Day 20 of the “Ultimate Australian Rail Holiday” Monday 6th June 2016
Sometimes when travelling, you want the organisation, convenience and buying power of a packaged tour. Other times, you want to free-wheel and do your own thing. The perfect tour is when you can mix and match. So it is with our “Ultimate Australian Rail Holiday“. The next part is a day train to Melbourne for a three night stopover, then the day train back to Sydney – our starting point. The others who have also signed up with Australian Holiday Centre continue on this route.
We love Melbourne, but we have seen it many times – I even lived there for six months – so it is at this point we abandon the scheduled itinerary and take a 2 day/1 night option to Kangaroo Island, somewhere neither of us have ever been.
It’s another 6.30am start to the day as we drive south from Adelaide for a couple of hours down the Fleurieu Peninsula through vineyards and rolling hills until we reach Cape Jervis, where we connect with the ferry for the 45 minute crossing to Penneshaw. The crossing is a touch rough on this wintry day. Bill and I are old salts, so are happy to sit up front and take in the view, but if you are the slightest queasy, it is worth knowing rear seating feels more stable.
KI is deceptively large. At 150 km (93 miles) long from east to west, 57 km (35 miles) at its widest point and 1 km (0.6 miles) at its narrowest, it is Australia’s third largest island after Tasmania and Melville Island. It has 300km of sealed road, and four times that amount of dirt road – maintained by the local council. Its regular population of 4500 swells when the owners of holiday homes take up temporary residence.
Other notable claims include two policemen, no traffic lights, and no McDonalds! 46% of the island has never been cleared of its vegetation; and rabbits and foxes were never introduced despite European settlement, which began on 27 July 1836 when The South Australian Company disembarked its first passengers from the barque, Duke of York, with the intention they begin a settlement. This is another part of the Australian coastline where, back in 1802/1803, the rival explorers Matthew Flinders and Nicolas Baudin crossed paths and exchanged information, despite their countries being at war. I have mentioned them in previous posts so won’t go over that again here.
For our explorations, we are pleased to discover there are only seven of us: three from Hong Kong, two from Italy, and Bill and I, so we have the full attention of our driver/guide, Mark. Just as well, as these turn out to be two full, busy days criss-crossing the island and taking in the spectacular coastline scenery, and Mark has plenty to tell us.
Today we are exploring the eastern end of the island. Our first official stop is at an unusual industry, the Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Distillery. In its peak years there were 48 eucalyptus oil distilleries here, drawing the oil from the local Narrow-Leaf Mallee tree which grows even on the side of the road. Emu Ridge is the last one remaining, and they are happy to take us through their process. Nearly every Aussie mother of a certain generation dabbed Eucalyptus Oil onto the handkerchief of their sniffly children – not so easy to do today on a tissue I might say – and that is only one of its myriad of uses. When a distant relative visited from Taiwan a few years ago, she practically emptied the local supermarket of its stock to take back home with her. Apart from medicinal, cleaning, and washing uses – it is great for removing tacky stuff such as the glue left behind from adhesive price-sticker labels.
From there we head to the southern coast for an included lunch at Vivonne Bay Bistro, which is set amongst stunning natural bushland and offers accommodation, before we back-track a little to the Seal Bay Visitor Centre. What a privilege that visitors are allowed here! This is a conservation park and breeding colony of the Australian Sea Lion, of which there are less than 11,000 left in Australia – the majority of those in South Australia. We are led to the beach by an Parks Interpretative Officer, who gives us plenty of photographic opportunities at a safe distance. These guys can get aggressive if they feel threatened (the sea lions, not the parks officer), and are surprisingly agile even on land. It is not long before our eyesight adjusts to spotting them in the water, sands and surrounding scrub.
Most of the land around this point is the roadless Cape Gantheaume Wilderness Protection Area, so we retrace our drive along Seal Bay Road until we re-reach the main road on the south side of the island. Here we stop again, this time at the Raptor Domain. We are treated to a one-hour private presentation of their Birds of Prey in flight. Staff members Stephanie and Angus take turns at showing off their buddies, and explaining their various behaviours and habitats. We get all sorts, including several owls (e.g. tawny, frog-mouthed) and kookaburras as well as falcons and eagles. We even get to hold and stroke them ourselves. I am still kicking myself that I didn’t invest in the opportunity to have a photo taken with their wedge tailed eagle. I realised afterwards that the small additional fee is a fund raiser towards rehabilitation schemes for Australian birds. We were all a little shy I think. I’d left the iPad on the bus so used my phone, Bill’s camera was still on the wrong exposure setting, and we were sat facing into the sun, so our happy snaps below are nothing compared to the professional shots on their website. You’ll get a much better idea of the range of birds on there.
Mark is making sure we maximise this visit, so he gets us to the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park at Pandana in time to get through it all before closing time at dusk. In Australia, especially at this parallel, dusk to night takes only around thirty minutes, and in a couple of weeks time it will be the shortest day of the year. Again, a lovely team are waiting to welcome us and escort us around their facility. First up, we get to hand-feed their kangaroos and wallabies. The local breed is a variation of the Western Grey Kangaroo – dark brown in colour and thicker fur. The surprise here though is the albino wallabies and kangaroos! I’ve never seen one before, they just wouldn’t survive in the wild. Many kangaroos and wallabies are brought here as orphans from roadkill accidents. Whether the island is littered with marsupials carrying the recessive gene, or whether they are breeding in the sanctuary I am not too sure.
There are many huge aviaries housing a wide variety of Australian parrots, cockatoos, finches, and so on, plus a couple of South American ring-ins. The koalas are always a great hit with visitors and it is possible to hold one or two. The fairy penguins are just soooo cute, and I couldn’t resist loading a video of them (have your sound on). They also have a reptile centre, complete with crocodile, and we got to have a close-up with a shingleback lizard of the type we saw crossing the highway in Broken Hill earlier in the year. Peacocks, Cape Barren geese and assorted fowl wander around, and there is one fat pig who likes to wallow in you know what. Oh . . . and I forgot to mention the echidnas. This porcupine-like mammal is another ground dweller you are lucky to spot in the wild.
The 5pm Pelican Feeding had finished by the time we reached Kingscote, the other major town on the island, which has the only high school on the island, and is also the location of our overnight hotel. It’s also home to the airport. Four flights a day arrive from Adelaide, and our bus had called in to pick up a couple of passengers off the 6pm last flight arrival. It’s that kind of small-town friendly place. We didn’t mind. We have plenty of pelicans where we live, and when we see them fly past our fifth floor apartment window in formation, we always think of the A380 airbus. If you are planning a trip to KI though, and are particularly keen on the feeding, it might be worth stressing that to your booking agent.
For us, a drink, dinner, and dozing in front of the television was the next best experience of the day!
Running Total = 11,880 klm or 7,380 miles
Adelaide to Kangaroo Island Sightseeing = appx 300 klm or 187 mi
Total to Date = 12,180 klm or 7,567 miles
For Reference: We booked our tour through the Australian Holiday Centre.