We started our 3-week stay in Australia with a Kangaroo Island tour, exploring the island through a 3-day itinerary. The appeal of Australia was without surprise its abundant and unique wildlife. Kangaroo Island seems to encompass many of what we looked for during our trip.
Why A Kangaroo Island Tour Itinerary?
Many wonder “How long is kangaroo island?”. The answer is simple: quite long! With 96 miles long and 34 miles wide (155 kilometers long, 55 kilometers wide), Kangaroo Island is the third largest island in Australia. Kangaroo Island is not on the tourist trail and has stayed untouched by mass tourism. Indeed, a third of the island has been set aside as a Natural or Conservation Park, and the rest of the island is composed of farms, wineries and sanctuaries, and a couple of tiny towns.
Kangaroo island abounds with fantastic wildlife, including the apparent kangaroos which the island takes its name from, indeed the best place to see Kangaroos in Australia. You can also see wild koalas, short-beaked echidnas, tammar wallabies, and brushtail possums. The wildlife population is thriving as it was spared from the damages occasioned by foxes and rabbits on the mainland, and its isolation reduced the impact from the European settlements.
With over 330 miles (540 km) of coastline, Kangaroo Island offers excellent views of the ocean and a chance to observe colonies of sea lions or penguins. Surfers will appreciate the impressive waves. Kangaroo Island has an extensive network of unsealed roads that allowed us to experience off-the-beaten-path driving which translated as our first outback experience.
The island is so big it is divided into seven regions: West End, Dudley Peninsula, Heartland, North Coast, American River, Kingscote and Districts, and the South Coast. How many days to visit Kangaroo Island is of course up to you and what you want to explore. But given the size and the diversity of Kangaroo Island attractions, we recommend three days to be the minimum duration to explore it properly. A quick visit can be done for an overview, but you will want to come back for more! See our kangaroo island self-drive itinerary for a day-by-day breakdown.
Day 1 – North Shore, Emu Bay, and Stokes Bay
We had arrived the night before at Penneshaw from Adelaide (read “How To Get There”) and toured the town composed of a few streets and quaint little houses. As we traveled budget, we usually cooked our breakfast. We, however, wanted to breakfast by the ocean and headed to Emu Bay. The drive felt long on an empty stomach, but it was so worth it! The bay is just gorgeous, a large beach of white sand and calm, warm waters. We set our blanket, cookies, and hot drinks, and enjoy our bread and jam while taking the scenery in. We were the only ones that beautiful sunny day, which made the moment even more enjoyable. The water was incredibly clear, probably the clearest I ever saw.
As we left Emu Bay behind, we decided to explore the island’s smaller roads on the way to Stokes Bay. We took the North Coast Road, where red dirt awaited – our first taste of the Australian outback, even if outback is usually reserved for the desert area of Australia’s interior. The road ran mostly parallel to the coast, ridged with eucalyptus trees that provided contrasting shades of red, blue and red. We followed several side trails that brought us down to sea level where we discovered several little coves and beaches.
We finally reached Stokes Bay, again by ourselves. The bay was quite large with rough waves except a giant pool created by surrounding rocks. The big boulders held large cracks that allowed for hide-and-seek! The water in the pool and surrounding the rocks was also crystal-clear with small fishes moving around. Though the water depth was not high enough to swim, it felt great to wade in it, refreshing and relaxing. A nearby heron did the same, sharing its time between fishing in the pool and pausing on the rocks.
The North Shore Road continued past Stokes Bay and treated us with fantastic views. We rejoined the main Playford Highway after a while, which led to the Cape Borda Lighthouse at the west end of the island, about 44 miles (70 km) opposite to Kingscote. The lighthouse was officially located within the Flinders Chase National Park and lit the first time in 1858. A unique square shape, it stood perched on cliffs above the Investigator Strait. The location was the departing point of several walking trails including the Cliff Top Hike. Try to time your visit to be there around 12:30 pm to hear the daily cannon shot.
We finished our scenic drive through the north side of the Flinders Chase National Park to reach our camp for the night. Our day was however not over as we had reserved a night walk at the nearby Hanson Bay Sanctuary, where koalas could be found live in their natural habitat. The 90-min tour proved to an excellent introduction to the island’s wildlife as we observed several koalas, kangaroos, Tammar wallabies and even the elusive Echidnas during that night. What a perfect way to finish our first day! No wonder a trip to Hanson Bay Sanctuary is one of the tip Kangaroo Island Things to Do.
