Mike slammed his foot on the brake. Dust flew across the car park at Flinders Chase Visitor Centre, Kangaroo Island. I’d spotted a group of people with cameras, phones, whatever was to hand, pointing up into a gum tree. Such things cannot be ignored. Hauling Mike’s camera from the back seat I set off to join them.
As the audience swelled around the base of the tree the koala started to growl. It was a sound we’d heard at a koala sanctuary earlier that day and had dismissed at the time as probably coming from a chainsaw. Or maybe a motorbike on the road. But, no, apparently a tipping point can be reached for even this most laid back of creatures. Koalas sleep for some 20 hours a day, then feed for the remaining four.
Tiring work, chewing gum leaves.
Having returned the car to the spot so recently vacated, Mike reappeared. His wearisome expression said it all. Stupid boy. Doesn’t he know that it’s never possible to see enough koalas?
Hanson Bay Koala Sanctuary
See the baby?
Of course Kangaroo Island isn’t just about koalas. Five of its namesakes lived contentedly in the grassland surrounding our rented cottage. They turned up at dusk and dawn and seemed unperturbed by humans. Albeit through a pane of glass I could watch them from a couple of feet away. Briefly we would size each other up before they continued to feast upon the grass.
A week on the island turned out to be perfect. Enough time to chill out, recover from the journey and still travel to each corner of the 90 by 30 mile space.
The beaches alone are just heavenly. This was the view from the cottage. I could have sat and watched it all day.
But what of all the other places just waiting to be explored..
Oh, the colour of that sea.
At Stokes Bay we stopped briefly for an ice cream and dismissed it as boring. A small pebble cove. Nothing to write home about at all. And then I read the guide book. Which it pays to do first, obviously.
To get to the main beach the intrepid traveller has first to scramble up a hill strewn with boulders and then squeeze through a rock crevice barely the width and height of a man. My claustrophobia alarm bells went into overdrive. If you’ve ever been to the ancient city of Petra, Jordan, you’ll remember that moment at the end of the rocky canyon which serves as the way in. That moment when the path suddenly opens out? One second you’re looking at nothing but rock and then, all of a sudden, a wonder of the world?
On a smaller scale it’s just the same here.
The hidden beach at Stokes Bay
Unbelievably, we had this place virtually to ourselves.
It’s very much pre season on Kangaroo Island in the first week of December and all the better for it. Mike took to counting cars. It was entirely possible to drive for over an hour and not see another soul. If, that is, you discount basking goannas. Or the echidna taking its life in its hands by just sauntering out across the road. On the rare occasion one does come across another vehicle the tradition is to give the driver a finger. In the nicest possible way of course. One’s forefinger should be raised lazily off the steering wheel, a form of acknowledgement known in these parts as the KI salute.
Only the main thoroughfares on the island are blessed with tarmac. Most roads remain unsealed, topped with gravel or just plain dirt. They may or may not be corrugated which presumably helps with traction in the wet but only serves to loosen one’s teeth for the rest of the time. No journey can be rushed on these back roads, affording plenty of time to take note of the surroundings. Or to call out “Stop…!!”, at risk of incurring further wrath, for yet another picture.
These verges surely couldn’t be purposefully planted and maintained by man. Virtually every roadside looks like this, even in the remotest spots. And yet, uplift any one of them to Chelsea and it would win a gold. If not Best In Show. The variety of plants, colours, texture and form and their ability to arrange themselves in the most perfect combination. Isn’t Mother Nature wonderful?
Pelicans at American River
“Do you have fish, lady?”
Driving on Kangaroo Island is, for the most part, pretty relaxing. Venture out after dark though and it won’t be just the echidnas taking their lives in their hands. Most hire companies won’t even allow their cars onto the island. The two that do will charge you dear. It’s no doubt partly to recompense for the seismic shaking inflicted by the roads. But mainly because much of the wildlife here is nocturnal. Even after the high cost of car rental, insurance doesn’t cover a collision with a kangaroo. Think you can avoid them? One morning out early, about an hour or so after sunrise, a large kangaroo appeared from nowhere bouncing straight out on to the road in front of the car. Fortunately Mike managed to swerve around it. Not every kangaroo is so lucky. The extent of roadkill, many of them youngsters, was very sad to see.
The Remarkable Rocks
More than 500 million years ago massive geological upheaval caused the melting of rock far below the earth’s surface. As it rose and cooled granite was formed, developing into blocks with irregular cracks and joins. Weathering over the millenia caused the top layer of granite to fracture further, leaving isolated rocks scattered over the surface. Further erosion, by wind and sea spray, continues to this day.
The Remarkable Rocks in the distance, from the lookout above Weirs Cove
The sea has smashed right through the rock at this point, leaving an arch, and providing a home for New Zealand fur seals.
If Kangaroo Island is aptly named then so too is Seal Bay. Or maybe not. It’s actually Australian Sea Lions which live here, amongst the rarest in the world. The entire population is estimated at just 14,700. Of these, 85 percent live in South Australia and the other 15 percent in Western Australia. Seal Bay supports the third largest colony of Australian sea lions with a population of around 1,000, about five percent of the world’s total.*
(* from the National Parks South Australia website. See here for more information.)
I was able to walk right out on to the beach, accompanied by a guide, to within metres of the seals. The males tend to be darker brown and the females silver grey to light tan/brown on their backs and creamy coloured underneath. They don’t migrate but stay close to the area all year round. It’s breeding season in December and the beach is busy.
Mature male in amongst his harem
Females are pregnant for a whopping 17 months and come back into season for about 24 hours within 7 to 10 days of giving birth.
Males are extremely aggressive towards each other. It wasn’t difficult to spot those squaring up for a fight.
Crikey, David Attenborough could have turned up at any moment. Hardly any wonder that Kangaroo Island is known as Australia’s Galapagos, for the sheer number and variety of endemic species which still thrive there.
The Enchanted Fig
At the end of a glorious first week in Australia we decided to celebrate with a special meal. It’s not just the food which is sublime at The Enchanted Fig, it’s the location. Dining in the midst of an enormous fig tree? Music playing ever so softly in the background and plate after plate of exquisite cuisine, using locally sourced ingredients, arriving at your table? Even with plenty more of Australia left to see, it was a real wrench to leave Kangaroo Island.
What’s that? You haven’t seen enough koalas?
We must have taken hundreds of shots. They are the cutest things I have ever seen. I’ll stop at two more. For now.
Not sure what’s happening here. A quiet moment of reflection..?
“Oy, you with the long lens, haven’t you got some place else to be?”