Kangaroo Island Self Drive Itinerary Ultimate Guide!

camper van life kangaroo island Australia emu bay beach

Looking for all the information you need to plan your trip and self drive itinerary of Kangaroo Island? You’ll find all the most up-to-date information below!

If you would like to make a donation to support the wildlife on Kangaroo Island injured by the recent bushfires HERE.

Where is Kangaroo Island?

Kangaroo Island, also known as KI by the locals, is located in the state of South Australia not far from the coast of Adelaide.

At 155 km long and 55 km wide in parts, Kangaroo Island is Australia’s third biggest island, behind Tasmania and Melville Island in the Northern Territory. The population is under 5,000 people.

Bush Fires on Kangaroo Island in January 2020

Kangaroo Island is very beautiful, with lots of unique beaches, landscapes and wildlife and remained Australia’s best kept secret until it hit the headlines worldwide in January 2020 due to the devastating bushfires that wiped out almost half of the island. Bushfires are common across Kangaroo Island in the summer months just like the rest of Australia, but the bushfires in January 2020 were the largest in the history of the island. 48% of Kangaroo Island was destroyed by bushfires: around 210,000 hectares of land just gone, and tens of thousands of native species of wildlife perished to death.

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Pretty much the whole western half of the island was impassable for the following couple of months after the bush fire damage. I visited Kangaroo Island just one month after the devastation and was glad to see the island was recovering and trying to rebuild, people were full of optimism and KI was determined to pick itself back up. The locals were incredibly thankful for people who had taken their time to come and visit the island and support the local businesses and communities and often expressed their heartfelt gratitude to me for visiting, which was incredibly touching.

kangaroo island Australia bushfires kangaroo island bushfire damage

What is closed on Kangaroo Island due to bushfire damage?

The bushfires affected mostly the western half of Kangaroo Island, meaning for safety reasons at the minute it is not possible to go much further west than Parndana if you plan to visit KI independently. Currently if you want to visit further west (for example Flinders Chase National Park) you will have to join a guided tour. From July 4th though Flinders Chase National Park will re-open and you will be able to access it independently, although access will be limited. Click here to find out more about the fire recovery and to keep up to date with everything.

Luckily the ferry from the mainland docks on the eastern side of the island. The east remained relatively unaffected so you can easily explore this half of the island independently.

How can you help Kangaroo Island recover?

The island is slowly recovering, but they are really relying on tourism to help them put their lives, and their island back together. Kangaroo Island’s economy relies mostly on agriculture and tourism, both of which were severely affected due to the bushfires.

The best way you can help the island recover is to come and visit Kangaroo Island yourself. Spend a few days here and support the local businesses – hotels, restaurants, wildlife activities etc. Any money you spend here on the island will help the residents of Kangaroo Island much more than you’ll ever realise.

If you cannot get to Kangaroo Island you can make a donation to the Australian Red Cross here.

Things you must know before you visit Kangaroo Island

  • Kangaroo Island is very big – a LOT bigger than everybody expects when they arrive here! You absolutely need to hire a car or arrange a tour to be able to see anything on the island as everything is very spread out. Apart from the limited twice a day bus service that connects Kingscote and American River to Penneshaw there is no public transport on Kangaroo Island.
  • There are a few tarmac roads on Kangaroo Island but many of them are dirt roads. This was my first time driving off-road and it was fine. The roads definitely weren’t as bad as I had heard. If you stick to the main touristy sights you won’t do much off-road driving at all.

kangaroo island bushfire damage kangaroo island bushfire damage

How long should you spend on Kangaroo Island?

Kangaroo Island boasts scenic coastal views and landscapes, with stunning beaches and exciting and varied driving routes. There is a slower pace of life here and it really deserves to be experienced. Many people think one day, or two days/1 night is a good amount of time to explore the island, but in reality you can spend several days or longer here, especially if you want to do a proper road trip!

Whilst you can visit Kangaroo Island on a day trip from Adelaide, it is definitely not long enough. Plus it is a long way to go just for one day. If you just visit on a day trip you will be really pushed for time and definitely won’t be able to see all the main attractions on the eastern side of the island.

