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It’s no secret that I’m kind-of-a-little proud of my home state of South Australia. I love to drink at the wineries, I love to laze on the beaches, and perhaps most of all, I love to travel to Kangaroo Island. This modest island lies just off of the coast of South Australia and offers amazing opportunities for those wanting to go wild and meet some of Australia’s most loveable wildlife.

Kangaroo Island may only be about 45 minutes away from the South Australian mainland, but it really does feel like you’ve escaped to one of Australia’s last frontiers. This is especially once you get away from lively Penneshaw, and delve further into the area’s remote national parks.

Here, you’ll find stunning swathes of beach, unusual rock formations, and (of course) Australian animals –  both the cuddly and not-so-cuddly.

If you’re hoping to travel to Kangaroo Island, here’s my ultimate guide for enjoying your stay. Warning: this is a long one, so you might like to grab a glass of wine!

Wallaby on Kangaroo Island

Introduction to Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island is definitely one of my favourite places in Australia. Located about an hour from the mainland, the island is actually pretty big. At about 4,500m2, it’s the third largest island in Australia.

One of the main things about Kangaroo Island is that it doesn’t have many of the predators that are on mainland Australia, such as foxes. This means that wildlife has thrived on the island, and it’s one of the best places in the country to see all kind of indigenous Australian animals.

On Kangaroo Island, you can spot all the usual suspects such as kangaroos and koalas (there’s even a koala sanctuary), but you can also meet some more unusual creatures such as seals and wedge-tailed eagles.

Even though animals are my favourite thing about “K.I.”, there’s actually plenty else to do and see as well. Somehow, even from across the pond, South Australia’s evolution as a foodie hotspot has influenced Kangaroo Island, and there are many great producers there, including wineries (yes!).

If you love hiking, swimming or any other outdoor activity, you’ll also be spoiled for choice on Kangaroo Island. There’s so many amazing landscapes, even a passionate non-hiker like me can’t help but loose up my boots and start walking.

Let’s take a closer look at travel to Kangaroo Island.

Kangaroo Island coast at sunset

How to get to Kangaroo Island

Getting to Kangaroo Island – especially from Adelaide – is easy but, unfortunately, not cheap. Since it is an island, there are limited ways to get across, meaning it’s a bit of a cornered market. Here are all of your options for how to get to Kangaroo Island, and some tips for making them as budget friendly as possible.

(If you’re looking for the absolute cheapest option, skip down to the ferry section and read about “Market Days”, which are the absolute cheapest way to visit K.I.)

By tour

Public transport on Kangaroo Island is nearly non existent (Sealink does run a shuttle bus from the Penneshaw dock to a few places), so if you do not have a vehicle, you’re likely to want to get a tour.

There are various companies that run one-day and multi-day tours of Kangaroo Island. None are dirt-cheap, however the one-day tour is the most affordable of all of the options. Sealink has a ‘highlights’ tour which costs $296 (I know) from Adelaide, $248 from Cape Jervis, or $175 from Kingscote (on the island).

Although it is expensive, it leaves at 6.45am from Adelaide and returns at 10.40pm – so it is a very action-packed day. It hits all the main sites on Kangaroo Island including Seal Bay Conservation Park guided beach walk, the Flinders Chase National Park including Remarkable Rocks and Admirals Arch and a Koala viewing at Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. There’s also an included two-course lunch at Vivonne Bay.

As much as it pains me to throw my support behind spending $300 on a day tour, this is one I really would recommend. I’ve had several Couchsurfers do it and come back raving that it was one of the best days of their life.

So, while I’d totally understand if it was out of your budget, I do think you won’t be disappointed if you splurge on this tour.

For a multi-day tour, a well-respected company is Groovy Grape, who run a 2/day, 1/night tour of Kangaroo Island. It hits many of the same highlights as the Sealink one, but also adds sand boarding, snorkelling and kayaking to the mix. So, if you have a little more time, a little more cash, and want a little more adventure, I recommend this tour. It’s $445 in peak season, and $395 in off season.

