Kangaroo Island (KI) is the third largest island of Australia about 45 minutes by ferry off the coast of South Australia. The island is 160 km across, and has an abundance of wildlife, natural scenery, wineries and beaches.
Kangaroo Island was separated from the mainland around 10,000 years ago. It was first explored by Matthew Flinders in 1802 whilst en route from UK to Sydney. He named the island in honour of the feast of Kangaroo he and his crew enjoyed on the island. More extensive mapping (especially of the south coast) was done by the French explorer Nicolas Baudin which is why a number of geographical features have French names.
While there is evidence of Aboriginal people living on the island as long as 16,000 years ago, the island has not been inhabited by Aboriginal people for at least 2,000 years. From 1803 the island was visited by sealers and whalers, exploiting the natural resources of the island. In addition, a number of "independent" settlers arrived - thought to be mainly escaped convicts and those looking for a lifestyle unencumbered by regulation - took up residence between 1803 and the start of official settlement in 1836.
In 1836 Kingscote became the first settlement in South Australia and significant parts of the island were opened up for farming. Sealing had just about finished by this time, and seals on many of the islands beaches had been completely wiped out.
From the late 1800s parts of the island were being actively preserved. Flinders Chase National Park was proclaimed in 1912. During the 1920s the island was seen as an opportunity to preserve species that were threatened on mainland Australia, with attempts at introducing several, including koalas.
The island is 160 km wide (east to west) and around 50 km from top to bottom at its widest. The north of the island has more protected seas, with the south generally having larger waves, higher cliffs and stronger currents. There are still some white sandy beaches and inlets on the south, though, such as Pennington Bay, d'Estrees Bay, Bales Bay and Hanson Bay.
The main settlements are within an hour of each other on the east. There are more remote areas in the west.
The cliffs and bays can be spectacular, and there are interesting geological formations along the south, the most popular to visit being Admirals Arch and the Remarkable Rocks.
Flora and Fauna
KI has abundant wildlife and large sections of untouched forest. Many species for which Australia is famous for can be found here like kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, and penguins. There are plenty of opportunities to see these animals close up in their natural habitat.
The Gateway Visitor Information Centre is located in Penneshaw. The centre can provide maps, brochures, tour times, costs and can help to make bookings.
There are four significant settlements on Kangaroo Island:
- Kingscote is the biggest town on the island, around 60 km or just under an hour's drive from Penneshaw. It has a small shopping strip downtown, which in addition to a supermarket has a choice of cafes, a bookshop, choice of restaurants, pubs, and a couple of other stores to browse. You can get fuel here. There is a harbour, and some history to be discovered particularly at Reeves Point a few hundred metres north of the main town. The sole airport on the island is also at Kingscote.
- Penneshaw is at the east of the island. This is the place where the ferries arrive. Again, there is a supermarket, pub with food and a view, a pizza place, and a couple of other food choices. It has a more attractive cliff-side setting than Kingscote. Fuel is available and banking can be done at the Post Office.
- Parndana is in the centre of the island and serving the farming community. There is a small supermarket here too as well as a hotel and fuel outlet.
- American River is a small community between Kingscote and Penneshaw. There is a general store which sells most everyday items including fuel (not LPG) and liquor as well as a Post Office and some restaurants.
Some of the accommodation is on the bays on the south coast of the island.
Kangaroo Island is an agriculture quarantine zone, meaning that the transport of plants, animals and some food islands from the mainland to Kangaroo Island is prohibited. See SeaLink's web-site for more information on what you can and cannot bring to Kangaroo Island.
There are two ways to get to Kangaroo Island:
Ferries operated by Sealink travel between Cape Jervis on the mainland, and Penneshaw on Kangaroo Island. Ferries carry cars and passengers. They have a small cafe and bar on board, selling snacks and small meals during the trip. There is also a cafe at the Cape Jervis end, selling a similar range, which is open for departures but not necessarily for late arrivals.
Standby travel is often not available for cars, especially on the popular afternoon evening services. You really need to book ahead even in the off-season.
For a short trip, it can get quite rough. The route goes from peninsula to peninsula, and doesn't spend any time in a protected area. Seasickness is experienced by some on the trip, so some preventative medication may be a good idea. Sit at the back of the vessel for the best ride!
- , 440 King William Street, Adelaide, ☎ , . Ferries depart from Cape Jervis frequently. For the complete timetable visit www.sealink.com.au. It is necessary to book in advance. $88/$44 each way.
