Kangaroo Island is the third largest island mass in Australia and should be on any wildlife and adventure-lover’s destination list!
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An easy 45-minute ferry ride from Cape Jervis, just 1.5 hours down the coast from Adelaide, to Penneshaw allows visitors to be transported to Kangaroo Island’s wild paradise.
Hiking and driving around the Island, watch out for wallabies, kangaroos, koalas, echidnas, and many bird (around 260!) and reptile species. Even the beaches are full of action, with seals basking in the sand and whales easily visible from the shore, especially from March to November, when the weather is milder during Australia’s shoulder seasons and winter.
It's no secret that Australia is home to many unique animals and birds, especially endemic animals, or those not found anywhere else in the world. On Kangaroo Island, there are 18 endemic sub-species, as well as a subspecies of kangaroo derived from the grey kangaroo called the Kangaroo Island, or Sooty, Kangaroo. The native wildlife found on Kangaroo Island is well-preserved because of the island's isolation and the extensive amount of protected land on national park land and private land.
Ferry on the way from Cape Jervis to Penneshaw on Kangaroo Island.
We recommend exploring the island for at least a few days. Some people travel to KI for only a day or an overnight trip expecting tons of wildlife to be right in front of them waiting - while there may be wonderful things to see, the island isn't a zoo. Taking your time to see the island's natural wonders and explore the beaches and bush will greatly enhance your ability to see more wildlife. Remember, Kangaroo Island is quite large and it takes time to see everything!
Getting around the island is actually quite easy, as the majority of main roads lead directly to sites of interest. Unless you go with a tour guide company (Exceptional Kangaroo Island gets amazing reviews!), driving on your own by renting a car (either on the island or off) or ferrying a car over will be the only other way to get from place to place. When we travel to wildlife hotspots such as this one, we will typically take a full day with one of the local guides to get the low-down on the area's history and get recommendations for other places to see or eat at that shouldn't be missed. You never know, you may even end up having a coffee or dinner with a local!
Be careful as you drive the roads throughout the island – kangaroos are known for jumping out from the bush right in front of cars and all variety of wildlife will be seen crossing the road, especially at night! That being said, if you can explore some of the trails and wooded areas around Kangaroo Island at night, you'll see all manner of nocturnal creatures you might not spot during the day.
Top Things to Do on Kangaroo Island
Flinders Chase National Park
There are a handful of incredible places to spend your time in nature, such as Flinders Chase National Park on the west side of the island, which sets the stage for stunning scenery, wonderful hikes, and picturesque beaches.
The Remarkable Rocks and Admirals Arch offer beautiful views over the ocean and out-of-this-world sunset pictures. Even the roads leading down to these natural wonders are worth a visit, as they look out to the cliffs and ocean. Keep a look out on the rocky shore in search of fur seals swimming and basking in the sun.
The 61 km long Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail (get the downloadable PDF for trail info here) is perfect for those interested in hiking and camping as it meanders along the Park’s coast, where whales can be spotted and all manner of stars can be seen at night - just be sure to book tent spaces ahead of time to reserve your spots over the four night hiking period. Keep in mind that there are few facilities along the trail, so plan out your food and equipment necessities prior to your trip. We recommend visiting the Park's rangers at the Visitor's Center before your hike to check on weather and trail conditions.
Although I didn't get the chance to experience them, there are platypus waterholes, where it's possible (though not entirely likely) for you to see these elusive creatures. Being patient and very quiet will greatly enhance your chances, and honestly, being in the same habitat as a platypus, whether you see them or not, is incredible!
The road to the Remarkable Rocks in Flinders Chase National Park. The Remarkable Rocks can be seen on the peninsula at the road's end. Just look at that beautiful blue water!
Seal Bay National Park
For beautiful beaches and wonderful wildlife watching opportunities, visit Seal Bay, which gets its name from the numerous seals that bask on the beaches throughout the day. The Park offers a host of opportunities to see the area and the seals, including a self-guided boardwalk tour through the dunes and cliffs or beach tours with a Park guide that allow you to get a little bit of a closer look at the seals while learning about the research initiatives currently taking place at Seal Bay.