A koala grinning at the camera with a leaf in his mouth
Ferries are pretty boring. Here’s a cute koala instead!

By ferry

Most people who travel to Kangaroo Island do so by catching the ferry from Cape Jervis, about an hour and a half south of Adelaide. The ferry takes about forty five minutes, and can be quite rough, so be prepared if you’re someone who experiences sea sickness!

For many years, Sealink was the only operator who carried passengers to Kangaroo Island. As of mid-2018, a second, cheaper service called Kangaroo Island Connect has begun. I have not personally gone on the KIC however I would certainly be keen to try it out, and I have read many positive reviews of this service.

How much is the ferry to Kangaroo Island

Sealink

Sealink is the pricier, and more established option for going to Kangaroo Island.

You can buy a ticket either just for a person, or a person and a car. The prices are a little cheaper if you purchase them online, so I recommend buying them on the Sealink website, although they also have an office in Adelaide or you can buy them over the phone.

The cost is $49 each way for an adult or $40 for an Australian student. A car costs $98 each way. Note – you can hire a car on Kangaroo Island, but it is usually more expensive than hiring it in Adelaide. It’s worth considering what is cheaper, especially considering if you hire a car in Kangaroo Island, you will also need to pay for transfers to Cape Jervis.

The ferry departs from Cape Jervis, about 90 minutes from Adelaide. Sealink runs a bus service from Adelaide to the ferry departure point, which costs $28 each way.

Kangaroo Island Connect

As mentioned, after many delays, the Kangaroo Island Connect (KIC) started going to KI in mid-2018. Like many South Australians, I have all my fingers and toes crossed for this new budget venture, although I have not personally been on it yet.

Unllike Sealink, KIC does not allow cars on the ferry – that is how it is able to offer much cheaper prices. It costs $27.50 each way to Penneshaw, or $38.50 each way to American River. Its Adelaide pick up is $30 for an adult.

If you want to have a car while on Kangaroo Island (highly recommended), then you must hire a car (or get a tour) while you are on Kangaroo Island.

Sealink or KIC Compared

As mentioned (ad nauseam), I have not been on the KIC so I cannot speak from first-hand experience. I have, however, been following news of this new ferry quite closely, and have heard good things – although several ferry companies have unsuccessfully tried to bump off Sealink over the years.

For those on a budget, here is a break down on some rough costs on either ferry, assuming you’re in a group of four in total:

KIC (hiring a vehicle on KI)

  • Adelaide to Cape Jervis (return): $60 AUD
  • Cape Jervis to Penneshaw (return): $55 AUD
  • Car hire for 3 days on Kangaroo Island with Budget, split between four: $336 AUD total/$84 AUD each
  • $199 AUD each, for 3 days

Sealink (hiring a vehicle in Adelaide)

  • Adelaide to Cape Jervis (return): $56 AUD
  • Cape Jervis to Penneshaw (return): $98 AUD
  • Cost of taking the car on the ferry, split between four: $24.50 AUD
  • Car hire for 3 days from Adelaide with Budget, split between four: $220 AUD total/$55 AUD each
  • $233.50 each, for 3 days

As you can see, it’s a bit cheaper to go with KIC, so you can probably save some money by using this new company if you rent a car. However, if you have your own car and are not hiring, then Sealink is definitely the way to go as you’ll save hugely on car hire.

Campervan
A campervan is a great way to see Kangaroo Island!

The BEST way to see Kangaroo Island on a budget: Market Days!

If this is all making you want to tear your hair out at the cost, then I’m sure you’ll be glad to hear that there is a trick for getting to see Kangaroo Island much, much cheaper.

Once a month, you can get fares to Kangaroo Island for as little as $42 AUD for adults, or $32 AUD for students. On the first Sunday of every month (plus extra days in summer), Penneshaw holds a cute Farmer’s Market and Sealink offers cut-price ferry tickets.