Coach connections are available from Penneshaw to American River and Kingscote after the arrival of the 09:00 and 18:00 departures from Cape Jervis; and to the 08:30 and 19:30 departures from Penneshaw.
There are ferry services to Kangaroo Island that have no coach connection to Adelaide and there is no other public transport available to Cape Jervis. That is you cannot drop a rental car there, there are no public buses, and the closest point with a public transport connection you could get a taxi from is 60 km away. Apart from the cafe at the ferry wharf, there are no facilities at Cape Jervis. If you aren't driving yourself, make sure you book the coach connections with the ferry. Most car rental companies do not allow you to take the car between the mainland and Kangaroo Island unless you have made arrangements with them in advance.
If you are not taking a car with you, air fares can be competitive with coach and ferry fares from Adelaide.
- Regional Express (Rex) ☎ 13 17 13 or +61 8 8553 9100. Regional Express operates 35 minute flights from Adelaide. Flights can sometimes be cancelled, call +61 8 8553 9100 to confirm flight details.
Getting around can be difficult if you don't bring or hire a car. However, there are plenty of one- to three-day tours to jump on, which can be booked in Adelaide and on the island, and there are some scheduled coaches between the towns, and transfer services to the airport and wharf. The island has 1600 km of roads, sealed and unsealed, and is 155 km long.
There are no taxi services on the island.
All towns are small and can be explored on foot.
Make sure you have plenty of fuel before you start your trip. Petrol stations are generally only in the main settlements and frequently close before 6PM. In the south and west, petrol is only available at Vivonne Bay and Wilderness Retreat near Flinders Chase. Most roads are good, there is little need for a 4WD. Petrol is more expensive than on the mainland.
You can hire a car from the airport, the ferry wharf, or in Kingscote. There are two operators:
- Budget Kangaroo Island, ☎ , (mobile).
- Hertz, ☎ .
Some rental operators on the mainland do not allow cars to be taken onto the island. Avis do not, Budget and Europcar do - check with your preferred operator. In the cases where the operator allows them to be taken, they may not provide insurance while on the ferry. As always, consider the risk and insurance, against the cost and convenience.
Book ahead if you are renting a car on the island. The consequences of them being sold out when you arrive are that you don't go anywhere.
It is important to clarify insurance arrangements when hiring a car as Hertz and Budget have more complicated systems on the island than on the mainland. This is due to a high number of collisions with animals, in particular during the late afternoon, evening, and early morning. Again, consider travel insurance to overcome the limitations of the rental car policy. It is generally cheaper anyway.
There is a shuttle service operated twice daily by Sealink between Kingscote, American River and Penneshaw. Booking is necessary.
An airport shuttle operated by KI Transfers meets all daily flights from Kingscote Airport and can arrange transfers to anywhere on the Island. For details visit this website
Bicycle rental and bicycle tours are available on Kangaroo Island. Bike rental is available when you get there.
Most tours run between 1-3 days and operate from Adelaide. If you make your own way to the island you can normally join a tour group at a reduced cost.
There are the "adventure" tour style, and the more traditional style tours stopping at the produce providers and major island sites on a fairly fixed itinerary. It is even possible to do a day tour from Adelaide (very tiring and you don't get to see the nocturnal animals).
Extended backpacker style tours of 2-3 days combine camping, budget accommodation, adventure and wildlife viewing, some even offer surfing.
- Lost In Australia, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Adventure, small groups, safaris. Locally owned and operated, full day and overnight tours.
There are two transfer companies on Kangaroo Island, they can arrange for you to be transferred to anywhere on the island
You will see wildlife on Kangaroo Island, both in the National Parks and reserves, and just in the farmland surrounding the roads. Most wildlife are most active at dawn and dusk.
- Koalas. Were introduced onto the island in the 1920s, as a (possibly misguided) way of preserving a species that was considered threatened on the mainland. The population thrived on the island, to the extent that they have been causing ecological damage on the island. They used to be common in Flinders Chase National Park, but since the 2007 bushfires, they are being caught and removed to the mainland, to allow the area to regenerate. There are still plenty elsewhere on the island, but they are often difficult to spot. You can still see them if you are lucky around Vivonne Bay and elsewhere. There is a free 20-minute walk close to the campsite; or visit the Koala Walk on the main south coast road near Flinders Chase entry. Try your luck.
- Echidnas are very common on the island although they can be difficult to find. You can usually see a couple in the wild near the visitors centre at Flinders Chase, if you manage to avoid them on the roads on the way there.
