Kangaroo Island, South Australia

Kangaroo Island Travel Blog

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Kangaroo Island is located off the coast of Southern Australia. For the most part, the island was uninhabited for the longest time due to limited resources of fresh water, but the island is now home to around 4000 permanent residents (all of whom are very nice).

The two hour drive south from Adelaide to Cape Jervis is a nice drive; if you're planning a trip to the island, try to make the drive from Adelaide at least once during the day. Once you arrive in Cape Jervis, prepare to be raked accross the coals when paying for passage to the island. SeaLink, the company that owns the ferry, charges around $160 per vehicle, and around $80 per person. Both of those prices are "return" or round trip, but the jacked up thing about it is that the $160 for the vehicle does not include any other passenger ticket. So, each person, in addition to the vehicle, must pay. This was the worst aspect of the trip, and I still fail to understand their logic (aside from greed and/or a capitalistic nature). Regardless, the trip was worth it and I would pay it again. Kangaroo Island is a wonderful place and I would return again.

The 45 minute ferry ride from Cape Jervis lands in the crystal-clear bay of Penneshaw, a small coastal town with a few restaurants, hostels, an IGA and massive penguin population that shouldn't be missed. If you are driving, use EXTREME caution when driving from the wharf and in and around Penneshaw. There are "penguin crossing" signs posted all over, but unfortunately most tourists think of these signs as a novelty. They are NOT, and sadly, many penguins are killed each year by excited tourists anxious to get started and not paying attention to their surroundings.

A tour of the penguins is an absolute must. There are two tour times, one at 715pm and the other at 730pm. Each tour lasts around an hour or so, and you WILL see penguins up close (several moments I was less than a meter away). The tours have been operating for 13 years, and is completely non-profit and only receives funding from tour revenue. The prices are very good, $13 p/adult; $10 concession, and children were less than that. Very well priced for the experience. You do not need to buy tickets from any of the numerous shops offering them, but it is always an option. I chose to simply follow the signs and buy my ticket "at the gate" and it was fine. There wasn't any discount for buying sooner. Personal advice: Choose the 730pm tour. Most of the tourist who come, choose the earliest tour and the group is always very large. The later tour is usually about a third of the first tour, so it's much quieter and more personal with the guide.

There are two "main cities" on Kangaroo Island. Penneshaw, located in the southeast corner of the island and Kingscot (pronounced KINGS-coat), which is in the northeast corner and about an hour drive from Penneshaw. The island is about 150km long and 50km wide, with only a few main roads paved. More roads are "washboard" and gravel, then paved and smooth, so be sure to drive carefully. The speed limits are a bit insane in my humble opinion; considering 110kph on winding roads with no guardrails and suicidal roo's and wallabies running around, but the island is easily navigable. Important: If you're going to somewhere specific, remember to keep a very close watch for the sign to your destination. What looks like a house with a mail box, is actually a store. Or a brewery. Or a sheep farm. Or a lavender farm. My point is, that if you're not actually looking for the sign and "staying awake", you WILL drive right past it. The signs suck on the island, to put it blatently. So be mindful.

A few places I would highly recommend are: Prospect Hill, Flinders Chase National Park (on the west end of the island; also where Admirals Arch and Remarkable Rocks are, both are must's), Kelly Hill Caves (on the road to Flinder's Chase, from Penneshaw), Emu Bay (and Emu Bay Lavender Farm, and the cross-roads of YMCA...let me explain.

I can't remember the name of the highway (I want to say B23, but I'm not sure), but it's the main road from Penneshaw toward Kingscot. Now, coming from Penneshaw, you will pass Prospect Hill and then maybe 2 kilometers later there will be a soft bend in the road going to the right, and on the outer bend of the road, is a dirt road going off to the left. You have to look for it, but there's a small sign that says "YMCA Crossroads" - and all that this means is that it's the intersection of YMCA and the other road - and this is where you want to turn left. After the turn, there will be a driveway and house on the left, but keep going straight; down the road that doesn't look like it goes anywhere.