I really advise you to stay overnight on Kangaroo Island if you have the time. Not only will your trip be less rushed and you will get to see more attractions, but it will mean you are contributing to the local economy, which in a time like now is so vital. 2 or 3 days is a good amount of time to see the island.

Getting to Kangaroo Island Ferry Terminal:

Many people think you just get the ferry straight from Adelaide to Kangaroo Island, they don’t realise the ferry port is a fair drive away! Whilst yes Adelaide is the nearest main city it is still 1.5 hours drive from Adelaide to the ferry terminal, which is located in Cape Jervis.

  • The only way to get to Cape Jervis ferry terminal is by car or by coach from Adelaide CBD. The coach leaves twice a day however, so most people opt to rent a car in Adelaide as it gives you far more flexibility. Click here for the coach timetable and fares from Adelaide to Cape Jervis. Alternatively the ferry companies do coach pick-up services to and from Adelaide for an additional charge of around $30 per person each way.

Adelaide to kangaroo island map

Kangaroo Island Ferry Information:

  • The ferry goes from Cape Jervis on the mainland to Penneshaw on Kangaroo Island.
  • There are two ferry companies: Sealink and Kangaroo Island Connect (KIC). Sealink has more services (5 or 6 ferries a day) whereas KIC only has 2 services per day. (Click on each link to see the respective timetables).
  • With Sealink the ferry costs $49 each way per passenger. If you bring a car across it will cost an extra $98 each way. With KIC the ferry costs $25 for passengers however the ferry timings may not be as suitable as they only operate in peak hours. There is no option to bring vehicles across on the KIC ferry.
  • Bear in mind the sea can get quite rough when you are crossing on the ferry. Bring sea sickness tablets if you suffer.
  • The ferry journey across takes 45 minutes with Sealink and 30 minutes with KIC.
  • You will need to book the ferry several days in advance as spaces often sell out, especially the morning ferries and during the holidays. Click here to access the website for the Sealink ferry to purchase tickets – be sure to scroll down as sometimes they have special offers and discounts! Click here to access KIC website to purchase tickets.
  • There is a little snack shop/cafe onboard the Sealink ferry and free wifi available too!
  • There are some strict rules with things you cannot bring on the ferry such honey and potatoes (to protect the native wildlife). You’ll see quarantine bins and areas to leave things at the Cape Jervis port that are prohibited on Kangaroo Island.
  • If you want to bring your dog onto Kangaroo Island you’ll need to contact the Kangaroo Island Council. Remember dogs are not allowed in National Parks or Wilderness Protection Areas and must be kept on a lead when in public.

Renting a car

  • You can bring your own car or a hire car from the mainland and bring it across to Kangaroo Island on the ferry if you wish. However if you want to bring a hire car across you MUST tell the car rental company when you are booking that you will be taking the car to Kangaroo Island as you need a specific 4×4 and unsealed road cover to take the car across (as many of the roads on Kangaroo Island are dirt roads).
  • Getting the extra insurance cover for the rental vehicle and paying an extra almost $200 on a return trip for the vehicle alone on the ferry (you still need to pay for the passengers) can make it quite expensive to bring a rental car across to Kangaroo Island. So what many people (myself included) choose to do is to just hire a cheap car on the mainland then leave it at Cape Jervis ferry terminal (parking is free). They then just pay the cheaper passenger fare on the ferry. When they get to Kangaroo Island they can either join a tour or rent a car/campervan there – they are equipped there with three car rental companies next to the ferry terminal (KI Connect, Budget and Hertz). All of them have 4x4s and camper vans with the unsealed road cover.

