Top Tips for Winter on Kangaroo Island
Think Kangaroo Island isn’t worth visiting in winter? You are mistaken. Quiet beaches, plenty of good food and wine, and a cosy log fire at night = the perfect recipe for a winter getaway. Here are my top tips for a winter escape to South Australia’s island playground.
By Tori Johnson
Watch for whales
Winter is the time to see whales surrounding KI. We spotted them from the SeaLink ferry on the way over, off the beach at Stokes Bay and looking out from the cellar door at Dudley Wines.
Generally, South Australia’s coastline plays host to Southern Right Whales which aren’t quite as active as humpbacks; look for a spout rather than a breach. The ones we saw passing through Backstairs Passage off Dudley’s cellar door, though, were definitely humpbacks – they were breaching like crazy and it was absolutely amazing to watch. Keep your eyes peeled for a big, white splash.
Brekky at the Lavender Farm
You may not think of a lavender farm as a breakfast venue, however, the Emu Bay Lavender Farm served up the best brekky I’ve had in ages – hands-down. Eggs benedict was served on locally made sourdough that was both chewy and crispy (thanks to a good drizzle of olive oil), and the fresh KI eggs were smothered in rich, creamy house-made hollandaise. The smashed pumpkin on sourdough was equally delicious, and we lingered for a good couple of hours in the sunshine near a crackling outdoor fire. The staff were super friendly, and just about everything is either made in-house or locally sourced.
Tip: try the ‘oversized lavender scone’ (one between two is plenty!), which comes with lavender jelly, pear and passionfruit jam and a generous dollop of cream.
Take a 4WD
It’s not 100% critical to have a 4WD on Kangaroo Island, but we found it handy to get off-road and explore the dirt roads, and drive on some of the island’s beaches. If you don’t own a 4WD, you could consider borrowing or hiring one – but if you do, it’s extra-convenient because you get to have your own car on the island (ours has a fridge which always comes in handy!) and make your way to some really remote places.
Despite it needing high clearance, there were no dramas taking our 4WD onto the SeaLink ferry, and it was no trouble or extra cost when we asked if we could put kayaks on top, too. We just needed to advise the SeaLink team about our vehicle height when we were booking.
Pack a picnic
If you’re venturing far from the main townships of Kingscote or Penneshaw, there aren’t many shops or cafes, so visit some of the island’s stores and producers, pack a few lunch goodies into an esky and bring it with you for the day. You never know when you might stumble upon the perfect picnic spot! We found a gorgeous, sheltered spot at the far end of Wheatons Beach in the Cape Gantheaume Conservation Park, which is part of the D’Estrees Bay self-guided drive on the island’s south coast.
Tip: Always have pair of plastic wineglasses in the car – my trusty GoVinos have seen plenty of sand over the years, but they’re still going strong!
Warm up with a gin
Kangaroo Island Spirits’ cellar door in Cygnet River is well worth a visit. There’s a charming little gin garden here, where you can sit by a cosy firepit and warm up with a hand-crafted gin and tonic. They’re not just standard G&Ts here, either; KI Spirits serves delightfully delicious (and seriously Instagrammable!) cocktails with garnishes like dried orange, strawberries, thyme and rosemary.
Tip: Try the mulberry gin - it will warm you right down to your toes.
The north coast of KI makes for a great day out; we visited Emu Bay, Stokes Bay, Snelling Beach and Western River Cove and were greeted with this delightfully green scenery. Emu Bay is a lovely, long sandy beach that you can drive on, whereas Stokes Bay has a secret walking passage through the rocks that leads to a beautiful cove. Snelling Beach is another beauty that can be driven on; be sure to drive the road up the hill at the western end for sweeping views of the beach from above. Western River Cove was a tiny spot with a river and a campground, and a small, protected beach which was completely empty when we visited.
Tip: Pick a day with a southerly breeze blowing, so the north coast is calm and sheltered.
Guzzle oysters (with a view)
Picture this: a dozen fresh oysters and a bottle of local sparkling, with a side of ocean views. Yes, please! The oysters from the Oyster Farm Shop at American River are seriously tasty, and freshly shucked on the day. They’re grown locally which means they’re super fresh, too.
We grabbed a dozen and took them down to Pennington Bay – they went beautifully with a bottle of Islander Estate Pétiyante – an elegant sparkling wine made via traditional méthode Champenoise, with their Tasting Room located on Kangaroo Island in Cygnet River.
Tip: The Oyster Farm Shop’s opening hours are limited over winter, so double check they’re open before heading there.
Bring your doggo
Your furry friend deserves a holiday, too! Provided you can find dog-friendly accommodation, it’s worth bringing your doggo along on your KI trip because there are plenty of places on the island you can take a dog. Outside of the national and conservation parks, many of the island’s beaches are dog friendly, and most of the outdoor areas at cafes and restaurants are, too.
Our dog got a bit nervous on the ferry, but we sat outside with him on the top deck so he had fresh air and plenty of room to move around. If you’d rather sit inside, there’s an indoor dog travel area, too.
Visit Dudley Wines
We finished our long weekend trip with lunch at Dudley Wines which is only 15 minutes from the SeaLink ferry terminal, making it the perfect pre-departure lunch spot. Perched high on a clifftop overlooking Backstairs Passage towards the mainland, this winery’s claim to fame is that it’s “the only winery in Australia with views of Australia” (get it?!).
The lunch menu isn’t huge, but they are well known for their gourmet pizzas made using local produce. We had a chorizo pizza and a King George whiting panini, which was plenty to share, especially after a big weekend of eating. Choose to sit inside by the fire, or outdoor on the expansive deck - both have sensational views. Tip: Keep an eye out for breaching whales - what a way to end our trip!
Have I talked you into a winter retreat on Kangaroo Island? Contact SeaLink Kangaroo Island for your ferry travel and accommodation needs, and to see their latest travel specials.
Want to see more of Tori’s travels? Follow her on Instagram at @toripix86.