Dramatic coastal scenery, brilliant aquamarine beaches, an overabundance of endemic Australian wildlife.. it’s not at all an exaggeration to say that Kangaroo Island will steal your breath at every turn. Australia’s third largest island has long since held the reputation of a rugged, untouched paradise, wind-whipped and pummelled by the Southern Ocean into jagged cliffs and unusual rock formations in the west, gently carved into sweeping, crescent-moon beaches in the north and south.
After years of hearing about KI and imagining what it must be like, I can finally confirm that all the rumours are true (and most importantly, I saw 32 wild koalas). Although you could easily spend weeks exploring every magical corner of the island, you’ll be able to tick most items off your Kangaroo Island bucket list in 3 days, making this South Australian paradise the perfect destination for a long weekend. Here’s everything you need to know before visiting Kangaroo Island yourself, including getting there and around, where to stay and eat, what to see and do, plus the 3-day itinerary from my recent October visit!
What's in this travel guide
Getting to Kangaroo Island
Both REX and Qantas operate daily 35-minute flights between Adelaide and Kingscote (the main town on Kangaroo Island) but expect to pay around $300 for return tickets. Considering the lack of public transport on the island, you’ll want to hire a car once you arrive anyway, so it’s probably smartest to fly into Adelaide, hire a car there, and cruise on down to the ferry.
Sealink ferries run from Cape Jervis on the mainland to Penneshaw on Kangaroo Island up to 9 times a day, with both passenger and vehicle options. If you’re crossing without a vehicle, tickets are $47 each way and you can take advantage of the $20 Sealink shuttle that will pick you up from any of several dozen locations around Adelaide and drop you directly at the ferry (allow 1h45m), as well as a shuttle between the ferry in Penneshaw and Kingscote (allow 1hr), the main town on the island. If you’re travelling with a car (I’d recommend hiring one at the Adelaide airport and making the 90min drive to Cape Jervis yourself), you’ll need to pay an extra $98 each way to bring your vehicle onboard.
Either way, it’s best to book tickets online in advance and arrive at least 30 minutes early to check-in at the ferry terminal on either side (collect your tickets from the office and get your vehicle in the queue). If there are several of you travelling together, everyone but the driver will board on foot and then your group can rendezvous on board— even though it’s often chilly, I’d really recommend sitting outside so you can catch a glimpse of the dolphins that swim in the ferry wake.
Getting around on Kangaroo Island
As mentioned previously, there are Sealink shuttles that run between Penneshaw and Kingscote, but being stuck in town without a car will really limit your experience on KI, so I’d strongly recommend just biting the bullet and hiring a car. Adelaide airport has a number of car hire places on site and you’ll definitely get a better deal here than if you wait to hire a car until you arrive on KI (just make sure the insurance will cover you if you leave mainland Australia).
We booked online with Thrifty in Adelaide and paid only $30AUD/day for our little car, so I was pretty pleased! That being said, there is still the option to hire a car once you arrive, and you’ll conveniently find Budget and Hertz rentals right at the ferry terminal.
Even though Kangaroo Island is Australia’s third largest island, it will only take you 3hrs to drive from tip to tip. But because so much of the island is national park or conservation area, distances on the map can sometimes be a bit deceiving. Here are the drive times between some common destinations on KI:
Penneshaw to Kingscote: 45min (60km) Penneshaw to Stokes Bay: 1h15min (100km) Penneshaw to Flinders Chase National Park: 1h40min (140km) Penneshaw to Seal Bay: 1h10min (100km)
Kingscote to Stokes Bay: 45min (60km) Kingscote to American River: 30min (40km) Kingscote to Flinders Chase National Park: 1h10min (100km) Kingscote to Vivonne Bay: 40min (60km)
Flinders Chase Visitors Centre to Admirals Arch: 20min (15km) Admirals Arch to Remarkable Rocks: 10min (7km) Flinders Chase Visitors Centre to Snake Lagoon: 20min (10km) Flinders Chase Visitors Centre to West Bay: 50min (20km)
Fuel on the island
Something that I found entirely stressful during our time on KI was fuel. There’re surprisingly few petrol stations once you get outside of Penneshaw and Kingscote, so you really need to plan well to avoid any late night disasters (heaps of servos close early, too). I ended up asking one of the rangers at the Flinders Chase Visitors Centre and he kindly mapped out all the fuel options on the island:
Penneshaw:Mobil (24hr); BP (?)
