Exploring ‘Little Australia’; Part 1

1 Mar

Our next adventure was Kangaroo Island (KI to the locals). And it was set to be a big one, as KI- Australia’s Galapagos – is said to be one of the most natural islands on the planet, a completely unspoilt and beautiful piece of land just off the coast of South Australia. Nicknamed ‘Little Australia’ it is known for having the most accessible indigenous wildlife in Australia.

We were excited to put these claims to the test.

We set off early in the morning on a coach to Cape Jervis, where we caught a ferry for a short ride over to KI (the ferry ride takes approximately 45 minutes). Stepping off the ferry, it was definitely clear that this was a rural place. There was only one general shop in sight and no sign whatsoever of a McDonalds or a Starbucks – how refreshing! We jumped onto our minibus and were greeted by our super-friendly tour guide, Jenny who kept us entertained throughout the whole trip. She was never short of interesting facts about the island and its native wildlife as we trundled down the bumpy dirt roads.

Our first stop was to see Rob the local farmer, who introduced us to his award-winning sheep dogs Toby and Billie. They expertly rounded up some of his Merino sheep, and we got a demonstration into how to shear a sheep. It looked surprisingly difficult, and it was obvious Rob had developed a good technique over the years. We learned a professional shearer is able to shear a sheep in 3.5 minutes which allows him to shear some 50 sheep a day (however there are so called ‘gun-shearers’ who get up to 200 sheep/day!). Sheep lose about 5kg of weight/each during shearing which makes them very happy and chirpy as they no longer have to carry around the excess weight.

Next we visited Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Distillery which produces eucalyptus oil. As it is produced from the leaf of the KI Narrow Leaf Mallee it is the only one of its kind in the world. The distillery is also home to the only emu left on the island. She has been nicknamed ‘Evil Eyed’ as she had killed her two male cage-mates when she was in a bad mood! We stayed clear of her cage…

After a delicious lunch on the veranda that Jenny had prepared for us, we sped off south to Seal Bay.

The beach was typical of Australia – white sands, clear blue sea, the sun beaming down. The only difference was that it was home to a colony of  700-800 Australian sea lions. We felt very privileged to have seen them so close in their natural habitat, and we were also lucky to see them so soon after the breeding season. This meant there were loads of tiny, cute baby sea lions staying close to their mothers. Being a sea lion would be a great life, they seemed to all be either lazing around in the sun, or doing a funny leaning sort of stance, which Jenny informed us was sea lion ‘yoga’ because it took the pressure off their shoulders and necks (imagine being 300-350kg of weight, you’d want to take some of it off your shoulders :)).

After marvelling at the sea lions, we had a short drive over to ‘Little Sahara’, a huge mass of sand which had formed giant dunes 3km from the nearest beach without any obvious cause. Regardless, we Mr Sheen-ed a few glorified trays and sandboarded down the dunes. It was a lot of fun but we were soon foiled by the ‘he who slides must return the board to the top of the dunes’ rule which left us a bit out of breath. We trudged back to the bus, emptying all pockets and orifices of sand as we went – a fair old weight of sand itself… a hint, perhaps, as to how all the sand ended up there in the first place!

Freshly de-sanded, we headed off to our accommodation, Vivonne Bay Lodge. The place was pretty sweet, with pingpong, pool table, bar, canoes to head up river and mountain bikes to trek around. Even cooler, the grounds were covered in Kangaroos! No surprise, I guess, given that we were on Kangaroo Island, but they’re so cute, and friendly too (a piece of trivia for you – the Kangaroo Island kangaroo is a subspecies of the Western Grey kangaroo, being smaller, darker and having longer fur)!

However, the real highlight was the accommodation’s location, just 15 minutes’ walk from Vivonne Bay – independently crowned Australia’s best beach by a 17-year census of its 11,011 beaches. After Owen schooled me at pingpong we took the walk down to the beach. Wow. It sure ain’t been named Australia’s best beach for nothing. Pristine white sand, crystal clear water lapping the shore and totally isolated from anything or anyone. It really was breathtaking. After a couple hours taking in the view and a few rays, we headed back to the accommodation for a barby and a beer.

The day was far from over, however. After dinner once the light had faded, we headed out to a bit of coast where Fairy Penguins are known to nest. Armed with red-light torches we clambered over rocks, listening for the pint-sized birds’ call. Right away we spotted a couple hiding amongst the rocks, resplendent in their midnight blue feathers. They’re so cute! Very shy though so our attention eventually turned upwards towards the sky. With just 4,400 inhabitants and the nearest urban centre, Adelaide, hundreds of kms away, the sky at night was absolutely astonishing. Never in my life have I seen so many stars, so clearly! You could perfectly make out the Milky Way, Venus, Jupiter and Mars. Unbelievable! Humbled by our insignificance, we pretentiously went to bed.

The rest of the trip in Part 2, coming soon!

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