Note that the guides will determine the distance from which you can actually get to seals, though the sunset tour and others provide wonderful opportunities for photographers to get some incredible shots!
The beaches and sunsets throughout Australia are stunning! Keep an eye out at sea for porpoises, dolphins, and whales.
Stokes Bay and Lathami Conservation Park
Stokes Bay is another stunning beach destination, but with more of the amenities. There are cottages and camping facilities along the edge of the white sand beach that allow you to fall asleep and wake up to the sound of the surf. The rock formations on and around the beach are not only fun to look at from a geologic perspective, but some act as natural wave breaks, thus creating miniature pool habitats with fun sea life.
Don't worry, there is still plenty of wildlife to see in this area, too. Just outside your cottage or campsite it's likely you'll be hanging out with the kangaroos while they lounge in the warm sun. The beach is also a wonderful bird watching destination. What's more, the Lathami Conservation Park is only a five minute drive away. The Park is open 24-hours and is perfect for hiking the many trails in search of wildlife and various bird life. Lathami is named after the protected Glossy Black Cockatoo, found only on Kangaroo Island. Looking for a new bird to add to your life list? This is the perfect place to visit!
Driving Around Kangaroo Island!
Simply driving around and pulling off into one of the many local parks and trail parking areas is a good way to spot a variety of birds. This is actually how I ended up seeing the short-beaked echidna - just crossing the road on a random back road heading toward Flinders Chase - and the common brush-tailed possum - which often walk along the roads at night, only spotted by the light of your car's headlights!
Don’t forget to look up into the branches of large eucalyptus trees in search of sleeping koalas (fun fact: koalas sleep about 23 hours out of the day!).
Koalas depend on eucalyptus trees for their habitat and for their main food source. The chemicals in the eucalyptus tree leaves make koalas extra sleepy!
Kingscote and Busby Islet Conservation Park
The food and wine opportunities, and the locally made artisan crafts, found in towns such as Kingscote add to the experience of being on Kangaroo Island. Kingscote is the business center of the island, but it still maintains its smaller town charm along with having everything you would need to be comfortable.
Check out Island Beehive to see how local honey and other products are harvested, and sip locally made Dudley Wines, even going on a wine tour made in the region (you've got to taste Australia's delicious wines!). There are local cheeses, particularly sheep's cheese, that are a must-try. Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Distillery has been around for decades and sells eucalyptus products, especially oils, which are largely used for medicinal purposes.
Just off the coast of Kingscote is the Busby Islet Conservation Park, another birding heaven! You'll see birds here that you might not see elsewhere on the island, such as Sooty Oystercatchers and Little Penguins. Although visitors are not authorized to go on land, it is possible to do sea tours to see the birds from the ocean - Australian Wildlife Journeys has an exceptional bird watching tour on Kangaroo Island, with Busby Islet included!
Cape Willoughby Conservation Park and Lighthouse
There are a handful of wonderful conservation parks around the island, and Cape Willoughby is up there as one of the most beautiful. The rugged, rocky shores and the clear, turquoise water are the perfect setting for whale watching when the season is right, and for watching the sun rise. It's possible to tour the lighthouse with a ranger, and the star viewing at night is out of this world! This is also one of the few locations where you can rent out the lighthouse keeper's cottage right near the water, making your trip that much more unique.
Don't forget to download our Bird Species Checklist to prepare you for your trip to Kangaroo Island!
Australia is a huge country, and while there are incredible sites to see throughout all of Oceana, Kangaroo Island should go down on everyone's list looking to spot wildlife and truly immerse themselves in nature!
Christa and Nathan
P.S., Need some help finding a place to stay on Kangaroo Island? Booking.com has loads of options.
P.P.S., Check out this wonderful downloadable map of Kangaroo Island, provided by Tour Kangaroo Island