This Kangaroo Island itinerary is long enough to allow you to explore the main sites on Australia’s third-biggest island and enjoy the experiences it offers at a fairly relaxed pace. With five days here there is time to taste all the amazing local produce, relax at the beach, take in the views and meet some of the wildlife.
Bushfire damage: We completed this road trip to Kangaroo Island in May 2021, and except for the western end, most of the island has returned to normal. The huge loss of wildlife and damage to Flinders Chase National Park is noticeable, but there is significant regrowth, and we were surprised how green it was. There is limited access to walking trails and campsites in this area, but all major sites were open, and the park is coming back to life.
A Self Drive Tour of Kangaroo Island
- A Self Drive Tour of Kangaroo Island
- Our Kangaroo Island Map
- Day 1 – Penneshaw, American River and Kingscote
- Day 2 – Emu Bay to Western Kangaroo Island
- Day 3 – Flinders Chase National Park Day
- Day Four – Vivonne Bay, Cape Willoughby, Penneshaw
- Day Five – Sealink Sip and See Day Tour
- So what did we think of our visit to Kangaroo Island?
After collecting our hire car in Adelaide, we made our way to Cape Jervis ferry terminal via an overnight in Port Elliot. By doing this we could squeeze in some brief visits to the popular tourist towns of Handorf, Strathalbyn and Victor Harbor. We chose to spend the night at Port Elliot YHA allowing us a little extra time in this pretty town.
You could make the drive from Adelaide if you are happy for an early start; it takes about two hours, or stay somewhere along the beautiful Fleurieu Coast for a shorter drive.
When planning the order for our KI Itinerary we chose our stops so we had plenty of opportunities to stock up on local goodies at the beginning of the trip for our two days in Western KI, where there are no shops or restaurants.
You could easily reverse the itinerary if bad weather were coming and do the island’s Western end on your sunniest days.
Our Kangaroo Island Map
We have saved all the spots we stopped at on this map. You can download it and save it to your phone for use on your road trip.
Day 1 – Penneshaw, American River and Kingscote
Key sites: The Oyster Farm, Kangaroo Island Spirits, KI Brewery, Shoal Bay Wines, Kingscote Total: 80km
Today is all about food, wine and local produce; the island is just as famous for its food and wine as it is for its natural beauty. Following this itinerary on your first day means you have supplies ready to go for the rest of your road trip. This is especially important for visiting the western end of the island, where there are virtually no shops or cafes.
Arrive at Penneshaw on an early Sealink Ferry. The 9am would be the latest we would choose. The ferry takes about 45 minutes, meaning you are ready to explore before 11am!
Once you arrive at the Penneshaw ferry terminal you can drop in at the nearby IGA for supplies, but unless you are reversing the itinerary wait until you get to Kingscote where you will find a full-size Drake supermarket with mainland prices.
For us, the first stop was the Visitors Centre. I am almost physically unable to pass these places without stopping. They always have the best information on current conditions and paper maps, which are a good idea on an island with really patchy internet coverage!
From Penneshaw is just a 30-minute drive to American River. The area was one of the first settled on the island and was named after US whalers who based themselves here in 1803. It’s a top spot for fishing and eating seafood.
American River is not actually a river but the name of the town
The Oyster Farm Shop
We planned to have brunch at the Oyster Farm Shop and wanted to do the 10.30am guided tour but arrived a little late. You really need to be on an earlier ferry to make the tour on time.
Still, the staff were happy to answer our questions and there was plenty of fresh seafood ready to eat so we were sorted!
If Oysters are not your thing, we suggest you head to The Deck Cafe on the Wharf, where we had a great coffee.
The next two stops are for the drinkers–if that is not you might like to Emu Bay Beach for a walk or swim.
Kangaroo Island Spirits (KIS)
Well known for their fabulous gin, the international award-winning KI Spirits was Australia’s first dedicated gin distillery. Today they also distil vodka and several liqueurs, including a Limoncello. Free tastings are on offer, but if you are a gin lover, you might like to book a table in the garden and try one of their cocktails or a flight of gin. You can book in here.
Kangaroo Island Brewery
If you’re more of a beer drinker, stop in at KI Brewery. They make several ales, a ginger wheat beer, a stout and a Mexican style brew. They offer food truck style eats that change daily – check their site for details.
You likely have time for both if you are undecided.
One last stop – because we had read about this winery on the hill with sea views that was just minutes out of Kingscote.