- Wallaby and Kangaroo. Kangaroos on the island are a sub-species of the Western Grey Kangaroo found on the mainland but are smaller, darker and have rougher fur . All wallabies are of species Tammar Wallaby. Stay alert when driving, especially around after dark as some of the Kangaroos are of a fair size and you don't want to see them too closely. You should have no problems viewing these next to the roads if you keep a look out. American River after dark (especially around the hall on Ryberg Road) is a good place to see wallabies.
- Platypus. Another introduced species to KI. There is a platypus walk going to a viewing area about an hour's walk from the Flinders Chase Visitors centre. Dawn or dusk are the best times, and patience and a certain sense of fate is always necessary for platypus watching.
- Penguins. There are guided evening tours at Kingscote and Penneshaw, and the paths near to the penguin parades are closed at dusk except to guided tours. Still, you could get the idea with binoculars from behind the fence line. Penguins are only to be seen on shore after dark.
- KI Penguin Centre, Kingscote Wharf, phone (08) 8553 3112. The local aquarium in Kingscote. Has giant cuttlefish, seahorses and little penguins. There are daily guided tours to see the local penguins. (tours start 7:30PM and 8:30PM in winter and 8:30PM and 9:30PM in summer). The tour includes the centre as well as some interesting explanations about the southern night sky.
- Penneshaw Penguin Centre - Lloyd Collins Reserve, Penneshaw, phone (08) 8553 1103. Guided tour to see the penguins in Penneshaw. Tours start at 6:30PM and 7:30PM in winter, an hour later during daylight saving.
- New Zealand Fur Seals. Hang out under Admirals Arch in Flinders Chase National Park. Steps and cliff walks get you quite close to their habitat, and their antics should keep you amused for quite a while. Better value than Seal Bay.
- Australian Sea Lions. Are at Seal Bay Conservation Park. Daily 9AM-5PM except Christmas. Located in the south of the island, this park gives you the opportunity to see wild Australian sea lions resting on the beach before returning for feeding in the sea. You can take an unguided walk along the boardwalk and to the lookout at any time. The beach is only accessible with guided tours. Entry fee is $12.50/$8.00 for access to the boardwalk and lookout only, or $27.50/$16.50 including the beach tour. Discounts for students, seniors and groups.
- Murrays Lagoon: Bald Hill walk and Timber Creek walk offer ½-1 hour walks to see the birdlife of the lagoon.
- American River: the rare glossy black cockatoo can be seen mainly at the north end of town on Scenic Drive, Ryberg Road and Falie Court. There is a bird hide behind the CFS Shed at the junction of Scenic Drive and Tangara Drive - water birds are common here.
- Duck Lagoon best in winter when the lagoon is nice and full.
- Pelican Feeding occurs everyday at 5PM just behind the KI Marine Centre. It's a good place to hang out just before the Marine Centre opens. There is no charge but donations are appreciated.
If luck isn't going your way, and you don't want to leave the island without seeing the wildlife, try Parndana Wildlife Park. You'll be able to walk amongst the animals and have the kangaroos crowd around you while you feed them.
- 1 Remarkable Rocks (in Flinders Chase National Park). True to their name, the rocks have remarkable formations. You can climb under them, over them and around them, and they really are interesting. The formation is around 500 m from the carpark, and is wheelchair accessible. Don't let the kids run ahead, as the formation is on the edge of a lichen-covered cliff, which gets steep deceptively quickly.
- Kelly Hill Caves (in Kelly Hill Conservation Park). Open daily 10AM to 5PM. A nice set of caves. Probably nothing here of particular interest if you have visited limestone caves in the past. $12.50/$7.50 for showcave tour.
- Admirals Arch (in Flinders Chase National Park). A dramatic natural rock arch. Views back to the Remarkable Rocks.
There are three lighthouses on KI, of which two are open for inspection (you can go to the top, and outside). The one that isn't open, unfortunately, is the one that has the original interiors left untouched. The two open ones have had the wooden steps replaced with modern steel and concrete. The tours of the lighthouses are included in the National Parks combined ticket.
- 2 Cape Willoughby Lighthouse (½-hour drive from Penneshaw). You can walk around the lighthouse area for a small fee, or go to the top, and get a tour with the history of the site for a little more. They have a Chance Bros, Class 1 glass on display in one of rooms below. The area is exposed, and usually very windy. The open air view at the top is bracing.
