Port of Kangaroo Island
Australia's third-largest island, located to the south of Adelaide, is known for its landscapes and abundant wildlife, all wrapped up in a colourful history. Once the butt of local jokes as the lazy 'overseas' holiday, 'KI' is having the last laugh as a food, wine and ecological destination rapidly gaining credibility for its quality produce and slick tourism businesses. Cruise lines are lining up to get ashore in record numbers, driven by positive passenger feedback.
If you've never been to Kangaroo Island before, a shore excursion is probably the best way to experience some of what this special place has to offer, but you need to travel long distances (about 150 kilometres across) from one sight to another, so you won't be able to do it all in a day.
Cruise season is November through March and likely to be warm and sunny. Most ships arrive around 7am and are gone by 8pm, making full use of the extra summer daylight hours.
Much of the best landscapes and animal life is found in the Flinders Chase National Park, including the famous Remarkable Rocks, a cluster of granite boulders sculpted by the weather and perched on a granite dome rising steeply from the ocean and formed into a 'Salvador Dali' mass of weird and wonderful shapes.
A highlight of wildlife-watching, however, is Seal Bay, with its colony of sea lions -- the third-largest breeding colony in Australia. With a National Parks officer as a guide, groups can watch the seals from a distance of about eight metres as they bask in the sun, swim and jostle for position on the beach.
Regular cruise ships anchor off the small port village of Penneshaw and use tenders to transport visitors to the pier, and if you just want to hang locally, it's an easy 10-minute walk to the main street. There's a lovely swimming beach (water can be a bit cool) known as Hog Bay, which also has a picnic area and barbecues, or you can try out the town's gourmet seafood joints opposite the park where you'll find in-season produce such as lobster, scallops, marron, prawns, whiting, oysters and garfish.
About Kangaroo Island
Kangaroo Island is home to abundant wildlife and boasts stunning natural landscapes
It takes a long time to travel from one sight to the next, so an organized excursion is usually the way to go
This island is an intensely beautiful destination, but don't expect to see it all in one day
Find a Cruise to Australia & New Zealand
Top Kangaroo Island Itineraries
51-day Australia Circumnavigation & New Zealand Collector
Sydney , Eden , Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington, Gisborne, Tauranga, Auckland, Mystery Island, Isle of Pines , Mare, Noumea, Sydney , Cairns, Darwin, Komodo Island, Broome, Exmouth, Geraldton, Perth , Perth , Albany , Adelaide, Kangaroo Island, Melbourne, Burnie, Sydney
40-day Australia Circumnavigation & New Zealand Collector
Auckland, Mystery Island, Isle of Pines , Mare, Noumea, Sydney , Cairns, Darwin, Komodo Island, Broome, Exmouth, Geraldton, Perth , Perth , Albany , Adelaide, Kangaroo Island, Melbourne, Burnie, Sydney
7 Night Australia Cruise
Sydney , Melbourne, Kangaroo Island, Adelaide
5 Night Australia Cruise
Melbourne, Kangaroo Island, Adelaide
49 Night Australia Cruise
Southampton, Lisbon, Tenerife, Cape Town, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Perth , Albany , Esperance, Adelaide, Melbourne, Burnie, Hobart, Kangaroo Island, Adelaide, Melbourne
Where You're Docked
The newly built tender jetty at the Penneshaw Ferry Terminal is where you will get off the transfer from your ship. Straight away you will see eager ground handlers waiting to whisk you away on pre-booked shore tours. But there's even a second chance in case you missed out as there's a desk where local community operators will also offer supplementary tours and excursions, sometimes at substantial saving. There are washrooms here, too. The town centre of little Penneshaw is just a few hundred metres up the gentle slope.
Your cruise ship will anchor offshore and deliver you via tender to a jetty at the recently upgraded SeaLink ferry terminal, used by the local ferry service to the mainland. More than likely, you will be met by a delegation of helpers and volunteer guides with pamphlets and information for you. Here's an opportunity to buy a last-minute shore excursion in case all were sold out on the ship. You may even save a dollar. There are washrooms at the terminal and your pre-booked shore excursion transport will be waiting here, too.
The small hamlet of Penneshaw (pop. 300) is a delightful location with a large grassy foreshore park ideal for just relaxing with a seafood snack from one of the cafes, such as Fish, while you enjoy the view. It's easy to stroll around the town and take in the main attractions like the pub, information centre and folk museum. The local community will often set up a fairground-style display at the sports field with stalls of regional produce, arts and handicrafts.
Should you need, there is a chemist/drugstore, small supermarket, ATM, post office and several cafes should your coffee craving kick in. Wi-Fi is most reliably obtained from the cafes, the visitor centre or via the mobile phone network.