Bay of Shoals Wines
Only a 5-minute drive from Kingscote is a must-see. The vines grow on a hill overlooking the Bay of Shoals. They offered both red or white tastings and had lovely grounds. I did a white tasting, and it was my favourite of the vineyards we visited.
The top choice here for me was the Arinto, a wine I had not heard of before. It went perfectly with seafood, and we quickly wished we had bought more than one bottle. Along with great wine and friendly staff, the vineyard is set on rolling hills that fall away to the ocean, making it a lovely spot to add to your itinerary. This was a favourite local wine on the trip.
Kingscote has the largest number of shops on the island. Along with a large supermarket, there are a news agency, large gift store, charity shop and clothing and hardware supplies. Island Honey on the main road into town and Drake supermarket round out the supply shopping.
Dinner: Bella Cafe and Pizza Bar–We had a fantastic pasta dinner here, and it was obviously very popular with locals.
Overnight Kingscote: A one-bedroom apartment at Ozone would be our choice. We missed out and ended up in one of their older rooms which I would not recommend, but the property is well located and the apartments lovely.
Alternatively, the Mercure Kangaroo Island Lodge at American River is an excellent choice for a honeymoon or special occasion trip. It’s actually a good midway point, 30 minutes from Kingscote and 30 minutes from Penneshaw, and 50 minutes from Seal Bay.
Day 2 – Emu Bay to Western Kangaroo Island
Keys sites – Emu Bay, Stokes Bay, Schelling Beach, Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park – Total: 152km
Today, we took most of the day to make our way to the island’s western end via northern beaches before arriving in Western KI for our overnight stay.
We departed Kingscote at 8.30 and took the North Coast Road. The plan was to arrive at Emu Bay Lavender Farm in time for opening and breakfast (from 9am). Along the way, you pass a salt lagoon which may be worth a stop depending on the weather. We gave it a miss cause we had a big day ahead but our friend Joanne wrote about her visit.
We made a brief detour to the beach here and had a quick look around before moving on to breakfast.
Emu Bay Lavendar Farm
Only a 3-minute drive from the beach, the Emu Bay Lavender Farm sells a vast range of products, but it was a photo of their breakfast on Instagram that got it on our list. There is a lovely cafe serving breakfast and lunch and plenty of indoor and outdoor seating.
After your meal, you can wander among the rows of lavender in the front garden.
But don’t eat too much because the next stop is Stokes Bay – the beach you reach by walking between tight-fitting rocks.
Stokes Bay is the sort of place you may not find if you don’t know about it. There is a covered BBQ area here, so if you prefer to cook up your own breakfast, you could do that.
We discovered Stokes Bay Beach after a friend visited and shared it on Facebook. When you arrive at the car park, you see a bay surrounded by rocks at one end. Head to the rocks, and you will spy a sign that says “beach” if you didn’t know if you might think the sign was a joke.
Keep walking, and you will see a worn path. Follow it between the rocks. It gets pretty narrow in a couple of spots, but it’s short and easy to manage.
Even on the overcast, showery day we visited, Stokes Bay was a beautiful spot. Here’s what it looks like under blue skies. The entry to the beach is between the rocks near the people in the photo below.
If you are comfortable driving on dirt roads, you can continue to Snelling Beach (15km). This is a popular beach for 4WD owners as you can drive down onto the sand. The beach itself looks beautiful. However, we didn’t do this as the rain had set in, and we didn’t want to risk it in our hire car.
Once done, head back the way you came to Stokes Bay Road and then onto the Playford Highway for the trip to the west of the island.
Alternatively, if you are not comfortable driving on unsealed roads after breakfast, head back towards Kingscote and take the Playford Highway via Parndana, where you can stop and visit the KI Wildlife Park. From here, there is a sealed road down to Stokes Bay, and the round trip is actually no longer this way than along the unsealed road.
While there are kangaroos and wallabies around the island, we spotted more along the side of Stokes Bay Road than anywhere else we drove. We also spotted a couple of echidnas from the car who moved quickly when we stopped to snap a photo. It was 11am by now, so we were pretty surprised there were so many by the road.
Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park
As you make your way west, you drive past Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park. The park has several animal shows and offers the chance to hold a koala. We didn’t stop because we have visited lots of parks and were planning to see animals in the wild at Hanson Bay in the evening. However, if you are travelling with kids or are an international visitor, this is an excellent place to spend a few hours.
