A single dorsal fin pierces the water then disappears. It emerges a short distance further on as the Sealink Ferry ploughs through the smooth rollers. We’re travelling from Cape Jervis on the South Australian mainland to Penneshaw on Kangaroo Island, our car safely stored in the cargo area.
Arriving on Kangaroo Island
My husband carefully drives off the ferry, following the cars and a couple of supply trucks down the ramp to where I wait. With only four nights to explore Kangaroo Island, our first stop is the Visitor Information Centre.
Penneshaw and the Eastern Section of Kangaroo Island
The small township of Penneshaw (population around 300) is located on the smaller eastern section of Kangaroo Island. We’re staying at the bigger town of Kingscote (population around 1800) on the much larger western part of the island. It’s early and there’s time to explore around Penneshaw before driving across to Kingscote.
Stepping onto the deck at Dudley’s Wine Cellar Door I’m faced with a scene of incredible beauty. The view across rolling hills to the sea provides a warm welcome to Kangaroo Island. We sit looking out to sea and relax with a generous grazing platter of cold meats, cheese and dried fruit accompanied by a wine tasting paddle.
At Cape Willoughby a small group listens intently as the ranger explains how the lighthouse has changed over time. Kerosene burners and then electricity replaced the original wick burners which used to light up the Backstairs Passage – the 11km strip of water between Kangaroo Island and mainland South Australia.
We explore the small museum and other buildings before driving to another winery. Not a single car space remains at False Cape Wines on this mild Sunday afternoon. People overflow into the garden enjoying the last of their weekend. We drive on.
Hog Bay Road winds around Pelican Lagoon. I look back regretfully as we pass a set of stairs up to the lookout at Prospect Hill. My husband’s knees won’t manage the climb.
Kingscote and the Western Side of Kangaroo Island
Our room at the Sea view Inn has exactly that – a broad view of the sea. It’s a great location only a ten-minute walk into town along the waterfront.
We’ve booked a table for dinner. With tourists and locals competing for a finite number of tables, we’re pleased we did.
After breakfast we walk through the town. Cheerful wall art features kangaroos in various poses, but one mural provides a sombre reminder of the recent bushfires.
Setting out for a day exploring, the amount of farmland surprises me. For some reason I expected much more bush. Suddenly the scenery changes and we pull over. I walk through the scrub to discover what looks like a salt lake.
Testing a piece of the white crust with the tip of my tongue, I confirm that it is indeed salty. As I walk further onto the ‘lake’, the slushy smelly mud squelches underfoot and my feet begin to sink. I’d best not to go any further.
Visitors hover around at the Lavender Farm waiting for a table. After a quick look around, we leave and take a brief detour to the Emu Bay Historical Society Cemetery. Kangaroo Island Lions Club recently installed six headstones. Four mark the graves of three babies and a toddler born to early settler families.
I chuckle at the sign outside a house at Emu Bay. It reads “Passing Winds”. Shoes, thongs and sandals form a “Lost Soles” installation. Alone, we stroll along the curved sandy beach enjoying the fresh sea breeze.
On the North Coast road, we investigate an unexpected quirky sight. Signs at “George’s Castle” encourage people to “Please Enter” but “Enter at Your Own Risk”. George Turner, a third-generation islander has created a mythical marvel. We wander through passages and along bushy pathways discovering something new at every turn.
The castle, filled with all sorts of collectables from knights in shining armour to kangaroos and other knick-knacks is run down, and dusty, but nevertheless a delightful find in the middle of nowhere. Feeling somewhat like a trespasser, I emerge from a “bush tunnel” to come face to face with the Turner Homestead.
Apart from washing strung across the verandah, there’s no sign of life. Popping a donation in the tin, I wonder what the castle looks like at night when the 52000 Christmas lights strung throughout the complex light up.
It’s Monday and the Rock Pool Cafe at Stokes Bay is closed. Emerging single file from a narrow path between the rocks, a woman looks up and marvels “You have to go an enchanting way to get to beach”.
If only we had more time. I could spend all day here relaxing on the soft white sand looking out at the clear blue water.
Parndana, the town centre for the Soldier Settlement Scheme on Kangaroo Island, was threatened by severe bushfires in January 2020. While trees have regenerated to some extent, the fire damage is obvious. Notices in a shop window offering support reinforce how frightening and devastating the fires were. People still feel the scars.
We have a bite to eat at Davos Deli before driving east towards American River.
Two men chat outside a large shed. They chuckle as they watch a yacht coming in. The skipper is a friend and “he has too much cloth [sail] out” for the strong wind. He’ll be ragged at the pub tonight.