- 3 Cape du Couedic Lighthouse, near Admirals Arch, at the end of the Cape du Couedic Road. You can just see it from the outside, and you certainly won't miss it when you are visiting the fur seals at Admirals Arch. A short walk from the lighthouse you can see the remains of storerooms and a flying fox used to get stores up to the lighthouse - when they were delivered every three months.
- 4 Cape Borda Lighthouse. Also runs tours, but probably doesn't see as many visitors as Cape Willoughby, due to a more remote location. It is of a different shape and style to the other two.
- Prospect Hill (also known as Mt Thisby) is on Hog Bay Road, at the narrow stretch of land that links the two halves of the island, about 20 minutes west of Penneshaw. Matthew Flinders first ascended the peak, and it will take about 10 minutes to climb if you are of reasonable fitness. Steps the whole way, and a 360-degree view from the top. Whilst you're here, don't miss Pennington Bay.
- Reeves Point is the site of the first settlement in South Australia, a 2-minute drive or 15-minute walk from downtown Kingscote. The lookout is nice, and there is a mulberry tree first planted as part of a farm here during early settlement. Other interpretive signs pointing out the history of the area, and where things were. You will need a good imagination to bring it back to life though. Nice view over Kingscote.
- Swim. Spring and Autumn are too cold to swim on KI, and the swimming season is really just the summer school holidays. The best swimming beaches tend to be on the north side of the island, the south side offering less sand, and more waves crashing into cliffs.
- Dive. The clear blue waters around Kangaroo Island make it one of the best spots for scuba diving in temperate waters.
- Kangaroo Island Diving Safaris, 80 Grange Road Welland, SA, ☎ . Kangaroo Island Diving Safaris runs Dive Charters out of Western River Cove. Diving with seals and many other marine creatures including the famous Leafy Sea Dragon. Cost includes 2 dives with tanks and weights and light lunch onboard. Departing Western Rive Cove. $320.
- Sand-boarding at Little Sahara off the South Coast Road. Thrills, spills and lots of fun for all ages. Some people try to slide on cardboard boxes, but you really need to get a sandboard for the best fun. People who try the cardboard look on in envy.
- Kangaroo Island Outdoor Action (about 7km away from Little Sahara on Jetty Rd, Vivonne Bay), ☎ . Sandboards and toboggans are available for rent sandboards are $29 and toboggans are $39 for a full day hire, or grab them for a couple hours at $19 and $29, respectively..
- Cruising Kangaroo Island (Kayaking), Kangaroo Island (Mobile service), ☎ . Daily. Operates Kayak tours at sheltered locations around Kangaroo Island, no previous experience required From $50.
Souvenir shops can be found in Kingscote and Penneshaw. You can buy your supplies at supermarkets in those to centres too. Expect to pay more at small general stores selling food and drinks around the island. If you are going to camp in the remote parts of the island it is better to buy ahead since shops are rare and expensive (usually limited to camp sites and resorts selling a few things) especially in the west of the island.
As well as the ubiquitous wineries, there are a couple of produce places around the island.
- Honey, at Clifford's Honey Farm. They have an interesting sparkling honey drink called Fresco. Go into their back room and see a hive and a DVD showing how honey is harvested. Stay in the shop area and buy lots of honey products and souvenirs. For 20¢ you can have a piece of chocolate-covered honeycomb, which if you like chocolate covered honeycomb, may just be the highlight of your visit to the island. It just doesn't get any better. Try the honey ice-cream as well. It doesn't taste like honey, but it is really creamy and sweet.
- Eucalyptus Oil at Emu Ridge Distillery. You can visit the shop - selling a wide range of Eucalyptus products. Do they really produce the lollies on site, or have they gone to the factory on the mainland and been shipped back to the shop? Who knows. They have a wallaby and a kangaroo which jump around in the shop, although the shop owner insists they are free to come and go as they please. They also sell feral cat skins for a few dollars, hunted locally. It is an environmentally friendly, albeit diminutive answer to the lion skin in front of the fireplace.
- Oysters at Kangaroo Island Shellfish on Tangara Drive, American River - just opposite the wharf. Fresh American River oysters available in season as well as a selection of other aquatic produce including (normally) marron and abalone.
Restaurants and cafes are limited to Penneshaw, Parndana, American River and Kingscote and some small cafes along the way on the south coast.
- Ozone Seafront Hotel, ☎ . Offers a nice view on the local bay, serves seafood, local cheeses. Open daily from 7AM to late. Located in the centre of Kingscote.
- Ulonga Lodge Cafe on Scenic Drive, American River. Pleasant cafe with lovely sea views open Wednesday - Sunday from 11AM until late afternoon (maybe fewer days off season). Coffee, tea, lunchy type things. It's at the northern end of Scenic Drive.
