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Australia is a big country and, although I have been living here for many years, I am still discovering new places. I had heard great things about Kangaroo Island wildlife and other attractions so when organising a multi-generational trip, I started my research. Kangaroo Island will blow your mind: wildlife, beautiful nature, great food, historical landmarks… It was the perfect road trip destination for two keen photographers and a 10-year-old. Let me tell you about the best things to do on your Kangaroo Island trip.
Table Of Contents
- Ferry across the Backstairs Passage
- The Sealink Ferry
- Cape Willoughby Lighthouse
- Kangaroo Island Trip: Penneshaw
- Drive on Kangaroo Island
- Food and Drink
- Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Distillery
- Kangaroo Island Cider
- KI Spirits
- Beer & Wine
- Shark burger at the Vivonne Bay General Store
- Oysters at American Bay
- Kangaroo Island Trip: Wildlife
- Seal Bay Conservation Park
- KI Kangaroos
- Kangaroo Island Ocean Safari
- Birds at American River
- Kangaroo Island Trip: Little Sahara
- Flinders Chase National Park
- Visitor’s Centre
- Cape du Couedic
- Admiral’s Arch
- Remarkable Rocks
- Weirs Cove
- Ravine des Casoars Wilderness Protection Area
- Shackle Road
- Cape Borda
- Scott Cove
- Kangaroo Island Trip: Beaches
- Vivonne Bay
- Snelling Beach
- Stokes Bay
- Things You Need to Know Before Embarking on Your Kangaroo Island Trip
- Driving on Kangaroo Island
- Where to Stay on Kangaroo Island
- Flying or Ferry to Kangaroo Island
- Is Anything Like Kangaroo Island in Australia?
- Related Posts
We had five days in Kangaroo Island, which was plenty and not enough at the same time. Still, we managed to see most of the Kangaroo Island highlights.
If all you have is one day, consider the Kangaroo Island experience. Check out additional information and current tour prices.
Ferry across the Backstairs Passage
To travel to Kangaroo Island, you first need to get to Adelaide, the capital city of South Australia. Since Kangaroo Island doesn’t have public transport, most visitors get there by car, then ferry. The drive from Adelaide to Cape Jervis, where the ferry departs takes about an hour and forty minutes. The road was quite scenic albeit in average condition and we found the land all around very dry.
Cape Jervis doesn’t have much to offer, apart from a lighthouse and the ferry terminal.
The Sealink Ferry
The first step of your Kangaroo Island trip is to take the ferry. Those trips always make me feel as though I’m going a faraway adventure…
Boarding the ferry is an interesting process… After parking the car in the line for boarding, we presented at the office, as required. Actually, passengers have to board the ferry on foot, whilst the driver remains in the vehicle. I thought that was a little odd, but as soon as vehicle boarding started, I understood why…
You have to drive your car in and position it to do a turn inside the hull, as there is only one door… The cars are packed very tightly! Obviousbly, the attendants are very skilled at directing vehicles, including trucks and buses, to park very closely together. Which is why it’s better that only one person exits the vehicle…
The ferry is comfortable, with viewing decks, a large sitting room inside and a bar.
The ferry crosses the Backstairs Passage between the Fleurieu Peninsula and Kangaroo Island, in about 45 minutes.
You can do a 2
Cape Willoughby Lighthouse
Our first Kangaroo Island experience was to visit Cape Willoughby, the headland located at the east of the Dudley Peninsula. It’s a 22-km drive from Penneshaw on a dirt road and well worth doing.
The lighthouse was established in 1852 and is the oldest one in South Australia. Its purpose is to assist with shipping navigation through the Backstairs Passage, which had its fair share of shipwrecks over time.
The lighthouse was fitted with a Chance Bros dioptric revolving lens in
Today, there is a Cape Willoughby Conservation Park Visitor Centre.
- 9.00 to 15.30 Thursday to Monday
- 9.00 to 17.00 during the Spring, Summer and Autumn School Holidays
You can take a lighthouse tour:
- Thursday to Monday: 11.00, 12.30, 14.00
- Spring, Summer & Autumn School Holidays: 11.00, 12.30, 2.00, 3.00, 4.00
We didn’t get to visit the lighthouse as we got there fairly late in the afternoon however, we were able to wander around the area. We literally had the place to ourselves and only shared the headland with a mob of kangaroos…
Kangaroo Island Trip: Penneshaw
Penneshaw is the little township closest to the ferry terminal. There are some useful services, such a small supermarket, a post office and a petrol station. A small colony of penguins lives at Penneshaw, however, the numbers are quite low these days.
