A 4 Day Itinerary on Kangaroo Island
Bobby grew up on Kangaroo Island in South Australia, affectionately called KI by locals. KI is the 3rd largest island in Australia, after Tasmania and lesser-known Melville Island (north of Darwin in the Northern Territory). The island is a popular tourist destination, and it's come back nicely from the devastating bush fires of 2020 (scroll to the bottom for more about this).
I've been lucky enough to visit Kangaroo Island at least once a year since I moved to Australia, and have quite a few tips for visitors. This isn't the place for museum or cafe culture, but it's great if you're looking for a bit of solitude and stunning natural surroundings.
First tip - You should not attempt to do Kangaroo Island in one day! We've seen many a tour group heading over early in the morning, loading onto a coach bus, and then back on the latest possible boat. It's an effort to get to, so you may as well make it worth your while.
Here's my recommended 4 day itinerary on Kangaroo Island.
Getting to Kangaroo Island
There are 2 ways to get to Kangaroo Island.
There are flights to the island but they are quite expensive, even when factoring in the difference in travel time. We look every time, and it has just never been worth it for us.
The more popular way to get to the island is by boat, most commonly via the Sealink Ferry. You can take a shuttle from Adelaide and walk on to the boat, but there's no public transit on either side. We would recommend renting a car in Adelaide and driving it over on the ferry. This is much quicker and actually not much more expensive than the shuttle + walk on fees.
Note that place names on the island are half British and half French. The story goes that the island was discovered and explored on two sides simultaneously, with British explorer Matthew Flinders meeting Nicolas Baudin (sent by Napoleon on a mapping expedition) at Encounter Bay in 1802. Why is it called Kangaroo Island? Let's just say the explorers were really hungry... But I digress.
Getting to KI is a bit of journey (well, not compared to the one in 1802, it's all relative), so I'd recommend getting an early ferry. It's usually a smooth crossing but depends on the weather. On rare occasions the ferry can be delayed or cancelled due to weather or maintenance issues. Watch for dolphins!
One of the stranger sites for an American in Australia is a U.S. flag flying in the breeze. American River has a flag at the turnoff from the highway as well as one in town.
The Deck cafe has great food with a sea view, and stop by the boat building museum and workshop next door to see the Independence reconstruction! If there are volunteers around they will often give you a tour, and you can buy a board to help fund the project.
There's also an oyster shop and tour place in American River, but Bobby and I are not huge fans so haven't made an effort to stop by.
There is some accommodation here if you don't want to travel too far on Day 1. If you're staying further along, hit the road towards Kingscote, with a few more stops along the way.
I love the tree tunnels on KI!
Clifford's Honey is hidden away, but well worth a visit just for the honey ice cream (let's just say I'm lactose-intolerant and I eat some every visit).
You'll learn about Ligurian bees, imported from Italy and brought to KI in 1884.
"Kangaroo Island is the world's oldest bee sanctuary and is home to the only pure strain of Ligurian Bee in the world.
Due to their isolation they have remained free of the major bee diseases, which infect mainland bees. Bees cannot fly to Kangaroo Island because it is too far, even with strong winds to propel them.
To protect their genetic purity and disease-free status all bees, beehives, used beekeeping equipment, honey, pollen, beeswax or other hive products are restricted from entering KI."
You can view bee hives and bee product harvesting techniques in the back before browsing the gift shop. We'd also recommend the honey mustard salad dressing (yum!).
Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Oil Distillery
Emu Ridge is somewhere we stop on every visit to KI. I don't have any photos of the interior, but this spot has an introductory video showing how the eucalyptus has been refined for many years, a self-guided walking tour, a large gift shop, and a small cafe.
They usually foster wallaby babies, who are quite feisty but also adorable! Yes, they have emus too. We always take home some eucalyptus oil, and often pick up some small gift items like soap and hand cream.
The Island Beehive
On the way into Kingscote is the Island Beehive - local honey, wool, and other local products. I love the kalamata olives and some of the spice mixes.
Since Kingscote is Bobby's hometown, this is where I've spent a majority of my time on KI. Unless you're planning to camp, I would recommend this as a base for some day trips!
Recommendations in Kingscote:
Take a walk along Main Street
Walk out along the newly-refurbished jetty
Old Mulberry Tree (historical site)
Kingscote Silo Art
Big Quince Print has a nice selection of books and novelty gifts
There aren't a huge amount of options for eating out in Kingscote, but there are enough for a few days. Make sure you check the hours, not much is open late here.
Cactus - Cafe with excellent breakfast/brunch and fresh juices.
Kangaroo Island Fresh Seafoods - A selection of fish and tons of chips, along with assorted other fried food.
Queenscliffe Hotel - Hang out in the front bar to get some really Aussie pub culture, or eat in the restaurant for a classier experience. This is the first place I tried kangaroo.
For groceries, Drakes is your best bet. They have a surprisingly good gluten free section!
If you feel like a morning swim, visit the Kingscote Tidal Pool or Kangaroo Island Yacht Club.
There is a short trail that goes between these two places, and it's one of my favorite places to spend time while on the island.