Kingscote:Caltex (7am-8pm); Mobil (?); Turner Fuel (5am-9pm)
American River:General Store (7.30am-6pm)
Parndana:Parndana Petrol Station (closes at 6pm, also sells some snacks)
Flinders Chase:Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat (7am-7pm)
Vivonne Bay:Vivonne Bay General Store (9am-5.30pm, also sells coffee and snacks)
Where to stay on Kangaroo Island
A lot of people choose to stay in Kingscote, since it’s the largest town on the island and definitely has the greatest number of restaurants to choose from. Still, I think it’s better to position yourself on the western end of KI closer to Flinders Chase National Park. The scenery is stunning, there are animals everywhere, and it fits nicely into a 3-day itinerary (see the end of this post).
Southern Ocean Lodge
Kangaroos out the front of our cabin, Western KI
Hanson Bay Cabins
Western KI Caravan Park
We stayed at Western KI Caravan Park in a 2-bedroom cabin with a kitchen and outdoor decking for $145 per night, and even my notoriously picky mum couldn’t say enough nice things about the place. Of course, you can also find campsites and caravan spots here if you’re roughing it! There’s a little shop in the reception area to buy local wines, cheese, meats, snacks, and small essentials; a 500m Koala Walk through the trees where we spotted 3 furry friends; and several dozen kangaroos that just hop around the property right in front of your windows. There is no WIFI, but it definitely adds to the nature vibes (cell reception is poor on the island, but it’s actually decent here).
Hanson Bay Cabins
Alternatively, Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary has a few onsite suites that all have stunning views onto the coast and offer free access to their Koala Walk (we saw 29 koalas in about an hour). It’s definitely more upscale, which is reflected in the pricing, but the scenery is unparalleled.
Southern Ocean Lodge
This option is just in case you’re a secret millionaire.. Southern Ocean Lodge is considered to be one of the best hotels in the world for its luxurious design and jaw-dropping surroundings, perched right on the cliffs near Hanson Bay. Rooms run anywhere from $2,400 to $4,400 per night (2 people), so it’s definitely not for a casual weekend away, but I’d be remiss not to mention this bucket list destination anyway. A girl can dream!
Where to eat and drink on Kangaroo Island
Kangaroo Island has become something of a foodie destination, but unfortunately most of the restaurants are clustered around Kingscote, leaving surprisingly few options elsewhere on the island. We didn’t make it to all of these places ourselves, but here is what the lovely receptionist at Western KI Caravan Park recommended to us:
Sunset Food & Wines (near Penneshaw): Supposedly lovely food and wine with a great view
Dudley Cellar Door (near Penneshaw): We actually did eat here, in addition to tasting all of their wines, and it is all amazing. Limited menu, but delicious! Try the pizza.
Kangaroo Island Fresh Seafood (Kingscote): Often lauded as the island’s best seafood restaurant
Frogs and Roses (Kingscote): We had an amazing pizza here on our way back to the ferry. The restaurant is super rustic and very charming, it appears to be in an old house and entirely furnished with antiques.
Table 88 (Stokes Bay): Tapas with a view
Parndana Hotel (Parndana): Classic Australian pub with great food and a good wine selection (try the Kangaroo Island Estate!)
Nicholas Baudin Restaurant (near Flinders Chase Visitors Centre): Gourmet dining right at the entrance of the national park. We intended to eat here since it was so close to our accommodation, but it was fully booked out, so try to reserve a night or two in advance to ensure a spot.
Again, we were caught off guard by the lack of supermarkets once you leave the Kingscote area, so preferably plan ahead and stock up right when you get off the ferry if you’re planning to eat in at all during your stay (which would have been great, seeing as we had a big kitchen!). Here are the options we came across for self-catering:
Kingscote:Foodland (8am-7pm, reduced hours Sat/Sunday); IGA (8am-7pm, reduced hours on Sunday)
Parndana: IGA (8am-7pm, reduced hours on Sunday); the servo here also has a small selection of breads, meat, cheese, etc.
Vivonne Bay: The General Store offers some snacks and food staples, but don’t expect to be cooking a big meal.
Flinders Chase: Western KI Caravan Park actually has a nice little shop that sells wine, cheese, meat, snacks, pre-made meals like lasagna and curry that just need to be microwaved, etc. It’s obviously not an extensive selection, but we had a nice wine and cheese night one evening while watching the kangaroos from the decking and I wouldn’t have traded it.