Day 2 – Flinders Chase National Park, Hanson Bay Sanctuary, and Vivonne Bay
We woke up to the sounds of several birds around our camp, enjoying our own birds’ paradise. Two parrots even chirped in the trees by our tent! Our first visit for the day led us to the Platypus Waterholes where we hoped to find the shy animals. Early morning and dusk are supposed to give a higher chance to view them – unfortunately, we lucked out that day (we would be luckier later on during our Australia tour though!). It is, however, a nice 2-hour walk and worth exploring, with our without platypus sighting.
Our next stop continued to Admirals Arch, one of Kangaroo Island’s most impressive landmark created over thousands of years of erosion. A boardwalk allowed us to access the Arch where we admired New Zealand fur seals that resided there. Admirals Arch is also known to be an excellent area to spot whales between the May to October migration, as well as dolphins. Several hikes across Flinders Chase National Park start from the Arch area.
We carried on our drive to the nearby Remarkable Rocks. And no pun intended, but these are indeed remarkable and a must-see while on Kangaroo Island. These granite boulders gained their unusual shapes through 500 million years of wind and rain. The contrasting colors of their components of black mica, pink feldspar, and blue quartz, many also covered by orange lichen gave them their distinctive characters. Early mornings and evenings are the best time to go to avoid the crowds but also catch fantastic sunrises and sunsets. Watch for the rock surface that might be slippery when wet. The clouds above our heads luckily did not bring any rain, but the wind was brutal at the time.
The enjoyment of our previous night walk still in mind, we returned to Hanson Bay Sanctuary for another chance to see the koalas, in daylight this time. We were welcome by wallabies, parrots and, of course, koalas. The sanctuary was a great place to watch wildlife at a close distance. We stayed several hours at the refuge, and enjoyed a lovely walk among large eucalyptus, looking for the koalas hidden among the branches.
Vivonne Bay was next on our drive, a vast expanse of white sand and blue water and is considered of the best beaches of Australia. A favorite spot for a picnic, surfing or just sunbathing. The bay is known for its strong undertow and potential high swell, making it better reserved for experienced swimmers. Vivonne Bay Sea lions have taken residency around Vivonne Bay, an excellent place to observe them, and one of the top things of what to see on kangaroo island.
Day 3 – Southern Shore, Cape Gantheaume National Park, and Cape Willoughby Lighthouse
Cape Gantheaume National Park was a continuity of Vivonne Bay shores and a vast wilderness area. The park offered plenty hiking options, from established trails at Murray Lagoon to unmarked ones like the Coastal Trek. We drove along the d’Estrees Bay Road which gave us a sense of the park’s natural environment. The scenery was different than the Flanders Chase National Park and a great supplement to better understanding the diversity of Kangaroo Island.
Prospect Hill was our last stop en route to Penneshaw, a great way to say farewell to the island. Also known as Mount Thisby, the 512 steps take you to a 360-degree view of the island.It is worth mentioning that Captain Matthew Flinders hiked this exact trail when he surveyed Kangaroo Island in 1802. Once at the top of the hill, the panorama is fantastic! The trail has signposts featuring interesting information about the flora, fauna, and history of the island, which could make it the perfect location to start your discovery of the island.
We reached the end of our stay on Kangaroo Island, and we headed back to Penneshaw to take the ferry, and on to Adelaide.
What to Do on Kangaroo Island, Australia
With so many things to do on Kangaroo Island, the choice is yours. Before you decide how many days to explore Kangaroo Island, make sure to review the list of things to do. You will surely add a few extra days to your initial travel plan! How many days to explore kangaroo island is up to you!
- Wildlife: Kangaroo Island penguins on the Kingscote foreshore, Australian sea lions on Seal Bay, echidnas, and goannas by the side of the road, and New Zealand fur seals at Admirals Arch. The island is a bird paradise too. Kangaroo Island Penguin Centre is a great place to meet a colony of fairy penguins on the Kingscote foreshore. As for the iconic furry Australian animal, Koala Avenue, Kangaroo Island, outside Flinders Chase National Park, is probably the best spot to see them, in addition to Hanson Bay Sanctuary.
- National Parks and Conversations Parks: Out of the seven parks, Flinders Chase National park is the most popular, about an hour and a half drive from Kingscote. Other parks include Seal Bay Conservation Park, Cape Borda Lightstation, Kelly Hill Conservation Park, Cape Willoughby Conservation Park, Cape Gantheaume Conservation Park, and Lashmar Conservation Park. Click here to check tours to Flinders Chase National Park.
