Your Guide to the North Coast of Kangaroo Island
By Tori Johnson
My partner and I recently visited Kangaroo Island for the third time (and each trip has been in winter, believe it or not!). Having previously stayed at Bay of Shoals and Baudin Beach, this time we based ourselves at King George Beach which is smack-bang in the middle of the island’s north coast, making it the perfect base to explore the northern reaches of the island with our own car.
There’s so much to see along this stretch of coastline, so I’ve created a guide to the highlights of the spectacular north coast of KI.
King George Beach
Drive time from Kingscote: 50 minutes
One of the lesser-known beaches on the island, King George Beach is a small, rocky cove at the end King George Beach Road. We became very familiar with this beach as we stayed at King George Beach Cottage, which is one of just two houses – and the only one available to rent as accommodation – at King George Beach. The beach itself consists of smooth rocks rather than sand and faces north-west so you’ll have the added bonus of admiring the sunset over the ocean each night. There’s no camping permitted here, but it’s worth a visit to throw in a line - my partner caught a couple of salmon right off the shore - or to watch the sunset.
Tip: Stay at King George Beach Cottage and fall asleep to the sounds of the waves crashing on the shore of this picturesque cove.
Drive time from Kingscote: 35 minutes
There’s more than meets the eye when you first arrive at Stokes Bay. The rocky beach directly in front of the carpark is not Stokes Bay itself – you’ll need to take a secret tunnel through the rocks to get to this hidden gem of a beach. The cut-through is clearly signposted and quite accessible; you can stand upright the whole way, just need to duck your head a few times. You’ll pop out the other end on the sandy shores of Stokes Bay, which is a gorgeous long beach with shallow rock pools at either end. Speaking of rockpools, the aptly named Rockpool Café makes the perfect place for a cuppa afterwards.
Drive time from Kingscote: 55 minutes
I personally rate Snelling as the best beach on the north coast. I love the fact that you can drive on the beach, and it’s nicely protected by tall headlands at either end. If you’re going to take your own car on the beach, make sure it’s 4WD or AWD, and I’d suggest letting your tires down a little first. If you’re driving a hire car, check it’s allowed on the beach before you do.
The sand is firm so it’s quite easy to drive on – take the low side (closest to the water) as the vulnerable bird species known as hooded plovers make their nests on the beach up in the soft sand towards the dunes. My partner spotted a school of salmon here and landed five fish in less than 30 minutes – he was thrilled!
Although it was closed for the winter season, I’ve also heard great things about Gastronomo Dining’s Enchanted Fig Tree and The Feast dining experiences at Snelling Beach, so be sure to book in if it’s open when you visit.
Tip: Take a drive up the hill at the western end of the beach; there’s a pullover bay where you can park and get out for a photo – the views of Snelling Beach from up high are spectacular.
Ravine des Casoars hike
Drive time from Kingscote: 90 minutes
Located at the far western end of the island is the Ravine des Casoars Wilderness Protection area. We are keen hikers, and we chose the 7.4-kilometre-long Ravine des Casoars trail as it’s a return hike, which means you’ll end up in the same place that you started, negating the need for pre-arranged transfers. This part of Kangaroo Island was named after the now extinct Kangaroo Island dwarf emu, which French explorer Nicolas Baudin observed here in 1802, mistakenly identifying them as cassowary (‘Ravine of the Cassowaries’).
The trail itself was easy to follow, with sensational views out over the ravine and creek line. It popped out at a sandy surf beach which was a lovely spot to take a break in the shelter of one of the limestone caves. This end of the island was severely impacted by the bushfires of early 2020, but the regeneration of the bush is phenomenal. The hike was worth it even just to witness nature’s tenacity and resilience up close.
Tip: If there’s been recent rain, the creek may have broken through to the ocean so be prepared to take your boots off and walk through the shallow water to access the beach.
Cape Borda Lightstation
Drive time from Kingscote: 1 hour 20 minutes
If you like lighthouses (guilty as charged!), there’s a small northern pocket of the Flinders Chase National Park which is home to the historic Cape Borda Lightstation. It’s a short detour if you’re heading to the Ravine des Casoars hike – in fact, these two activities combined make for an excellent day trip. The road out here is quite corrugated, but don’t be perturbed - you’ll be rewarded when you spot the Cape Borda Lighthouse perched on the towering cliffs overlooking Investigator Strait.
If you’re wondering why the lighthouse is only a modest 10 metres tall, it’s because the sea cliffs here are so high that the lighthouse didn’t need to be particularly tall for the light to be visible from passing ships. The interpretive boards around the precinct provide fascinating information about its construction in 1858 and the lives of the courageous people who lived at this remote outpost with their families and operated the lighthouse.
Tip: If you’re visiting in winter, wear a warm, wind-proof jacket – Cape Borda is quite exposed and we found it to be freezing!
Western River Cove
Drive time from Kingscote: 1 hour 5 minutes
Western River Cove is slightly off the beaten track, but it’s worth a visit. There’s a lovely little bridge across the creek here which makes for a nice Insta-photo, and the creek spills out into the ocean at a small, protected sandy beach with high cliffs on either side. You can camp here – there’s a council-operated campground, drop toilets and a big undercover area with a barbeque and picnic tables. With a southerly or south-westerly breeze blowing, Western River Cove is the perfect beach to escape to for the day. Protected from the wind, with a barbeque, toilets and picnic tables - what more could you ask for?!
Tip: Keep an eye out for the rusty old tractor in the long grass near the bridge – it makes for a cute Insta-snap.
There are plenty of accommodation options on the north coast of Kangaroo Island. We loved staying at King George Beach Cottage - I highly recommend it. It’s a self-contained, two-bedroom cottage with a queen bed and two singles; perfect for a couple, family with two kids or a group of four friends. The kitchen was well-equipped and view from the balcony was delightful. Below are a few of the other accommodation options on the north coast:
Stokes Bay Campground has both powered and unpowered sites available from the KI Council.
Western River Cove Campground is a great place to set up camp, with an outlook over the sandy white beach and the river.
Lifetime Private Retreats have a range of luxury holiday homes that can be booked including the Cliff House, Sky House, Beach Retreat and Pebbly Beach Retreat.
Around the Emu Bay region:
Emu Bay Holiday Homes offers a selection of affordable fully self-contained holiday accommodation options, with stunning views over Emu Bay.
Fareview Beach House is a pet friendly, three bedroom, self-contained holiday home just a short walk from the beach at Emu Bay. The enclosed deck area is the perfect place to be perched for sunsets.
Have I talked you into exploring the north coast of 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.