Kangaroo Island

November 13, 2013

The wind died down some time during the night, so we managed to sleep well. At 7 am it started to rain, which alarmed us because packing up a wet tent is no fun. But it was only a five-minute shower and the tent was hardly wet at all when we packed up. We were on the road by 9 am, but we had booked the 12 noon ferry to Kangaroo Island, so we were in no hurry. But we pulled into the ferry terminal at Cape Jervis a bit before 10 am to see them still loading the 10 am ferry. So we hurried in to the check-in desk and put ourselves on the standby list. The ferry was getting quite full, but they decided there might be room for one more car, which was us, and they did manage to fit us on—sideways!

All went really well and we were off. The trip lasted 45 minutes and cost us $184 for a car and two people, one way! (Compare with your local ferry rates and see if you’re getting a good deal.) We were on the ship which carries freight vehicles, so it smelled a bit like sheep. As it motored out into open water it crossed the waves sideways, so it wallowed for a while. We watched with interest as the large trucks rocked and rolled. But the trip was very pleasant and before we knew it we were docking in Penneshaw.

There was a tourist information office there, so we stopped in and worked out a rough itinerary for the next few days. Then we headed out along the highway to Kingscote, which is the main town on the island. We stopped there to stock up with groceries for our time on the island, and then found a bakery where we bought some bread and apple buns for lunch. We went down to the waterfront to sit in the sun and have lunch, then headed off to see the sights. With the Hertz rental car our options were limited, because we were only allowed to drive on sealed roads.

First we headed to Emu Bay, on the north side of the island, passing by the lavender farm without stopping because their plants weren’t blooming yet. Emu Bay was a semi-circular bay with lovely sand, hard enough to drive a car on. We parked the car near the children’s playground and walked back to the pier. We saw some dolphins out in the bay, unfortunately too far out to photograph, and at the pier were 13 pelicans.

From there we headed down to Seal Bay, on the south side of the island. Here there was a part of the national park which protected a colony of Australian sea lions. We decided to take the 45-minute tour, led by one of the park staff, which would allow us to get closer to the seals. We had a bit of time before the tour started so we walked along the boardwalk to the higher viewpoint. The view was really good as we looked along the shore in both directions. In the bay there were some reefs, where the water was a lovely turquoise blue. Our guide Naomi took our group of about a dozen people down to the beach. As we walked down the boardwalk she explained that the Australian sea lion is a threatened species, with only 1400 of them left. The Seal Bay colony is quite a large one, so we saw quite a few of them, including young pups. We watched two large males making aggressive gestures at each other; no actual fight occurred but they did have a go at each other. And then a mother sea lion came in from sea and called her pup, who came bounding up to her. It was a worthwhile way to spend 45 minutes.

By now it was 4 pm, so we headed towards the Western KI Caravan Park, where we had decided to stay for two nights because it was close to all the things at the west end of the island. It took about an hour to get there, after which we checked in and set up the tent. The camp kitchen was quite small but luckily for us a couple had just finished using the gas burners, so we didn’t have to wait. On our menu tonight was potatoes, stir-fried onions and carrots, all mixed with Maggi chicken soup. Quite a good and filling dinner.

After dinner we went out koala-hunting in the campground. One of our fellow campers pointed out two of them in the trees, and later we found a third on our own. The real-life koalas were larger than the stuffed children’s toy version, but definitely just as cute. While looking at the koalas we also saw a mother kangaroo and her joey. (The kangaroos on Kangaroo Island are a subspecies of the Western Grey Kangaroo.) We took a walk around the campground and found more Superb Fairy-wrens, along with about ten more kangaroos out in the grassy field.

Back at camp we sat in the camp kitchen to write our journals, but we were interrupted by a bushy-tailed possum which came in and started scavenging. We thought it was neat, but Australians are familiar with the possum and consider it a pest which sneaks in and steals your food.

November 14, 2013

We woke up early as usual with the birds singing, but then went back to sleep again. It was a bit cold last night, but nothing we couldn’t deal with. And today we had a bonus: we didn’t have to pack up the tent because we were staying here for two nights.

So after breakfast we headed down the road to the Flinders Chase National Park’s visitor centre. Back when we had been doing our research we had seen that you could rent the Postman’s Cottage for quite a cheap nightly rate. We thought that looked interesting, but we didn’t want to book anything on Kangaroo Island because of the chance we might not get to the island. But now here we were, so we inquired, and yes it was available for tomorrow night. So we decided to book it, even though it messed up our island itinerary somewhat.

We paid the entry fee for today ($10 per person) and then went out the back of the visitor centre to walk the 2.5-kilometer platypus walk trail. The whole trail was really nice, with information boards along the way. Once we got to the Rocky River, where the platypuses were supposed to be, we sat quietly waiting for one to appear. Of course the optimal viewing times were dawn and dusk, so the odds of us actually seeing one were slim, but it was very quiet and pleasant waiting by the side of the stream. This section of the trail was circular, with several viewing platforms, so after completing the loop we returned to the visitor centre.

