Kangaroo Island is one of the real gems in the South Australian landscape. Rugged cliffs, pristine beaches, turquoise seas and an abundance of wildlife and delicious local produce: Kangaroo Island has it all. It is one of the places that we recommend to any friends who are visiting the state. For locals, it is not surprising that it was named on the “Best holiday destinations for 2020” by Condé Nast Traveller. Here is our ultimate guide for what to see and do on Kangaroo Island with kids. And a question: When are you going?
A caveat: the 2019/2020 bushfires
When we were visiting Kangaroo Island, and even when I wrote much of this post, fires were raging across more than half of Kangaroo Island. More than 100,000 hectares were burnt, much of which is in Flinders Chase National Park, and two people have lost their lives.
As a result of these fires, certain areas of the Island were inaccessible during our first day on the Island. On the second day, locals and tourists were evacuated from nearly half of the Island. This meant that many areas could not be visited and that accommodation and dining in the rest of the Island became somewhat problematic.
Where fires prevented us from visiting some of the sites that we recommend, these are marked with an asterisk (*). We have visited these places on previous trips, so know that they are worth visiting.
Some of the locations we recommend suffered significant damage in the fires. This includes Flinders Chase National Parks, Kelly Caves and Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. While they are looking to rebuild, it will take some time. Please check with more recent information before planning what to see during your trip.
One way to help the Island recover is to go and visit. Stay the night. Spend your money on tours and products. Take your esky or cooler bag and buy up on things you love. This will put the money back into the communities that need it and help them rebuild.
Just for clarification: Obviously, with the Coronavirus spreading like wildfire, we are not suggesting that you visit these places right at this moment. However, once there is no longer any need to isolate and travel bans lift, these businesses would definitely welcome your custom. I know some people are only getting through these difficult times by carefully planning their next trip. Think of this post as travel porn or wanderlust inspiration, not as a recommendation to mingle with others now.
About Kangaroo Island
Kangaroo Island is Australia’s third-largest island (after Tasmania and Melville Island in the north). It is 145 km long (east to west) and between 0.94 and 54 km wide north to south. It has a total area of 4,405 square kilometres and a coastline that is 540km long.
Kangaroo Island separated from the mainland around 10,000 years ago. Stone tools found on the Island show that it was once inhabited by Aborigines, but that this habitation ended as recently as 2,000 years ago, when the Island was first ‘discovered’ by white settlers.
In March 1802, British explorer Matthew Flinders landed on the east side of Kangaroo Island while charting the coast of South Australia. His boat, the HMS Investigator, gave name to the strait that separates the Kangaroo Island from the mainland. Captain Flinders also named Kangaroo Island after the kangaroos which he found when he first landed on the Island.
Shortly thereafter, French Commander Nicolas Baudin circumnavigated the Island. He mapped and named most of the Island – giving many areas French names.
Although South Australia was not established as a colony until 1836, sealers lived on Kangaroo Island from as early as 1802. In fact, most of the nine ships that made up the ‘First Fleet of South Australia’ landed on Kangaroo Island in mid-1936 and remained for many months before rendezvousing at what is now Holdfast Bay and declaring South Australia to be a colony on 28 December 1936.
Getting to Kangaroo Island
The most popular way to get to Kangaroo Island is by ferry. Unfortunately, it is a well-known fact that the ferry from the mainland (Cape Jervis) to Kangaroo Island (Penneshaw) is the most expensive in the world (based on the price of for cars).
As a guide: we paid $446 for two adults and a child and a 5m vehicle (return). Apparently, if you book your transport and accommodation at one of the authorised information centres (Adelaide, Victor Harbour), discounts are available. We booked online and arranged our accommodation separately, so I cannot confirm this.
Alternatively, there are regular flights to Kangaroo Island. If you can book far enough in advance, adult fares are currently $197 return.
Travel around Kangaroo Island
There are really only two alternatives for travel around the Island: bus or car.
Bus tours depart most days from Adelaide for Kangaroo Island. One, three and five-day tours are available, with bus or 4WD transport around the Island.
Many Island-based operators offer tailored 4WD tours. These vary in price depending on itinerary, number of passengers and the activities involved.
Public transport is very limited.