The Penneshaw Beach is known as Hog Bay, after the release of pigs by Nicolas Baudin in 1803. Frenchman’s Rock also bears a carving by his crew to mark the arrival. Today, there is a replica on the beach and the original is displayed at the Gateway Visitor Centre.
You can base yourself at Penneshaw,
Penneshaw doesn’t look like much, however the old colonial houses are something to see on Kangaroo Island.
I also recommend stopping by the Kangaroo Island Gateway Visitor Information Centre. Apart from housing the original Frenchman’s Rock in a glass case, it has a lot of information on what to see on Kangaroo Island. The staff was very helpful in assisting us finalise our Kangaroo Island itinerary. They did suggest we buy an annual pass but I think that’s only valid if you live in South Australia, or if you visit often.
Drive on Kangaroo Island
In order to do justice to your Kangaroo Island trip, you need to drive. Of course, you can select to join Kangaroo Island tours, which would work especially well if time is of the essence.
We chose to hire a car in Adelaide and make our way there. I did a comparison between flying from Sydney to Adelaide and from Sydney to Kangaroo Island, and the car hire accordingly. Flying to Kangaroo Island directly didn’t work with our schedule and even if we avoided the cost of the ferry, hiring a car locally is quite expensive. So it made sense to start out of Adelaide.
The main thing to take in consideration when planning your Kangaroo Island trip, is that there are some great distances. The island has over 500 kms of coastline and stretches 150 kms from the East Coast to the West Coast. This makes Kangaroo Island ideal for a road trip.
You will need to drive on unsealed roads however, I found this to be easy, the roads are flat and
The South Coast Highway and the Playford Highway are good quality sealed roads that cross the island from East to West. Hog Bay Road goes all the way to Penneshaw.
As most of the accommodation is at the east end of the island, you will likely have to take long drives to the Kangaroo Island highlights, such as Flinders Chase National Park, Vivonne Bay and Cape Borda.
Food and Drink
As with many places in Australia, local produce should feature in your Kangaroo Island trip. The experience is fairly similar to that of Bruny Island, with wineries, breweries and high quality local produce.
Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Distillery
The Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Distillery is on Willsons Road, a short from Hog Bay Road and Birchmore Road and is easy to include in your Kangaroo Island itinerary.
Eucalyptus oil has many benefits: antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral. There are many uses for personal health and around the home. Emu Ridge manufactures eucalyptus oil products in various forms and the shop is worth visiting to replenish your stocks.
Kangaroo Island Cider
Emu Ridge also hosts Kangaroo Island Cider and tastings. Their ciders, including the non-alcoholic one, are absolutely delicious and perfect for a warm day. There is a lot of things to see on Kangaroo Island but remember to relax with a cool drink!
KI Spirits offers a selection of gins and liqueurs. I didn’t taste the gins or the whisky, but I really liked their liqueurs and brought some home with me. I was even tempted by the intriguing “snake oil” which is a recreation of the original “tonic” you add to gin…
We didn’t make it to any of the honey places, we packed so many other things in our Kangaroo Island trip! However, Kangaroo Island is the only place in the world that has a pure and disease-free Ligurian bee colony. I would definitely put that on my list for next time. Please note that you cannot take bee products like honey and wax across state lines in Australia. So it wouldn’t have worked for our return flight to Sydney anyway…
Beer & Wine
For a trip dedicated to tasting wine, I recommend Mudgee in New South Wales.
Shark burger at the Vivonne Bay General Store
The Vivonne Bay General Store is one of those all-encompassing stores you only find in the Australian Bush. Apart from a General Store and fishing tackle shop, the store also has a bottle shop and a petrol station, the only one down this end of the island. It is so typical, it should definitely be part of your Kangaroo Island activities.
The shark burger is delicious. Don’t worry, there are other types of fish as well…
Oysters at American Bay
A Kangaroo Island food experience would be incomplete without tasting the local oysters… The oyster shack at American River serves local and super fresh seafood and oysters.
Kangaroo Island Trip: Wildlife
Meeting the wildlife is the main reason for choosing Kangaroo Island for this multi-generational trip. It’s great for photographers and great for children. We weren’t disappointed. The Kangaroo Island wildlife is everywhere, mostly visible and even approachable.
