Part 2 of 3: Kangaroo Island The Long Hot Drive to Glenelg
The drive out of the Flinders Ranges was a long one. We chose to take the more ‘scenic’ route, and it was scenic, but it was also hot and dry. Further, down here the day after Christmas is Boxing Day and even though it was Tuesday, the day after Boxing Day, everything was still closed in a retroactive celebration. This meant that we drove for hours without ever seeing someplace that sold water or snacks. Who lives out there!? We couldn’t even begin to guess. All we saw for miles after miles were hills of red soil and yellow scrub.
Well that’s not entirely true, we also saw a cop. Rather, he saw us. You may think it HIGHLY unlikely that in the middle of nowhere, on the straightest most desolate road on the planet, in unimaginable heat, over the Christmas holiday, that we’d get a speeding ticket. But you’d be wrong. Dad was driving - and only going 127km (78 mph). That’s not that fast considering the speed limit was 110km and it really was a deserted highway running thru a dessert. But, apparently there had
Atlantic Tower Motor Inn
You can see it looming malevolently behind me.
been an ‘event’ the night before and somewhere out there in the scrub thousands of less-than-sober people were now meandering back through the heat. Our cop, Dad found out as he chatted him up in the cruiser trading stories and becoming outback buddies, had actually come up from Adelaide to monitor the situation. The cop also told Dad that down the road we’d get pulled over again for a random breathalyzer and sure enough we did. Dad registered coffee.
Eventually, the heat and endless road wore us down and we had to stop. But where? It was the most desolate, scrub brushy, scorched bit of land I’d ever been on. The towns were often just a stop sign with a boarded up church. Finally we drove past a nice playground in “Jamestown” and decided we’d stop there so that at least Abby could get some energy out. But when we stepped out we were blown away by the heat. True, dry, dessert heat is a force all on its own. Abby gamely tried to play but within 10 min she was flushed and sweaty.
We had a quick little picnic with the food we were carrying in the
Nissan (salami, cheese and chips) and commented on how on earth we’d managed to find ourselves in this dust bowl, in the outback, during the holidays when nothing was open. Eyes falling out of our sockets from lack of moisture, we crawled back into the car and pushed on to our evening stop, the coastal town of Glenelg just south of Adelaide. What Was Frommer's Thinking: The Atlantic Tower Motor Inn (and Glenelg)
I picked most of our hotels through a combination of our guide books and some surfing on the internet. I chose The Atlantic Tower Motor Inn because Frommer’s said it was a good place to stay in Glenelg. They said it was clean though modest, and that they would ‘not hesitate to recommend it’ as a wonderful base to explore the town. We were only spending one night there to kill time before we could get on our pre-scheduled ferry to Kangaroo Island. So it seemed like a good find.
Well conjure up whatever you might when you hear the words “Motor Inn” and this was just worse. It was a tall cement circular building that had fallen through a time warp to
the 60s, or perhaps worse, the 70s. When we were checked in, we were told that we were getting a free upgrade. Whoohoo - free upgrade! It truly stretches even my imagination to consider, upon seeing our upgraded rooms, what sort of scary horror we had been upgraded from. To be fair, since it’s a tube, every room had its own balcony, and we were on the 10th floor so we did have good views, if you could go on your balcony. Ours had a pigeon nest complete with a pigeon and two eggs and all the debris that went along with raising young pigeons. Not a place for sitting and viewing the sights.
Never again - Motor Inn’s are strictly off the list.
Meanwhile, the town of Glenelg was a very nice little sea side town. It had both the tacky touristy stuff that every good beach should have, as well as a nice upscale wharf with fun restaurants.
We also got to watch a major sporting event going on right in main park. A professional 100 yard dash (or whatever the metric equivalent is). That’s right. It’s a big business. There were pumped up athletes,
View from Cabins
This was the view from our cabin, beach one was directly below us, but you can see beaches two and three.
food tents, crowds, a frenetic announcer and all sorts of rigamole dedicated to a very systematic series of dashes. I guess I know that sprints are a real sport - they’re in the Olympics, but it just felt like a strange juxtaposition to watch the serious sturdy athletes practicing their dashes next to the playground and then holding their races in the town square. Still, I’ve always loved sprints so it was fun to watch for a bit - and easy to take in a few since . . . a dash happens fairly quickly.
