In recent years, rumors have begun to spread about the existence of a wildlife rich island off the coast of South Australia, in the Southern Ocean / Great Australian Bite.
A natural, rugged island where native animals like kangaroos, sea lions, koalas, and penguins roam freely, through an interior of sand dunes, bush-land, and pink lakes; one surrounded with impeccably clear waters where you can swim with wild dolphins, while feasting on mouth-watering food and wine at the end of the day.
Kangaroo Island is Australia’s third largest island, and while it feels like you’re a million miles from the rest of the world, the SeaLink Kangaroo Island ferry takes only 45 minutes from the mainland.
Australia’s very own Galapagos, this is one of the world’s greatest nature based destinations, and this year is the perfect time to visit!
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Reasons to Visit KI This Year
Support Bushfire Recovery
The start of 2020 saw unprecedented bushfires hit Australia, and Kangaroo Island received a lot of coverage as the January 3 bushfires ravaged the western end of the island.
These fires were devastating for the region within the fire zone, however from a tourism standpoint, the fires only affected the west of the island. Much of the beaches, wildlife, and natural attractions that KI is so famous for remain completely untouched.
Kangaroo Island might look on a map as a small chunk of land off the coast of South Australia, but it’s actually 6 times the size of Singapore. This is a massive island, and despite bushfires on its western end, the Eastern end is still every bit as beautiful, open and accessible as it always has been.
But while much of the island was physically unaffected, tourism to the island still took a hit, and this has been devastating to the many small businesses who rely on the visitor economy.
As such, Kangaroo Island is desperately in need of support, and if you’re hoping to travel with a positive impact, this is one region where your tourism dollars can be used for incredible good.
One of the best ways you support bushfire affected Australia at this point is to visit – book in to stay at a family run hotel, drink wine from a locally run vineyard, feast on seafood from the fishermen who caught it, book a tour with a local ranger.
When you travel, and pay for accommodation, food, and local tours, you know that 100% of your money goes directly into the hands of local families and their businesses, and this directly keeps them afloat.
This is a great year to visit Kangaroo Island, because you’ll have the chance to contribute to bush-fire recovery, and helping a struggling economy get back on their feet. And you’ll feel your impact through the warmth of their hospitality.
Witness Incredible Re-Growth
It’s quite rare to have the opportunity to witness nature’s regrowth after such a devastating event as a bushfire. Driving west into the fire zone, it’s truly a spectacle to see the vibrancy of color literally rising from the ash.
Green shoots are already sprouting from the scorched earth, and charred Eucalyptus trees are regenerating branches along their trunks; its canopy may have been scorched, killing its leaves, but dormant buds are waiting beneath its bark.
Animals like kangaroos, tammar wallabies, and koalas are slowly starting to return to their burned homes, and can be seen throughout regions like Vivonne Bay (parks like Lathami Conservation Park are currently closed).
Fire is not always a negative for Australia’s landscapes, and many plant species can resist and even thrive after fire. This cycle of fire, rain and recovery has played out in Australia for millennia, and native flora have developed ingenious ways to withstand, reshoot and recover quite quickly.
It’s quite awe-inspiring to witness life forcing its way through the wreckage – an extraordinary miracle. While Flinders Chase National Park is currently closed, driving out to the park entrance will allow you to survey the fire damage and natural regrowth.
Being that there aren’t any ‘fire recovery tours’ you can book, we recommend taking your own car; you can rent one on the mainland and drive it onto the SeaLink ferry – click here for vehicle prices.
Authentic Wildlife Experiences
Kangaroo Island is one of the best places in Australia where you can see such a large variety of iconic Aussie animals living in the wild. With endemic species found nowhere else on earth, KI is Australia’s very own Galapagos.
A trip here means getting up close and personal with koalas, kangaroos, echidnas, seals, penguins, dolphins – the list goes on. Even the SeaLink ferry ride over offers wildlife viewing as you keep an eye out for seals and dolphins.
While you’ll easily spot sea lions and fur seals, as they often sunbake on the Kingscote jetty, keep a keen eye out too for hard to spot species like the elusive platypus, bandicoots, dunnarts, and whales.
The beautiful glossy black cockatoo is a sight to be seen with its flaming red tail feathers and Kangaroo Island offers a rare chance to see the endangered subspecies C. l. halmaturinus in places like Lathami Conservation Park.
