Australian Bicycle Camping Fact Sheets

Kangaroo Island, South Australia (2008)

Grace Newhaven

Environment | History | Resources for bike touring | Getting there | Roads and traffic | Food & Water | Camping | Services


This fact sheet is intended as an introductory guide to cycle camping on Kangaroo Island (KI). The region is an established tourist destination, and general tourist and promotional information is readily available from mainstream sources elsewhere. This fact sheet assumes the reader has, or will have, access to those sources. Comprehensive visitor information is available from http://www.tourkangarooisland.com.au/


The Island is 156 km long, 57 km wide, with 450 km of coastline. The highest point is 320 m above sea level. Population is around 4000, with 1200 in Kingscote. KI is generally a little cooler than the mainland -- average summer temperature 14 - 23C, winter 9 - 15C. Average rain (more than 1 mm): January 2 days, June 12 days.

The Island is fairly flat except for some steep sections on the north coast. Some 23% of the island is National Park. There are no rabbits or foxes, and native fauna is relatively undisturbed and abundant -- sea lions, penguins, marsupials, goannas, etc. Wildflowers are a significant attraction, especially in September and October. There are a number of beautiful but sometimes dangerous beaches. Caves and rock formations are also spectacular. There are many sites of maritime historical interest, and numerous shipwrecks. Mainstream tourist literature will illustrate each of these features.

The main industries are sheep farming, fishing and tourism. Grape growing and winemaking are emerging new industries with local wines winning awards nationally.

Aquaculture is also a developing industry with marron being farmed. The island's isolation has also protected a pure and valuable strain of Ligurian honey bees, and queen bees are exported all over the world. The island can be very quiet away from towns and tourist sites.


KI was separated from the mainland by glacial action 200 million years ago. It was uninhabited at the time of European exploration, and very few traces of aboriginal occupation have been found. It was circumnavigated by Matthew Flinders and a French expedition under Baudin in 1802. The French inscribed a rock at Penneshaw, now on display at the Gateway Information Centre at Penneshaw. The present feral pigs are descended from animals left behind by the French, as a food source for future shipwrecked sailors.

In the early 19th century, Kangaroo Island was a base for the sealing industry centred on Bass Strait. American River was so called after a crew of American sealers built a ship there in 1803. In 1836 Kingscote was the site of the first official settlement, prior to Adelaide, but was abandoned because of lack of water and poor soil. Subsequent development was slow until the discovery of trace elements boosted agriculture in 1930s.


SA [Bi]Cycle Map Series: Kangaroo Island (1: 250 000). An excellent cycling map, with useful background information. Now out of print.

The Royal Automobile Association (RAA) regional map is also useful, and is free to car club members.

Tourist Map of Kangaroo Island -- (1:200 000) is a double sided colour tourist map with some useful background information. Published by Tourism Kangaroo Island and available folded or flat for $9.95 at various locations around the island.

Freewheeling Magazine ( # 46: 65) featured a touring narrative of KI.

There is an interesting site for sustainable tourism for KI at www.tomm.info/

Bicycle Hire is available from Penneshaw Youth Hostel and Flour Cask Bay Sanctuary: http://www.eco-sanctuaries.com/

Tourism Kangaroo Island PO Box 336 Penneshaw SA 5222 (08) 8553 1185 Website: http://tourkangarooisland.com.au/

Tourism SA (Government Tourist Commission) www.southaustralia.com/

Dept of Environment/National Parks Service 37 Dauncey Street Kingscote SA 5223 (08) 8553 2381. Website: http://www.parks.sa.gov.au/parks/parks/kangaroo_is/index.htm

Getting there

The ride from Adelaide takes about two days, through pleasant rolling hills with good views, and with plenty of camping opportunities. The main road will be busy at weekends, but there are various alternatives. Consult an RAA regional map and take your time if you can!

KI Sealink Ferries (13 1301) runs several times a day from Cape Jervis to Penneshaw (one way $39.00 + $9.00 bike) with a bus to/from Adelaide (~$20.00 extra). http://www.sealink.com.au/

KI Ferries http://www.kiferries-sa.com/ run a service from Wirrina Cove to Kingscote 2 or 3 times daily, which is slightly cheaper than Sealink ($35 + 5 vs $40 + 9.50 for person + bike) and possibly more convenient for riders with limited time as it's slightly closer to the excitement of the west :)

There are two airlines flying daily scheduled air services from Adelaide, but some planes may be too small to take a bike (without a lot of work, anyway). It might be worthwhile to check prices!

