If you don’t have a car on your trip to Australia, an Adelaide to Kangaroo Island tour is your best bet for experiencing this gem of the great southern land.
Kangaroo Island is THE place to go to experience Australian wildlife. Think of it as a mini Galapagos off the coast of South Australia. Grey kangaroos, fur seals, dolphins, echidnas, koalas, and dozens of other species have flourished on the island without the threat of introduced species. Though the island was badly hit by the Black Summer bushfires of 2019/2020, it is rebuilding.
It’s the perfect place to go if you want to capture a koala in its natural habitat as they snack on Eucalyptus leaves, sandboard in Little Sahara, or test your photography skills at the dramatic rock formations on Kangaroo Island’s southeast, you’re in for a treat.
You should take a day trip to Kangaroo Island if you are pressed for time, but the area has enough to do that you could spend up to five days exploring without getting bored. I took a two-day/one-night Adelaide to Kangaroo Island tour and felt like I got a great taste of the island, but would love to go back.
Only have a day? Book your Adelaide to Kangaroo Island Tour here.
Adelaide to Kangaroo Island Tour: Highlights
This post is a part of my Outback Road Trip series.
No matter what tour option you choose, they should all start the same way: with a hotel pick-up or collection from a central location in Adelaide. From there, it’s about a 90-minute drive down the Fleurieu Peninsula to Cape Jervis where you catch the ferry to Kangaroo Island. You will get off your first bus, collect any baggage you have, then hop onto the ferry. They sell snacks and drinks on board.
If you are prone to seasickness, take a few anti-nausea tablets before boring. The ferry ride, although not long at just 30 minutes, we were rocking and rolling for most of it. You arrive at Penneshaw, the largest town on the island.
When you disembark, follow the instructions given to you by your first bus driver, or emailed to you by your tour company. I had to find my tour group at the ferry terminal. The guy had a sign.
Our first stop after leaving Penneshaw was Pelican Lagoon.
If you enjoy birding (I’m partial to it as my housemate in Sydney is the type of guy to wake up at 3am to see a rare bird) you will love Pelican Lagoon. You’ll be able to see pelicans (one would hope), black swans, spoonbills, and even cormorants. Visitors can take a guided tour of the lagoon, either by boat or by foot, to observe the different bird species in their natural habitat. Depending on the type of tour you take, you might only stop in briefly, but you are still likely to a few species to your list.
Nearby, you can also explore the Pelican Lagoon Conservation Park, which is a protected area of coastal vegetation and wetlands that is home to a range of wildlife species, including kangaroos, wallabies, and echidnas. People come to the island for its untouched nature, so this is a great place to soak it all in.
Imagine my surprise when I looked out the window of the tour bus and saw … an American flag! I was about as far from my home in Houston as I could be before I started coming back up the other side. So it was confusing as to why I was looking at Old Glory, but I was excited.
Turns out, American River gets its name from American sealers who established a camp in the area in the early 19th century. It was a great place for a camp, as the town that eventually took its place is situated on the banks of a tidal inlet that flows into the Eastern Cove of Kangaroo Island.
These days, most people who stop by do so to go fishing. The town is known for its abundance of fish species, like whiting, snapper, salmon, and King George whiting. I don’t eat seafood, so this didn’t thrill me, but if you’re a fan, you can catch your own or enjoy some of the freshest fish you’ll ever have at a local seafood restaurant.
Depending on your timeframe, you might be able to take part in a variety of water activities at American River, like kayaking, sailing, and boating. There is also an oyster farm in the area.
Or you can just do what I did, and enjoy a short wildlife-watching walk. I saw kangaroos (who would have thought!) and even an echidna. It was a special time.
Seal Bay was one of my favorite parts of my Adelaide to Kangaroo Island Tour. Just look at how cute they are! It’s also one of the best places on planet Earth to see sea lions in their natural habitat.
The colony is home to over 1,000 sea lions! You need to take a guided tour just to make sure there is no funny business and the animals aren’t bothered. Our guide was hilarious and informative. She took us along a boardwalk that winds through the sand dunes to the beach where the sea lions rest and play. Along the way, she provided information on the sea lions’ behavior, diet, and breeding habits.
Look at this cutie! The sea lions were so playful and it was fun watching them play in the waves, bask in the sun, and interact with each other. They seemed to be just as curious about us as we are about them.
We had a little bit of free time after the tour, so I looked around the visitor’s center because it had some more educational displays and information on sea lions. There was also a gift shop and a cafe if you wanted to pick up a souvenir or a snack. If you want to spend more time outside, there are also a number of walking trails in the surrounding area, providing visitors with the opportunity to explore the island’s natural beauty and wildlife.
Little Sahara Sand Dunes at Vivonne Bay
Little Sahara is a popular natural attraction on Kangaroo Island, located on the southern coast of the island near Vivonne Bay. It is a series of large sand dunes that are estimated to be around 7,000 years old and cover an area of about 2 square kilometers. Sandboarding on the dunes was included in my tour, but I chose to sit it out because I was recovering from mononucleosis at the time and still didn’t have much energy.