And Penneshaw is home to the world’s smallest penguins. You can view the colony by joining Penneshaw Penguin Centre on an evening guided walk illuminated by wildlife-friendly red light torches (beach parking at Lloyd Collins Reserve).
Seal Bay Conservation Park
You can find wildlife all over the island, but Seal Bay Conservation Park is an experience above the rest. Take a guided beach walk into the heart of one of Australia’s largest Sea Lion colonies, and learn about how these endangered animals hunt, surf, rest, interact with their pups and defend their territory.
There are no enclosures or cages at Seal Bay, and unlike a visit to SeaWorld, all animals are truly wild. If you’re around in the winter months the chances are, you’ll encounter pups!
This is a 45 minute walking tour, where you’ll follow a boardwalk through the dune system to the beach, and on the way you will have breathtaking views of the colony and the majestic coastline.
The guides don’t follow a script – as every visit is different, they will offer a commentary on the colony’s behavior as you’re watching it unfold. You’ll be at least 10 metres away from the sea lions so they don’t feel threatened by your presence.
If you show up to Seal Bay without a booking, you can pay to access the boardwalk. If you want to take a guided tour though this needs to be booked online at least 24 hours before the scheduled time.
More than 260 bird species call Kangaroo Island home, and Raptor Domain is a family owned wildlife center for endangered and rescued animals, which allows you to get up close and personal with Australia’s most impressive birds of prey.
Run by Dave and Leeza Irwin, most of the birds in their presentations have been injured or orphaned and are not suitable for release. Put on a glove and hold Kookaburras, owls and falcons, or a Wedge-tailed eagle (the Birds of Prey Free-Flight Show).
There is nothing here in cages to see – they believe their shows create an awareness, which encourages interest, which generates appreciation and then the want to conserve and protect.
As well as their birds of prey show, they also have a venom pit if you’re interested in native snakes and spiders, and a ‘Fang-tastic’ reptile show where you can handle some of Australia’s most loved and misunderstood reptiles (like lizards and snakes).
Beaches Unlike Any You’ve Seen Before
Being an island with 500 kilometres of coastline, Kangaroo Island is naturally blessed with incredible beaches and you’ll find everything here from the whitest of white sandy beaches to awesome surf breaks.
Once voted as Australia’s best beach, Vivonne Bay (pictured above), is a 6 kilometre U shaped bay, with bright, clear turquoise water, protected by sand dunes which provide a natural wind block. Waves here are gentle, and there’s fabulous snorkeling.
One of KI’s best kept secrets is the hidden beach of Stokes Bay. You’ll have to navigate a series of caves to get there (follow the ‘beach’ signs), but your reward is the whitest sand and clearest water in the country! This is a great beach for surfing and is dog friendly.
Emu Bay is one of our personal favorites, and one of the few beaches in the country where you can freely drive your car onto the sand. It’s a long white sandy beach 15 minutes from Kingscote and has great fishing off the shore.
Other great beaches around the island include Snellings Beach (great sunsets), Western River Cove (for fewer people), Penneshaw Beach (a great place to spot dolphins), and Hanson Bay (you’ll probably have the beach to yourself).
One Island, Ten Cellar Doors!
Kangaroo Island is world famous for its wildlife, but it’s also bursting at the seams with vineyards, wineries and cellar doors. From French-style wines to locally distilled spirits, cider, and even Honey Wheat Ale, make sure you have plenty of time!
As far as wine goes, Kangaroo Island is one of Australia’s newest wine regions, with some 15 growers and more than 100 hectares of vines. The region is unique for being spread out over such a vast area, and no two vineyards are alike, with varying soil compositions, weather patterns and rainfalls across the island.
These are our favorite cellar doors to visit:
Bay of Shoals Wines
Bay of Shoals Wines is five minutes out of Kingscote, and open from 11am to 5pm daily. Their Riesling vines are thought to be the closest to the sea in the Southern Hemisphere, at just 30 metres from the waters edge.
There are 50 acres of vines, including cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, riesling, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, and everything is grown, harvested, and made into wine on site. The vines are hand pruned and the grapes, handpicked.
Dudley Wines is one of the island’s original wineries (opened in 1997) and arguably boasts the best cellar door views in Australia (it’s on a clifftop overlooking the stunning north coast).