Money Saving Tips for Kangaroo Island

  • Especially if you are on a budget you may want to consider bringing food across from the mainland as food is considerably more expensive on Kangaroo Island. There aren’t many supplies and shops on the island and food has to be imported so it is naturally more pricey compared to the mainland.
  • Whether you choose to bring a rental car across to Kangaroo Island or hire one once you get there, make sure you book your car hire online beforehand as opposed to just turning up without a booking. Often the price of car hire can be as much as double if you don’t have a reservation!
  • Check what days cruise ships dock at Kangaroo Island as not only do the car hire price goes up on these days but the car hire sells out very quickly. You can check the cruise ship schedule for Kangaroo Island here.
  • To save hotel costs and for the more adventurous of you, why not rent a camper van on Kangaroo Island?! I did this and had SO much fun, plus it means you can be a lot more flexible with your day.

camper van life kangaroo island Australia bushfires kangaroo island self drive itinerary

Wildlife on Kangaroo Island

Visiting Kangaroo Island is a great opportunity to see lots of Australian animals in their native habitat. There are several nature reserves on Kangaroo Island to protect and preserve the wildlife. The kangaroos on Kangaroo Island are slightly different to that of the mainland as a result of prolonged isolation. They have adapted to their habitat and are shorter and browner than kangaroos on mainland Australia.

*IMPORTANT!*: DRIVING IN THE DARK

If you will be driving around dusk or dawn be very careful of kangaroos hopping across the road. One hour before and after sunset and sunrise are when kangaroos are most likely to jump across the road. There are no barriers on the roads, minimal street lights and lots of trees and bush on the side of the road so sometimes you may not see them coming.

If a kangaroo does jump across the road, even though it is an instant reaction it is important not to abruptly brake your vehicle. Obviously you don’t want to hit the kangaroo, but also you do no’t want to cause an accident if there are any other vehicles around. Also, by braking the vehicle it effectively lowers the bonnet of the car, meaning the kangaroo could potentially go straight through your windscreen and cause serious damage to you (yes sadly people have died this way). If you just release your foot off the gas and keep going, if you do happen to unfortunately hit the kangaroo at least it will just bounce off your bumper as opposed to breaking your windscreen and potentially causing some serious damage to you.

KANGAROO ISLAND SELF DRIVE ITINERARY

Things to see on Kangaroo Island:

Parndana Wildlife Park

The Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park at Parndana is one of the highlights on the island. You’ll see hundreds of different animals and lots of native wildlife here. And did you know the koalas on Kangaroo Island are all chlamydia free? Many koalas on mainland Australia have the disease, which is devastating for the species, so no koalas from the mainland are allowed to be introduced onto Kangaroo Island.

I visited Parndana Wildlife Park a few weeks after the bushfires and they had built a makeshift hospital on site to care for the animals who had been severely injured in the fires (mostly koalas as they had been stuck up in the trees). The hospital provides antibiotics and pain relief, treats burns and wounds and undertakes surgery where necessary.

 koala kangaroo island Australia bushfires wildlife park Parndana   koala kangaroo island Australia bushfires wildlife park Parndana

At the wildlife hospital they were treating and nursing 250 koalas back to health, and 25 koalas had already recovered and been released back into the wild. Sanji – the first koala who had come in on January 1st was still there as she had suffered immense burns to her body. She lost all her fur and had been covered in bandages for weeks. The hospital were hoping to release her back into the wild within the next few weeks once she was fully recovered. She is the koala pictured above right.

Entrance to Parndana Wildlife Park is $28 and opening times are from 9am to 5pm (10am to 4pm from May to September).

If you would like to make a donation to support the injured wildlife click here. The fundraiser is organiser by Dana, one of the lovely ladies in charge of the wildlife hospital.

Head to Stokes Bay Beach – on your way on the left you will see a gorgeous pink salt lake you can pull over at!

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Stokes Bay Beach

The north of Kangaroo Island is known for it’s incredible beaches and coastal scenery, and Stokes Bay Beach is the perfect example. Located a 20 minute drive north Parndana Wildlife Park, Stokes Bay Beach is an absolutely stunning picture-perfect beach.

kangaroo island Australia stokes bay beach kangaroo island Australia stokes bay beach

The secluded cove of Stokes Bay is one of Kangaroo Island’s best kept secrets and makes the perfect place to relax and soak up some rays! The sand is beautifully white, the beach is uncrowded and the water is ridiculously clear. There is even a gorgeous large rock pool you can cool off in!

kangaroo island Australia stokes bay beach kangaroo island Australia stokes bay beach

Once you are at Stokes Bay car park (free parking plus toilets here), follow the signs that lead towards the beach. You’ll see lots of rocks and big boulders and a big arrow that will point to the right, in the direction you need to go.

