Tips for a Fun Self Drive Kangaroo Island Holiday

We love Kangaroo Island, it’s one of the best wilderness escapes in Australia. A Kangaroo Island holiday offers remote beauty, amazing wildlife, and fabulous food and wine. Below we share tips from our week long road trip to help you plan your own Kangaroo Island holiday.

This post contains affiliate links. Read our full disclosure policy for more details.

We recently spent five days exploring the island and while you can see a lot in two or three days, having the fourth day meant we could take our time lingering when we found a special place, waiting for the right light or giving the animals more time to come out and play. The fifth day allowed us to learn more about life on the island on a guided day tour.

Planning your Kangaroo Island driving holiday

A Kangaroo Island holiday is on most Aussie bucket lists, and it should be, it’s an extraordinary place, but a visit here for most of us is a one-time thing, so there is pressure to get it right.

Karta Pintingga – Island of the Dead is the name given to Kangaroo Island by the Kaurna People. 

We had many questions before our trip, so I have pulled together the answers to help you plan.

How to get to Kangaroo Island

You can fly to Kangaroo Island in just 35 minutes from Adelaide. There are also some direct flights from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in season. However, most visitors arrive on the island via the ferry terminal at Penneshaw.

Ferries leave the mainland from Cape Jervis, which is about one hour and 30 minutes south of the South Australia capital of Adelaide

As of late 2023, there is only one ferry service offering connections from the South Australia mainland to Kangaroo Island. The Sealink ferry offers 12 services a day and allows you to take your vehicle. The most popular times book out quickly, so don’t wait too long to book.

Start your Kangaroo Island Holiday on the Sealink Ferry
Sealink ferry on its way into Penneshaw

What we did: We booked the 9 am Sealink ferry and spent the night before at Port Elliot, which is about 60km from the Cape Jervis and a simple drive to the terminal in the morning. This gave us a day to see Victor Harbor and the wonderful Port Elliot. We also stopped by the beautiful town of Strathalbyn on the way.

Honestly, it’s a straightforward process. If you are taking your car on the ferry, you will see signs when you arrive at the wharf telling you where to queue. Park in the line and head inside the terminal to check-in.

When you check in, they will issue you a boarding pass. Only the driver returns to the car; passengers are required to walk onto the ferry. Staff direct you on where to park and make it super easy. It’s a tight squeeze, but a team member will help if you are having trouble.

Kangaroo Island Car Ferry
The line up is organised, and the boarding was really smooth

Tip: You cannot bring unwashed potatoes or honey onto Kangaroo Island to protect these industries from pests. Throw them out before you board.

Once aboard the ferry, you will find plenty of seating. Head upstairs if you want to enjoy the sea breeze on deck. The top deck is also where you will find pets on the trip. We spent most of the trip up here to take in the view.

There is a kiosk on board for light refreshments on the main deck, and to keep you entertained, they play a video about the island, which is perfect for anyone who has done little planning – or for partners who like to let someone else do all the research 😉

Free wifi is also available if you need something to do, but it’s a quick trip – I mean, the famous Manly ferry in Sydney takes 30 minutes, so this is not a lot longer.

Sealink Ferry to Kangaroo island dogs on deck
Head to the top deck for fresh air and puppies

The previous day’s ferry was cancelled because of rough weather, so it might be best to factor a little wriggle room into your plans, as this can happen. 

Looking at the number of white paper bags around the cabin, plenty of people must feel a little seasick on the quick trip across to the island. Luckily for us, it was not too rough, and we were fine. 

Getting around Kangaroo Island

It’s not the easiest place to get around for those without a car. There is no public transport on the island, not even taxis! A couple of shuttles make the trip to American Bay and Kingscote from the ferry. If you are arriving on foot, it would be a good idea to have a shuttle booked.

You can either bring your own car or rental car over on the ferry or hire one on arrival. Three rental companies operate on the island: Budget, Hertz and Kangaroo Island Connect, which also rent campervans.