Now is the important time to mention "when" to go to this little off-the-beaten-track non-tourist-stop place, and that would be at sunset. I would recommend 15-20 minutes before sunset, just so you can watch everything unfold. Because down this little easy-to-miss road is the grazing area of hundreds of kangaroos. They're a sub-species of the Western Grey Kangaroo, that have evolved on the island. Because of the isolation and dominent weather patterns, this kangaroo has evolved to be smaller (because of limited resources), and have dense, thick fur (because of the cooler climate).

I arrived just as the sun was going down, and before I had even cleared the fence line I had already has several startled kangaroos bound off from the road into the bush. So, I decided to park the car and go on foot. This was a good decision, but I guess kangaroos have exceptional hearing because I couldn't get any closer than around 20-30 meters. I saw several groups of them, and even got to see a couple of "boxing" matches between the males. It was an experience, and I highly recommend it.

The next place I must highly recommend is the honey factory just on the outskirts of Kingscot. There is a species of bee that is unique to the island and its' supposed to make excellent honey, and by all rights it does because the honey products that this business sells are amazing. Products range from an assortment of different honeys (coastal flora, sugar gum, spring flora, etc., from different flowers) that you can taste and sample, to honey-based candies (or "lollies", as the locals call it), candles, cook books, spices, bees wax products for health and wellness, and all sorts of other natural products. It's definitely worth a stop.

Lastly, I have just a few other thoughts. Car rental on the island is expensive. But you need a car to really enjoy the island. There are tours available from everywhere, but I much rather prefer to have freedom when I'm exploring. I would try for at least 3 days on the island, minimum. There is just too much to see and even three days isn't enough. (I would go on the penguin tour every night; it was that cool). Hotels are also expensive on the island, but there are a few hostels (include YHA's) on the east end of the island a one or two on the west end. Hostels averaged around 20-30 p/night, whereas hotels were around 80-100 dollars per night. As well, there are not a lot of stores on the island outside of the two 'major' cities of Penneshaw and Kingscot, so if you do go out toward Flinders National Park or the west end of the island, make sure you bring food and water; an "esky" is a good plan, and plenty of snacks and easy meals. And finally: Driving at twilight/night. A good rule of wrist on the island is to cut the speed limit in half at night. Because, literally, it's not a matter of IF you'll see wildlife on the road, or IF you'll have a wallaby or roo leap out in front of you from nowhere. It is a matter of WHEN and HOW MANY TIMES. Let me put it to you like this: A 30-min trip during daylight hours, took almost an hour and a half at night. In a matter of 10 minutes, I had two kanagroos jump out in front of me, a wallaby and echidna waddle accross the road. It was really nerve-racking, actually. So, just be mindful and very careful.

Kangaroo Island doens't have the best history and there is much more to do there than I have listed off in this review. The island is an amazing place and the people are very warm and friendly; it's a tight-knit community and they're eager to help and share their island. I do have to say that the SeaLink company is crap, but that is the only negative aspect of this adventure. If you make it down that way, stop by the island for a few days to hang out with the penguins and watch the waves roll in.

bhush2006 says:
Hi Caleb
This blog is very very informative. This gave a complete insight of the Kangaroo island - what to do and what not. Will plan accordingly. Just a small question - how did u move on the island - Took a tour from agent OR self drive vehicle? Would like to have details please.
Posted on: May 25, 2012
Jerry29 says:
Great review of KI. I understand what you mean about the Sealink rip off - I know a few people that go there regularly and have found that it is cheaper for them to own two cars (one on the mainland and one on KI) rather than pay Sealink vehicle costs.
Enjoy the rest of your stay in South Australia - if you have the chance, go up to the North Flinders Ranges (eg Arkaroola) - apparently it is lush and green right now - for the first time since 1989 (and truly spectacular). Great hiking there.
Posted on: Apr 22, 2010
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Kangaroo Island
photo by: Biedjee