The frame of a large wooden boat fills the shed. It’s a replica of the 1803 schooner called Independence which the men are rebuilding. The original schooner was built here to carry a cargo of seal skins.
Our last stop of the day is KI Spirits. We order a cocktail and flight of gin. Sitting in the garden sipping my cocktail is pleasant enough, but I must admit this isn’t really my scene.
This morning, I walk along the beach and watch a big brown gull steal food from the beak of a white seagull. Black swans, their heads submerged, feed in the shallows. A red-beaked oyster catcher struts along and a pair of spur winged plovers watch me warily.
Seal Bay Conservation Park
We have another full day ahead of us with Seal Bay Conservation Park the first stop. While I’d like to visit the Raptor Domain there really isn’t time.
At Seal Bay, we choose the self-guided ‘tour’ along the long board walk to viewing points above the beach.
Seals of all sizes lay languorously on the sand warmed by the sun. We watch them playing in the waves, rolling in the sand or waddling towards the water leaving a trail of curvy lines in the sand.
Flinders Chase National Park
On the road to Flinders Chase National Park, the blackened spikes of grass trees (Xanthorrhoea, or in South Australia, yaccas) pierce the sky. They are one of the first plants to flower after a bush fire providing a necessary food source for insects and birds.
At Weirs Cove we explore the ruins of the restored storehouse. Lighthouse families only received supplies every three or four months and stored their goods here after hauling them up the steep slope on a flying fox.
We wander past Cape Du Couedic Lighthouse and down to Admirals Arch. An almost deafening chorus of thousands of seabirds on a rocky outcrop across the water accompanies us, their white guano contrasting with the dark rock face.
Australian Fur Seals rest on the sloping rock as waves crash around them. The Arch is quite spectacular. I watch mesmerised by the rush of the water, willing one of the seals to slide down the rock into the waves.
There’s no other way to describe the Remarkable Rocks. They are just that: Remarkable. Enormous smooth granite boulders weathered by wind rain and salt tower overhead as my eyes take in these natural sculptures.
While fire damage has limited access to most of the National Park we can drive to Cape Borda, a lighthouse on the western edge of the island. We make slow progress as the corrugated dirt road jolts us around.
Cape Borda is the only square lighthouse in South Australia. Alone, we wander around the whitewashed buildings. You can stay in the heritage accommodation at Cape Borda. It’s very isolated though, and you’d really need to like your own company.
Wooden crosses mark the graves of some of the brave people who lived here. The first head lighthouse keeper, Captain G. Woodward, died in 1858 of an eye infection.
Returning to Kingscote, a small goanna runs up the sandy verge ahead of us. White dots on the underside of its long narrow snout stand out on the tough wrinkled skin. It’s a Rosenberg’s Goanna.
This morning I turn left along the shoreline towards the town and jetty. I discover shelters made by locals for penguins. The penguins are probably visible at night, I hear that seals have greatly reduced their numbers.
At Clifford’s Honey Farm, a staff member points out the queen amongst the hundreds of bees crawling over each other in a glass hive. Eight hundred hives were lost in fires and with the trees destroyed, there’s insufficient nectar for the remaining bees. The honey farm currently restricts the sale of honey to ensure an ongoing supply. I buy two small jars and some honey lollies.
Kangaroo Island Brewery is closed today. We’ll pick up some of their brew in town. Instead, we return to American River.
A Coincidental Meeting at American River
A couple of men are hard at work on the Rebuild Independence project. We settle down for a coffee and late breakfast at the Deck Café. My husband watches a yacht entering Pelican Lagoon. It’s the same type of yacht that he bought second hand a couple of years ago.
When the skipper David and his wife come ashore, my husband chats to him. What a coincidence! David sailed on my husband’s yacht about twenty years ago when it lived in South Australia.
After inviting David and his wife to contact us should they ever be in Sydney, we set off on the Independence Walk along the shore of the lagoon. Passing the American River Remembrance Reserve, we end up at an aquatic refuge.
Back at the car park, a continuous loud rattling noise draws me to a large shed. The oyster farmers are sorting their oysters. Still closed bi-valve molluscs drop from a hopper onto conveyer belts before being cleaned and sorted. Unfortunately, the Oyster Farm Shop over the road isn’t open today.
Stopping at Emu Ridge Eucalyptus distillery on the way back to our hotel, we watch a short video about distilling Eucalyptus oil and the uses of the oil. Learning that Eucalyptus Oil is a useful balm for mosquito bites, and I buy a small bottle to try on my grandsons. Mosquitoes love them.
