Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island or KI is the third largest island of Australia about 45 minutes by ferry off the coast of South Australia. The island is 160 kilometers 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, with seals on many of the islands beaches 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 160km wide (east to west) and around 50km 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, with 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

Admiral's Arch

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.

Visitor Information

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 60km or just under an hours 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.

Get in

There are two ways to get to Kangaroo Island:

By ferry

SeaLion 2000 bound for 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!

Two daily coach connections are available from Adelaide to connect with the ferry at Cape Jervis. Consult the Sealink website for costs.

Coach connections are available from Penneshaw to American River and Kingscote after the arrival of the 0900 and 1800 departures from Cape Jervis; and to the 0830 and 1930 departures from Penneshaw.

There are ferry services to Kangaroo Island that have no coach connection to Adelaide and there is no other public transport of any form 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 60km 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.

By plane

If you are not taking a car with you, air fares can be competitive with coach and ferry fares from Adelaide.

Get around

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 1600km of roads, both sealed and unsealed, and is 155km long.

There are no taxi services on the island.

All towns are small and can be explored on foot.

Gravel road on KI

By car

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.

Rental car

You can hire a car from the airport, the ferry wharf, or in Kingscote. There are two operators

Some rental operators on the mainland do not allow cars to be taken onto the island. Avis do not, Budget and Europcar both do - check with your preferred operator. In the cases where the operator allows them to be taken, they may not provide insurance while actually 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 both 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.

By bus

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

By bicycle

Both bicycle rental and bicycle tours are available on Kangaroo Island. Bike rental is available when you get there.

By tour

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.

By transfer

There are two transfer companies on Kangaroo Island, they can arrange for you to be transferred to anywhere on the island



Koala at Vivonne Bay

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.

Echidna in Flinders Chase Nt. Pk
  • 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.
Australian Sea Lions on the Beach at Seal Bay
  • Murrays Lagoon: Bald Hill walk and Timber Creek walk offer 1/2 an hour to an 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.

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.



Cape Willoughby lighthouse

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.



Sandboarding at Little Sahara
  • Kangaroo Island Diving Safaris, 80 Grange Road Welland, SA,  +61 8 8346 3422. 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 lite lunch onboard. Departing Western Rive Cove. $320.
  • Kangaroo Island Outdoor Action (about 7km away from Little Sahara on Jetty Rd, Vivonne Bay),  +61 8 8559 4296. 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..


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.


Restaurants and cafes are limited to Penneshaw, Parndana, American River and Kingscote and some small cafes along the way on the south coast.


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

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 style 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 these campgrounds have recently (2012) been refurbished and offer both powered and unpowered sites.

South Coast

Baudin Beach

North Coast


Stay safe

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 150km x 50km; 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.


Internet Access:

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.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Monday, November 16, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.