Roads and traffic

KI has a reputation for rough roads, and they are very rough in many places. The roads are sealed between Kingscote, Penneshaw , Parndana & the SW corner, and it is now possible to cycle from Penneshaw to the SW corner all on bitumen. The West End Hwy is now sealed providing a sealed ring road around the island. The 13k from Kaiwarra to Seal Bay is now all bitumen.

Another 1700 km is unsealed, and is sometimes said to be the worst in Australia -- small, (about 10mm) ironstone pebbles, sometimes in banks of 100 mm or more. There is some sand and deep corrugations and ruts in many places.

However, for a keen cycle camper, with the right bike and tyres, this will be no great difficulty, and any MTB with semi knobblies will be fine, if a little slower than usual. Road bikes would be restricted to the sealed parts.

Traffic is generally light in proportion to the amount of road -- few suburban drivers want to risk saloon cars on these roads, so 4WDs predominate. In addition, ferry fares encourage package tours by bus rather than by private car. However, main tourist sites will have morning and afternoon 'rush hours' as tour companies operate day trip schedules. Car drivers are warned to slow down due to the condition of the roads, and most do, though some will pass you too quickly. All in all, though, with some care, you will cope with traffic easily.


There are limited grocery supplies away from Kingscote, Parndana and Penneshaw. You could mail a food parcel (non perishables only) to the NPWS Site Office at Rocky River (mail address: Flinders Chase National Park PMB 246 Kingscote 5223, (08) 8559 7235 ), remembering to label clearly 'cyclist supplies: please hold for collection until [ expiry date]'. Australia Post prices are subsidised, and very cheap, e.g. 3 kg = about $8.00 from Adelaide. If possible, ring to be sure this procedure is still OK at the time you want to visit.

Alternatively, it would be possible, but time consuming, to hitch a ride back to one of the towns.

To protect the bee keeping industry, no honey or other bee products can be brought onto the island.

Tap water may be discoloured -- try rainwater from tanks if possible. NPWS and Kangaroo Island Council maintain some rain water tanks at roadside stops, but these may not be reliable. Ground water is not drinkable anywhere on the island. A cyclist will need to be able to be able to carry at least five litres of water for a summer day's ride and overnight camp.

Currently (2007) there is a drought, so water might be available at:

  • Brown Beach, at Campground
  • Cape Borda, pref between 0900-1700 hours, ask Dan
  • Cygnet River Airport, at tank near toilet block
  • Emu Ridge Distillery, ask Larry or Bev
  • Gosse, by the oval
  • Harveys Return, tank at Campground 400m from main road
  • Kaiwarra Food Barn ask Uzi and Efrat
  • Parndana township, at Community Centre
  • Penneshaw, at the Community Centre, by tennis courts
  • Rocky River, NPWS tank
  • Snake Lagoon, NPWS tank
  • Vivonne Bay, at Campground
  • West Bay, NPWS tank


KI is unusual in South Australia in that camping is restricted to certain designated sites. However, there are enough sites that this will not be a problem for a cycling tour.

There are many established bush camping sites in NPWS reserves across the island. For permits, contact the NPWS. For camping outside National Parks, the official KI Guide indicates that permits are available from Council offices and Tourist Information Centres in Kingscote and Penneshaw.

Camping is available in the two caravan parks, at Kingscote http://www.kingscotetouristpark.com.au/ and near Flinders Chase.


There is no public transport, though there are lots of tour buses around the island.

There are ATMs at the ANZ and BankSA banks in Kingscote, and EFTPOS is widely available in the towns.


The 'capital' of KI, with about 1200 people. A well established tourist centre, and also the administrative and communications centre. There is a National Trust museum and historic sites, along with some pleasantly antiquated shopping facilities. Pelican feeding is conducted at 5pm each day at the wharf, and aquarium and penguin tours each evening.


A pub, a dynamic backpackers' ( with MTB hire by the manager, a keen cyclist), and penguin colonies.


A small, friendly town, with two grocery stores, and a 'community' pub [a peculiarly South Australian institution ?]

Last revised : 2007 / March 20

My thanks to Graeme Hurrell of 2000 updates.

Grace Newhaven
PO Box 3331
Rundle Mall SA 5000
e-mail: bikefish~gotalk.net.au

This fact sheet was produced by grassroots cyclists. No responsibility for errors or omissions can be accepted. It is intended for free or low cost distribution on paper or on the www, and you are free to copy it on that basis. Suggestions for improvement are most welcome!

Other Bicycle Camping Fact Sheets in this series include

Central Australia | SA Flinders Ranges | North Queensland

| WA Kimberley | Stuart Highway | NSW Central West | NSW Sydney to Canberra