The cheapest way to tour the Island is to self-drive. We were lucky enough to borrow a car from my Dad. We could also hire one on Kangaroo Island or on the mainland to drive over.
Where to stay on Kangaroo Island
The recent fires significantly reduced the options in this respect.
The only luxury resort on Kangaroo Island, the Southern Ocean Lodge, has been almost totally destroyed by the fires. The owners are going to rebuild to the original plans.
Fires have also made many the campsites also inaccessible or has destroyed them.
Various types of accommodation (hotel, motel, B&B) are available in the larger towns such as Kingscote and Penneshaw. Many privately-owned cottages are also available for short-term rental: try stayz.com.au.
For something more unique, the National Parks offer accommodation in the lighthouse keeper’s cottages at Cape Willoughby, Cape Borda and Cape du Couedic. These sleep up to 8 guests. You can book online here.
We stayed at the Kangaroo Island Seaview Motel in Kingscote. We were travelling in high season, so prices may have been higher than at other times of the year. We booked through booking.com.
The motel was clean, simple, somewhat dated, but in a great location and had lovely views. We walked to dinner, to the playground, and went for a swim in the tidal pool across the road. It was a great option for travelling with one child.
What to see on Kangaroo Island
Catch an early morning ferry to the Island (have breakfast onboard). After disembarking, head to Seal Bay for the 45-minute guided tour. The sea lions are most active in the morning, so try and get there early.
This is one of the only tours that allows you to walk onto the beach and view the endangers Australian sea lions in their natural habitat, without wall or cages between you and the animals. Your tour highlights will, of course, depend on the sea lions. On our tour, we saw animals surfing and resting, males fighting and pups suckling.
The fee also includes access to the boardwalk. Miss M was fascinated by the whale skeleton in the dunes.
Tip: The best tours are those early in the morning as the sea lions are most active. Our guide recommended the 9am or 9.45 am tours.
Note: the site uses composting toilets – you will want to use the toilets sparingly.
Kelly Hill Caves
The next stop on our tour was the Kelly Hill Caves.
We took a guided tour of the limestone cave system and viewed the multitudinous stalactites, less common stalagmites and the rare helictites (which grow sideways and even up, rather than down).
Miss M loved the tour and was very relieved that there were no bugs in the cave (no water = no bugs).
Note: There are 37 very steep steps to start the tour and around 50 gradual steps on the rest of the loop. If you have mobility issues or do not enjoy confined spaces, this will not be the tour for you.
Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary
The Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary is a great place to see koalas, Kangaroo Island kangaroos and echidnas in their natural habitat. Our guided walk was fun and our guide was very patient with three young girls and their incessant questions.
However, as we had already visited Cleland Wildlife Park, we did not really gain any information or experience from our visit. If you have already been to Cleland or are planning to do so, I would perhaps give the sanctuary a miss or go on the self-guided tour.
Tip: We weren’t planning on eating at the sanctuary, but the fire made up change our plans a little. However, the eggs benedict were delicious!
This is one site that
Remarkable Rocks is one of the signature landmarks for the Island and the state. Over a period of 500 million years, rain, wind and waves sculpted these unique granite boulders. Some resemble bird beaks,
Tip: Sunrise and sunset make these rocks particularly remarkable. Take care in wet or windy weather.
Bushfire update: The vegetation in Flinders Chase National Park is starting to regrow, with green shoots emerging. Native animals such as goannas, eagles, kangaroos and echidnas have also been sighted. Park rangers plan to soon operate guided tours showcasing this regeneration.
Admirals Arch is a distinctive rock bridge that is also in Flinders Chase National Park. It was once a cave and stalactites still hang from the natural bridge.
The viewing platform is also the ideal place to observe the wild New Zealand fur seal colony that has made the area
Tip: The boardwalk leading to the Admirals Arch is nearby as scenic as the landmark itself. Don’t forget to stop at nearby Cape du Couedic Lighthouse Between May and October, you might be lucky enough to see whales migrating and dolphins are common throughout the year.
*Cape Borda Lightstation
Cape Borda is Australia’s only square lighthouse. It is also South Australia’s tallest lighthouse (above the sea level), but shortest from the
The lighthouse was first constructed in 1858 in response to the number of shipwrecks. Kangaroo Island is the first land you reach sailing east once you round West Cape Howe (southern tip of Western Australia).