We had a nice dinner at a Mexican restaurant and took Abby to a near by playground (Australia is FAR superior to America in public playgrounds!) and then retired to our err, rooms, for the night. I was never so happy to check out of a place in my life. Drive to Kangaroo Island: (We get lost but arrive and love it)
Finally we were on our way to Kangaroo Island; we’d all been looking forward to this segment of the trip since KI is so remote and so well known for its beauty and wildlife. The only way to get there
Balcony of Cabin
Wallabies would come right up to the fence of our balcony.
is via a ferry that you must book in advance. The first thing we noticed upon checking in and getting our tickets was the unfortunate return of the fly swarms. It was really, really, really bad and it was not uncommon to actually accidentally inhale or swallow a fly.
Flies aside, we were excited and happy to board the large SeaLink. Les and I both spent too much time paying attention to Abby (i.e. looking down), and not enough time with our eyes out on the horizon, and as a consequence we both had to get up to deck for some fresh air or face the consequences of a queasy stomach. But the air was great and we were able to watch the island draw closer and closer till we arrived.
The system for getting the cars off the ferry was messy. Only one person could actually be in the car, which meant that the other passengers had to find them once on land. Cars drove every which way with families flagging them down from curbs, sidewalks and the middle of the street. It was mayhem and by the time we got in the Nissan, the combined effect
of the flies, the motion sickness and the car chaos had us all a little frazzled.
Kangaroo Island is about 95 miles long with basically two ‘sealed’ roads that run the length of it. Everything else is dirt - and not particularly well graded dirt - so driving on it was like driving on a wash board. Our cabins were in the most remote part of the island, which was intentional, but meant we’d have about an hour and a half drive to get to them. We did have a map, but decided to ask the local owner of the single-pump, dirt-lot, gas station we stopped at for her suggestions on the best way to reach our cabins. She was very friendly and gave Dad and Les a shortcut thru some of the unsealed roads. She added that we’d see echidnas that way (echidnas are a small porcupine type creature). And so travel weary, we gratefully started off eager to get to our cabins.
It’s a little blurry, but somewhere after about an hour of feeling like we’d been strapped to a bucking bronco, and mildly hypnotized by only seeing red dirt roads in front of us with
one story high green shrubby trees blocking everything else from view including any potential echidnas, we came to a sign post. The conversation went something like this.
“Well, that’s odd, I’m not sure how Vionne Bay can be behind us since we haven’t gotten there yet.”
“Shouldn’t we have crossed the sealed road by now?”
“Well we haven’t crossed the sealed road, AND we haven’t reached Vivonne Bay, which means somehow we took a road that is not on the map.”
Abby started to scream and I took her out of her car seat because, frankly, there were simply no cars anywhere. There was no life anywhere and her screams were much more damaging than any slight infraction of the car seat rule. We were totally lost on an island seven times the size of Singapore.
Dad took out his compass and determined which way north was, and then Les guesstimated where the ‘invisible road’ might have been that we turned on.
Mom pointed out the obvious. “If we are lost, perhaps we could just turn around and retrace our steps to where we’d turned off.”
Dad pointed out in growing frustration that, “It’s an island. We can’t get
that lost. If we just keep driving we’ll hit water eventually.”
And I replied helpfully, “If we ‘just keep driving’ with no plan then someone else should try holding a jumping, writhing toddler while their bladder is full!”
Les remained silent.
And so on that note we took off again hurtling down the red roads. Finally we came to the sealed highway and limped exhaustedly to our cabins. Arrival and our Cabins on Kangaroo Island
Well nothing cheers you up quite like finding yourself at the most beautiful beach in the world except perhaps having your own private cabin overlooking the most beautiful beach in the world. This ‘find’ more than made up for Frommer’s major blunder with the Motor Inn and perked us all out of our driving funk.
Hanson Bay is located on the southwest corner of the island and contains three beautiful white, pristine beaches. Each beach is separated from the next by a sand dune and natural rock jetty. The Hanson Bay Sanctuary owns the property and has six, self contained log cabins. The cabins all face the beach, have two bedrooms, a living room/kitchen and a shared balcony on the cliffs
that border them in the bay and beaches. It felt like we were truly at one of the last remote outposts on earth.
Certainly the wildlife and land were prioritized over the guests. For example, there were signs in the cabin instructing us to keep our windows only narrowly opened at night to keep the bush-tailed possums (they look more like furry raccoons than scary naked American-style possums) out of the cabin. There was a resident mouse in the kitchen, and at night the wallabies (small kangaroos) would come right up to the balcony to forage for food.