Back at the visitor centre we had our lunch and then headed down the road to the south coast. Our next destination was Cape du Couedic and Admiral’s Arch. The road went up and down over old sand dunes for most of its 16-kilometer length before arriving at the lighthouse. We parked the car there and walked down the short trail through the scrub to the coast. Down there we watched the New Zealand fur seals which had a colony on the rocks for quite a while. It was very amusing to watch the bulls pushing each other around, and amazing watching the seals come ashore onto evil-looking rocks in a huge rush of search. We had sort of forgotten what Admiral’s Arch was, so we were surprised when we rounded a corner on the walkway and saw above us a beautiful archway of rock with stalactites hanging from it. Looking through the arch we could see more fur seals lying on the rocks and frolicking in the waves.

The next destination was Remarkable Rocks, just a short distance along a side road. These large sculpted granite boulders sit atop the cliffs and they are indeed quite remarkable. Looking like large Henry Moore sculptures, they seem very out of place on the coastline. It looks as if a giant passed by and put down a handful of stones there.

It was getting late in the afternoon, so we set off back to the caravan park. We had some time before dinner, so we went for a walk around the Beckie’s Lagoon trail which was part of the campground. There was a family of Black Swans there and also a Musk Duck, a funny-looking duck with a big throat pouch. After dinner we went on a different walk, one where there were supposed to be koalas. Not only did we find a koala which was relatively easy to see, we also saw about 10 Tamar wallabies, which are only found on Kangaroo Island. One was a mother with a young one who put its head out of the pouch from time to time. It was fun watching these small wallabies, who didn’t really seem all that nervous with humans nearby.

November 15, 2013

Today we packed up the tent before breakfast, then said our good-byes to our camp neighbours Trish and Paul. Because we had booked the Postman’s Cottage for tonight, we were sort of restricted to staying at the west end of the island, which wasn’t our original plan.

So we looked at the map and came up with a new plan. After breakfast we drove back along the South Coast Road to Vivonne Bay. An Australian writer had once described the beach here as the “best” beach in Australia, so we thought we should check it out. Driving to the beach involved a short distance on an unsealed road, but we chanced it anyway. The end of the road was at Point Ellen, where there was a lighthouse. However it wasn’t a 19th century stone tower, it was just a 20th century navigational beacon. Definitely not worth the trip. However the beach was better, although it didn’t look especially award-worthy. There was a sign there reminding us that Hooded Plovers nested in the area and that we should be careful to avoid damaging their nests, because this particular plover was endangered. We didn’t see any nests, but we did find one lone Hooded Plover at the water’s edge. Another species for the Australia list!

Now we headed back the way we had come, to Kelly Hill Cave. This is a limestone cave which was found accidentally in 1885 by a local rancher. (He and his horse Kelly fell into it.) Now it’s a conservation park and they run hourly tours of the cave. We hoped to make the 11:15 am tour and we had about 30 kilometers to cover, so we arrived at the ticket office with a few minutes to spare. Our group consisted of us and three other adults, which was a good size. From the top of the hill we descended some steep steps into the cave. It was a small cave compared to some we had visited, but the formations were varied, including straws only a couple of millimeters in diameter and curtain-like stalactites. In addition, much of the cave was “flowstone”, formed by water running over a surface and depositing limestone over the centuries.

Our tour guide, Carly, was a 6th-generation Kangaroo Island resident who worked at the cave during her university breaks. She told us about the different shapes and colorations of the limestone and how they were formed, and also about the history of the cave. It was quite a magical place to visit, definitely worth the $17.50 each.

After the tour was finished we bought drinks from their gift shop and had lunch at the picnic tables there. Afterwards we decided to walk on one of the trails in the area. Was that ever a good idea! Within two minutes we came upon an echidna snuffling his was along the forest floor. We watched him for quite a while before continuing along the trail; he didn’t seem to care that we were there, he just carried on snuffling and digging as he walked right past us.

Our cottage was supposed to be ready for us at 2 pm, which was now, so we headed over there. The key was in a lockbox which we had the number for, and that’s all we needed. The Postman’s Cottage was originally built by an early settler for his sons, and later it was used to house the postman when he showed up every two weeks. It is one room, but it does have a fireplace and a kitchen (including a microwave) so it was perfect for our needs. It was a cosy little place and we were charmed by it. And better still, the house across the road (which would have been the main farm house in the old days) wasn’t occupied, so we would be on our own here.

We spent our afternoon reorganizing our packs and cleaning up camping gear. We would be flying to Tasmania in a few days, so the packs needed to be neatened up. That took a while and before we knew it, it was 5 pm. We decided to go out the platypus trail again, hoping to see the elusive mammal, as they were supposed to be more active at dawn and dusk. We hurried along the trail, arriving at the platypus loop in about 20 minutes. We slowly and quietly made our way to each of the viewing platforms and waited, hoping to be lucky. Alas, no platypus appeared, so we headed back to the cottage to make dinner. But we had just got back to the visitor centre’s parking lot when we saw a mother koala with her young one clinging tightly to her back as she walked across the road and climbed a tree. We hurried over and got a good view of both of them.