We made a brief stop in Parndana and there is a small shop and cafe but unless you need something specific I would give it a miss.
Cape Borda Lighthouse
If you have made good time, you can drive out to Cape Borda Lighthouse. Once you leave the highway, it’s a dirt road, and according to the locals we spoke to not very well graded since the fires. The weather was bad, so we decided against it, apparently, it takes about 30 minutes each way.
The final stop for today is Western KI Caravan Park. Try to arrive before dusk for the best chance of spotting the park’s resident koalas. They have a small shop that sells basics, everything you need for a BBQ too. It shuts at 5pm.
Overnight: Western KI Caravan Park or Hanson Bay Beachfront Cabin
We think Western KI Caravan Park is a brilliant choice, thanks to Curious Campers for recommending it! There are cabins and powered/unpowered sites available. The shiny new camp kitchen is one of the biggest and best we have ever seen.
The park has it’s own wildlife walk on site, you can spot koalas, kangaroos, wallabies and echidna without leaving. Staff are really friendly and have done a great job making it such a pleasant place to stay. Nature lovers and anyone planning some hiking in the area will find this a perfect home base.
Day 3 – Flinders Chase National Park Day
Key sites today: Remarkable Rocks, Admirals Arch, Cape Du Couedic Lighthouse, Hanson Bay – 70km
Today there is time for a lazy start because we are staying just a few minutes drive from the entry to the park. Keen photographers might like to make an early start for sunrise at Remarkable Rocks – we slept lol.
Flinders Chase National Park
After a home-cooked breakfast, we made our way to the Flinders Chase National Park visitors’ centre to check which parts of the park were open. There is an $11 per person entry fee, which you can pay online before you arrive or using the machines in the car park. The Visitors Centre will accept payment between 9am-5pm.
Over 90% of the park was burnt in the 2019-2020 bushfires, but it really surprised us to see how much of the vegetation has grown back. The best-known parts of the park have reopened, and there is plenty here to keep you busy.
Note: There are only two toilet blocks left in the park, one here and the other at Cape Du Couedic car park. There is also no food or drink for sale in the park. The caravan park just before the entry sells drink, ice creams and some snacks if you have not packed lunch and plan on staying the whole day.
Bunker Hill Lookout
The first stop for us was Bunker Hill Lookout. From here you can take in the devastation that fires caused, and you can also see the amount of recent growth.
Cape Du Couedic road
This undulating stretch of road you have likely seen on Kangaroo Island advertising and Instagram. The best place to stop and take your own photo is somewhere near the beginning of the road. There is no official pullover space, so just find somewhere where coming cars will see you and jump out for a quick shot. It’s not busy so should be no problem.
It’s decision time – from here you can head to either Remarkable Rocks or Admirals Arch. Choose depending on the weather and the time. Crowds at Admirals Arch are less of an issue and won’t spoil your photos. If it’s early to mid-morning I suggest the rocks first. They look best when the light hits them side on than from above.
Remarkable Rocks are the biggest drawcard to the park. This lichen-covered rock formation sitting on the cliff edge overlooking the Southern Ocean is front and centre of almost all tourism South Australia material.
We headed to here first to make the most of the morning light. It’s also best to visit before the day tour buses arrive.
As we approached, it surprised us how small they looked from the road but once you are on standing on the cliff, you can feel their magnificence. Walk right around them. I am not sure how many photos I took but none of them is as good as they look in person.
Retrace your steps to the main road and follow the signs to Admirals Arch. The first stop in this part of the park is Weirs Cove.
When the lighthouse keepers and their families lived at the cape, they only received supplies once every three months. A steamer sailed into the Weirs Cove from Adelaide and they winched goods up using a flying fox. You can see the remains of the fox and the storage sheds here.
Cape Du Couedic Lighthouse
Built between 1906-1909 and is named after a famous French sea captain Charles Louis, Chevalier du Couedic de Kergoualer. The stone structure is in fabulous condition, although you can not go inside sadly. I can only imagine the view you would have around Kangaroo Island from here.
On the way to the lighthouse, you pass three cottages. These were occupied by lighthouse keepers and their families until they automated the lighthouse in the late 1950s. They are available for rent if you fancy a secluded stay on the island.
You can walk the 750m track from the lighthouse to Admirals Arch or drive down to the car park that is just a 2-minute walk away.