- Water Sports: Surf with the locals at Vivonne Bay. Sail around the island, for fishing, or on a dolphin cruise. Kayak the coastline, preferably from sheltered locations.
- Kangaroo Island Hikes: Several hike opportunities are available from a short 15-minute stroll to the Remarkable Rocks (0.5 miles / 1 km), 2-hour walk around Platypus Waterholes (3 miles / 4.5 km), to more extended 6-hour Hanson Bay Hike (11 miles / 18 km). Those looking for a multi-day trek will want to look into the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail which goes through the Flinders Chase National Park for 45 miles (73 km) and takes about five days. One favorite Kangaroo Island hike for sure!
- Outdoor activities: Explore the Kelly Hills caves, go horseback riding, riding an ATV, or sandboarding at Little Sahara off the South Coast Road.
- Landmarks: Visit Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Oil Distillery, which is still using an ancient furnace, and is the only commercial eucalyptus oil distillery in operation in South Australia. Cape Willoughby Lighthouse is another popular Kangaroo Island attraction.
- Culinary Experience: From food tour, market walking tour, a cooking class, or wine tasting – Kangaroo Island knows how to add savors to your appetite. Click here to check wine tasting tour options.
- Diving: Western River Cove is a popular scuba-diving spot, where you can dive with Seals. Other marine encounters might include the famous Leafy Sea Dragon, Blue Devil, Harlequin, Truncate coralfish and Boarfish. Wreck dive among one of the 50 recorded shipwrecks. Conditions might be challenging due to rip current and undertow and might be better reserved for experienced divers.
- Festivals: Several events are organized on Kangaroo Island throughout the year. Check the Easter Art Exhibition in March / April, the Kangaroo Island Cup Carnival, and the Kangaroo Island Sufferfest Tri in November,
Kangaroo Island Guided Tours
If you don’t want to figure out your self-drive itinerary and prefer to have local tour operators plan a trip for you, a guided tour around the island will let you enjoy the landscape with none of the preparation efforts. Kangaroo Island tours from Adelaide are plentiful. While a day trip to Kangaroo Island from Adelaide is not recommended given the distance, it’s not impossible if you fly, or are ready for a long day. A 2-day tour would be better if you can.
However, if you have time, getting from Adelaide to Kangaroo Island is a beautiful drive, going through small villages and rolling hills. Keep in mind that the distance from Adelaide to Kangaroo Island is around 130 miles (210 km) and takes about 4 hours. Make sure to plan accordingly if you want to take the ferry.
Kangaroo Island tours from Melbourne will take longer, at least several days. They usually stop along the way at the Great Ocean Road and the Grampians National Park.
Some of best kangaroo island tours will at least include a visit to Koala Avenue, a Kangaroo Island wildlife safari, and a trip to the Remarkable Rocks and Flinders Chase National Park. A small group tour or a private tour, though most expensive, would be recommended for their flexibility and for observing the wildlife in their natural habitat. Whatever kangaroo island packages you choose, you are in for a treat!wil
Kangaroo Island Travel Tips
- The island is long and massive. Give yourself plenty time to drive and explore
- Consider adding an extra day to your plan, as you are bound to run out off time!
- Be careful or preferably avoid driving at dusk, night and dawn, due to wildlife activities.
- Gas stations close early and might be far apart. Keep your tank full.
- Swimming is safe on the northern beaches (Emu Bay, Stokes Bay or Snellings Beach, and at Island Beach) but the south coast has dangerous undertows.
- A Kangaroo Island map will be handy if you plan to explore the backroads
- A 4WD vehicle is not necessary as even the dirt roads are in pretty good shape. Note that heavy rains might, however, make these”outback” roads harder to drive, even potentially impassable
Kangaroo Island: How to Get There
We flew to Adelaide where we rented a car. As we traveled budget and camped most of our trip, our first action implied finding a grocery shop and a gas canister for our stove. This was quickly done, and we eagerly left the city and headed to Cape Jervis. Located about 1:30-hour away from Adelaide, this little town is where we would board the Cape Jervis to Kangaroo Island ferry, directly to Penneshaw. The drive was scenic, and we enjoyed our first appreciation of Australian countryside.
