Kangaroo Island Birthday Tour…..

Monday 20th February…..To Kangaroo Island.

An early start sees us on the coach to Cape Jervis south of Adelaide to catch the ferry to Kangaroo Island. On board the captain tells us that conditions are pretty turbulent and that we should acquaint ourselves with the little white bags. This is a message to send Marilyn into an immediate lie-down position and I gallantly abandon her for the wind swept open deck where I spend the wind tossed hour crossing. Marilyn’s tactic of immediate horizontal hibernation has seen her through unscathed and soon we are in possession of our little hire car and off exploring.

We head for Kingscote the main town where we visit the Hope Museum which turns out to have interesting stories to tell about the original settlers to this place in the early 19th century. It is housed in the original little stone cottage, one of three named Faith, Hope and Charity.

This one and one other still stand as a tribute to the workmanship of the early builder. As well as written and photographic histories the place is full of original artifacts like original lacework that looks as fresh as the day it was made nearly 150 years ago. Perhaps the dry climate has helped the fabrics, the books and furniture to survive relatively unscathed.

Outside the house is a display of farm machinery and a brief history of some of the boats that have plied their trade or come to a watery end in the surrounding treacherous seas. It was all very interesting and we were the only people there to enjoy it.

We follow the dirt road around the north of the island petrified at every bend that we will run over a roo or a wallaby but in the middle of the day there is scant wildlife around. We drop by a couple of lovely bays. One, named Emu Bay, is a throw back to days when there was an indigenous Emu on the island, now sadly extinct. Another is Stokes Bay where we see New Holland Honeyeaters.

Our stay is at the lovely Wilderness Retreat Eco Lodge. Our room opens out onto a shaded courtyard where brightly coloured parrots fly around and then the wallabies come out to greet us as dusk falls. The first one is a bold pregnant female and Marilyn reckons she can see the joey in her pouch. She is followed by several more and by the end of the evening there is a mob of ten or so. They have cute little faces but in a huge crowd they are a little bit rat-like as they scurry and squabble over the food we are allowed to feed them.

Tuesday 21st ….. Happy Birthday

It is Marilyn’s birthday and we have a day roughly planned around some little walks on the south of the island with the hope of catching sight of some more wildlife.

We enter the Flinders Chase National Park and head south to Cape du Couedic. First stop, below the lighthouse, takes us down a well constructed walkway to Admiralty Arch. This is a large natural archway blasted through the rock by the power of the sea. All around it New Zealand fur seals and Australian seals bask on the rocks or frolic in the rock pools.

There are plenty of nursing young in this flourishing colony. We take a short walk up and around the lighthouse and note how the vegetation changes as rock changes to sand dune in the lea of the prevailing winds. How any vegetation survives here is a mystery but there is a diverse range of hardy plants and obvious evidence, in the form of droppings, of wallabies, roos and other wildlife. Marilyn is beady eyed searching for snakes. I would love to see a Kangaroo Island Tiger Snake that is much blacker than its mainland cousin.

What we do spot on the way to The Remarkable Rocks is an echidna. This beast is very different from the one we spotted in the Otways. It has a shorter snout and has distinctive blonde highlights to its quills. It is beautifully camouflaged against the straw coloured grasses and pale sand that surround it as it scratches at the earth with its powerful front claws. It spots us and shyly retreats to the cover of the bush.

The Remarkables certainly live up to their name. They are coloured red by a lichen that survives the salt and wind and these same forces have eroded huge areas of softer rock into strange shapes. One seems to take the shape of an eagle. We are warned against wandering too close to the edges by stories of people falling in and drowning when they lost their footing on the slippery lichens.

From here we follow the southern route back to our lodge at American River. On the way we see some large Heath Goannas, some a full metre long. Happily I am driving slowly enough to stop when I spot them sunning in the middle of the road. Sadly many come to a squashy end as many of the locals drive very fast down these unmade roads. In fact it is very sad just how much road kill there is and it is quite off putting and does not make for relaxed driving conditions.