Our car rental in Kangaroo Island
Our wheels for the week.

Alternatively, there are several tour operators who offer multi-day tours if you prefer not to drive. 

On a practical note, many car rental companies will not insure your vehicle after dark on KI roads. Make sure you clarify this when you pick up your car if you rent on the mainland. Also, before you book your vehicle, confirm you are permitted to take it on the ferry. We rented from Budget in Adelaide with no issues, but some budget-priced companies restrict you to the mainland.

What’s it like driving on the island?

The roads on Kangaroo Island are in pretty good condition. The South Coast Road, West End Highway, Playford Highway, and Stokes Bay Road are all sealed roads. Many of the other roads are not. However, they are well maintained and at least on our visit surfaces were good.

A four-wheel drive would be great to have on a longer stay as it would allow you to explore some of the less-visited spots. 

We rented an SUV, and it was all we needed to visit the major sites; although there are some 4WD tracks in Flinders National Park that require a 4WD to access.

Jetty Road Vivonne Bay, like most roads, were fine for 2WD vehicles
Jetty Road Vivonne Bay, like most roads, was fine for 2WD vehicles

Take extreme care driving here; the amount of roadkill we saw was alarming, particularly given how many creatures they lost in the bushfires. Avoid driving at dawn and dusk and if you need to be on the roads at those times, drive slower than you might usually and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife.

When is the best time to visit Kangaroo Island?

Kangaroo Island is a year-round destination, but there are pros and cons to each season, so let’s go over them.

A stormy morning in Flinders Chase National Park
A stormy morning in Flinders Chase National Park

Summer – it never gets boiling hot on Kangaroo Island – 35 degrees Celsius is the maximum and not all that common; average summer temps are closer to 25 degrees.

February is the hottest month, and this is really the only time of year that swimming is attractive for the average visitor. While it’s great for beach weather, the drawback is that much of the wildlife spends days hiding from the heat. Summer also sees accommodation prices hit a premium.

Spring – Our pick of the best time to visit, spring sees wildflowers, baby animals, and great hiking weather.

Winter – A winter visit will save you $$$, and while it’s cold, it’s not too bad. July sees the most rain, but on the positive side, koalas and kangaroos are born at this time of year. The coast looks just as spectacular, and bookings for attractions and restaurants are easier to come by.

Autumn – May to June – We visited in May; the temperatures range from 18 to 25 degrees. This is the second most popular time to visit, it’s not too crowded, and the weather is reasonable.

How long should you stay on Kangaroo Island?

It is not a question of whether you can see Kangaroo Island quickly, in a day or even two days; it is about what you will miss if you don’t fully explore the island.

Our self-drive itinerary was a slow-paced 4-day visit with an added day tour to make 5 days. You could certainly speed it up and have less dining and relaxation time and cover the key sites in three days.

How big is Kangaroo Island?

Kangaroo Island is Australia’s third-largest island, after Tasmania and Melville Island. It is a similar size to Bali with a LOT fewer people.

The island is 160km long from east to west and takes about two and a half hours. From North to South, is 55km, and the drive takes about 45 minutes.

All up there is 500km of coastline. More than half of the island is declared a national park or conservation area.

Deciding where to stay on Kangaroo Island

Choosing a base was a tough decision. After spending some time there, we think it’s worth splitting your time on the island, so you don’t have a long drive to see the attractions at either end.

Two nights in the south or southwest at Vivonne Bay or at Western KI Caravan Park, which we loved, and then two days in the east is what we recommend. We chose Kingscote this time, but American Bay might be my choice if I return.