If you're feeling really adventurous, you can dive under the jetty for fresh scallops! There is reportedly good diving here, but you'll have to bring equipment over as there is nowhere to rent it on the island.
Emu Bay Lavender Farm
Emu Bay Lavender is a great spot for lunch, and they often have a band on the weekends in the busy season. There's a full menu, with seating inside and outside and a gift shop full of lavender items and local products and crafts.
Make sure you split an order of the massive lavender scones for dessert (seriously, do not attempt on your own)!
Emu Bay Beach
I don't have pics of this spot but it's lovely for a swim, and you can drive on this beach if you have a capable vehicle (would not recommend in a rental!).
This area has a nice trail under large boulders to a hidden beach. Bobby says it can be a good snorkeling spot, depending on the weather.
Kangaroo Island Brewery
The Kangaroo Island Brewery is always busy, being fairly close to Kingscote. Make sure you check opening hours, and for closings for events such as weddings.
The drive out to Flinders Chase National Park is long but scenic. We'd recommend going first thing to beat the day tours. If you're in need of a coffee or bathroom break, stop halfway at the Vivonne Bay General Store.
There is an entry fee for the park. Some accommodation is available here, as well as camping.
The main highlight is Remarkable Rocks, an iconic rock formation you'll see on tourism ads for South Australia and Kangaroo Island. It's well worth driving for a few hours!
Weirs Cove and Cape du Couedic Lightstation
After you've taken in as much as you can handle of the Remarkable Rocks, drive around the cove to the old lighthouse keeper's cottage at Weirs Cove. The inhabitants had supplies delivered by ship every few months, hauled up a chute along the rocky cliff with a pulley system. The lighthouse is up and around a bend in the road.
The final must-see destination in the park is Admirals Arch. Walk down a winding boardwalk and look for the ever-present colony of long-nosed fur seals. They blend in with the rocks, so look carefully!
There are a few options to fill your day, depending on how early you start and how much time you have left!
Hanson Bay or Vivonne Bay
These are both glorious beaches. Usually when I visit it seems to be cloudy and I don't really feel like a swim, but they are stunning to look at.
Despite my many visits, there are also places I haven't been yet! I've actually never been to Little Sahara Sand Dunes, but Bobby went often as a kid and says it's a good spot for sandboarding. There's also Kelly Hill Caves and Seal Bay Conservation Park nearby, neither of which I have visited yet.
I thought this bird show at Raptor Domain would be really cheesy when Bobby took me for the first time, but it was actually really cool! We haven't been back since they changed ownership (after the bushfires).
Note that they close at 4pm most days, so if you're having too much fun exploring Flinders Chase you'll have to do this another day.
This is the last planned day, but you could spend a lot more time exploring the island! If you need to get back to the mainland, book a late ferry to squeeze in some more exploring.
Kangaroo Island Spirits
Make a stop at Kangaroo Island Spirits, newly-renovated with award-winning gin.
Koalas!!! Need I say more? There is also a campground here, and a bird hide if you're into birdwatching.
Make sure you stop at my favorite place on Kangaroo Island, Pennington Bay. It's stunning in any weather, and different every time we visit.
This Midwesterner still can't believe people surf here...
If you have a little time to kill in Penneshaw before the ferry leaves, there is a sculpture trail up in the hills. Sunset Food and Wine is a good spot to grab a bite to eat with a great view of the ocean.
The gift shop at the ferry port has a nice selection of local goods (KI gin, eucalyptus and lavender products, etc.), and you can grab a last honey ice cream from the cooler at the cafe.
The Kangaroo Island Fires
Bobby and I were actually on KI when the initial 2020 fires started from a lightning strike. The Christmas parade was a bit smoky, and the local fire crew was on standby. It was only after we got back to Brisbane that the fires took off, engulfing a third of the island. Luckily Bobby's family was in Kingscote which remained untouched, although a cruise ship was anchored offshore in case the worst happened. The rest of the island was not so lucky.
210,000 hectares (518,921 acres) were burned in the fires. 87 homes were destroyed. An estimated 60,000 sheep died, which was a crushing blow to the farmers who depend on livestock for their livelihood. I remember my American relatives telling me that the poor koalas made the news, but I have to admit, I was feeling too bad for the people. Read more and see the devastation here. Thousands of kilometres of fencing needed to be rebuilt, which is pretty important when you're a sheep farmer. A charity called BlazeAid lent a hand.
On our next visit to KI, we could see the leftover pink fire retardant used to save the town of Parndana. Everything outside of the town was black. The fire burned so hot that it killed everything, and the undergrowth was just starting to come back. We tried to drive out to Flinders Chase, but high winds plus roadsides full of dead trees made it unsafe. Before turning back, we snapped a few shots of the yacca (not yucca, a different plant), which rely on fires to germinate. For scale, Bobby is 6' 4"!
On our most recent visit, we traveled out to Flinders Chase, which was badly damaged by the fires. All of the boardwalks have been replaced, and the Visitor's Centre burned so there is a temporary building for ticket sales. As you can see below, the undergrowth has come back, but the trees are still pretty crispy. See before and after photos of the park here.
Read more about the bushfire recovery efforts here.