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You will actually need to walk under the big rocks: a kind of ‘rock tunnel’  has been made here to reach the beach (see the pictures below) – it is quite exciting! The screenshot above shows the location of the car park, Stokes Bay Tunnel and Stokes Bay Beach for clarity. You’ll also see Stokes Bay camp ground on the map if you wish to camp overnight here.

kangaroo island Australia bushfires stokes bay beach tunnel kangaroo island Australia bushfires stokes bay beach tunnel

If you have any food in your bag make sure to keep it sealed and your bag closed! I spotted a cheeky goanna (a giant lizard over 2 metres long similar to a Komodo dragon) heading for the food in my bag and I nearly died from the fright – those reptiles are so huge! They have extremely sharp teeth and a venomous bite so be careful.

Emu Bay

Still on Kangaroo Island’s peaceful north coast but a 40 minute drive east from Stokes Bay Beach will take you to Emu Bay – a small, quiet community with a mixture of holiday homes and locals. Emu Bay is another beautiful beach and just like only a handful of other beaches here, the sand at Emu Bay is hard packed so you can drive on the beach with a 4×4.

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For this reason the long Emu Bay Beach is one of the most popular beaches on the island (although it never gets crowded). And if you stay here til sunset you may catch a sighting of the fairy penguins as they come back to shore after a long day at sea.

camper van life kangaroo island Australia emu bay beach camper van life kangaroo island Australia emu bay beach

Kangaroo Island’s largest settlement: Kingscote is located not far from Emu Bay so stop off here for any supplies you need (food, petrol etc).

Seal Bay

The Seal Bay Conservation Park is one of Kangaroo Island’s most popular highlights. Located on the south coast of the island, Seal Bay is home to the third largest Australian sea lion colony with an impressive 800 sea lions estimated here (that’s 5% of the total seal population in the world!!). At Seal Bay you can actually go onto the beach amongst the sea lions – it is a truly unique wildlife experience!

In order to protect the rare and endangered Australian sea lion colony you will need to book on a tour to be able to access the beach. Tours run every hour and last approximately 45 minutes. The first tour starts at 9.15 am and the last tour starts at 4pm (although they do sunset tours too!). Entry is $37 for adults. Make sure you book early to avoid disappointment – click here to book! Tours need to be booked at least a day in advance. If you just turn up on the day without booking you won’t be able to access the beach, you’ll only be able to access the boardwalk.

Pennington Bay

Pennington Bay is a stunning and uncrowded spot located on the southern part of the island not far from Pelican Lagoon. The coastal scenery here is out of this world: the water is a beautiful turquoise colour and the sand glistens white in the sun. The raw untouched beauty of the beach here is truly breath taking. You’ll often see surfers and fishermen here during the day too as the conditions are perfect.

kangaroo island self drive itinerary Pennington bay kangaroo island sunset

Pennington Bay is just 18km from Penneshaw (where the ferry port is) and so it makes a great place to go and watch the sunset if you’re staying at Penneshaw and don’t want to drive back too far in the dark.

Pennington bay kangaroo island sunset Pennington bay kangaroo island sunset

Prospect Hill

A 3 minute drive from Pennington Bay will take you to the lookout at Prospect Hill. From here you can get a panoramic view of Pennington Bay, however there are 346 steps to the top (yes I counted!) and the views were much better when you were actually at Pennington Bay, so in my opinion if you are short on time I would skip Prospect Hill and climbing all the steps to the top.

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Penneshaw

Penneshaw can be a popular place to stay on the islands it is next to the ferry terminal, however it is pretty dead at night. As soon as the last ferry stops the town literally shuts down with only a couple of restaurants open. If you want more choice for dinner options you’ll need to drive the 60km to Kingscote, although bear in mind the drive would be in the dark so it is not ideal as you may encounter wildlife on the road.

Flinders Chase National Park

Flinders Chase National Park is the largest and most well-known nature reserve on Kangaroo Island. It is a very large nature reserve located on the western side of the island and it is here you will find the world-famous Admirals Arch and iconic Remarkable Rocks. Sadly 96% of Flinders Chase National Park was burnt in the latest bushfires, and from July 4th it will be open but with limited capacity. As I visited a few weeks after the bushfires I was unable to get to Flinders Chase National Park. However I would love to come back as the Remarkable Rocks and the coastal views as you drive to them is the highlight of Kangaroo Island for many people. Be advised Flinders Chase National Park, and many of the other nature reserves on the island, are no drone zones.