Leaving Kangaroo Island
Before leaving Kingscote to catch our early morning ferry, we pick up a coffee at the bakery. A sign in the window indicates that they need staff. The woman behind the counter bemoans the fact that “everyone is looking for staff”. “There are no backpackers and even if someone wants to work here, there’s no affordable accommodation for them” she adds.
Where are the Kangaroos on Kangaroo Island?
Mist swirls low in the fields on either side of the road. We drive cautiously, well aware that kangaroos are active at dawn.
This is Kangaroo Island, but I’ve only seen one small wallaby in all the time we’ve been here. Now, a large kangaroo bounds across the road not 20metres in front of the car. Another watches from behind a fence. In a field to my right, a small mob of around 20 roos look up from their grazing as we drive past.
I wonder how the fires affected the kangaroo population.
I watch as our ferry arrives from the mainland. Four goods trucks and two fuel trucks drive off followed by a stream of cars. I ponder the logistics and expense of getting produce, building supplies, furniture etc on and off the island.
A Delightful End to my visit to Kangaroo Island
From my seat at the front of the ferry, I see a dolphin leap into the air and gracefully reenter the water. I race outside letting the heavy metal door bang loudly behind me. After a minute or two I’m rewarded with a pod of dolphins arching in and out of the water not too far from the ferry.
What a delightful end to my time on Kangaroo Island.
Useful Information and Where to Eat in Kingscote
- The Visitor Centre at Penneshaw has a very useful map of Kangaroo Island
- If you can’t get to the wineries, do as we did and order a local wine with dinner – and if you have a car, buy a few bottles from the local bottle shop
- If you plan to hire a car, check the conditions of hire as you may not be able to drive on certain roads – and arrange the car hire in good time.
- Not all restaurants all are open every day and ALL require booking. Here’s where we ate. None disappointed.
- Our pasta meals at Bella Café and Pizza Bar were so enjoyable that we went back for more the following night.
- We also returned to Cactus Café for breakfast. It is also open for lunch.
- Ozone is another good option for dinner.
- The Queenscliff has a pub style menu.
Thanks, I enjoyed reading this.
Thanks for writing about your trip to Kangaroo Island. So much great information, encouraging us to make sure we follow through on planning a trip there.. Using your trip as a guide for our plans.
I’m pleased you found it inspiring and helpful. I’d love to hear your experience of Kangaroo Island, Laurel
Hi Joanne glad you made it to KI but will agree 4 days is not enough to explore this fantastic part or Australia. We have been three times and this February spent 12 days and could easily have spent more time. People don’t realise how big KI is and we tend to base ourselves at Penneshaw a few days so that we can explore the south /west part of the island and we then move onto Emu Bay as this is close enough to Kingscote for supplies but we just love the beach and walks you can do in Emu Bay.
There are some fantastic Air B&B / holiday rentals to stay at on KI. I also enjoy the Sealink ferry trip , it’s a well run operation and I get excited as we approach the island.
A pity you did not get to the KI brewery as it is run by a hard working young couple and you get to chat with many locals. False Cape wines is my favourite on the island and again run by a lovely family. Would also recommend the fish shop at the side of the Caltex in Kingscote- freshest fish ever.
There is an excellent IGA at Penneshaw and Drakes supermarket at Kingscote and both are well priced even though everything is freighted or flown in.
During the fires of 2020 approx 8000 kangaroos died . I believe close to 40000 animals died including livestock , koalas , bees and cockatoos native to KI.
Besides being a beautiful place the people of KI keep us coming back, great people. Hope you get back to explore more. ☺️
Thank you so much for these tips, Arlene. It looks like we have to go back!
Grea read! I so want to go to Kangaroo Island. This blog post is a great resource, Joanne. Plus reader comments also very helpful.
Is Sealink a reasonable price? I’ve heard it’s very expensive.
Thanks Erica, and yes, the comments are a great resource. Re SeaLink, I suppose it all depends on how you look at it. Current prices have 2 adults plus a car at just under $200 for a return trip. Seniors are slightly less. I think I paid a bit more. The advantage is that we had our car to come and go as we pleased. Everything is a little more expensive on KI. Isolation has its price.
I think that price for the ferry is all right. Good to read this, no plans to visit Kangaroo Island at this stage but have noted to stay for at least a week when the time comes.
There are so many great places to visit in Australia, Seana that it’s difficult to fit them all in.
The rock formations at Flinders Chase look out of this world. The wildlife looks amazing on this island; sad to recall so much loss from the fires, but glad that nature and animals are making a comeback.
I wish my photographs could do the rock formations justice, Bernadette. They really are amazing.