Those who participated had a blast, though. Even if you’ve never been before, I would recommend giving it a try. Sandboarding is relatively easy to learn, with most people picking up the basics after just a few tries. Unlike other board sports such as snowboarding or surfing, there are no complicated techniques to master. I could hear my new friends squeals of delight echoing across the dunes.
Unlike other high-energy sports, such as football or basketball, sandboarding is a low-impact activity that puts minimal strain on your body. So if you are worried about hurting yourself, don’t be! While it’s always a good idea to have a travel insurance policy, just in case, sandboarding didn’t seem too wild.
Koalas on Kangaroo Island
Kangaroo Island is home to a thriving population of wild koalas, which are considered to be some of the healthiest and most genetically diverse koalas in Australia. This is due to their isolation from the mainland population. Visitors to Kangaroo Island have the opportunity to observe these fascinating animals in their natural habitat.
Koalas are a marsupial that is native to Australia. They are known for their distinctive appearance with round furry ears and a large nose. Koalas look like cuddly stuffed animals, but have very sharp claws. They are arboreal animals and spend most of their time sleeping in trees, but they are also known to be active at night, feeding on eucalyptus leaves.
These koalas were HUGE as well. Watching them was one of the highlights of my entire Adelaide to Kangaroo Island Tour. Unfortunately, not long after I left, tragedy struck Kangaroo Island.
The first bushfire started on Kangaroo Island on December 20, 2019, and quickly spread due to strong winds and high temperatures. The fire burned for several weeks and destroyed around 210,000 hectares of land, including large tracts of native forest, farmland, and national parks. The fire also destroyed over 800 buildings, including homes, businesses, and infrastructure.
I think about these lil animals all the time. I wonder if they made it. They probably didn’t.
However, through tragedy, the Kangaroo Island community has shown resilience and has been working hard to rebuild and recover. Charities like BlazeAid and WIRES have been at the forefront of recovery efforts, ensuring that people and animals can get their lives back on track.
I worked with WIRES while I lived in Sydney and saw firsthand the good they do. Please consider making a donation to support the continued restoration of Kangaroo Island.
Remarkable Rocks in Flinders Chase National Park
The Remarkable Rocks are a natural landmark in Flinders Chase National Park. These impressive rock formations are made of granite and have been shaped over millions of years by erosion from the wind, rain, and waves. One rock even looks like a beak!
What makes the Remarkable Rocks so unique is their distinctive shapes, sizes, and colors, which create a dramatic contrast against the bright blue ocean and surrounding green vegetation. You can explore the rocks and take in the stunning views of the coastline from various vantage points. There are a few boardwalks and platforms around the rocks, too allowing visitors to get up close and personal with these incredible formations safely.
It’s important to follow all posted safety signs and the advice of your tour guide. The ocean is wild and wooly and unfortunately, people drown here when they are swept away by waves. Even people who jump in to save those swept away also lose their lives.
Don’t worry, though. By following directions, you will be able to stay safe and enjoy. The site is also home to various types of native wildlife, including kangaroos, wallabies, and birds, making it a popular spot for nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts.
Remarkable Rocks is not only a remarkable geological feature, but also holds great cultural significance to the local Aboriginal people. The Adnyamathanha people lived on the island for thousands of years. The site is regarded as a sacred place for them, so visitors are asked to show respect to the local culture and to take care not to damage the rocks or surrounding environment.
This incredible rock formation was created over thousands of years by the powerful forces of the Southern Ocean. It’s made of limestone and has a unique arch shape that towers over the ocean waves. I had never seen waves as intense as standing on this small platform. You could hardly hear anything because of their roar. It was also SO windy, as you can tell from how disheveled I looked.
It’s quite the walk from the car down along the side of the cliff to the arch, but it’s worth it! You follow a wooden boardwalk all the way, making it a secure path. While walking, keep an eye out for the furry locals – New Zealand fur seals! These playful creatures love sunbathing on the rocks and swimming in the water. And if you’re lucky, you might even catch them showing off their best tricks.
But that’s not all! Admirals Arch also has a small interpretive center where you can learn about the fascinating history and ecology of the area. From the unique geology that created this natural wonder to the rich wildlife that calls it home, you’ll discover a world of wonder and amazement.
I think the best place to take a photo of the arch is before you get all the way to the viewing platform on the bottom. The path doubles back a few times. You should pause to get the money shot before the second turn.
Cape Willoughby Lighthouse
Cape Willoughby Lighthouse is located on the eastern tip of Kangaroo Island. The lighthouse was built in 1852 to guide ships traveling through the treacherous waters between Kangaroo Island and the mainland.
The Cape Willoughby Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse in South Australia and is still operational today, serving as an important navigational aid for ships in the area. The lighthouse tower stands at a height of 27 meters and is made of local stone. The light itself is visible from a distance of 26 nautical miles and emits a single white flash every 5 seconds.
I was impressed by the steep steps from the water below. This was the old trade route that lighthousekeepers and their families had to carry supplies up. Could never be me.
Final thoughts on my Adelaide to Kangaroo Island Tour
Kangaroo Island is a place of wonder and surprise. It’s a magical land that appears straight out of a fairy tale. The island is home to all the best of Aussie wildlife, like kangaroos, koalas, and echidnas that roam freely. Taking an Adelaide to Kangaroo Island Tour is a great way to experience a less crowded, more interesting corner of the country.