Kangaroo Island Cruise Port

Port of Kangaroo Island: An Overview

Australia's third-largest island, located to the south 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.

Port Facilities

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.

Don't Miss

Visitor Centre: This new facility serves both visitors arriving from the mainland by ferry and cruise passengers coming ashore. Apart from regular souvenirs, like postcards, fridge magnets and fluffy koalas, you can find much of the island's famous produce under one roof such as the delicious pure honeys as well as eucalyptus salves, oils, creams and lotions. There are even fishing rods for hire if you want to drop a line in across the road in Christmas Cove. Staff are happy to answer all your questions about KI and the free Wi-Fi has been upgraded, too. You can phone or email a few days in advance and book locally operated shore tours here, too, often at a considerable saving to onboard tours. (Howard Drive, Penneshaw, Kangaroo Island; +61 8 8553 1185 or 1800 811 080 within Australia; info@tourkangarooisland.com.au)

Maritime Museum: Opposite the Visitor Centre is an old schoolhouse converted into a maritime and folk museum. There is quite comprehensive historical coverage of the shipping history of Kangaroo Island and documentation of the astonishing number of shipwrecks that occurred mainly in the late 19th century. The museum also contains quirky relics of the old school days, too, as well as some of the local characters and war veterans' stories. (52 Howard Dr, Penneshaw; +61 8 8553 1109; open on cruise days for a small admission fee.)

Ironstone Hill Hike: If you're tired of the jogging track around Deck 6 of your cruise ship, you might like to stretch your legs on this delightful short hike located at the far end of Hog Bay, near Frenchman's Rock. Officially called Baudin Conservation Park, the hike trail follows the original bullock track used by the old farmers. Birders bring your binoculars because you could well spot the rare glossy black cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus lathami) or even a wedge-tailed eagle. Generalists may catch a glimpse of the oh-so-cute tammar wallabies. It's a loop track easily completed in less than two hours and completely free of charge. (For more information, head to the Visitor Centre.)

Getting Around

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

Beaches

While Kangaroo Island loves to boast about its 50 individual beaches, the only beach you will have time to relax or swim at during shore time is in the immediate vicinity of Penneshaw and the terminal.

Best for day visitors: Hog Bay at Penneshaw is the premium, long, white sand beach a stone's throw from the terminal and cafes. With its own strip of parkland, it's a lovely spot for a stroll, picnic or nap. The water is safe to swim in, clear and sheltered, but anywhere you go in Kangaroo Island you'll find the water cool and rarely more than 20 degrees. Brrrr. The beach is also home to a colony of Fairy Penguins and if you visit before February, you may see some of the young ones making their first forays into the sea.

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.)

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.

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.

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.

Language

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 looked shocked if your draught lager has shrunk. If you want the big one, ask for a 'pint'.

Best Cocktail

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