Tip: If you can, time your trip to Cape Borda to take a guided tour. These take place at 12.30 each day and include the firing of the signal cannon. It is used to help ships calibrate their
Stokes Bay was one of the places we wanted to visit but could not visit this time due to fire safety restrictions. The weather was also far too hot to go swimming much after 10 am.
Stokes Bay is a secluded beach on the north coast of Kangaroo Island. One of the locals suggested that we would love it: it has cliffs that provide protection from the weather and tidal pools that are perfect for little ones. In fact, the recommendation came from someone who learnt to swim there.
Getting to the beach is a little surreal. You enter a narrow chasm in the rocks and follow it – a tight fit at times – until it opens on the beach. Just beautiful.
Tip: We were also looking forward to eating at the Rockpool Café. Unfortunately, road closures and extreme weather made us change our plans. I have heard wonderful things about the Café from locals and hope we can make it on our next trip.
When I first went to Kangaroo Island, you went to Little Sahara to climb the pristine, desert-like dunes. Now, you visit Little Sahara to go sandboarding – fun for anyone who likes snowboarding or tobogganing.
These naturally-occurring coastal blow out dunes formed around 7,000 years ago and have been stabilised by vegetation. Little Sahara covers an area approximately 2 square kilometres. Although it is on private property, tourists are permitted to visit the site for free. It was heritage listed in the 1970s to ensure its preservation for future generations.
Hire a sandboard or toboggan one for one or two hours. Hire fees are reasonably expensive ($39 for one hour, the second hour is free), so you need to make sure that it is not too hot to get value for money.
Even if you don’t want to go sandboarding, it is worth visiting Little Sahara to view these unusual dunes.
Tip: If you are planning on going sandboarding or tobogganing, take your own sandboard or toboggan.
KIS (Kangaroo Island Spirits)
Peter and I both love a good gin & tonic so we were looking forward to visiting Kangaroo Island Spirits. It did not disappoint.
This boutique distillery was established in 2002 (the first in South Australia) and specialises in locally-sourced botanicals and finding the right balance. They make 3 core gins and some seasonal
The best bit is the lovely, relaxed atmosphere. There is a green garden with tables and chairs and shade where you can sit and enjoy a coffee or a gin cocktail. When we visited, there were a number of other families there and all seemed to be having fun. Miss M (and the other kids) really enjoyed the red slushy!
At present, there is not that much to see in Kingscote itself, despite the fact that it is the administrative centre of
- There is a large playground (with free wifi) on the foreshore.
- In Summer, the tidal pool is great. We went for an early morning swim and walked back to our hotel to wash off before checking out.
- There is a large supermarket for all your basic food and other requirements.
If you are into history, visit Reeves Point Historical Site, the site of the first European settlement in South Australia.
Dinner in Kingscote
While we were there, closures throughout the Island led to many people having to adjust their plans and find alternative accommodation and food. This made finding something to eat with Miss M without a reservation rather difficult.
Our recommendation is Bella Café for a relaxed atmosphere and delicious food. The staff were efficient and friendly and willing to help us find a solution even close to closing time. I had a BLT and it was the best BLT I have ever had (at least while sober). Peter very much enjoyed his lasagne, too.
We enjoyed our meal that much that we went back the next morning for breakfast. The coffee hit the spot, the raspberry danish was delightful and we argued over who would have the last of the turkey, camembert and cranberry roll.
Tip: Bella also
Tip: South Australian Beverage company Bickfords has also just purchased the historic Kingscote Police Station with plans to turn it into a craft distillery brewery and restaurant. If all goes to plan, the new site will open in late 2020 or early 2021. Look out for it!
Kangaroo Island is home to the purest strain of ligurian bees in the world (one of the reasons you cannot take honey or bugs onto the Island).
If you enjoy honey (which I don’t), there are opportunities to visit honey manufacturers and try and buy some of their unique Australian honey and honey products (candles, board wax, mead, jams and sauces, beauty products). Many of these are family-run businesses: the honey was normally a side project on the farm around the time that I was born and it gradually became the main product.
You can try the local honey and honey products at the ‘cellar doors’:
- Island Beehive, near Kingscote
CliffordsHoney Farm, between Kingscote and American River (they also sell honey from Living Honey).
