lions as well.
Flinders Chase National Park
Flinders Chase National Park deserves a lot of your time. It’s on the other side of Kangaroo Island, so it will be quite a drive – with plenty to see in between.
If you attempt to do the South and West Coast in a day like we did, you’ll only scratch the surface.
Preferably, spend an evening in the West or South side so you can have two days to explore comfortably. There are many hikes to do in this region, and we were disappointed not to experience them. The hikes I had anticipated doing were the 4.5 km return Platypus waterhole walk and the 3km return Snake Lagoon Hike.
Based on my research, these seemed like the most scenic and easiest to do with kids given our short time frame to explore.
I was worried these were going to be just a bunch of rocks, and to be honest, they are. But, the granite boulders are interesting rocks and very beautiful.
The girls had fun exploring the different naturally carved sculptures, climbing in and out of holes, hiding in the caves and sleeping on the rock hammocks.
Be diligent with your children. Around the front of the rocks are very dangerous conditions – high winds and slippery surfaced into the depths of the pounding ocean below.
Bring your coat for this visit to Admiral’s Arch. It was blowing an icy gale when we arrived. No wonder the sea lions love it. You’ll see many of them sleeping on the rocks especially in the sheltered part of the Arches.
The Arches is a natural archway sculptured by wind and rain and is in one of the most photographed places on Kangaroo Island.
Don’t forget to look back up the coast. Perched on the edge of the cliff in the distance are the Remarkable Rocks. It’s a fascinating perspective and helps you to see just why they are quite remarkable. It looks like a sculpture you’d see on the cliffs of Bondi in October.
Not far from Admiral’s Arch is a turn off for Weirs Cove. Take it. There are walks you can do around here, or simply just enjoy the view.
North Coast Beaches
If you have an entire day to spend on the beach, and the weather is good, Stokes Bay would be the perfect place for families to hang out.
Your kids will love the exciting walk to the beach, through a narrow walkway and cave from the car park which opens out to an expansive hidden secret beach.
There are plenty of rocks for them to climb over and caves to explore. There is a lovely sheltered, shallow swimming area and some little waves as well for those who want to a wild play.
Pack a picnic. There is a small cafe before you get to the secret beach. It was closed when we visited, but many locals raved as it being the place for lunch, a coffee and a chill to live music. Bummer we missed it.
Western River Cove
Western River Cove was one of the standout beaches of Kangaroo Island for us. It’s a little off the normal tourist trail, but well worth it.
Driving back out of Western Cove the scenery turned to red clay and quite Outback looking showcasing the diversity of the island and why you want to spend some time driving around it.
We almost didn’t go to Emu Bay. It was the last beach on our list to see and we almost said, “Oh, it couldn’t be better than what we’ve seen.” I’m so glad we brushed that thought aside. It was gorgeous.
Turquoise water and a huge beach of hard white sand perfect for beach driving!
It’s one of only two beaches on the island you can drive on – the other is Snellings Beach. It’s as hard as a road so no need to let pressure out of your tyres. We had a little cruise up and down.
Vivonne Bay is often said to be one of the best beaches in Australia. It is spectacular, although I was expecting a little more Wow. Note, I don’t think we visited on the best weather or time of day, which we all know changes things.
Note, I don’t think we visited on the best weather or time of day, which we all know changes things.
One of the best vantage points is from the westernmost point near the jetty looking back on the beach. If you have time, there is also a small sheltered beach that may be good for swimming. Do check with the locals though for the best spots.
Australian sea lions are the cutest. We discovered this getting nose to nose with them in Port Lincoln when we saw in the wild with them. You can also get quite up close to them when you visit Seal Bay.
Australian sea lions’ numbers are very small compared to sea lions. It’s not known why at the moment, but scientists are researching to find out.
Seal Bay has the third largest colony of Australian sea lions in the world.
You can enjoy watching the sea lions in their natural habitat on the beach from the boardwalk, which is ideal for those short on time or budget.
Or, you can pay extra to join a guided tour and walk down on the beach with them. Note, the tour guides do ensure that you do not get too close nor disturb the peace of the sea lions.
As I am now back to being Mrs Makepeace and responsible for the girl’s learning, we decided to pay the extra for the tour. We checked off many outcomes learning about life cycles, conservation, habitats and how the sea lions hunt, eat, swim, play and interact with the environment.
It was so cute to watch the babies interact with their Mammas. The poor mums were wiped out after four days at sea with no sleep, but bubs didn’t care. They wanted to play and continued to jump all over them.
Sound familiar mums?
A couple of them were out playing in the surf. It was fun to watch the sea lions surfing, just like young teenagers having a ball!
