As you head towards Cape Jervis along the west coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula, KANGAROO ISLAND (or KI), only 13km offshore, first appears behind a vale of rolling hills. Once you’re on the island, its size and lack of development leave a strong impression. This is Australia’s third-largest island (after Tasmania and Melville Island), with 450km of spectacular, wild coastline and a multitude of wildlife including kangaroos, koalas, echidnas, platypuses, Little penguins, fur seals, sea lions and, in passing, southern right whales.
To see Kangaroo Island properly you’ll need at least three days, though most people only visit the major south-coast attractions – Seal Bay, Little Sahara, Remarkable Rocks and Flinders Chase National Park. Although promoted as South Australia’s premier tourism destination it’s still unspoilt; only in the peak holiday period (Christmas to the end of Jan, when most of the accommodation is booked up) does it feel busy. Once out of the island’s few small towns, there’s little sign of human presence to break the long, straight roads that run through undulating fields, dense gum forests and mallee scrub. There’s often a strong wind off the Southern Ocean, so bring something warm whatever the season, and take care when swimming – there are strong rips on many beaches. Safe swimming spots include Hog Bay and Antechamber Bay, both near Penneshaw; Emu Bay, northwest of Kingscote; Stokes Bay, further west; and Vivonne Bay, on the south side of the island.
Coming by boat, you’ll arrive at Kangaroo Island’s eastern end, at the small settlement of Penneshaw. The airport is a little further west in Cygnet River near Kingscote, the island’s administrative centre and South Australia’s second-oldest colonial settlement, though little remains to show for it. Between Penneshaw and Kingscote, sheltered American River is another good base. From here, the Playford Highway and South Coast Road branch out to traverse the island, entering Flinders Chase National Park from the north and south respectively. The national park and surrounding wilderness protection area cover the entire western end of the island.