Emu Ridge Distillery
Emu Ridge Distillery is South Australia’s only (remaining) commercial eucalyptus distillery.
Eucalyptus oil distillation began in the 1880s. Dozens of stills were established on Kangaroo Island to
Eucalyptus oil is antibacterial and anti-fungal, removes oil-based stains and has medicinal properties. It is great as:
- a disinfectant for cleaning,
- a spot stain remover,
- a cleaner for brass, plastics and vinyl
- ‘detergent’ to wash woollens
- to remove anything sticky (stickers, chewing gum),
- relief for insect bites and burns (antiseptic),
- helps with muscular aches and pains,
- as a decongestant,
- cleans paint brushes
- as a penetrating oil for seized or rusted parts,
- to remove fleas and ticks.
Visit the distillery, view the still, talk to the emus and the rescue kangaroo and try some of the local cider with a meal (emu meat pie, anyone?). They also have a number of other essential oils for sale.
False Cape Winery
When we visited False Cape Winery, the cellar door had only been open 3 weeks.
Despite the hot day, we sat outside under the verandah and enjoyed our flight of wines and a delicious platter of local cheeses, meats, dried fruit and other deliciousness. The onion tarts were divine. The wine was pretty good too!
False Cape knows how to cater to children. In the yard (so that you could watch from the verandah), they had a playground with a large blackboard. Miss M and the other children that were there during our visit enjoyed playing schools. They had children’s chairs and apparently also had some animals they could pat (all were hiding in the shade during our visit).
Tip: This is a great winery to visit with kids. Another recommended winery is Dudley Wines, which also offers platters and pizzas.
Numerous ships have been wrecked on the Kangaroo Island coastline. This led to the construction of four lighthouses, the first of which was erected at Cape Willoughby in 1852. Coincidently, it was also the first lighthouse to be erected in South Australia. All four lighthouses continue to operate.
Peter and Miss M took the tour and climbed to the top of the lighthouse. I piked because my knee was still sore from the Kelly Hill caves. The view was spectacular but it was very windy!
Penneshaw is best known as the ferry terminal on Kangaroo Island.
In our family, Penneshaw is best known as the place where my Grandfather first saw my Grandmother. She was stepping off the verandah of the Penneshaw Hotel (the Penny) when he saw her and thought that she looked like a bit of alright. He spent the next couple of days trying to find her and spend time with her.
The Penny is still a great place to eat. We enjoyed tasty burgers on the verandah overlooking the sea. It can get busy, especially before the ferries leave, so it pays to reserve. We didn’t, but we got very lucky with our seat anyway. It is just a quick walk down the hill to the ferry.
If it is warm, go for a dip at the beach. As it’s in a protected bay, the sea is calm and the sand is white. What more can you ask?
*Kangaroo Island Ocean Safari
One day we would also like to do the Kangaroo Island ocean safari and see the dolphins, seals, sea eagles and even whales. Time did not allow us to take the tour this time. However, it is one of the few tours that we have found that caters even for the smallest children.
Miss M was always on the lookout for dolphins so I know she would absolutely adore the tour. Unfortunately, she is not yet old enough to go snorkelling – we will have to wait until she is eight, or until she is nine to swim with the dolphins.
When we were little, we used to spend our Summer holidays down on the Fleurieu Peninsula. At that stage, there was a colony of fairy penguins living on Granite Island. Searching for them by torchlight was one of the highlights of our Summer.
Penneshaw remains one of the only places in South Australia that still has a small colony which calls it home.
Join a tour for a relaxing 50 minute evening stroll to search for the world’s smallest penguins, as well as other wildlife, such as dammar wallabies and brushtail possum. Tours run Fridays to Tuesdays. A light supper is included in the price.
Unfortunately, to tour did not run on the days that we were on Kangaroo Island. We did however (unsuccessfully) look out for fairy penguins catching waves back to their burrows during the evening.
Discover the beauty of Kangaroo Island
Kangaroo Island is one of the few places in the world that really does have it all in one place. History. Unique landscapes. Opportunities for hiking and outdoor activities. Encounters with some unique and unusual wildlife. Great food and drinks. Pristine beaches. And, most importantly, an abundance of things for people of all ages and abilities.