We hope to see some very rare Glossy Black Cockatoos around our lodge this evening. On the advice of a local twitcher we take off along a track to the feeding grounds of about thirty pairs that frequent this spot. They are very particular feeders and only eat the seeds from the fruit of the Drooping Sheoak. They hold the fruit in their left foot and eat the seeds in a spiral, corkscrew motion. There are only a couple of hundred of these birds left so to be in a spot where so many might come back to roost fills us with hope. We think we hear a couple of the distinctive shrieks but sadly miss seeing any this evening. We do get to enjoy a lovely walk through the Sheoaks and back along the beach where a hundred or so Black Swans are feeding along with Pelicans, Herons, Sooty Oyster Catchers and a variety of other waders. So all is not lost.

I do feel a little sense of disappointment not to have delivered  a rarer-than-a-panda cockatoo for Marilyn’s birthday and so we are forced to celebrate in the restaurant with a tasty meal.

My sea trout is so fresh it almost gets up and swims off the plate.

Wednesday 22nd February…….The Battle of Cape Saint Vincent

After a brief time fruitlessly searching around for a stray Cockatoo we head off to see what we may find on some of the back roads on the eastern peninsula. We start by looking for some Red Cliffs but I realise that Marilyn’s map reading skills are not improving when I notice that we have nearly gone in a full circle and we are on the major road again. So we give the cliffs a miss and decide on a walk on Pennington Bay, described by some as the most beautiful beach in Australia. I’m not sure it comes into that category although it is another fine stretch of sand fringed by gnarled rock cliffs at both ends and backed by tall sand dunes.

As we are walking along Marilyn notices some translucent blue jellyfish stranded by the tide on the sand and then we see that there are thousands of the things. I pick one up to look at more closely before I remember that I am in Australia and the beast will probably still be capable of killing me even if dead itself and I drop it pretty quickly. I can see thousands more bobbing in on the tide and feel pleased that I did not decide to swim today.

Following my instinct to get away from the places we have been told to go I head off the main road towards the inland lagoon across the bay from American River and here we find a deserted beach in the lea of the wind. Hidden away in the trees that fringe this strip of white sand are some very posh houses indeed but no one seems to be home in any of them.

We decide to have our picnic in the shade of a picnic site at one end of the beach – Brown Beach picnic site – and we are just settling down to enjoy the fruits of the food we scavenged from breakfast when a fleet of six or seven small boats comes into the bay to anchor. Soon some women are being rowed ashore by men in pirate hats and they start to unpack a veritable feast. At the same time I notice what I think to be an orca splashing about among the boats but I am told later it is a large sea-lion that has killed and is enjoying eating a sting ray.

Soon there are nearly thirty of these strange sea-farers sharing our picnic space and ,after apologising for the invasion, they explain that they are a group of friends who go out in their boats every second Wednesday and follow a different theme on each excursion. Today they have re-enacted the Battle of Saint Vincent between the Spanish and the English. Fought with water pistols the idea is to hit the skipper on an enemy boat. Other tactics include throwing papier-mache ‘bombs’ with insults tied to them and firing ‘sea grape’ shot with tennis rackets to incur ‘hits’. Skippers would defend themselves with umbrellas but, if they were hit, their ship was effectively sunk.

Needless to say the British won the day and now they were celebrating with a slap up feast. We soon discover that two of the group have strong Cornish links and we are invited to taste some Spanish tortilla and some local killed lamb in a Spanish/Moroccan sauce and we enjoy the speeches and the tales of bravery and cowardice that are shared around the picnic table. A suggestion for April’s outing is made as the group is reminded that it is the hundred year anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. One bright spark declares that he had been practicing all morning for that one.

One of the group tells us that he and his wife will be in Cornwall in June. Where will they be going we ask. To  cycle from Land’s End to John O’ Groats is the answer! Intrepid these Aussies.We offer our address and the offer of a bed should they want it. We then take a group photo which we will send to them and we are off to the port to catch the ferry home.

Marilyn has bought some sea-sick tablets that do the trick. The wind immediately decreases and the sea becomes calm. And we return as the sun sets gloriously on our Kangaroo Island adventure.