American River was the birthplace of tourism on Kangaroo Island and has long been one of the island’s best-kept secrets. The wharf was home to some of the first industries on Kangaroo Island with salt, gypsum, and mallee wood being shipped to Port Adelaide. The wharf is in the town centre and is still a working wharf. Here you can view shipbuilding activities and try the delicious fresh oysters at the Oyster Farm Shop. Visit one of the nearby cafes and restaurants and enjoy a peaceful bushwalk around the bay to see the native fauna and birdlife.
History of American River
Known by locals as ‘The River’, American River sits on the western shore of Eastern Cove and is named after the American sealers that stayed on this part of the island back in 1803. While the area was named ‘American River’ by explorer Matthew Flinders, it’s actually an ocean inlet, however, it boasts impressive coastline views.
Top 10 things to do at American River
1. Rebuild for Independence Group (RIG) Boathouse
The Rebuild for Independence Project is located at the RIG boathouse at American River and is run solely by volunteers. Stop by to see the original Schooner vessel being rebuilt and learn about the “Union” and “Independence”. You can find the boathouse at The Wharf, Tangara Drive and it’s open most days from 10:30am to 3pm.
2. The Oyster Farm Shop
Listed as one of SeaLink’s top ten reasons to visit KI, a trip to the Oyster Farm Shop in American River comes highly recommended. Showcasing Island aquaculture and sustainable seafood, you’ll be able to taste the freshest oysters on the island (from their farm across the road) - Green Lip Abalone, King George Whiting, Marron, Sheoak Smoked Oysters, and sustainable local fish.
This funky little farmgate is a delight to spend time at. Share one of their famous aquaplatters and enjoy a bottle of local wine, beer or cider with friends. Oyster season on Kangaroo Island runs from April to January, just excluding February and March. Open 7 days from 11am - 3pm.
Talk to the Oyster Farm Shop about their short Taste and Discover American River Guided Tour departed daily at 10.30am, or the Oyster Farm Guided Tour, departing daily during oyster season.
3. Interpretive Trail and ‘Red Tailed Glossies’
Take the interpretive trail around the Mercure Kangaroo Island Lodge which tells the tale of the flora and fauna located in this area, including a flock of the endangered Red Tailed Glossy Black Cockatoo that inhabits the Sheoak Trees around the property. You’ll see why this region is known for birdwatching.
4. Pelican Feeding
Every second morning (so as not to encourage daily binge fish eating by the birds), the pelicans are fed by the staff from the Mercure Kangaroo Island Lodge. Come and get some eyeball contact with the balmy air force. It happens around 9.00am at the Mercure Kangaroo Island Lodge for guests.
5. The Deck Cafe
Nestled alongside the Rebuild Independence Group (RIG) Boathouse, overlooking the beautiful American River bay and wharf, the Deck Café offers visitors to American River and locals alike a spot to sit and relax and absorb the serenity of Kangaroo Island’s waterways, birdlife, and boats. Enjoy some locally caught King George Whiting, fresh coffee, beer, and wine at this licensed venue after visiting the RIG Boathouse.
6. Flavours of Petite Provence
Located just before the American River turn off, you’ll find the Flavours of Petite Provence Farmgate. Stop by here to pick up some organically grown food and gourmet items from their store such as olive oils, fresh vegetables, jams, pickled foods and gift packs.
7. Boating and Fishing
Boating and fishing is one of the most popular activities in this area, due to the sheltered waters which are home to fantastic fishing grounds, especially for the prized Australian King George Whiting. The best way to explore them is with a local who’ll take you out in their boat to all the good spots. Local Kangaroo Island charters have many years of experience and offer full-day and half-day charters which usually include lunch, transfers, bait and tackle and fish cleaning. If you have your own boat, there is a boat ramp at the American River, too.
Another way to view the quiet waters of American River and Pelican Lagoon is to take your own or hire a kayak and travel to the reaches of the Bay into Eastern Cove and along to exclusive Island Beach. Stop for a swim or just bask on the white sands of this gorgeous beach.
8. Beach, Birds and Bush trail walk
This is a coastal walk of approx. 8 km, east from the Lodge along the water’s edge and through a little scrub to the old Cannery Works at Ballast Head. This was once the primary shipping port of Kangaroo Island. It’s not unusual to see kangaroos, wallabies and koalas on the land and then cast your eyes out to sea and see a pod of dolphins, and even the occasional whale! You’ll also see views over the KI Shellfish oyster farm from the walk.
9. Reflections Restaurant, Mercure KI Lodge
Offering an unforgettable dining experience, the award-winning Reflections Restaurant at the Mercure KI Lodge is a must-visit when staying in American River. Enjoy the best of the region’s finest meats, produce and wines, with impeccably presented dining. Sit on their alfresco patio or warm up with a drink inside by the fireplace.
10. KI TruThai Restaurant
On Thursday evenings make your way to the TruThai for a superb Thai feast and a very local KI experience. Each Thursday you’ll find their restaurant in Willowbrook with live music, a fully licensed bar and a great atmosphere. You’ll also see their mobile van getting around the island, especially at local events.
Where To Stay at American River
Mercure Kangaroo Island Lodge
Situated in American River, the Mercure Kangaroo Island Lodge is set across from the coast, offering exceptional water views. It’s a bird lovers' paradise, surrounded in seven acres of natural bushland. Join the morning pelican feeding spectacle and walk around the property to spot the endangered Red Tailed Glossy Black Cockatoo.
During the summer months enjoy the large hotel swimming pool, tennis court, the sauna rooms, and the many interpretive walking trails. With comfortable rooms, the Reflections Restaurant onsite, it’s the perfect place to unwind and enjoy the serenity of the island.
Wanderers Rest of Kangaroo Island
Enjoy a stay at the Wanderers Rest, a small country guesthouse, set on the hillside at American River. Enjoy views of surrounding bushland with an emphasis on outdoor living. You’ll love their suites and dining options.
Climb Prospect Hill
If you’re up for a challenge, head to the Prospect Hill Track for a walk up the case of 500 steps. You’ll marvel at the look out over the most narrow section of Kangaroo Island. Allow just over half an hour for your return walk.
This is Kangaroo Island’s premier surf beach, and has to be seen to be believed. American River to Pennington Bay is a 15-minute drive and you are basically going from one side of the island to the other as you traverse the narrowest part of the island! Ride the plank or simply marvel at the shifting forces of nature as the swell rolls in and out. Why not make an outing of it and take a picnic. If you’re staying nearby at the Mercure Kangaroo Island Lodge, they’ll even pack you a picnic and provide a beach umbrella!
Beach Barista Coffee Van, Pennington Bay
Grab a coffee and some homemade cake from the Beach Barista coffee van that is often located at Pennington Bay. You’ll also find milkshakes, toasties, ice creams, and ask owners Kylie and Rob about their mysterious drink called “coffonic”. Beach Barista Coffee Van is closed during winter so head over to KI during warmer months if you'd like to catch up with these guys.