Vivonne Bay Beach Kangaroo Island
Vivonne Bay Beach

Key areas to stay on the island

This is our personal take on the various towns on the island:

  • Penneshaw – The second biggest town (pop 300) and location of the ferry terminal – good for short visits or early morning departures. Lots of accommodation, a supermarket and several shops and restaurants.
  • Kingscote – 60km from Penneshaw, the biggest town on the island, with a range of dining and shopping. The closest town to the airport.
  • American River – An excellent choice for anglers, seafood lovers and boaties. Its location is halfway between Penneshaw and Kingscote makes it a very suitable base for a long stay if you don’t want to split your stay between two properties. Visit the American River to eat your fill of delicious fresh oysters.
  • Vivonne Bay – The best area for adrenalin and animal lovers – between Seal Bay and Flinders Chase.
  • Western KI – Limited shops, no restaurants but plenty of nature and some of the best views, we loved our stay here. The Caravan Park is great but if you want something a little special Hanson Bay Cabins are the go.
  • Emu Bay – 5km long beach just a 15-minute drive from Kingscote – also home to a cafe and brewery. Best for summer stays and getting away from it all.

Where did we stay?

We split our time between Western KI Caravan Park and Ozone Hotel in Kingscote. 

Western KI Caravan Park is the perfect choice for wildlife lovers and is fabulous value for money. Since the 2020 bushfires destroyed nearby Southern Ocean Lodge, this is your best bet for accommodation at this end of the island. 

Western Kangaroo Island Caravan Park
Our two-bedroom cabin at Western KI caravan park

We highly recommend splitting your time between the east and west of Kangaroo Island. It saves you big days of driving and allows you to get closer to the wildlife in their natural habitat. Within minutes of arriving at the park, we spotted koalas in the tree right by our cabin. 

Kingscote is a completely different experience and a better for exploring the local food and wine offerings. We would probably look for something self-contained if we visited again rather than staying in a hotel.

Choosing which things to do on Kangaroo Island

There likely won’t be time to do everything on this list, so read up and see which things appeal. While everyone’s idea of a must-see differs, I think the national attractions listed below should make every itinerary of Kangaroo Island. 

Has Kangaroo island recovered from the 2020 bushfires?

In a word, absolutely! At the time of our visit, life is pretty much back to normal. 2,100 square metres (about 45%) of the Island burned in the summer 2020 fires. This was mainly at the western end, and Flinders Chase National Park saw most of the devastation. 

The luxury property Southern Ocean Lodge on the western tip of the island was totally destroyed, but has been rebuilt and is now reopened and even more stunning than before.

Hanson Bay Cabins and the Western KI Caravan Park, which saw the most minor damage of the properties at this end, have a brand new state-of-the-art camp kitchen.

Remarkable Rocks Kangaroo Island
Remarkable Rocks are indeed well named

Wildlife numbers are down, but there is still plenty to see. The bush is regenerating and the key attractions in Flinders Chase have reopened for visitors. The only thing we were sad to have missed was the Platypus Walk, as it was closed. You can keep up with the latest on the park’s recovery here.


  • We thought the Drakes Supermarket in Kingscote had the lowest prices. Good range of vegan food and local produce. Prices were not much different from the mainland.
  • Arrive with a full tank of petrol – in March 2024 it was $2.18 and only $1.80-1.90 in Adelaide.  
  • There are no shops between Penneshaw and Western KI other than the tiny General Store at Vivonne Bay. Make sure you bring food if you are heading this way. The caravan park sold essentials at pretty reasonable prices if you run short.

Ready to start planning your trip?

  • Check out our tried and tested five day KI itinerary
  • Take a look at the attractions on KI and decide what to include in your visit

Not sure where to head next?

Explore our Great Ocean Road itinerary if you are heading to Melbourne, or perhaps it’s time to see Wilpena Pound in the gorgeous Flinders Ranges.

Have questions about exploring Australia?
Head over and join our Facebook Group and we will be happy to help

1 thought on “Tips for a Fun Self Drive Kangaroo Island Holiday”

  1. It certainly sounds like we want to spend many days on Kangaroo Island when we plan our Australia trip. I think we would enjoy the ferry ride over the to island too and then have our car for exploring. Good tip about things you can’t bring onto the island. We have seen that on road trips too when we cross certain zones. And we will certainly arrive with a full tank of gas!

Leave a comment