From the car park a wooden boardwalk takes you down onto the top of the cliff and then a few sets of stairs to reach the Admirals Arch itself.
At the bottom of the first set of stairs, you see a grassy area before a rock shelf. Take a few minutes here and wait for some movement. It took my eyes a couple of seconds to adjust, but when Charlie pointed out the seals sunning themselves on the rocks 200m away. They blended right in, especially with the overcast sky. I instantly forgot we came here to see a rock formation. There were seals enough moving about to captivate us for a little while.
Fur Seal Lookout
Seal Bay Conservation Park is home to Australia Sea Lions, but it’s here you will actually spot seals. Confusing or what?
While this cape best place to see New Zealand fur seals on Kangaroo Island, Fur Seal Lookout itself delivered none for us. They were all on the rock shelves at nearby Admirals Arch!
With the rest of the park still be rehabilitated, many of the walks are closed; we had hoped to visit Platypus Waterholes Walk, which is due to reopen soon. However, after a couple of busy days, we spent the afternoon back at the caravan park relaxing before sunset.
Depending on when you visit you may be able to include a stop at Kelly Hill caves or Kelly Hill Conservation Park if they have reopened. Rehabilitation work is ongoing but a tour of the caves has always been a popular item on a Kangaroo Island itinerary and we would suggest you see if it’s a possibility for your visit.
Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary
The last main attraction on this end of the island is located just east of the caravan park.
I suggest you book a sunset Nocturnal Adventure Tour at Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary spot Koalas, Tammar Wallabies, Kangaroos, Echidnas, Bats and Possums in the wild.
Late afternoon is the best time to see wildlife in their natural habitat, but this evening tour takes things one step further; you will learn so much from the guides. This tour starts at sunset and runs for 90 minutes.
Along with the wildlife you also get to experience the Great Southern Skies without light pollution. Being virtually next door to the caravan park means no long drive home. Always a bonus, when the chance of meeting roos on the road is a high risk like it, is on Kangaroo Island.
Overnight: Western KI Caravan Park – if you want something a little more upmarket Hanson Bay Cabins have recently reopened.
Day Four – Vivonne Bay, Cape Willoughby, Penneshaw
Key sites today: Vivonne Bay, Seal Bay Conservation Park, Pennington Bay Beach, Cape Willoughby Lighthouse 190km
Today we are exploring some of Kangaroo Islands most beautiful beaches, the pace can be pretty relaxed, and you have time to add a tour at Little Sahara if you fancy an adrenalin hit. If you need to squash this 5-day itinerary into 4 days, start early and skip Little Sahara
We felt the best beaches on KI were on the south side of the island. The white sand at Vivonne Bay contrasts perfectly with the turquoise sea making it easy to see why this beach constantly makes Australia’s best beaches list. It’s a tranquil spot to spend some time, and there is plenty of accommodation here if you decided you wanted to stay awhile. Even on a pretty wintry day, we found it hard to tear ourselves away from this view.
Along with checking out the beach we drove out to the point to see the view from near the Vivonne Bay Jetty.
While the beach at Vivonne Bay is world-famous for its beauty, it’s the fish burger at the Vivonne Bay General Store that got our attention first – every single review or video we watched on what to see on Kangaroo island seemed to include a stop here. I wondered exactly how good this fish burger could be to garner such high praise.
It was early in the day, so we split one, a good decision as it was really filling. It was quite good, and I would certainly recommend you try one, but I wonder if being the only food in 50km has added to its popularity.
Optional detour: A morning of adventure
If you have an adventurous side and fancy spending some time on the sand dunes there are two options, Little Sahara and Kangaroo Island Outdoor Action, both minutes from Vivonne Bay.
Both companies have eco-certification and have won numerous awards, so it really comes down to who is offering what you want.
Little Sahara has fat bike and buggy tours of the sand dunes, tobogganing and sandboarding hire and tours and Koala walks for the less adventurous.
KI Outdoor Action has quad bike hire, sandboarding and kayak tours and kayak hire.
Seal Bay Conservation Park
Seal Bay Conservation Park is another of the must-sees on any Kangaroo Island itinerary. Both guided tours and self-guided visits are available. If you take a guided tour, your ticket includes access to the self-guided boardwalk.
We had intended to go on a tour, but we ended up on the boardwalk because we had just missed a tour, and the next one was booked out. We had not checked the tour times online – I suggest you do this – you can book up until one day before, I think.
