Kangaroo Island, 155kms long and 55kms wide with a total area of about 4350 square kilometers, is Australia's third largest island after Tasmania and Melville Island. Yet most people do not know of its existence. It is populated by 500,000 wallabies, 15,000 kangaroos and 25,000 koalas and 4350 people. Other inhabitants include echidnas, platypuses, sea lions, seals and dozens of bird species. Though living in Adelaide for many years I have never visited. Now aboard a ferry boarded at Cape Jervis, south of Adelaide I am finally coming to meet some of its citizens.
Landing at Penneshaw late in the afternoon I spend the first night in the town of American River. A small community of about 200 people, its main industries are tourism and oyster farming. Because it is a breeding ground for many species of fish the maritime environment around American River is a part of the national estate.
Seal Bay Conservation Park
The Seal Bay Conservation Park, located on the southern coast, is home to a breeding colony of approximately 600 Australian sea lions. Almost hunted to extinction in the 19th century, because of their skins and blubber, they are now protected. Actually because of their coarse hair the skins produced poor quality fur. Aboriginal women were kidnapped from Tasmania and the mainland to assist in the capture of seals and other purposes. Living on the island more than fifteen thousand years ago, aborigines vanished centuries before the arrival of Europeans.
Seals can be observed from a fenced board walk, not allowing access to the beach, or directly on the beach in the company of a ranger. Seals use the beach, Bales Beach, for breeding and to rest between foraging diving periods. Spending up to three days and making up to 500 dives, they return exhausted. Some are injured and killed by great white sharks. The policy is not to interfere with injuried seals as this is regarded as interfering with nature. Tourists are expected to keep at a respectable distance from the seals. This is to protect both seals and humans. Though relatively tolerant of human presence they are powerful wild animals.
Next stop is Vivonne Bay, reported to be the best beach in Australia. May be, my own personal opinion for what it is worth, an OK beach, but the best in Australia, I think not. However it was certainly good enough to spend the night.
Kelly Hill Caves
Kelly Hill Caves are located about 15 kilometers west of Vivonne Bay. Named Kelly Hill Caves because of a horse named Kelly 'discovered' them by falling into a sinkhole. While Kelly's rider, Kelsy, made it back to the surface, poor Kelly wandered off into the labyrinth and was never seen again :( Well that is the story. Perhaps it's a horsey tale.
After ticket purchase at the visitors center, I walk 500 meters up a gentle incline to a small shed with a locked door concealing cave entrance. Eventually the ranger emerges, and after releasing his previous quests, he guides us down a steep staircase. On this, a warm day, it is cooler underground than on the surface. The cave's temperature is fairly constant and on cold days it feels warmer than the surface. Inside is the usual stalactites and stalagmites, and features such as the 'ballerina shoe' that are found in any cave.
Of more interest are formations called helictites. These are a distorted stalactite, which instead of growing down, grow in multiple directions, even up. The reasons are not clear. One theory attributes it to capillary action within the structure, yet another lists the cause as wind.
Recently the caves were fitted with fibre optic white lighting. As well as saving power it illuminates structures with white light allowing their true colours to be perceived. We are also given a demonstration of the candle lighting used in the early days of cave exploration. Lighting our candles and following the path it is quickly revealed that candle light illuminates very little.
Our tour over, we now have to climb the same steep staircase back to the surface.
Flinders Chase, created as a nature park in 1919, has been used as a sanctuary for relocated endangered species. Examples are the koala and the platypus relocated here in 1923 and 1928. These introduced species still live here.
Remarkable Rocks and Lookout
The Remarkable Rocks are wind and sea spray sculptured rocks located at the top of a granite outcrop. Lichens, a fungus, which feeds on the granite, give the rocks their orange colour. You can climb onto the granite outcrop and inspect the Remarkable Rocks closely. On the seaward side are painted lines which you are advised not to cross. Sudden sea swells can wash the unwary off the rocks into the cold Southern Ocean.
About 1.5 km west of the Remarkable Rocks I stand on the wooden platform looking back at the now mist shrouded rocks. The sea spray lifts up from the ocean and deposits on the sand and its backing escarpment. I can smell and feel the salt spray on my face. Whilst contemplating the scene, a tourist bus pulls up. Out they all spew onto the platform. Cameras fire. Click! Click! Click! Ninety seconds later, all back on the bus, gone! "Did they see anything? Did they experience anything? Will they even remember they visited the spot?"
Even I, free tourist I am, am not totally free of time restriction. If I am to see another couple of places and find a bed before it is too late, I to, must move along.
Cape du Couedic Lighthouse and Admiral's Arch
Cape du Couedic is located in the south west of the island. At least fourteen ships have been wrecked upon its rocky shores. So it was decided to build a lighthouse. Using local sand stone, Cape du Conedic Lighthouse was built between 1906-1909. The original kerosine lamps remained in service until 1971.
Continuing pass the lighthouse to the rocky coastline I come to Admiral's Arch and its colony of the New Zealand fur seals. The New Zealand fur seal makes a noise like a high pitched squeak; avoid close contact with each other; and move with a hopping motion. This is in contrast to their australian cousins at Bales Beach, which make a honking sound; seek close body contact with other seals; and move with a walk like gait. The New Zealand seals have finer hair which allowed the production of better quality fur. Past-tense of course, they are now protected.
Parndana Wildlife Park
Next day, while on route to Kingscote, I stop at the Parndana Wildlife Park. While it has a large collection of birds and native animals, koalas, wallabies, echidnas and red kangaroos they are housed in small netted cages. This to my mind detracts from the idea of it being a wild life park. Admittedly it allows people to come close to the animals and birds but I was expecting something more like a free range park.
Koalas are not native to Kangaroo Island but were introduced in the 1920s to protect them from threatened mainland extinction due to hunting, disease, fire and lost of habitat. They thrived, so much that large areas of the island were defoliated, therefore some were sterilize.
Kingscote, population around 1200, is Kangaroo Island's largest town and defacto capital. South Australia's oldest European settlement, it was briefly considered as a possible capital. But later that year, 1836, a colony was established at Glenelg, now a beach side suburb of the capital, Adelaide.
Emu Bay and the Ferry
On this the final day, I travel to nearby nearby Emu Bay. On a warm languid day, with no other people in sight, it really feels as if the the rest of the world has cease to exist.
But alas, the time has come, I have to go to Penneshaw to met a ferry, that will take me back to that world.