Wines & more
I don’t know what I was expecting (it is South Australia, after all!), but I was completely blown away by the wine on Kangaroo Island, not to mention the amazing, locally-distilled gin. Basically, I didn’t want to leave. Check out these cellar doors and tasting rooms:
Mum enjoying our lunchtime view
Little cafe at Emu Bay
Dudley Wines (near Penneshaw): A lovely cellar door with some of the best wine I’ve tried in ages, free tastings of about 15 different varietals. Even mum, a self-proclaimed wine snob, was obsessed with this winery, and although she bought 4 bottles to take away, she has been talking for weeks about how she regrets not buying more. There’s also a little restaurant and superb views from the outdoor sitting area, so prepare to lose your whole afternoon here.
Bay of Shoals Wines (Kingscote): Another great island winery offering tastings and nibbles.
KI Spirits (Kingscote): Amazing local gin distillery offering free tastings of their gin and liqueurs, plus delicious cocktails to be enjoyed in the garden. If mum regrets not bringing more wine home, I regret not bringing more gin!
Kangaroo Island Estate Wines (Parndana): Apparently these guys are only open by appointment, but it’s not hard to find bottles of this wine at the local restaurants, pubs, and shops on KI. We really enjoyed the wine, so I’d recommend it for an evening in the cabin.
*Top things to see on Kangaroo Island
Flinders Chase National Park
Occupying more than 300 square kilometres at the western end of Kangaroo Island, Flinders Chase National Park is home to some of KI’s most spectacular vistas and fascinating geological formations. While there are literally dozens of places to explore and walks to do, the main attractions are Admiral’s Arch, an amazing rock bridge overlooking the Casuarina Islets; Weirs Cove Lookout, a site once used to haul supplies from incoming ships onto the island that also happens to be incredibly scenic; and Remarkable Rocks, a collection of Seuss-inspired boulders atop a rock dome that is the product of 500 million years of shifting and erosion.
Before you begin your day, stop in at Flinders Chase Visitor Centre to pay entry into the national park ($11 per adult) and talk to a ranger about some of the many walks that depart from this location. If you haven’t seen a koala yet, the Heritage trail should rectify that; otherwise, Platypus Waterholes is a beautiful walk, even if you sadly don’t spot any platypus along the way.
After being hunted to near-extension in the 1800s, there are only 12,000 Australian Sea Lions remaining in the world, now found exclusively in parts of South Australia and Western Australia. Seal Bay, on the south coast of Kangaroo island, is actually the third largest colony of Australian Sea Lions today and aims to preserve this vulnerable population by protecting the surrounding area and educating the public.
For $16, you can access the long networks of boardwalksthat lead down to and around the beach, where as many as 800 sea lions can be seen sleeping, barking, and comically waddling around. To get a closer look at the sea lions, you’ll have to shell out $35 for a guided tour, which will take you onto the sand approximately every hour. Although I did wish I could get closer photos of the sea lions, we were very happy with our self-guided experience, especially because we had flexibility to start and finish as our schedule required.
The incredibly popular and yet somehow empty Stokes Bay beach is an absolute must-see on the island and one of the most unique beaches I’ve ever been to. From the carpark, you’ll walk across a field of volcanic rocks and then through a network of caverns and canyons before eventually popping out onto the sand. The crescent-shape beach curls for quite a distance around the bay, protecting the area from any waves and making for the perfect swim spot for those of us who are (not unreasonably) frightened of big surf.
Splashing around at Stokes Bay
Walking through to the beach
Under 30 minutes from the Penneshaw ferry terminal, Pennington Bay is a great first stop on Kangaroo Island and the perfect place to hop in the ocean for a swim or a snorkel (the water is shallow and very calm). Out of all the beautiful beaches we saw on KI, this one stands out to me, with its blindingly white sand and almost unbelievably blue water. Plus, we only saw one person the whole time we were there, so there seems to be a pretty good chance you’ll have the whole place to yourself.
Beautiful beach at Emu Bay
Unbelievable views at Pennington Bay
Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary
Kangaroo Island is actually home to the largest concentration of koalas in Australia— while the national population has sadly dwindled to less than 80,000, there are an estimated 25,000 koalas living on little KI. This booming koala population is naturally one of the island’s main draw cards, and there is no better place than Hanson Bay to see several dozen koalas snoozing in the trees or, if you’re lucky, walking along the path.
For $10, you can wander through an enormous network of gumtrees and thankfully you won’t have to crane your neck for more than a few minutes to spot your first koala. There are also a number of kangaroos and wallabies hopping around, so this is a great way to squeeze some animal sightings into your morning.
I’m incredibly disappointed to have missed out on the newly-opened KI Wilderness Trail, but I will definitely be coming back to hike this 5-day, 61km trek along the Southern Ocean and through Flinders Chase National Park.