When we first arrived, the property manager, Ranger Brian, was chatting with our next door cabin neighbors, Wendy and Paul. Ranger Brian welcomed us and told us about the cabins and property, which beaches were safe, which would surely kill us, where the Koalas were (the property was home to a large Koala sanctuary) and what time the nocturnal wildlife tours started.
After our drive we all felt a nice refreshing swim might wash away the dust and grime. The beach was huge with the fine, soft, pure white sand. The water was so clear and pristine (and icy!)
it was, as my dad said, “like swimming in an aquarium.” Best of all on this super huge beach, as big as Bondi, there were maybe four other people. We had it all to ourselves. Kangaroo Island is on the Great Southern Ocean. So it was a new ocean for all of us and we were thrilled to all jump in.
That evening my parents took the nocturnal tour and Les and I sat out on our balcony where we watched five or six wallabies eating mere inches away. The massive sea surge was hypnotic from our cliff perch and with the southern stars popping out above us we were asleep before my parents got back. Exploring the island: Koalas, Death Rocks, Seals, and more
We woke on the 29th ready to explore the island, or at least the lower south corner of it since we all agreed we didn’t need to do any more driving than necessary. After a nice breakkie in the cabin, we took off to the Koala Walk.
There are about 30,000 Koalas on the island - and yes, that is a ton of Koalas. So they aren’t endangered, in
fact there is an over population. The sanctuary provides a place to keep an eye on a segment of them while running a program to manage the numbers. Part of the effort includes a path of trees where the Koalas live and are easily visible to people. Walking down it we were able to look up into the trees and find Koalas every which way. We saw about 10 of them that morning. Some up high, some very close to the ground, most asleep and all of them furry and cute.
Abby was very excited by the Koalas and ran up and down the path yelling “Trees! Bears! Muh!” Muh being the sound she makes when she blows kisses to someone.
After we finished with the Koalas we hopped into the increasingly grungy Nissan and headed over to Flinders Chase National Park. The park covers most of the western tip of the island with hikes thru the island scrub as well as all sorts of coastal walks down the cliffs to various watery sights. We chose to visit two of the more famous sights: Remarkable Rocks and Admirals Arch.
Remarkable Rocks are remarkable only if you survive
them. Many people apparently do not. A series of signs explain that over a zillion years, granite in the earth’s surface bulged up, shattered and then eroded. The result was a huge granite blob about the size of very wide 10 story building. On top of the granite blob were multiple house to car sized rocks that had eroded to form all sorts of strange, Dr. Seuss-esq shapes.
They made for great climbing and exploring except for the fact that if you took one step too far on the slippery granite, you might find yourself on the bit that curved sharply into the ocean where you would certainly either die from the impact, or from the enormous ocean swells and surf.
There were all sorts of signs explaining how dangerous it was. There was even a cautionary tale about somebody who fell and lured two would-be rescuers to their deaths as well. Finally there was an illustration with a big thick red line drawn into an aerial photo of the massive formation to show you where not to walk.
But on the rock itself? Any small fences? Painted lines? Cautionary tales? Of course not. If you wanted
to run headlong off the whole thing, the country of Australia invited you to give it your best shot. I was entirely freaked out by the situation, certain that unknown forces would pull me to the wrong side of the imaginary red line. That explains my rather braced and strained look in the included photos. It also explains my mom’s complete straight face and white knuckle grip on my dad, and then her swift abduction of Abby off the rocks to stroll her on the safe boardwalk by the car.
Given that no one in our party fell off, I now feel it is safe to admit that, yes, they were remarkable.
Admirals Arch was another cliff side situation, but this time there was a wide and safe board walk that zigged and zagged all the way down. At the bottom was a huge colony of seals. They were big and playful, body surfing on the wild waves. All the play apparently made them work up quite a sweat because the air down at the bottom of the cliff was foul and sealy.
Per the walks name, there was also a massive arch that had eroded through
a portion of the cliff. The boardwalk took us down so that we could view it from beneath. More seals hung out under it, and from our observation deck we could watch them and the ocean through the huge, stalactite encrusted arch.
Once again the experience was great and, even better, there was hardly anyone there. As Les said, “Kangaroo Island is just an afterthought to Australia.” It’s their third largest island and it’s still so remote that it’s possible to see all the amazing nooks and crannies without seeing many other people at all.
