By Julietta Jameson
Spectacular beaches and ocean vistas, unspoiled wilderness, abundant wildlife, boutique organic produce and a seafood scene to drool over, all untouched by mass tourism and within striking distance of a major city? That’s the amazing Kangaroo Island.
This large, minimally populated nirvana off the coast of South Australia and within easy reach of the capital, Adelaide, is the perfect place for a self-drive holiday.
If you love nature and serenity, brilliant food and a welcoming, creative community thriving in a unique environment, here’s your place.
And if that’s not enough, there’s plenty of activity on the KI (as the locals call it) calendar, including the gourmand’s heaven that is the KI FEASTival and the inspiring Kangaroo Island Art Feast (early third quarter).
Find your way
Perched just off the tip of South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula in the Great Australian Bight, this 2,700 square mile island (Australia’s third largest) has several coastal settlements, the two main ones being Penneshaw and Kingscote facing east back towards the mainland. The oceanfront end of the bottle-shaped landmass is mostly national park.
You can fly in from Adelaide and hire a vehicle on the island.
Arriving by ferry, you and your car land in Penneshaw. There are several crossings a day, so come in the morning as there are some distances to be covered.
The island’s roads are long and it takes two hours to drive non-stop from one end to the other. It will take you longer though; there’s so much to see and do as you travel those quiet traffic-free country highways and byways, cutting through bush and farmland and along spectacular coastline.
Find your stay
From camping grounds and cute B&Bs to classic hotels and luxury lodges, Kangaroo Island has accommodation to suit all travelers.
At the high end, and positioned for maximum wow factor, Southern Ocean Lodge is on the western-most edge of the island, affording unsurpassed views and experiences.
World famous for its stunning contemporary design, luxurious accommodation and unforgettable gourmet offering, it’s the island’s – if not Australia’s – best. Doubles start from just under $800 with a two-night minimum, and includes all dining, open bar and signature experiences.
The Aurora Ozone Hotel is in a handy spot, on the waterline at Kingscote, from where you can stroll to the town’s boutiques, galleries, cafes, restaurants and along the boardwalk.
It’s a happy mix of historic hotel and modern accommodation with free wifi. Doubles from $108.
Kangaroo Island has an extensive mix of accommodation options all over the island. For a great overview of accommodation options, see sealink.com.au.
In the wild
If you’ve arrived the night before, get to Flinders Chase National Park early (80 minutes from Penneshaw, 15 minutes from Southern Ocean Lodge) to see the incredible sunrise at Remarkable Rocks. Otherwise, just take the morning to explore, visiting the fur seal colony at Admirals Arch. Shimmy down Snake Lagoon to the secluded beach at the end for a dip.
Give yourself at least six hours here – you could spend a lot more time. It’s one of Australia’s biggest national parks and abundant in native wildlife and walking trails. You’ll need a pass for the park.
When you’re out and about in Kangaroo Island’s stunning wilderness, take a picnic lunch with you.
There is so much artisan produce on Kangaroo Island.
Kangaroo Island Source will do the foraging for you and prepare you a sumptuous spread of the best that’s in season to enjoy where you please, be it in the box seat for a powerful display of the Southern Ocean’s might and beauty, in secluded bushland or overlooking rolling verdant fields.
Otherwise, make your way to Vivonne Bay to tuck into fresh seafood at the Andermel Marron Cafe. It’s onsite at Two Wheeler Creek Wines.
Another option at this end of the island is Rustic Blue, a gallery/cafe/day spa with a beautiful patio overlooking the countryside.
Meet the locals
Drop by Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary where you can take a guided tour to see koalas in the wild.
Or if it’s natives of the aquatic variety you’re hoping to meet, there are dozens of recorded ship wrecks off the coast. Kangaroo Island Dive and Adventures can lead you to the ones that are accessible to divers.
Dine with the locals
In Kingscote, the Aurora Ozone’s seafood platter is the stuff of legend. And the wine list features a great selection of KI vintages. Locals also love Bella Pizza Bar for a casual bite (54 Dauncey St, Kingscote).
An arty morning
Enjoy a cooked brekkie with the locals at Roger’s Deli (76 Dauncey Street) then spend a couple of hours visiting the boutiques and galleries of Kingscote.
Fine Art Kangaroo Island is a hub for the island’s burgeoning art scene. Established, award-winning and emerging artists are drawn to the island, inspired by the pristine environment, gorgeous surrounds and a creative community.
Find captivating painting, illustration, glasswork and textile art that will be a timeless and lifelong reminder of your time here.
Kangaroo Island’s produce is legendary, loved by chefs and foodies for its purity and flavor.
Sample what’s on offer at cellar doors and farm gates, such as that of Clifford’s Honey, where you can explore the island’s legacy of being a sanctuary for Ligurian bees.
See the bees at work, learn the amazing story and taste different kinds of honey as well as find associated products such as ice cream, cookies and candles.
Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Distillery is a fine example of how locals with a passion for their home met a downturn in the wool market with a clever plan to create a new boutique offering. Drop by the “cellar door” and cafe.
Island Pure Sheep Dairy is another business that built something bespoke on KI’s sheep farming history. Taste the award-winning array of cheeses and yogurts.
Lunch al fresco
Stop by one of several fantastic cellar door cafes, such as that of Dudley Wines, KI’s original winery. Now a declared Australian wine region, there are nearly 20 vineyards taking advantage of the rich terroir and frost-free climate the island offers.
Enjoy prawns, pizzas and platters on the cliff top terrace with ocean views and sample Dudley’s great reds, whites and rosés.
While there, have a hit on the “one par one hole” golf feature.
Follow the wine trail
In the afternoon, visit a handful of other wineries, such as Bay of Shoals, which offers some incredible award-winning vintages and beautiful views five minutes from Kingscote.
Sunset Winery also benefits from a jaw-dropping coastal aspect. Order the dukkah plate to receive a complimentary tasting tray and pick up some luscious sparkling shiraz.
And don’t miss sampling the gins, vodkas and tantalizing liqueurs at boutique distillery KI Spirits. They create unique flavor by using Australian botanicals and other local ingredients.
Drive to the sleepy fishing village of American River and drop into The Oyster Farm Shop, where you can eat freshly caught and shucked local oysters, abalini, and the freshest whiting.
A magical dinner
Tonight’s the night to treat yourselves to something unique.
Local catering company Hannaford and Sachs has access to some very special properties.
Longtime KI residents the Hannaford family welcome guests to some beautiful spots for catered dining, including the Beach Taverna, a converted family boatshed, the Shearing Shed, a rustic shack with touches of vintage glamor, and the Enchanted Fig Tree, under the leafy canopy of a giant fig tree planted by early settlers, open for lunch during the summer and early fall but also for special bookings at other times. Rachel Hannaford and her brother also own a collection of elegant hotel options: Lifetime Private Retreats.
Airlines operating international flights into Adelaide include Air New Zealand, Emirates, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines and Cathay Pacific. Qantas, Virgin Australia and Jetstar fly domestic extensions from Australia’s major capital cities.
At the airport, pick up a car from any of a number of reputable rental operators, including Budget, Avis and Europcar.
You can also fly to KI. It’s a 25-minute trip with Rex Airlines.
It’s a scenic 1.5 hour drive from Adelaide to Cape Jervis to catch the SeaLink ferry across to Kangaroo Island. The ferry carries cars, caravans and individual passengers. It’s a 45-minute, 10-mile trip.
The SeaLink ferry crosses from Cape Jervis to Penneshaw and back several times a day and you can cross with a vehicle from $101 each way.