Think the only way to see Australia is on a guided tour? Not on this trip. Your sense of adventure will be your guide as you swim with dolphins, walk in the wilderness and indulge in fine food and wine.
By Max Anderson
Kangaroo Island (KI) is nine times the size of Singapore and home to only 4,000 people. That means there are endless opportunities to get off the beaten track. It’s also your chance to see the island’s famous native animals in the way they’re meant to be seen – in the wild. This itinerary pulls together some of the island’s highlights on mostly sealed roads. But – in the spirit of blazing your own trail – feel free to detour as much as you like.
What to expect
After collecting your hire car from Adelaide, make a morning getaway 40 kilometres (25 miles) south to McLaren Vale, a seaside wine region famed for its shiraz. Before reaching the town of McLaren Vale, follow signs to d’Arenberg winery. It’s home to The Cube, an avant-garde, five-storey structure fashioned after an unfinished Rubik’s, complete with a ‘Museum of Alternate Realities’, a virtual fermenter and a tasting room. Afterwards, head to lunch at Leonards Mill, a ‘paddock to plate’ restaurant set within a handsome 1858 flour mill, a 45-minute drive from the Cube. Continuing onward, take a 15-minute drive to the ferry terminal at Cape Jervis, in time to make the 3pm car ferry. After the 45-minute crossing to Kangaroo Island, do the one-hour drive to Kingscote. Arriving in the late afternoon, you’ll check into the Aurora Ozone Hotel on the seafront. The island capital is home to 2,000 people and was the first European settlement in South Australia. Take a twilight drive around nearby Reeves Point where you’ll discover relics dating to 1836. Enjoy dinner back at your hotel; the seafood menu includes the local delicacy, marron, a locally farmed freshwater crayfish.
Check out after breakfast and be at the Emu Bay Boat Ramp at 9am for a three-hour marine adventure. Join fifth-generation islander Andrew Neighbour on his high-powered jet boat to swim with dolphins and visit a colony of long-nosed fur seals. Feel free to try a bit of fishing before driving five kilometres (three miles) west towards Cygnet River, stopping for lunch at the quirky Frogs & Roses café, a rustic timber shed set inside a plant nursery that does pizzas topped with ingredients from the owner’s veggie patch. If gin’s your thing, stop in at the beautiful KI Spirits cellar door (just two minutes down the road) for tastings of its internationally-awarded liquors.
Thirty minutes more and you’re at Vivonne Bay, a small coastal community of sandy roads and beach shacks, one that feels like time stood still after 1950. Call into the Vivonne Bay General Store to pick up some barbecue packs of meats and salad, and a bottle of local Bay of Shoals wine or Drunken Drone wheat ale. Admit yourself into one of the many self-catering beach shacks available for rent online: charming, comfortable properties like Beonne The Bay and Vivonne on Sunset feature modern amenities, as well as plenty of toys for a beach holiday. You can spend the afternoon on Vivonne Bay – a five-kilometre (three-mile) long curve of white sand that was once voted Australia’s best beach. Alternatively, you can do a sunset quad bike tour with KI Outdoor Action, a great blend of off-road action and spotting the likes of koalas and native KI kangaroos. When the sun is down and the stars are out, those barbecue packs you picked up at the general store will be well appreciated.
Take breakfast at the nearby Rustic Blue café, where wild kangaroos graze in the paddocks. Then do the 10-minute drive to Little Sahara where soaring sand dunes reach 70 metres (230 feet) above sea level. If you’ve got youngsters (or need to unleash your inner child), don’t miss a chance to rent a sand board and surf down the dune. Next, it’s a 15-minute drive to one of KI’s most famous attractions, Seal Bay. You’ll be admitted by park rangers onto a boardwalk that winds down into a steep rocky cove overlooking a stunning cusp of white sand on turquoise waters. It’s home to a colony of endangered Australian sea lions, and best seen on a ‘ranger walk’ among the pups, suckling mothers and fighting bulls. After, check into Southern Ocean Lodge, a favourite of royals and movies stars. The magnificent Great Room is your cliff-top sanctuary for dining, lounging, drinking and watching the Southern Ocean pound the rocky coast. You may never want to leave, but don't miss the sunset champagne and canapés experience among the Tammar wallabies in a neighbouring paddock.
Be sure to take advantage of the unique and delicate dining options. The incredible chef-prepared menu at Southern Ocean Lodge uses the best of Kangaroo Island-sourced produce.
After breakfast, grab a picnic hamper and head out to drive the west coast attractions. Nearby Flinders Chase National Park protects 3,200 hectares (7,900 acres) of forest, creeks and coast, including the well-named Remarkable Rocks (strange boulders that are more like art forms) and Admirals Arch, a dramatic wave-cut arch that harbours a colony of fur seals.
If you’re feeling energetic, ask the Lodge to drop you at Remarkable Rocks and do a three-hour walk back along the coast on the spectacular new KI Wilderness Trail. It offers safe walking, almost uninterrupted wilderness and true solace. You’ll arrive at the Lodge in time for a massage in the spa and another magnificent (and well-earned) dinner.
Indulge in the Lodge's comforts until checkout. Then set off on the 90-minute drive back to Penneshaw. Take lunch in the Penneshaw Hotel in time for the afternoon ferry and the drive back to Adelaide.
Spend another day or two taking in Adelaide's wine regions and restaurants, or hop on a flight to another of Australia's capital cities. Go on an urban adventure in Sydney or Melbourne, or marvel at diverse nature in Darwin or Hobart.