This is a great way to get to spend a day on Kangaroo Island cheaply, and my recommendation if you’ll be in Adelaide for an extended period so can travel to Kangaroo Island whenever. Once you’re in Penneshaw, you may want to rent a car, or you can stay in Penneshaw.

Plane

If budget is no obstacle, then the plane is the fastest and most comfortable way to get to Kangaroo Island (no seasickness!). The regional airline Rex flies regularly to KI from Adelaide, but you should expect a return ticket to be in the region of $300 AUD.

How long to stay on Kangaroo Island

As long as you can afford!

But seriously, I really do love Kangaroo Island and recommend spending more than a lightning quick day there. Of course, if it’s your only option then it’s worth it to do a whirlwind tour, but if you have a little more time you’ll be able to slow down and really enjoy it.

I think three days is the ideal amount of time on Kangaroo Island. This will give you enough time to hit all the hotspots, as well as visit some lesser known gems. Plus, it will all be at a fairly leisurely pace.

Of course, if you are on a tight schedule, you might need to cut it down. On the other hand, if your budget is a little more relaxed (say you have your own campervan and no fixed schedule – I am so jealous!), then you could easily spend a week there. It may not be the most action-packed week of your life, but it will allow you to take in the island’s immense natural beauty.

Honestly, this is a stock image of a campervan because it’s the best way to get around!

Getting around Kangaroo Island

As mentioned above, you really have three options for getting around Kangaroo Island. In order of desirability (in my humble opinion), they are: your own vehicle, an organised tour, or the Sealink shuttle.

Your own vehicle

In my opinion, this is the best option, as it will allow you to visit all of the main places as well as those off the beaten path gems as well. Plus, although there’s likely to be some expense with a car (either paying for its place on the ferry or hiring it on KI), you will definitely save on transport costs, and it also gives you more freedom to enjoy free activities like the beach.

If you already have a vehicle such as a campervan, that is ideal for travel to Kangaroo Island as you can stay in a lot of the camp sites. You may also be able to hire a campervan, or a regular car (a 4WD is a good addition, but not strictly necessary). If you do hire a car, just make sure you confirm with the hire company that it is OK to take it across to the island.

Another option for getting a vehicle to Kangaroo Island is to look into ride shares. There are many great Facebook groups as well as other backpacker-friendly pages such as Gumtree that might help you to find some buddies to split costs with. This makes it more affordable – and more fun!

On a tour

As mentioned, there are many tours that run around Kangaroo Island, and a tour can be a great way to pack a lot in to a short itinerary. You also get the added benefit of having a tour guide accompany you and give you some tidbits of information along the way.

The downsides of a tour are that it is usually pricey, and you do sacrifice some of the flexibility. That said, it gives you the chance to meet some fellow travellers, and the added bonus of a tour guide is very valuable!

By public transport

Most people will tell you that you can’t get public transport around Kangaroo Island. This is actually not true. A recent service called the Rockhopper was launched, which has two routes.

The first, the Eastern Route, operates on a Wednesday and goes between Penneshaw, American River and Kingscote. The second, the Western Route, operates on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and goes between Kingscote, Cygnet River, Parndana and Vivonne Bay.

There are 3 departures per day for the Eastern Route, and two per day for the Western Route. Tickets are $20 for a return adult ticket, or $10 for a one-way ticket.

IMPORTANT – you MUST book your place on the bus beforehand if you want to catch it. For the most up-to-date on information on how, when and where to do so, check the official website.

As well as this intermittent bus option, Sealink also operate a shuttle from the ferry at Penneshaw, to Kingscote and American River. Tickets are $16.50 one-way or $19.50 return.

Therefore, if you are happy to be confined to the larger towns, it is theoretically possible to see Kangaroo Island without a car at all. However, personally, I think it is a bit of a waste of money, time and effort to get to the island and not be able to see many of the main attractions such as emu bay and Flinders Chase National Park. But, it is possible!Inf

Admirals Arch on Kangaroo Island

What to do on Kangaroo Island

Now for the fun part – what to do on Kangaroo Island? For a relatively small island, there is a lot of variety. I’m hoping to do a bigger “Kangaroo Island” bucket list soon, however here are my top things to do and see.