The boardwalk experience was great though and we didn’t feel we missed out too badly. There were several sea lions playing in the dunes at the beach end of the boardwalk and we spent about 45 minutes along the walkway over the beach watching about five seals and their pups playing.
We took this shot from the boardwalk on our phone; while you might get better shots from the guided tours, we got to see these beautiful creatures just metres away from us, even on the boardwalk tour.
The centre is open daily from 9am – 5pm daily (except Christmas Day), with the last entry at 4pm. There are about nine tours a day which seems like plenty of chances, but only 8 people can join each tour, so they book out quickly. Book online if you don’t want to miss out.
Time to head to Penneshaw.
About 20 minutes before you reach Penneshaw, you will pass Prospect Hill, a lookout that offers one of Kangaroo Island’s best views. This is the same view that Matthew Flinders observed on his visit in 1802.
It takes a bit of work to climb the 385 or 500 stairs depending on who you ask, we didn’t count, but it’s a LOT of steps. Just think about all the extra goodies you have been eating and get walking!
If you’re a bit peckish after the walk, there are several cafes here; we went to Millie Mae’s Pantry for coffee and cake. They have plenty of seating and a little gift shop if you need a last-minute present.
Dinner: We dined at the Penneshaw Hotel – the meals were huge, and they had a great wine list. Highly recommend dinner here.
Before or after dinner, depending on the season, you can join a Penguin Walk. These one hour tours are $25 for adults and $15 for concessions and kids over 5 years. They supply you with a penguin friendly headlamp and request no flash photos.
Overnight Penneshaw – Kangaroo Island Seafront is a great choice with King rooms and 1-3 bedroom villas
Key sites today: Raptor Domain, Cliffords Honey Farm, Emu Eucalyptus Distillery, Pennington Bay Beach, False Cape Wines
On day five, we did a Kangaroo Island day tour with Sealink. Called Sip and See, this food and wine experience gave us a chance to learn.
You might be wondering why we decided to do a tour after spending so long exploring alone. Well, firstly, it gave charlie a chance to take a break from driving and have a few drinks. Secondly, while we are not usually keen on tours, we do think that one day tours are a great way to learn things about a place you will not uncover alone on a week-long visit.
We met the tour bus at Penneshaw Ferry Terminal at 10am where the tour meets the morning Seaklink ferry.
This was a great addition to our time on the island. While we had seen so much, having a local guide for the day gave us a chance to ask so many questions – all the things we had wondered while driving around alone for 4 days without internet reception to ask questions when they come up! lol
Our guide was a local, and she owned a farm on the east of the island. Over the course of the day, as we travelled between the various stops, we heard about day-to-day life on Kangaroo Island, things like school, shopping, doctors, all the things that become challenges when you live a remote lifestyle.
We also learned about the various industries and the background stories of the businesses we visited. It is a totally different experience from a self-drive trip and the perfect accompaniment, really.
Included on the itinerary were:
- Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Distillery
- Clifford’s Honey Farm
- False Cape Wines
- Pennington Beach
- Raptor Domain
Overnight Penneshaw OR late afternoon ferry. Staying overnight will allow time to include some time on the Dudley Peninsula.
We took the last Sealink ferry for the day that departs at 7.30pm.
Once back at Cape Jervis, if you don’t fancy driving home in the dark, there is a Big 4 Caravan Park just a couple of minutes drive from the ferry terminal. We booked a night at a cabin here, and they had turned on the heater to warm up the room for us before we arrived, which was lovely.
So what did we think of our visit to Kangaroo Island?
This road trip holiday is in our top ten Aussie escapes for sure. We enjoyed the remoteness and wildlife of the western end of the island most. Food and wine lovers will probably find the east more appealing as there are almost no shops at all past Vivonne Bay.
We hope you find this self-drive itinerary useful. For more information for planning a road trip including details on how to get to Kangaroo Island check out this page.
On our must-see list of things to do on the island is Flinders National Park, Remarkable Rocks really are wonderful, the south coast beaches, which we felt were the prettiest and of course the sea lions at Seal Bay.
If you have planned questions like what is the best time to visit Kangaroo Island or do you need a four-wheel drive, I suggest you read our article on planning your trip to KI before you start on your itinerary.
Join our Facebook Group for more travel ideas
Want more travel tips for exploring Australia? Have a question we have not covered?