Good to Know
Don't be all taken aback if you get 'the finger' from another driver on the roads of KI. It's actually a popular local greeting. Just gently lift your fore or middle finger off the steering wheel as the oncoming vehicle approaches. You can accentuate the gesture with a short nod making a quaint and endearing acknowledgement of your fellow road user. Not sure it will work back in the big smoke.
On Foot: If you're not on a booked shore excursion, then you are likely strolling the streets of Penneshaw. Most everything is just a couple minutes one way or the other, but the Tourist Information Centre and Maritime Museum is a little bit further out, past the Christmas Cove marina.
By Shuttle Bus: On cruise days, the local school buses are commandeered for shuttling visitors between the terminal and the visitor centre. The free service runs at regular intervals throughout the day.
By Car: with some pre-planning, you may be able to hire a car and self-drive for a few hours. Both Hertz and Budget have desks in Penneshaw serving visitors arriving by ferry.
Note: there are no longer any bicycles for hire, and there is no taxi or Uber service
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
While most stores will happily accept credit cards and EFTPOS transactions, Australian dollars in cash can be obtained from either of the ATMs in the Penneshaw Hotel or IGA Supermarket. The big town, Kingscote, is an hour by road and your tour (if you're on one) may not stop there.
English is the official language all over Australia, but sometimes visitors from overseas will have trouble understanding the thick drawl sometimes invoked by truckies, tradies and footy fans. It has been claimed (usually by South Australians themselves) that theirs is the clearest and most 'correct' English spoken anywhere in the country and a few little nuances will give it away. Like castle said 'CAR-sell' (not CASS-sell). And 'croweaters' (the slang name for South Australians) will go swimming in 'bathers', not 'togs', 'swimmers' or 'cossies' as they do in the other states. South Australian 'schooners' (the most common beer glass) are actually equivalent to Eastern states' 'middies', so don't look shocked if your draught lager has shrunk. If you want the big one, ask for a 'pint'.
Food and Drink
KI is quickly gaining a reputation for high quality, pure and organic produce and you'll be delighted at the range of eating options available in this little village. Almost every corner seems to have a cafe or little restaurant of some sort and the quality of food commonly exceeds the expectation of visitors. Naturally the seafood is the most popular choice, particularly the whiting and lobster.
Fish: This tiny 'hole in the wall' fish and chippery seems to have 'rock star' status and a long queue. The choice offering is the ocean-fresh King George Whiting, a local specialty, usually filleted and fried in a light delicate batter, served with chips, tartare sauce and lemon. You might flinch when you see what little you get for $20-something, but it could well be the best fish you've ever tasted. (43 North Terrace, Penneshaw; 0439 803 843; open until sold out on cruise days.)
The Penny: The local pub, the Penneshaw Hotel, certainly has a great view and tagline. "Is this the only hotel in the world where you can have a beer and look at Australia?" Obviously, you get a great view of the mainland from its special cliff-top position while enjoying a lager and maybe a meal of local meat or seafood. There's an excellent selection of KI wines from several of the two dozen wineries on the island. (North Tce, Penneshaw; +61 8 8553 1042; open for lunch from noon to 2:30pm.)
The Sportsground: On cruise days, many local businesses will come to town and set up stalls to display their wares and fares. Apiarists, winemakers, craftsmen and women, artists and numerous types and styles of food and drink will be on offer. It's a great way to sample snack-size offerings from various producers and artisans. (Middle Terrace, near the bank and post office.)
Isola Pizza: This highly-rated Italian pizzeria consistently pleases its guests with quick, friendly service and a good range of vegetarian and gluten-free alternative pizzas and salads. (Lot 43 North Terrace, Penneshaw; +61 8 8553 1227; open all day cruise days.)
While KI may be best known for its fresh air and stunning scenery, that can be a bit hard to take home. But, quarantine laws permitting, the local organic honey is to die for. Produced by the last genetically pure population of Ligurian bees (Apis mellifera ligustica) imported from Italy well over a century ago, their product is used in everything from ale and hand creams to anti-cancer propolis and good ol' honey. Otherwise, The Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Oil distillery, the only one left in Australia apparently, offers pure oil, skin care products and confectionary. The eucalypt honey is worth the few dollars and makes a great gift.
For a true local flavour with 'buzz', you'll need to be on a tour that visits Clifford's Honey Farm where the microbrewery The Drunken Drone has been set up by locals Greg and Sharon Simons. The top drop is the small batch, hand-crafted Honey Wheat Ale. Currently only available at the farm gate, it may soon be found in the visitors' centre.
For something a little more feisty, local distillery KI Spirits create their own special Mulberry Gin, infused with mulberries from a tree that predates Adelaide itself. Fantastic served in a smashed cocktail with basil and lemon juice. Or try it with Fevertree Lemon Tonic (bitter lemon) or ginger beer.
--By Roderick Eime, Cruise Critic contributor