Leaps and Bounds: an Adelaide to Kangaroo Island road trip

A view through a cave-like formation at rocks surrounded by sea. Some fur seals can be seen on the rocks, Kangaroo Island

You better believe there’ll be animals. On a five-day trip to South Australia’s Kangaroo Island, Sarah and Chris get in touch with their wild sides. Hiking, nature trails, ocean swimming… This is a destination with it all.

There’s been a bit of excitement brewing for the past couple of days. Kangaroo Island is one of those dream destinations Chris and I have been planning to visit for years, but have never quite made it. Until now. We’ve picked up the SUV, which will be our sturdy companion for the next week, from Apex Car Rentals at Adelaide Airport, and we’re heading out of town.

Peninsula Play: Adelaide to Second Valley

Aerial view of two people on stand-up paddle boards near some rugged South Australian coastline

We’ve barely left the city when we’re surrounded by beautiful countryside and, before too long, rows and rows of vines. McLaren Vale, one of the oldest wine regions in the country, is a mere 40 minutes’ drive from the city.

“Let’s just stop at Wirra Wirra to get some supplies,” says Chris, who’s obviously done his homework. For a start, this winery, founded in 1894, is just a short detour off our route, and Chris has also realised when we’re at the western end of Kangaroo Island, we’ll be doing our own catering, which calls for an assorted half-dozen of the vineyard’s finest.

We’re now on the Fleurieu Peninsula, a beautiful but largely unappreciated (at least, by anyone who’s not a South Australian) destination. Because we’ve got a bit of extra time, we’ve decided to stay at Normanville overnight to do some exploring.

Down the road, at Second Valley Caravan Park, we rent stand-up paddle boards and take to the calm ocean waters. We explore sea caves and take turns minding the SUPs, while the other snorkels beneath the surface. There are lots of fish, but we can’t spot any leafy sea dragons.

With plenty of day left, we head to Deep Creek Conservation Park and its incredible landscape, which looks a little like the coast of Norway, only greener (at least for the moment). There’s a walk down to Blowhole Beach that starts high on Cobbler Hill with views of Kangaroo Island. The brilliant blue bay is completely secluded, and there are only a couple of fishermen on the beach. We splash in the water then make the huge hike back. It’s so steep – no wonder hardly anyone goes down there.

Over the Water: Second Valley to Penneshaw

A young man stands among assorted pieces of distilling equipment, including a copper still, Kangaroo Island Spirits

We’re booked on the 10am SeaLink ferry from Cape Jervis, where a quick, smooth 45-minute journey lands us on Kangaroo Island. We stretch our legs on the Penneshaw Sculpture Trail before heading to lunch at Dudley Wines. What started out as an experiment growing a few vines has turned into a very popular venture. Once you arrive, there’s no guessing why. The cellar door’s deck has the most amazing vista then the staff ply you with wine tastings, grazing boards and delicious pizza. It’s almost enough to make you want to stay forever.

After an early night, having spotted some of the local little penguins with a guide from the Penneshaw Penguin Centre, we head to Kingscote, the island’s largest town, and fill the esky with provisions. But first, dolphins!

We’re on the Island Explorer tour with Kangaroo Island Marine Adventures cruising the rugged coastline. There are seals on the rocks and sea eagles plunging into the ocean to grab fish. When we arrive in a bay, we’re greeted by a pod of dolphins, who obviously know the sound of the boat’s engine. Snorkels in place, we slip into the water. Members of the pod swim towards us and veer off suddenly. It’s quite different to what I’d imagined – they’re definitely wild creatures – but it’s an experience I’ll never forget.

Park Life: Penneshaw to Flinders Chase

Close-up of an echidna crossing the road near Seal Bay Conservation Park, Kangaroo Island, South Australia

We’re not far from Emu Bay, and it looks glorious in photos so we decide to go for a dip there – yes, it is just as pretty as its picture – while making our way to Western KI Caravan Park where we’ve booked a cabin for a few nights. It’s right on the edge of Flinders Chase National Park, so handy for everything we want to do. As soon as we arrive, we spy kangaroos grazing on the property. This is going to be good!

I’d need a book to tell you everything about the next few days. We go on hikes and see echidnas. We join a guide to commune with the sea lions at Seal Bay, and watch upon the barking masses of fur seals from above Admirals Arch. We take a million photos of Remarkable Rocks and join a nocturnal wildlife tour at Hanson Bay Sanctuary. One day, I even take a book to a quiet beach while Chris joins Kangaroo Island Fishing Adventures for a day on the water. He comes back with a haul of tasty King George whiting, as well as many pics on his phone of the ones he threw back.

Why did we put off coming here for so long? There’s one thing for sure – we’ll be back on KI soon.