Back at the cottage we made our dinner. It was very quiet outside, so when we heard grunting outside we went out so see what it was. It turned out to be Cape Barren Goose, a family with chicks. This was a surprise because we had seen dozens of these geese all round this part of the island, but so far none with chicks.

November 16, 2013

The duvet in the Postman’s Cottage had worked fine to keep us warm, even without the help of the wood stove or the oil heater. Outside it was cool and partly cloudy, as it had been for the last few days, and very quiet. We got up at 7 am and had breakfast, and then packed away the tent and sleeping bags in the bottom of a pack before heading out, earlier than usual. We were driving back to Penneshaw through the northern part of the island today. First stop of the morning was Stokes Bay, but we drove for quite a while through mallee and other kinds of scrub before plunging down the hill that led to the bay. As soon as we had parked, our car was furiously attacked by a male Superb Fairy-wren. Perhaps he had learned that car windscreens were a good source of dead insects; after a while he flew over and attacked another car which had just arrived.

We walked along the rocky beach to the very large boulders at the base of the cliff. Another couple had told us that there was a trail through these giant rocks to a beautiful beach. Sure enough we found the narrow trail and after a couple of minutes we were on the other side, walking along a beautiful sand beach. Above us was flying a large eagle whose tail would have been wedge-shaped if it hadn’t had a lot of broken feathers. Although it is found all over Australia, this was the first Wedge-tailed Eagle we had actually seen. But there wasn’t much other wildlife to be seen, so we retraced our steps to the car and headed back up to the main highway.

We were now back in the developed part of Kangaroo Island, so instead of mallee there were fields full of sheep beside the road. We passed through Pardana and then continued on until we reached the turn-off to the Hog Bay road which would take us back to Penneshaw. Along the way we stopped off at American River. There were supposed to be Glossy Black-Cockatoos there, and the town had proudly posted signs around the area where they were usually seen. (The small Kangaroo Island population of this species lives here, far away from the rest of the species, which are over in eastern Australia.) But we couldn’t find any on our quick tour of the area. So we stopped for a picnic lunch, augmenting our meager supplies with a bag of chips from the general store. After that we went for a short walk along the bay, where we saw a couple of hundred Black Swans, some accompanied by cygnets. The babies were about half the size of the adults and still slightly downy.

Our last stop before Penneshaw was Prospect Hill, where in 1802 Captain Matthew Flinders discovered that he was actually on an island. The hill itself is a big sand hill with a terrific view over both sides of the island, with a long set of badly-sloped steps climbing to the top. We read the information display and were surprised that the Royal Navy gave one of its ships to the 27-year-old Flinders and sent him on a voyage of exploration halfway around the world. Nowadays the 27-year-old would still be in navy school.

Finally in Penneshaw we pulled in to the YHA’s car park. Reception wasn’t open yet, but when we went inside we found our room key on the counter. The room itself was very small, with a double bed and a single bunk above it and a view of the back fence. Good enough for one night though. It was still early in the afternoon so we went for a walk through the small town. On the way to the tourist information we went down to Christmas Cove, which was the original port for Penneshaw. It is a small cove with a narrow opening, so larger boats would not be able to access it. As we went back up the hill the flies were really bad, the worst we had seen on our trip. But when we went inside the tourist information building they stayed outside. We bought a little tray depicting fairy-wrens and then headed back through the town checking out places to eat. We settled on the fish restaurant, whose name was “Fish”. We ordered fish and chips, then sat at a picnic table looking at the view over Backstairs Passage until it was ready. The fish and chips were good, not necessarily the best that we’ve had, but not too bad. Back at the YHA we had relatively cheap internet access again, so we made some tea and spent some time catching up on e-mail and so on.

When 8:15 pm rolled around we walked the short distance to the Penguin Centre for the 8:30 pm tour, paying our YHA-discounted $10 fee. The tour started out with a brief slide show about the penguins and then we headed out. There used to be a lot of penguins here in the Penneshaw colony, but now there’s only a couple of dozen. Our guide took us past the beach with the signs telling you to keep out at night—the penguins don’t come in that way any more—and carried on to the rocky shore west of the ferry terminal. It was still light out but gradually darkening, so he used a flashlight with a pink cover to look for the penguins. We found a few on the rocky shore, but we definitely wouldn’t have found them on our own, that is for sure. Later we found a nest with two fuzzy brown chicks waiting for a parent to return with food, but they were mostly hidden.

After the tour was over we returned to the YHA to get a headlamp and look some more by ourselves. Our headlamps can be made to shine red, but so faintly as to be useless. However the place with the chicks was actually illuminated by a street light, so we watched them for a while. About ten minutes went by, when all of a sudden the chicks became very vocal and we could see them bouncing around the parent bird. After some commotion they all disappeared under the bush and we could only hear the chicks peeping, presumably being fed by the parent. It was quite fun to watch and listen to them. And just down the road was an adult bird which was apparently about to cross the road. However it retreated under the bushes, possibly spooked by our presence.

Next: Back to Victor Harbor

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