Remarkable Rocks

Remarkable Rocks are, as the name suggests, pretty remarkable. They are giant granite boulders balanced precariously ontop of an outcrop and offer a wealth of opportunities for Instagrammable photographs. Their unique and unusual shape was formed over 500 million years by the sea waves, rain and wind. Lots of the formations are also covered in a vibrant orangey-red lichen which looks especially spectacular when photographed at sunrise or sunset.

Admiral Arch

Admiral Arch is another unique natural landmark on Kangaroo Island. The waves around here are very strong and over thousands of years of erosion this rock bridge/arch was created. You’ll walk along the boardwalk to the arch, and often you’ll also see some New Zealand fur seals lying beneath the arch.

The Cape du Couedic Lighthouse is not far from Admiral Arch. The tower of the lighthouse was completed in 1909 and 2,000 stones were used to build the tower.

Driving in the dark on Kangaroo Island

As mentioned earlier, native wildlife on Kangaroo Island is often more active around sunset, with many kangaroos coming to the roadside. For this reason it is smart to know what time sunset will be, as well as where you will be and where you have to drive back to for your accommodation. You don’t want to pick a sunrise spot on one end of the island and then have to drive all the way across the island in the dark to get to your accommodation as it could increase your chances of hitting a kangaroo. Always plan your day and route in advance, and allow extra time so you don’t get caught out.

Other things to do on Kangaroo Island:

  • Do a Limestone Caves Tour at Kelly Hills Conservation Park.
  • Go sand boarding at Little Sahara – giant sand dunes covering 2 square kilometres.
  • American River – great for swimming, sailing and fishing at Island Beach. The Pelican Lagoon here provides a habitat for swans, pelicans and other wetland birds.
  • Visit Clifford’s Honey Farm: Kangaroo Island is the only place in the world where you can find pure Ligurian bees from Italy and the whole island has been declared a bee sanctuary. The honey tastes really unique as the bees feast mainly on native flowers.

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Accommodation on Kangaroo Island

Camp grounds

Many people choose to visit Kangaroo Island by camper van, in which case some good places to camp include Stokes Bay, D’Estrees Bay or Cape Gantheaume for $16.

Hotels

Located one minute from the ferry terminal is Seafront Resort. The sea views here are brilliant and there is a great pizzeria below too.

Airbnb

Airbnb is a great way to help support the local communities. Have a browse of the options below.

 

 

Visiting Adelaide after Kangaroo Island?

If you visit Kangaroo Island you’ll most likely visit Adelaide too, the state capital of South Australia. Click on the link to find the Best Photo Spots in and around Adelaide.

Whilst it is only 100 kilometres or so to drive between Adelaide and the ferry terminal at Cape Jervis, there are lots of interesting and beautiful rugged and unique beaches to stop off along the way on the Fleurieu Peninsula so factor in some time to stop off and enjoy them. The caves at Port Willunga Beach are especially interesting and Instagrammable and are definitely worth a stop along the way! If you have time also stop off and enjoy the beaches at Carrickalinga and Port Noarlunga.

I left Adelaide in the morning and spent the best part of the day stopping off at the different beaches, before taking the last ferry (7pm) across to Kangaroo Island. This is always the quietest ferry of the day – there were only about 10 of us on!

Visiting Melbourne after Kangaroo Island?

If you will be heading towards Melbourne from Kangaroo Island be sure to stop off at Mount Gambier. Mount Gambier is a small city sitting just on the south east corner of South Australia on the Southern Ocean Drive – one of South Australia’s most beautiful roads. It is roughly halfway between Adelaide and Melbourne and is full of incredibly unique things to do, such as enchanting sunken gardens, a magnificently blue crater lake and an impressive underground world of caves! It makes a really nice overnight stop and is a must-see for those doing a road trip between Adelaide and Melbourne or vice versa.

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