After we returned to the cabins, we did some exploring. Les and I hiked over beach one and two all the way to the end of the beach three. Beach two and three had thick fields of shells fragments that had been so pummeled by the sea that they glistened. It was like walking on a path of soft, sparkling, colored jewels. Beach three also had the wildest surf we’d ever seen. Ranger Brian wasn’t kidding when he told us not to swim at those beaches. We stood at the edge of the water, on our own private beach, and looked out at
the ocean knowing that nothing was out there until Antarctica.
We also spent some time with Abby swimming in the ‘river’ that ran almost to the beach and was the color of iodine. At first we dismissed the idea as disgusting and creepy, but Wendy and Paul assured us it was safe not to mention warm and sandy. It was only 6 inches deep in many places so it was wonderful for Abby since she could ‘swim’ in it. Mom, Dad and I all played with her, but I think Les was the only one who wasn’t constantly wondering if something nasty had just grabbed his ankle from the dark water beneath.
Les and I took the Nocturnal tour on our last night there. It would have been completely wonderful but for the Chatty-Kathy-Know-It-All that was in our group. We began the tour with Ranger Brian explaining, at a rather great length, the sterilization program for the Koalas. Just as we thought we were about to move on, Chatty raised her hand.
“Uh yes Brian, excuse me, but I read that some of the controversy stems from the early policy adopted by the organization for . . . blah blah blah. What are your thoughts?”
Brian then trekked off on another 10 minute explanation and again started to teeter on the brink of a blessed subject change when she was off again.
“Well Brian, hmmmmm that’s soooooo fascinating, but do you feel that if all the Koalas suddenly reached down and strangled me for disrupting the peace, that the official stance in the government might be swayed?”
Ugh. Off we went for another gripping 10 minutes. People started to drop into the almost-sitting-crouch-position. I wondered if Chatty might be standing close to any killer gum trees when suddenly, through the twilight and across a field out beyond us, ran a tall lanky red headed teenager.
It was a bizarre sight, but a welcome one, no matter why it was occurring. He ran like a bat out of hell, arms flying every which way, without even an ounce of grace and in seemingly no logical direction.
Ranger Brian paused in his exhausting reply to Chatty’s exhausting question and called out. “Excuse me, but are you ok?”
Our group all stood staring, wondering how he had suddenly appeared in the field. Was it some sort of reversed alien abduction?? Hearing Brian, he turned, saw us, doubled over and, resting his hands on his knees looked up at us and yelled back. “Is this the nocturnal tour??”
Ranger Brian, still slightly confused like the rest of us, nodded and then started towards him. “Yes, this is it, err, did you have a booking?”
The teen sighed a huge sigh of relief and then started waving furiously back towards the field. “It’s here,” he shouted. Then he looked at us and explained, “My family and I got a little lost.”
His dad, mom and sister all started to emerge out of the far field and finally, huffing and puffing, sweaty and totally discombobulated made their way to us.
Even Chatty was at a loss for words.
With the Field Family settled, and Chatty temporarily upstaged, we finally started the tour. It took us into a fenced-in area where the feral cats of the island could not harm the animals.
There we spent two hour tromping around in the dark thick forest and pitch black open fields while Ranger Brian would call out, “Ooohhh there’s a wolf spider, you can see its eyes glowing in my flashlight, let’s go take a closer look.”
Or, “We do have a lot of snakes in the area, but they aren’t likely to be out at this time of night.”
At one point he stopped everyone and got all excited. He then reached down to a spot about four inches from my toe and showed us a ‘real beaut’ of a scorpion.
In the happier land of mammals, we saw hundreds of wallabies grazing in the fields. It was like Wallapalooza there were so many. We also saw a rogue Koala that had hopped the fence, as well as a possum or two and one of the slippery feral cats. The stars were amazing and Ranger Brian was able to point out some ‘pointer’ stars that, taken in conjunction with the Southern Cross, identify the South Pole.
By 10:30 we were walked out and ready to fall into our cabins on the cliff. Farewell Kangaroo Island
We all loved Hanson Bay. But by the 30th, when we left, we were beginning to hear and experience the heat wave that was covering the country. It was hot. Crazy hot and the flies were becoming a real problem. Abby was struggling with both aspects and so we were all sad to leave such an empty and wild place, but ready for our modern, and very air conditioned, final stop in the Barossa Valley.
Before we got there though we still had to get off the island. Could we get off without getting lost? Could we drive straight through or would an unfortunate combination of 1.5 liters of water, and me, cause some, err, issues………
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