The ferry terminal was small and packed with other cars, trucks, and passengers. The boarding went easily and in an organized fashion, and we found the way to the upper deck for the duration of the traverse. The sea conditions were relatively calm though the wind was rather strong. This ride gave us a great opportunity to follow the Australian coast.
We made sure to arrive early enough for boarding though as we wanted to catch the last ferry of the day. The SeaLink ferry Kangaroo Island ride is somewhat pricey (AU$98 / US$75 per adult), especially with a car (AU$ 198 / US$155), but we felt this would be the best way to explore the island at will. There are three departures daily in Summer, and only two in Winter and other occasional departures – check SeaLink timetable and fares for the latest information.
In addition to the Adelaide to Kangaroo Island ferry, It is also possible to fly directly to Kingscote Airport:
- Adelaide to Kangaroo Island flights: a 30-minute direct flight, about AD$280 one way (US$215)
- Melbourne to Kangaroo Island flights: a 3-hour trip with one stop, about AD$500 one way (US$380)
- Sydney to Kangaroo Island flights: a 3.30-hour plane ride with one stop, about AD$560 one way (US$430)
Best Time to Visit Kangaroo Island
The Austral Summer is from October to April, with usually dry weather and warm temperatures around 95°F (35 ℃). The winter lasts from June to September, with mild and wet conditions, and average temperatures around 60°F (14 ℃).
Kangaroo Island Accommodation
Camping on Kangaroo Island: We traveled budget and camped all the way. Our first night upon arrival was at the Kangaroo Island Shores Penneshaw Camping, just outside the Kangaroo Island ferry terminal. The location was perfect since we arrived late, allowing us to set the camp quickly. Our campsite was located on the hills nearby the terminal and offered fantastic views of the ocean. We remained the only ones at the campground, and as we set our tent, a local came to welcome us. A furry, jumping and interested local… A Kangaroo stood right there, a few steps away from us! We could not believe our eyes. We just arrived and already lucky to see Australia’s iconic animal. Our Kangaroo Island stay was already perfect!
We then camped in the Flinders Chase National Park which allowed us to get access to the park and go to wildlife night walks.
The island offered several camp options and gave us a great feel for the environment. Note camping and campfires were only permitted at designated sites on Kangaroo Island though no wood fires were not authorized in any of the National or Conservation Parks. Use gas and liquid fuel stoves are allowed, however, do check each park and site for individual guidelines and permit requirements.
Kangaroo Island Places to Stay also include a wide variety of accommodations. Choose between luxury kangaroo island hotels, quaint beachside cottages, cozy bed and breakfasts, budget caravan parks, eco-lodges, and rustic lighthouse keeper shacks. Where to stay on Kangaroo Island solely depends on what you want to explore, which in turn will impact how long to spend on Kangaroo Island.
Kangaroo Island Restaurants
The island has a lot of fresh seafood like freshwater crayfish locally called marron, as well as dairy products such as cheese and yogurt thanks to the local farms from the Island Pure Sheep Dairy. Try the local honey ice-cream made with the local Kangaroo Island Ligurian honey. Formal dining, picnic basket, and local stores offer something for everyone. The island also holds about 30 wine growers and 12 wineries.
As budget travelers, we avoided restaurants whenever possible. We grocery-shopped upon arrival in Adelaide and added a few fresh produce once on the island. But Kangaroo Island has plenty pubs, bars, and dining opportunities.
We went to one restaurant stop during our first night in Penneshaw and headed to the Penneshaw Hotel known to offer great views of the ocean. The establishment is a pub-like setting, and we were happy to get a table by the window. The food was average and somewhat expensive. I ordered the Kangaroo Island, King George Whiting, since this is a local specialty. It was fine but a small portion of two pieces of AU$40 (US$30). Bruno ate a Porterhouse burger, also average.
Due to its secluded environment, Kangaroo Island has imposed a quarantine to prevent pests and diseases found in mainland Australia to impact the island. Find below some of the restrictions (check Protecting Kangaroo Island for complete and up-to-date information).
- Bees, bee handling equipment, and honey products
- Potatoes for consumption or planting
- Foxes, rabbits and declared weeds
Kangaroo Island is of course not the only place to observe Australian wildlife! From the Great Ocean Road around Melbourne, around Sydney, and up to the marine life of the Great Barrier Reef, or the crocodiles of Kakadu National Park, or the Heirisson Island in East Perth, Australia offers plenty opportunities to see its unique wildlife.
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