Remarkable Rocks/Admiral’s Arch/Flinders Chase National Park

If you know anyone who’s ever been to Kangaroo Island, you’ve probably seen the iconic picture of them standing under the Remarkable Rocks.

Perched near the shoreline in Flinders Chase National Park, the Remarkable Rocks are perhaps the best known icon of Kangaroo Island. Formed over a cool 150 million years, they are a giant boulder sitting on top of a giant dome of lava. Pretty cool, right? Plus, the park itself is pretty awesome, too, with lots of friendly wallabies

Then there’s Admiral’s Arch, a picturesque natural picture frame overlooking the sea. It was just made for Instagram!

Entry fees apply to the park – check the official Parks SA website for up to date pricing.

Seal Bay

Visiting Seal Bay was truly one of the coolest experiences of all of my travels – and it was so close to home!

You see, Kangaroo Island is home to a very large colony of New Zealand Fur Seals (we love them, even though they’re Kiwis!). They’re protected and studied, meaning the colony has grown and is very used to humans. This offers the unique opportunity to go on a guided walk, getting just feet from the lazy and often comical fur seals. It’s a really amazing experience, especially if you’re lucky enough to catch any pups being born!

I highly, highly recommend the guided tour which is $35.50 per adult. You can do a $16 self-guided tour, but it’s nowhere near as good. Find out more about Seal Bay at their official website.

Sea Lions on Kangaroo Island

Sand boarding at Little Sahara

Australians love to surf, right? Well, when there’s no surf, we make do – and board down sand instead!

Kangaroo Island’s Little Sahara is a fun place to go and try your skill at riding a surfboard down some massive sand dunes. Watch out, it’s harder than it looks! My biggest tip is to make sure that you apply plenty of grease to your board, to avoid stacking it into the sand. At least it doesn’t hurt too much when you fall over!

You can hire either a sandboard or a toboggan – it’s $37 for two hours or $47 for a whole day. Check out this website for more information.

Hanson Bay Koala Sanctuary

You simply can’t leave Australia without saying hello to our cutest and cuddliest animal, the koala!

One of the very best places to see them in Australia is at the Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary on Kangaroo Island. These koalas are actually in the wild, so it’s very ethical and sustainable. But, with dozens of resident koalas, you are almost guaranteed a sighting!

Going for a self-guided koala walk is $10 for an adult, or $20 if you are guided. You can find out more (including other tour options) at the Hanson Bay Koala Sanctuary website.

Raptor Domain

You know who I don’t get? People who are afraid of birds. I LOVE birds, which is probably why I loved Raptor Domain so much.

Raptor Domain, not far from Little Sahara, is a bird rescue and sanctuary that does daily bird shows with some of its residents. You can learn all about the different birds, and see them in-flight. My absolute favourite was seeing a majestic Wedge Tailed Eagle, Australia’s largest (and coolest) bird.

The bird show costs $20 for an adult. Visit the Raptor Domain website for more information and show times.

Bird at Raptor Domain on Kangaroo Island

Kelly Cave

Travel to Kangaroo Island is not just about what’s above land, but also what’s below it, like the Kelly Hill Conservation Park.

Explore the intricate limestone cave system, preferably with a guide (we don’t need a repeat of the Thai rescue, thanks). You can see all kinds of formations such as stalactites and the other one that I can never remember. Nearby, there’s also the Cape Bouguer Wilderness Protection Area, which is also worth a visit.

Entry into the park is free, the guided tour costs $20 for an adult. Visit the Kelly Caves page on Parks SA for more information.

Kingscote

Artsy Kingscote is the kind of place you visit and dream of living forever; just ask the many artisans who have moved there!

Although it’s one of the largest “towns” on the island, it’s population is only about 1,700 people. That said, they’ve managed to really thrive, with a great selection of cafes, art galleries and more on offer. My personal favourite are the cellar doors where you can do some wine tasting (no surprises there!).