Seal Bay Conservation Park
Kangaroo Island has a pretty big sea lion colony and Seal Bay is aconservation and observation area. Entry to the park is not cheap but this is as close as you are going to get to sea lions.
The 45-mins walking tour with a guide is the only way you can get to the beach and observe the sea lions in their habitat. You get to see them interact, play, look after their pups and even chase seagulls on the beach…
The guide is quite strict on what you can do and how far you can go but this is understandable: this is a conservation and protection program and sea lions can attack if you get too close to their young.
You get close but not too close. It was great for photography but still required a fairly powerful lens to take some close-ups…
You would expect to find kangaroos on Kangaroo Island… Well, you do… And they’re adorable! The Kangaroo Island kangaroos have a warm brown fur and an almost black face. As they have no predators on the island, as opposed to kangaroos on mainland Australia, they’re quite placid and approachable.
We saw plenty of them at Cape Willoughby and Cape Borda, where they roamed freely towards the end of the day.
Kangaroo Island Ocean Safari
I love interacting with mammals in the water. I simply can’t get over their curiosity towards humans… Therefore, I was really looking forward to meeting the Kangaroo Island wildlife.
The cruise with Kangaroo Island Ocean Safari starts at Penneshaw. Even though it was school holidays, we had the boat to ourselves.
First, we tried to engage with dolphins. For this exercise, you get in the water, holding onto a rope dragged by the boat. The idea is to be of interest to the dolphins who may swim past and have a look. Swimming behind the boat isn’t easy, you get a lot of bubbles and we didn’t have much visibility.
The seals are a lot easier to spot, lazing on the rocks…
As soon as we approached, a few of them raised their heads and decided to have a play. They slid in the water as my nephew and I put on our snorkels and fins…
There were 4 or 5 seals swirling in the water around and beneath us and we got a pretty good view. Several times, they came very
If you are interested in booking the Kangaroo Island Ocean Safari, check out the additional information and current tour prices. I highly recommend it!
Birds at American River
American River is a township on the east side of Kangaroo Island, not far from Kingscote.
Whilst the pelican feeding show no longer operates in Kingscote, we found many sea birds on the waterfront.
Kangaroo Island Trip: Little Sahara
As part of the multi-generational activities I had to find for our Kangaroo Island trip, I came across sand boarding at Little Sahara.
Kangaroo Island has its share of sand dunes and you can hire boards to slide down, which is a fun activity for a 10-year-old. Little Sahara is just off the South Coast Road, so it’s easy to stop on the way to Vivonne Bay and Flinders Chase National Park.
Unlike the Sahara Desert, the sand dunes are gold/yellow, meaning there is no water underneath them. My nephew enjoyed sliding down the dunes and it was a nice photography spot, with views extending all the way to the ocean.
Flinders Chase National Park
Flinders Chase National Park is the place you really don’t want to miss when visiting Kangaroo Island. The park covers most of the western part of Kangaroo Island and the entry is 110km from Kingscote, so you need an early start to get there. This is where you will find some of the most beautiful Kangaroo Island highlights.
The first stop is the Visitor’s Centre, where we purchased our entry ticket for the day: $22. You can also buy a two-day entry pass (for two consecutive days) if you wish to come back. We didn’t do any of the hikes in the park and were able to see most things in a day. Hiking is one of the most popular Kangaroo Island activities and I would love to give those trails a go!
The Visitor’s Centre is a good place to get your bearings: you can learn about the Kangaroo Island wildlife, flora and history. There is also a cafe and a gift shop.
There is a trail behind the Visitor’s Centre called the Heritage Walk, where you might see some koalas and other Kangaroo Island wildlife. You can do a round trip back to the Visitor’s Centre in 20 minutes or so, or go all the way to the Platypus Pools. We didn’t see any koalas in the trees that day but it’s a great introduction to the bush flora. There are plenty of grass trees and the bush is beautiful and healthy.
Cape du Couedic
The Cape du Couedic Lighthouse was built in 1909, on the south-west tip of Kangaroo Island. It’s now automated and you can stay in the light keeper’s cottages.