The Penneshaw Hotel is country style pub, and gets busy serving food which is some of the best on the island. Has large TV screens in the front bar. It doesn't really maximise its location on top of the hill at Penneshaw, the place seems designed to stop you seeing the view. Nice views from the new patio though.
There are also pubs in Kingscote and Parndana, and you're welcome at the community club (aka The Shed) in American River on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday evenings.
There are 28 vineyards throughout the island. Varieties grown are Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Shiraz.
Wine tastings and cellar door sales are available at
- Sunset Winery near Penneshaw,
- Dudley Wines on the Cape Willoughby Road about 15 km from Penneshaw,
- Chapman River Wines further along Cape Willoughby Road from Thursday to Sunday (the lunch platter is highly recommended!),
- False Cape Wines at the Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Distillery,
- Bay of Shoals Wines near Kingscote, and
- Two Wheeler Creek Wines at the Andermel Marron Farm south west of Parndana.
Many of the local wines are on sale at the supermarkets, the pubs, and even the general stores like the one at Vivonne Bay.
Accommodation ranges from basic hostel rooms, B&B to motel accommodation in Penneshaw and Kingscote. There is large range of rental home accommodation, catering to families. Camp sites are available as well.
You can stay in Lighthouse cottages at Cape Borda and Cape Willoughby.
There are council-run campgrounds at Vivionne Bay and American River. Both campgrounds offer powered and unpowered sites.
- Southern Ocean Lodge (Southern Ocean Lodge), Hanson Bay, ☎ . A splurge destination! For very special occasions. Sits along the coastline with great views. Huge communal dining, drinking and relaxing area. There's a spa retreat.
- Aquamarine, Collins Crescent, Baudin Beach (Located only 10 km West from the Penneshaw ferry terminal.), ☎ . A spacious and private self contained cottage with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and all modern conveniences. It is located right next to a safe swimming beach and you can watch kangaroos and parrots from the back verandah. Price ranges from $140 to $240 per night for up to 7 people, with discounts for longer stays.
- Central Backpackers, Murray St, ☎ . Clean hostel with a friendly atmosphere, only three minutes walk to penguin colony, beach and pelican feeding. Offers a communal kitchen and a communal lounge. Doubles are around $60, dorm rooms are available.
- Kangaroo Island Seaview Motel, Chapman Terrace. Offers a wide range on available room types. Guestrooms start at $75, oceanview units at $135, suites and apartments are around $155.
- Queenscliffe Family Hotel, Dauncey Street, ☎ .
- Aurora Ozone - Kangaroo Island Hotel, The Foreshore, Kingscote, SA 5223, ☎ . Located on the beautiful foreshore at Kingscote. Online booking at the website.
Kangaroo Island is a pretty safe place but care should be taken when driving around the island by car. Slow down (less than 80 km/h is advised) specifically around dusk and dawn but also during the night since wildlife is most active at this time. None of the car rental services cover damage caused by collision with animals at night so be extremely careful. Road conditions are good - most roads are sealed - though some tourist locations can only be reached on unsealed roads which are usually well graded. Unsealed roads are often made with an ironstone top which can making cars skid when turning or stopping at speed. Drivers inexperienced on unsealed roads should be extremely careful during wet conditions as traction in a standard two wheel drive vehicle is very poor. The island itself is approx 150 km by 50 km; allow plenty of time to travel to your destination.
Peninsula tiger snakes are common in parts. Particular in areas around Cape Willoughby - where some grassy areas are even closed to the public. Stick to paths if possible.
- Kingscote: Internet access is available in the public library using either their terminals or their wi-fi network. In the Council building on Dauncey Street - only during business hours (free). There is also a terminal in the Aurora Ozone Hotel ($1 for 10 min); and wi-fi access at KI Photographic also on Dauncy Street.
- Penneshaw: The Gateway Visitor Information Centre and post office have internet access.
- Vivonne Bay: There is a small Internet cafe at Kangaroo Island Outdoor Action, located on Jetty Road, Vivonne Bay.
- American River: Access is available via a terminal at the Post Office in Ryberg Road - business hours only.
Mobile phone coverage on the island is quite good as long as you have a Telstra Next G device. Limited GSM services are provided by Telstra, Optus around the population centres of Kingscote and Penneshaw and the road between them. Telstra provides limited coverage in the regional areas. Vodafone has no towers on the island, so coverage is only available within sight of the mainland centres.