Why you must visit Kangaroo Island

Remarkable Rocks, Kangaroo Island

Joanne Brookfield

Posted May 01, 2023

Here’s a trivia question: what are the three biggest islands off the coast of mainland Australia?

First one, Tasmania, should be obvious; that’s followed by Melville Island up off the NT and then, at the opposite end of the continent, you’ll find Kangaroo Island.

Also known by its traditional name as Karta Pintingga, Kangaroo Island is iconic as a stunning, nature-based destination off South Australia.

At six times the size of Singapore, there’s no shortage of spectacular scenery, wildlife, pristine beaches plus a fabulous foodies scene, so once you hop across from Adelaide, you’ll want to spend more than a day there.

Getting there

Kangaroo Island, or KI to the locals, is only 13.5 kilometres from the nearest mainland point.

From Adelaide, it’s a thirty minute flight to the island’s only airport at Kingscote. However, it’s an ideal destination for a leisurely self-drive holiday, with the journey there being as stunning as the destination.

RACV Members are eligible for discounts on the vehicle and passenger ferries that depart from Cape Jervis, which is a scenic two hour drive from Adelaide via the Fleurieu Peninsula.

Given the Peninsula is known for its Mediterranean-like climate, complete with undulating vineyards in wine regions such as McLaren Vale, plus dozens of white sandy beaches and adorable coastal towns, you might want to take your time enjoying all these sights along the way before boarding the ferry.

Wet wildlife

With 509 kilometres of coastline, Kangaroo Island boasts plenty of golden beaches, and the marine life that comes with that, including one of the rarest species in the world – sea lions. .

85 per cent of Australia’s sea lions population is in South Australia, with Kangaroo Island’s Seal Bay home to the third largest colony. They’re not in enclosures, they’re just flopped on the beach or surfing the waves, and you can learn more about these endangered sea lions on a 45 minute guided tour or just enjoy watching them from the wheelchair accessible boardwalk.

There’s also dolphins, fur seals and, depending on the season, whales in Kangaroo Island’s waters, so you might prefer an Ocean Safari Cruise as a way of seeing more marine life. If you’re just wanting to swim, the safest spots are the northern beaches such as Emu Bay, Stokes Bay or Snellings Beach.


Seal Bay Conservation Park. Credit: Chris Bray
Cape Willoughby. Credit: South Australian Tourism Commission
Bales Beach. Credit: South Australian Tourism Commission

Dry wildlife

What are the chances of Kangaroo Island having actual kangaroos? Pretty good, as it turns out.

Kangaroo Island’s kangaroos are unique to the island, differing from their mainland cousins by being smaller, darker and the calmest of all kangaroo species, so they’re pretty friendly (but just look, don’t touch or feed them!).

They also outnumber the human residents by 14 to 1, so there’s a good chance you’ll encounter one or an entire mob. There’s also plenty of koalas, echidnas, wallabies, goannas, little penguins and birdlife, which is why the island is sometimes referred to as a ‘zoo without fences’.

Cygnet River Artisan Trail

Wine, garlic, figs, oats, olives, oysters, honey, there’s plenty that is produced on Kangaroo Island and locals will tell you that their distance from the mainland, plus the purity of the water, creates quality produce bursting with flavour.

To spend a day sampling a selection, try the Cygnet River Artisan Trail, which includes Islander Estate Vineyards’ tasting room, Springs Road Wines and the island’s first dedicated gin distillery, Kangaroo Island Spirits (or if you’d prefer a beer, Kangaroo Island Brewery isn’t far from here).

Follow that with a stop at Mini de Lights, serving food, sweets and booze in a quirky caravan in Emu Bay and then swing by Tickety-Boo Studio which stocks original paintings, pottery and jewellery made by local artists.

Also in this neck of the woods is the Emu Bay Lavendar farm, with brunch and lunch options in their licensed cafe.


Seal bay conversation park, south australia

Seal Bay Conservation Park. Credit: South Australian Tourism Commission

Arts and crafts

No trip is complete without taking home a souvenir or two, right? With ten per cent of Kangaroo Island’s population being in the creative community, there's several galleries, studios and markets dotted about.

The Penneshaw Market Day brings many makers together on the first Sunday of the month from October to April, not far from the ferry terminal. In Kingscote, their Farmers and Artisan Market happens on the second and fourth Sundays on the wharf, while literally around the corner you can find local contemporary artists, print makers and jewellery designers in a more permanent gallery space at Fine Art Kangaroo Island.

A ten minute drive from here, is Shep’s Studio, the studio and gallery of late artist Neil Sheppard, which is open by appointment.

Day trips

If time is not on your side, RACV Members have the option of full-day tours that include return transfers from Adelaide plus ferry to Kangaroo Island, with activities including wildlife experiences, sight-seeing and two-course lunch provided.

You can catch the island’s highlights, while enjoying member discounts, here.


Kangaroo Island Brewery

Kangaroo Island Brewery. Credit: Josie Withers

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