Who doesn’t like white rolling sand dunes in the middle of nowhere to play on? We were tossing up whether to take on the challenge of sand boarding down the dunes at Little Sahara, but the thrill of the promised adventure flipped our head from a shake to a nod.
We were tossing up whether to take on the challenge of sand boarding down the dunes at Little Sahara, but the thrill of the promised adventure flipped our head from a shake to a nod.
We’re so glad we did it was one of our favourite activities on the island and a great opportunity for a workout. I never realised walking up small sand dunes at least twenty times would wipe you out so much.
It was the first time any of us had tried sand boarding. Kalyra, the natural surfer, blitzed it after a couple of warmups. It took Craig a few more tries and me a lot more. I think I managed about a four-second stand up. It sure was a heap of fun trying.
It sure was a heap of fun trying.
It was wonderful to watch our cautious Savannah move from the sidelines to tandem with me on the toboggan to riding with her wilder sister and then braving it all on her own. She owned the dunes. I loved her beaming face!
The only way we got the girls to leave was when they both face planted at the same time – Savannah on the toboggan and Kalyra on the sand board. Before that, they weren’t budging from just one more turn. Nothing like a face full of sand to end an epic adventure.
Before that, they weren’t budging from just one more turn. Nothing like a face full of sand to end an epic adventure.
Our only sadness is that all our cool footage was lost somewhere in the digital world. There’s a giant space in our Kangaroo Island videos
We stayed for two nights in this region of Kangaroo Island. It’s halfway between Penneshaw and Kingscote so a nice in-betweener.
It’s very quiet and a lovely place to stay if you’re after serenity. It’s not a river, but was named that way for the American sealers and camped alongside the narrow inlet of water they mistook for a river.
It’s easy to see why they thought it was a river.
There’s not a lot to do here – a couple of waterfront walks and lovely calm water for boating. Kangaroo Island Shellfish, the largest commercial oyster farm on Kangaroo Island is located here and a popular place to grab your local seafood
The best-hidden secret of Kangaroo Island is just up the road from American River.
Along the coast is a stretch of coloured cliffs. Sunset is meant to be the best time to visit Redbank Cliffs, and we just missed it due to our scheduling. But, the red, orange and yellow cliffs sure were pretty in the golden hour light.
A pod of dolphins swam by us close to shore while we were here. Oh, and the drive in through the tress from American River is spectacular!
A few other tips for Kangaroo Island:
- We did not visit any other wineries while on Kangaroo Island, I did try a couple of wines in restaurants from Bay of Shoals and Sunset Winery. Both wines were very good, in particular, the Shoal Bay Shiraz was a standout. (Sunset Winery has re-branded with new owners and is now called Sunset Food and Wine. The restaurant is meant to be lovely. )
- Our friend, Spencer Spellman, recommended Kangaroo Island Sprits, South Australia’s only boutique distillery. He says their gin is exceptional and he still has some left in his bottle all the way over in Reno.
Places to stay on Kangaroo Island
Accommodation on Kangaroo Island can book up very quickly so book as far in advance as you can.
There are several camping spots if you are caravanning and camping. There are also plenty of Airbnb options, which works out great as the food is expensive on the island so renting a house means you can cook your food. Click this link to join if you haven’t already to grab a $40 discount off your first Airbnb stay.
We stayed at the Aurora Ozone Hotel in Kingscote. It’s a motel with a good position on the waterfront.
We also stayed at the Mercure Kangaroo Island Lodge in American River, which is a much quieter place to stay. I liked the peacefulness of it.
If you feel like luxury, then stay at the Southern Ocean Lodge with its secluded cliff-top location on Hanson Bay. This beach is beautiful, and it’s on my bucket list. It’s also close to the West and South end of Kangaroo Island which gives you easy access to explore this region.
Getting around Kangaroo Island
There are no public transport options on the island. You can either get around on a tour or with a rental car. You can book your rental cars for Kangaroo Island here.
Make sure you check with the car provider if you are renting from Adelaide as some car hire companies don’t insure you for the ferry ride over to Kangaroo Island.
You can also hire cars from Kingscote or Penneshaw, where the ferry arrives. They will be more expensive than hiring from the mainland.
And keep in mind that many of the roads to some of the best spots are unsealed so ensure you also check with the car rental company as to whether you can drive on them or not.
Getting to Kangaroo Island
I enjoyed the commentary along the way and the beautiful scenery of the Fleurieu Peninsula, at times it felt like you were in Ireland with the rolling green hills and coastline.
The ferry takes around 45 minutes and was very calm and flat. There’s a small cafe on board selling coffee and sandwiches and snacks and free Wi-Fi. And of course, resident dolphins!!
Craig was lucky to be standing outside enjoying a coffee and checking out the scenery and captured these dolphins playing out the front of the ferry.
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Can you add any tips or highlights of a Kangaroo Island road trip?