Kangaroo Island road trip (day 1): Penneshaw, Pennington Bay & Stokes Bay

Rugged, wildlife-covered Kangaroo Island has been at the top of my list for quite some time now (after I read an article that called it the best place in Australia to spot wild koalas!!), but that’s the thing about living in this beautiful country— there’re so many amazing places to see that the top of your list tends to be about 5 million entries long and it’s actually impossible to keep up with everywhere you want to go.. With mum visiting this spring and hoping to do some weekend trips together, though, it finally felt like the perfect opportunity to travel down to South Australia and tick Australia’s third largest island off my list!

Mum and I wake up dark and early this morning to catch the train to the airport for our 6am flight to Adelaide. We’ve been having unseasonably wet and grey weather in Sydney for the last few weeks (conveniently just as mum arrived in Australia), but we see nothing but blue skies and sun as our plane descends towards Adelaide. A couple years ago, mum and I spent a week here, the majority of which was occupied by wine tours into Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale, but I remember being a bit underwhelmed by Adelaide as a city. The aerial view from my window seat, though, makes me reconsider my hasty assessment—  I think I should probably come back to check out some of these beaches!

Once at the airport in Adelaide, we swiftly pick up our hire car from Thrifty and set out along the Fleurieu Peninsula for the 90 minute drive to Cape Jervis. The weather is a bit overcast as we get out of the city, but it opens right back up as we get farther down the peninsula, offering beautiful views of the rolling, sheep-dotted hills and the empty coastline. Before long, we arrive in Cape Jervis, which is not much more than a couple of little shops and the ferry terminal, to queue up to board the Sea Link across to Penneshaw on Kangaroo Island. On board the boat’s upper deck, I watch as mum scoots the car into the vehicle hold along with other family cars and Jucy rental vans, and then we’re soon off.


Our voyage across to Kangaroo Island is short, but incredibly sweet— as mum hides inside the cabin to avoid the wind, I watch dolphins dance along the wake of the ferry and catch ever-larger glimpses of white sand beaches off in the distance. About 40 minutes later, we are docking in Penneshaw at one of the most spectacular beaches I’ve ever seen (and it’s the ferry terminal, so I’m guessing it only gets better from here). Mum and I are all smiles and gasps as we drive away from the ferry, and I have the very strong feeling that we are going to wish we had more time on this island.

Wine and a view at Dudley Wines

Dudley Wines

From Penneshaw, it’s only a 10 minute drive through lush green hills to Dudley Wines, a spot I had picked for lunch because of its beautiful views over the ocean and its apparently delicious pizza. I even prefaced our plans to mum by saying “it might not be great wine, but we’re just here for lunch with a view, so it will be fun”. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried about mum being disappointed by average wine, as their entire selection is truly phenomenal— mum buys so many bottles that she has to put half in my luggage on the flight home, even after we drink some in our cabin. We enjoy a great tasting of about a dozen wines (even some pretty wonderful whites, which is a pleasant surprise) before tucking into big glasses of our favourites over gourmet pizza. The whole experience is so wonderful that we stay far longer than intended and have to cut a stop out of our afternoon itinerary, but it is well worth it.

Magical Pennington Bay

Pennington Bay

When we do finally manage to tear ourselves away from beautiful Dudley Wines, it’s just a 30 minute drive to our next stop of the day. Immediately forgetting about the views we’ve left behind, mum and I are absolutely captivated by the almost unnaturally blue water below us (a perfect opportunity for me to make another 50 Shades of Blue joke to mum that she somehow keeps laughing at) and the contrast it makes against the fine, white sand and the dark, volcanic cliffs. The sun is out and it’s a gorgeous day, but I still might need a few more degrees before hopping into the ocean, particularly off South Australia, so I settle for sticking my toes in and taking photos of the landscape.

Strolling down to Emu Bay

Emu Bay

Crossing to the north side of the island and breezing on through the island’s main city, Kingscote, mum and I stop next in Emu Bay, a peaceful section of ocean framed by an almost endless crescent of white sand. This is one of the beaches on KI with permitted 4WD access, and although we certainly won’t be zipping our little rental Yaris out there today, I can definitely imagine coming back here in the future and spending a sunny afternoon cruising along the sand. A few years ago, when Cal and I still had the 4WD Patrol, we drove all the way to South Australia with some friends and did just that, cruised along the sand and then parked up on an empty section of beach to listen to music and hang out. That’s living the dream.

Stokes Bay

Our final stop of the day is to Stokes Bay, whose beach was boldly called “the most beautiful destination on KI” by one travel blog I read. Expectations high, we trot out of the car, across a field of volcanic rocks, and into the caves, following the sign marked “beach”. I have been known to get claustrophobic at the best of times (Callum had to buy us a deluxe swag because I kept hyperventilating in the standard 2-person one and ripping the flap open in the middle of the night), so I’m somewhat apprehensive about caves, but thankfully walking through caves is entirely different than crawling through caves, so I’m thoroughly enjoying the unique beach access and not even thinking about sudden death.

After a few minutes of wandering between rock walls and through caves, we finally pop out onto the beach, which is every bit as picturesque as I could have imagined. Enjoying the scenery all to ourselves once again, mum and I stroll along the beach and through the shallow water, taking in the serenity and wishing we had snorkels.

When we do finally tear ourselves away from the enchanting Stokes Bay, it is with great reluctance, but we have an hour’s drive to our accomodation and are eager to find some food before check-in. As it turns out, we are met with stunningly limited options in the way of food, passing closed restaurants and long stretches of no restaurants at all on our drive west, until we finally find a lively pub and order big meals as the sun sets. Despite the dark and somewhat treacherous (kangaroo-filled) drive to our cabin after dinner, it’s been a remarkable first day on KI, and neither of us can wait to explore the national park tomorrow, hopefully finding even more gorgeous scenery and befriending local koalas along the way!

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