Without being overly commercialised, ‘the Port’, established in 1840, retains the charm of its maritime history and serves as an interesting destination in its own right, with weekend wharf markets, pubs and cafes, and galleries and antique shops. This was South Australia’s first State Heritage Area, with historic buildings and a sense of the days when the old ports were busy trading and social centres. This is, however, still very much a working port, with a grain terminal, a tug-base, and fishing boats in the inner port – on the upper reaches of the Port River – and a container terminal for large ships in the outer harbour, at the mouth of the river.
The Port Adelaide Visitor Information Centre has information about attractions, events and cruises. 66 Commercial Rd; (08) 8405 6560; open daily.
South Australian Maritime Museum
Behind the red-and-white lighthouse in the middle of Port Adelaide, on Queens Wharf, visitors can immerse themselves in South Australia’s beach-going lifestyle, climb aboard a replica ketch, or learn about the tentative beginnings of the state’s rock-lobster industry. This is a first-class centre with a program of permanent and changing exhibitions. 126 Lipson St, Port Adelaide; open daily.
Port Adelaide’s dolphins
The environment of thick mangroves, mud and mosquitoes didn’t endear the Port Adelaide area to the early settlers and they named it Port Misery. Today this environment is known as a haven for birdlife and home to many animals including the playful Port River dolphins, a species exclusive to the area. Visitors can drive along the Dolphin Trail to the six hot spots where dolphins are commonly sighted (maps are available from the visitor centre) or take a cruise from Queens Wharf near the lighthouse – the dolphins often swim alongside the boat. For a special outing, book a cruise on one of the tall ships docked at the wharf. Port Adelaide Visitor Centre, 66 Commercial Rd. (www.portenf.sa.gov.au)
Many shipwrecks and other sunken vessels around Australia provide magnificent sites for divers – but the one in Port Adelaide can be accessed from land. Around 25 wrecks were abandoned on the south side of Garden Island, including barges, sailing ships and steamers – their disintegrating skeletons create an eerie skyline above the water. Visitors can view this watery graveyard from the Garden Island Bridge, or – for a closer look – on a kayak tour with Adventure Kayaking SA, (08) 8295 8812. (www.adventurekayak.com.au)