As a holiday destination, South Australia is sometimes overlooked in favour of the ever popular east coast, the tropical north and the red centre. However, be prepared for a pleasant surprise, because there are plenty of reasons you ought to give it a second thought, not least because of the wildlife.
Since visiting Kangaroo Island in May, it’s topped the list of my favourite places in Australia. It offers wild landscapes, rugged beaches and an abundance of incredible wildlife encounters you probably won’t find elsewhere in Australia. Almost a third of Kangaroo Island is a national park and conservation area, which gives it and untouched feel – Australia’s unspoilt paradise.
You can visit Kangaroo Island at any time of year but the highest rainfall is during the winter months (June to August). Perhaps the ideal time to visit is spring or autumn when the sun is out but it won’t be too busy. When I visited in May, many of the islanders remarked that it was typical for Kangaroo Island to get all four seasons in one day and although it tipped it down one day, the weather only made the landscape more atmospheric and wild!
I would highly recommend spending a night or two in Adelaide before or after your trip to Kangaroo Island so you can explore the city, relax on the beach or even indulge in a wine tour before venturing off to the island which has an entirely different, outdoors-y vibe.
I was collected from my hotel in Adelaide and taken on a 30 minute scenic coach ride out to Cape Jervis, to board the 45 minute ferry to Kangaroo Island. Sounds like pretty smooth sailing, until I discovered that this crossing is renowned as one of the roughest patches of ocean around Australia and smooth sailing it is not. As someone with no sea-legs, this crossing was not a trip highlight, HOWEVER there were dolphins following us and the journey was quick! (I should add that the following day the water was incredibly calm, so the ferry would have been very enjoyable. Just a bit of pot luck!
If like me you'd prefer to skip the ferry, I recommend you choose the sea plane transfer as I did for the return trip. I found it much more enjoyable and definitely worth the extra cost.
I spent 2 full days on the island, but it wasn’t long enough; people underestimate its size and beauty of the island. As Australia’s third largest island, it measures 96 miles long and 34.5 miles wide - seven times the size of Singapore! If you have the time to linger a little longer then I would suggest at least 3 days.
With a population of roughly 4,500, I was pleasantly surprised by how few people there were- tourists included, but I was visiting in winter which is not peak season.
There is a wide variety of places to stay on Kangaroo Island; dotted around you’ll find little boutique hotels and B&B’s of 3-4 star standard which cater to almost everyone.
Key places we'd recommend for accommodation are Penneshaw (near to the ferry port) and Kingscote (to the west of the island). If you’re staying for 3 days, I would suggest splitting your time between two hotels, one on each side of the island so you can explore fully.
The Aurora Ozone on the seafront in Kingscote is a really great accommodation option for families, with room types ranging from standard rooms to 3 bed townhouses which are unbelievably spacious. If you’re looking for exceptionally special, the Southern Ocean Lodge is for you. It is an exclusive, luxury lodge perched on a cliff at Hanson Bay with the stunning views that epitomise Kangaroo Island. It’s at the very top end of the budget, but for a once-in-a-lifetime trip, this lodge certainly delivers.
On our first day we travelled west across the island through vast expanses of countryside towards Flinders Chase National Park, stopping off on route at a honey farm.
Kangaroo Island is home to the only sanctuary in the world for Ligurian bees (the world’s purest strain of bee) making the honey unique and famous in its own right. We had the opportunity to watch the bees at work and learn how the honey is produced from start to finish. The real highlight was sampling the different varieties of honey and their truly delectable honeycomb ice cream!
Flinders Chase is one of the oldest National Parks in South Australia and home to the Remarkable Rocks. These giant granite boulders perch dramatically on the cliff edge and look really spectacular against the glowing sun, with a golden tinge – it’s a spectacular view and guarantees a good photograph!
Not far from the Remarkable Rocks on the southwest coast are the two other famous features; the Cape du Couedic Lighthouse and the Admirals Arch. If you follow the walkway past the lighthouse you’ll reach a rocky bridge with jagged stalactites sheltering an abundance of brown seals (and pups!) who are basking on the smooth rocks below. This boardwalk down to the arch is a great walk in itself but it’s also the starting point to one (of many) hikes you can take through the national park.
The absolute highlight of my entire trip was what Kangaroo Island is most renowned for- its nature and wildlife. My previous visit to Australia as a backpacker offered few opportunities to actually spot wildlife, but in just two days exploring Kangaroo Island I saw hundreds of kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, koalas, pelicans, seals, sea lions and echidnas just roaming free!
If seeing wildlife is your priority, I highly recommend a visit to Seal Bay, home to the country’s third largest sea lion colony. You can only reach the sea lion beach as part of a tour group, but it’s well worth it to get up and close to so many of them lazing and frolicking along the shore. If you have time, you could also visit a penguin colony at the Penneshaw Centre which is near to the ferry terminal.
Seal Beach is also a great location to spot some of the 250 species of birds that inhabit the island, many of which cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
There is a massive gourmet food and wine scene on the island (something I can vouch for, given that everything I ate and drank here was exquisite)!
Scattered across the island are small restaurants serving home-produced wines and locally sourced ingredients of excellent quality. The seafood and homemade cheeses are a must-try and the best way to experience these is via the Kangaroo Island food trail - see our South Australia food and wine tailor-made holiday for more ideas.
With 540km of coastline surround Kangaroo Island, there’s a beach to suit everyone; long stretches of soft, white sand and safe clear waters to take a dip in. You could join a group and make a scuba diving trip to some of around 60 shipwrecks or witness the untouched, colourful coral on this part of the coast. Kangaroo Island is also home to Vivonne Bay, which has been voted one of Australia’s best beaches by Sydney University.
If you’re into activity-filled holidays there are also plenty of opportunities for kayaking, fishing, surfing, snorkelling, dolphin swimming, quad-biking and many more to whet your appetite.
I visited as part of an organised Kangaroo Island tour and my recommendation would be to do the same. It’s convenient because it includes your return transfers from Adelaide, along with your hotel(s) and guide. While you can self-drive the island, it’s worth bearing in mind that some of Kangaroo Islands roads are unsealed and hiring restrictions may apply.
If you’d like to visit Kangaroo Island, anywhere in South Australia, or incorporate this area within a wider Australia itinerary, we can help. We can put together a tailor-made Australia holiday which is entirely suited to your style and budget - just call us on +44 1273320580 or make an enquiry by email.