Also open seven days, their wine portfolio consists of 13 individual wines in two distinct ranges. Plan to spend a whole afternoon here, between the wine tasting, platters of regional produce, art gallery, and golf range. They also make a mean gourmet pizza!
Other notable wineries with cellar doors on the island include The Islander Estate Vineyards, who produce French style wines, Amadio Wines on the main street of Kingscote, and Springs Road Wines, who are leaders in organic, biodynamic and sustainable wine.
Do also make time for False Cape Wines, who run the largest vineyard on Kangaroo Island. This is a new cellar door just opened in December 2019, and they focus on producing sustainable fruit with high levels of intensity, flavour and love.
Head over for the wine, but also indulge in their cheese boards and home made pies. This is a family friendly winery, with a kids nature playground and Farm Animal viewing.
Kangaroo Island Spirits
Kangaroo Island Spirits is the island’s only boutique distillery and offers a range of six liqueurs, three vodkas and a premium gin, all distilled using local and native ingredients.
The cellar door is open Wednesday through Sunday. All products are handmade in small batches using hand crafted copper pot stills, and their gins have been voted among the best in the world, receiving awards in London, New York, San Francisco and Hong Kong.
Unwind with a cocktail in their Gin Garden, or blend your own gin at a blending class – they also offer both a Gin Blending and Gin Platter experience which can be booked prior to your visit to the cellar door.
For something completely different, Emu Ridge Eucalyptus is one of only two eucalyptus oil distilleries in Australia. You can visit to buy their range of 100% eucalyptus oil products, tour the distillery, or visit their cellar door for a range of Kangaroo Island ciders.
If you’re more into beer, Kangaroo Island Brewery offer a wide range of KI craft beers with regular live music and events. Or, head to Clifford’s Honey Farm, which has a brewery onsite (The Drunken Drone), serving Honey Wheat Ale.
Beyond driving your own car onto the beach at Emu Bay (pictured above – another reason to drive your car over to KI utilizing the SeaLink Kangaroo Island ferry), Kangaroo Island is an outdoor adventure playground, with opportunities for ocean safaris, sandboarding, and ATV’s.
Aptly named, Little Sahara offers a two kilometre stretch of sand dunes with dunes measuring 70 meters above sea level. They are just begging to be slid down; hire a sandboard or toboggan from Kangaroo Island Outdoor Action, or you can take a walk to the top and enjoy the views.
KI Outdoor Action also rent out quad bikes, have options for paintballing, and take guided kayak tours around the island. First time riders are welcome and no experience is necessary; all you’ll need is fully enclosed shoes and long pants.
Both Kangaroo Island Ocean Safari and KI Marine Adventures offer the chance to swim and snorkel with wild dolphins. You’ll also see seals basking on the rocks, eagles soaring above, and whales can also be spotted from May – October.
If you’re swimming with dolphins, everything you need is provided including wet suits, mask, towels, snorkel & fins. If you’re lucky, seals often become very interactive and playful and provide a unique snorkelling experience.
How to Get to Kangaroo Island
To get to Kangaroo Island, you’ll need to book the 45 minute SeaLink ferry, which runs between the town of Cape Jervis on South Australia’s beautiful Fleurieu Peninsula to Penneshaw on Kangaroo Island.
You can book either singular passenger fares, or book to drive your car onto the ferry, which is our preferred option – Kangaroo Island is a large region, with so much to offer, and having your own vehicle means so much flexibility to explore.
Cape Jervis is an hour and a half drive from Adelaide, which is South Australia’s capital and the closest international airport (also from where you can rent a car). Adelaide airport is also the closest mainstream airport for domestic flights.
Save time for exploring Adelaide before / after your time on Kangaroo Island – Adelaide Sightseeing Tours have great experiences and day tours, including options to spend time in the Barossa Valley, Adelaide Hills, Murray River, and Victor Harbor.
South Australia is set to reopen their borders (after recent lockdown measures) from July 20 for interstate travel within Australia. International border restrictions into Australia can be monitored via the Home Affairs website.
➤ For SA border updates, visit covid-19.sa.gov.au
➤ For Australia wide border updates, visit covid19.homeaffairs.gov.au
➤ To book the SeaLink ferry to Kangaroo Island visit sealink.com.au