Vivonne Bay

Australia has a lot of beaches. Like, 10,000 of them. So if a beach has been voted the best in Australia, it has to be pretty good, right?

Yep, I’m talking about stunning Vivonne Bay. It’s such a beautiful, horseshoe shaped beach with all prerequisites like soft sand and clear water. Plus, even though it was once named Australia’s most beautiful beach, it’s almost deserted! Apart from one humble fish and chip shop, the town is quiet and totally delightful.

Vivonne Bay on Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island Spirits

Fancy a tipple with your incredible natural beauty and adorable wildlife? Of course you do!

If so, head on over to Kangaroo Island Spirits, an indie distillery that is making big waves with their delicious gin and other spirits. Learn from my mistake, however, and do not just shot the gin tasting. You are supposed to savour it!

Kangaroo Island Spirits is open seven days a week, 11am to 5pm, for tasting. Find out more information at the Kangaroo Island Spirits website.

Cape Willoughby Conservation Park

As if there wasn’t enough for Kangaroo Islanders to brag about, they’re also home to South Australia’s first lighthouse.

It’s located within Cape Willoughby National Park, and is creatively named “the Cape Willoughby Lighthouse”. You can take a tour of the inside, or simply observe (and photograph) it from the outside. As you’d expect, it has gorgeous views out over the dramatic coastline.

It is $5 to enter the park, plus $16 if you want to do a tour of the lighthouse. You can find out more information on the Parks SA page about the Cape Willoughby Lighthouse.

Cape Willoughby Lighthouse on Kangaroo Island

Where to Stay on Kangaroo Island

Most visitors to Kangaroo Island arrive into Penneshaw, making it a popular and convenient place to stay. However, I’d recommend getting a bit further out to enjoy the unspoiled beauty of Kangaroo Island.

Artsy Kingscote is a good choice if you want the convenience of amenities within walking distance, but that laidback island vibe. American River is another hotspot on the eastern side of the island.

In the centre, the area Parndana is away from a beach but is beautifully relaxing and unspoiled – plus, it’s convenient for Seal Bay, the Raptor Domain and Little Sahara.

The west coast of Kangaroo Island offers less options for accommodation, but is convenient for the Flinders Chase National Park. You may even like to try some of the accommodation in the park!

Here are some good options for all budgets.

Ultra-Budget: Camping

You can camp in most of South Australia’s national parks, including many on Kangaroo Island. Fees do apply, and it is recommended that you book in advance to secure your place, especially in the school holidays. Fees are usually very reasonable – between $10 and $20, however the facilities are very basic (usually unpowered).

Check out National Parks South Australia for a full list of national parks in Kangaroo Island, and information about camping in each of them.

Budget: Hostel

There are a couple of hostels on Kangaroo Island, which are a great cost-effective option for accommodation. Not only is staying in them cheap (about $25 AUD per night), but you can also meet other travellers (to share costs with) and get ideas for cheap activities.

Check out Hostel World (*affiliate) for Kangaroo Island hostels.

Mid-Range: Holiday Home

If there’s a group of you going to Kangaroo Island, then staying in a holiday home can be a very cost effective and comfortable way to stay on Kangaroo Island.

I love the user-friendly interface of Stayz, which is how I booked my most recent accommodation in Kangaroo Island.

Luxury: Resort

If you’ve decided to throw all caution to the wind and live lavishly on Kangaroo Island, good for you! The island boasts many amazing luxury resorts with equally luxurious adjoining restaurants.

Booking through Hotels Combined (*affiliate) helps you find the best deals on luxurious accommodation.

Sea Lions on Kangaroo Island

Final Thoughts

Hoo boy, that was a long post. If you’re still here with me, good for you! Hopefully you’ve had a pretty good introduction into visiting Kangaroo Island.

As you can see, travel to Kangaroo Island is accessible for everyone from backpackers to those hoping to live in the lap of luxury.

Let me know in the comments if you have any queries and I’ll do my best to answer them!

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