There is a fairly large carpark below the lighthouse and a view over the Casuarina Islets, also known as “The Brothers”. As with many lighthouse locations, the place is very windy and there is a feeling of isolation, and “end of the earth”…
In the early days, there was no road to reach Cape du
From the car park, there is a boardwalk to get to Admiral’s Arch.
Flinders Chase National Park is a highlight of the Kangaroo Island 2-day trip. Check out additional information and current tour prices.
If you follow the boardwalk and stairs around the cliff face, you get to Admiral’s Arch, a natural rock arch created by swell, rain and wind. It’s one of the Kangaroo Island highlights. Along the way, there are plenty of opportunities to spot New Zealand fur seals relaxing and playing in the rock pools below. They are quite dark in colours and don’t necessarily stand out against the black rocks.
From the boardwalk, you can also spot dolphins and whales…
At the end of the boardwalk, there is a viewing platform overlooking the arch. Admiral’s Arch is an impressive photo spot at sunset, however that would mean having to leave straight after as the park closes. Also, you would need to drive back at night, which presents the risk of animals crossing the road…
From the road leading up to the rocks or the boardwalk or up close, these rocks make for stunning photo opportunities.
Again, sunsets and sunrises are especially good times but you need to decide whether you want to drive in the dark…
The place is quite busy with tourists and required a little patience to take unobstructed photos. It’s easy to get around but you need to exercise caution, especially if it’s windy or wet. There are signs indicating that you really shouldn’t attempt to go down to the sea level, people have drowned in the past.
Remarkable Rocks is a great vantage point over the coast, with views of Cape du Couedic and Weirs Cove.
Weirs Cove is at the end of an unsealed road that turns left when you approach Cape du Couedic. The road is on a cliff and when you get to the lookout, the cove appears to be a perfect shape with the most beautiful blue colours. Remarkable Rocks are visible in the distance.
Supplies arrived at Weirs Cove before the road to Cape Couedic Lighthouse was built. The old storehouse remains and has even been renovated to prevent it from crumbling altogether. The limestone structure has no roof but steel beams now maintain the integrity of the walls.
Standing at the lookout, I got a sense of how isolated the place must have been in the early days, and even until the automation of the lighthouse. This always feels strange to me, that people would go and live in such isolation… That’s part of the Kangaroo Island experience!
Supplies were brought in every three or four months and hoisted on the cliff by a flying fox…
Ravine des Casoars Wilderness Protection Area
After touring the south side of the Flinders Chase National Park, we wanted to go to Cape Borda. The afternoon was advancing but I didn’t want to miss another lighthouse… The easiest way to go to Cape Borda was to take the South End Highway towards the north and meet the Playford Highway. However, there is a shortcut through the wilderness area. I loved going through the wilderness near Cradle Mountain in Tasmania so I thought it would be a good experience.
The Ravine des Casoars is a gorge and drainage basin. There is a walking trail and a very isolated beach which you can hike to. We elected to drive on Shackle Road, through the wilderness and reach Playford Highway and Cape Borda Lighthouse. I enquired about this road at the Visitor’s Centre and they didn’t encourage me to drive it… It’s understandable, the place is very isolated, we didn’t meet a single vehicle and the road was very corrugated…
It wasn’t the easiest drive as the car slid a bit in places, and I wouldn’t attempt it in the rain. But, I drove carefully and it all went well.
A few Kangaroo Island facts: the Baudin expedition named the Ravine des Casoars around 1800-1803. Casoar means cassowary in French, however Nicolas Baudin actually mistook some Kangaroo Island emus, which are now extinct.
If you are confident with the drive on Shackle Road, it’s a beautiful crossing in an untouched wilderness area. Most of the area burned down in 2007 because of lighting strikes and you really couldn’t tell, nature recovered beautifully… You won’t forget this part of your Kangaroo Island trip!
I was glad to reach Playford Highway as the road is easier to drive. We arrived at Cape Borda in the late afternoon and missed the visit of the lighthouse. Instead, we took the self-guided tour of the grounds and had a look at the museum.
Cape Borda Lighthouse was built in 1858 to assist navigation in the Investigator Strait. It’s an unusual lighthouse, short and square. The cliffs around Cape Borda are so high, there was no need for a round tall tower as we usually know lighthouses to be.
The lantern is still in service and was automated in 1989.
As the day was ending, the kangaroos started coming out… Kangaroo Island wildlife is everywhere!
The museum has some interesting historic lighthouse equipment, tools, radios and whale bones…
We drove past the cemetery, where light keepers and their wives are buried. Many children who didn’t receive adequate medical care in this remote part of the word are also there.
Before heading back to our lodging in Pennington Bay, we stopped at Scott Cove. In the early days of the lighthouse, supplies arrived by boat at Harveys Return.
There is a beautiful view over Cape Torrens in the distance and the location of the Fides shipwreck in 1860.
Night fell as we drove… For a while I wondered if we’d encounter wildlife on the road but it was all clear on the highway. After all, it’s part of the Kangaroo Island experience… But we only saw kangaroos on the unsealed section of Playford Highway, on our way from the Ravine des Casoars.
Kangaroo Island Trip: Beaches
Kangaroo Island is not all rugged coastline and dramatic cliffs. There are some beautiful beaches and you can easily take a break and lie on a secluded beach..
Vivonne Bay was voted Australia’s most beautiful beach a few years ago and it’s easy to understand why… This seemingly endless stretch of white sand, softly curving around turquoise waters, is a dream… We had the beach to ourselves and I can’t imagine there would be enough people on Kangaroo Island to make this beach look busy…
The beach has toilets, barbecues, picnic areas and there is safe swimming near the jetty and boat ramp. As it is the only safe harbour on the south coast of Kangaroo Island, Vivonne Bay gets busy with
The north side of Kangaroo Island is the more rural part, with farms and paddocks. Along the North Coast Road, you can drive down to Snelling Beach.
Snelling Beach is a small white sand cove with very spectacular sunsets. The drive down to Snelling Beach is incredibly scenic. Progressing through green paddocks, the coast appears as you drive past the architect mansions.
We noticed at that point that everything had an orange tinge, due to previous bush fires.
The road steeps towards the beach so you need to drive slowly but the view is spectacular!
A little further is Stokes Bay. Known for its rock pools and rock tunnel, a trail that finds it way between boulders to discover a sandy beach, it’s also very beautiful at sunset.
We didn’t hang around too long at Stokes Bay, too beat after a long day… but we did catch the last sun rays!
Things You Need to Know Before Embarking on Your Kangaroo Island Trip
Like many destinations in Australia, Kangaroo Island is quite easy to travel around and there is plenty of information available. However, there are certain Kangaroo Island facts you need to take in consideration for a successful trip.
Driving on Kangaroo Island
The island is big, really big. 150 kms from the east to the west. So you need to be ready to drive a lot. Getting somewhere first thing in the morning might mean a very early start, or coming back late. This means that you may need to drive in the dark. I didn’t have any problems with that as the roads are good and not too crowded but you need to take the wildlife into consideration.
Be comfortable driving on unsealed roads. Kangaroo Island has three major sealed roads and you’ll get to use them a lot. However, the rest is unsealed. I didn’t find that to be an issue at all at there were no potholes, the roads were quite good. Still, the speed limit on these roads is still high, around 80 km an hour and you need to exercise caution.
Where to Stay on Kangaroo Island
You need to figure out where to stay on Kangaroo Island and book well in advance. Most of the accommodation is in the east section of the island, around Kingscote and American River. We stayed in an AirBnb in Pennington Bay, on the isthmus that links the Dudley Peninsula and the rest of the island. That meant we had to do that long drive home whenever we went west.
Kangaroo Island accommodation fills up pretty quickly so it’s important to book well in advance, especially during holiday periods. The ferry books up quickly as well, I didn’t have a great deal of choice when I booked our passage.
Flying or Ferry to Kangaroo Island
You also need to decide whether to fly to Adelaide and drive from there (or choose an option for Kangaroo Island tours), or fly into Kingscote and hire a car locally. The passage on the ferry is not cheap but the local car hire was more expensive than the one from Adelaide airport. Either way, you need to balance this aspect when you travel to Kangaroo Island.
Pack a picnic and water supplies for the day. The island is big and you won’t find food in the more remote places. Some cafes might be closed during the off-season so pack what you need for the day.
Also, if you are doing a self-drive, keep an eye on your petrol gauge. Most petrol stations are located in Penneshaw, Kingscote and American River and you need enough petrol to come back.
Is Anything Like Kangaroo Island in Australia?
I love lighthouses? A great one to visit in Sydney is at the Barrenjoey Headland.
Have you experienced Kangaroo Island? Please tell me about it in the comments below!Follow my blog with Bloglovin