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Published: March 15th 2011
Kangaroo Island was such a treat, but not what I expected at all! I had imagined a small island teaming with wildlife and not much else, perhaps a bit rustic etc, with a campsite or two and some basic accommodation. In fact, Kangaroo Island (or KI as the locals refer to it) is 155km in length, and there are farms (wheat, sheep, cattle, honey), fishing towns, forests, towering sand dunes, cliffs, white white beaches, rocks and cliffs, and wildlife to boot. Pristine. And despite the expected cold weather which we did in fact have, we had a marvelous time, though there was just so much to do, it was not as restful as I had expected.
Paul had fortunately booked us at a self-catering cabin that was quite central, so it made it easier for us to see everything. On disembarking from the ferry (where I think Paul also breathed a sigh of relief that we did not have the caravan, as all caravans and trucks had to reverse on board) we headed off to find our cabin. On the way, we spotted a sheep dairy. As neither of us knew that sheep’s milk existed, we decided to check it
out. And yes, sheep do get milked - we saw it with our own eyes - and they make delicious cheeses, yoghurts - though the milk perhaps takes a bit of getting used to! We then wended our way to our cabin, and arrived at our new temporary home. It was weird leaving our caravan behind, as it is essentially our home now, but it was also great to be staying in a cabin with two rooms, which, ironically, was made by Jayco, who make caravans. The walls of the cabin therefore were paper thin and quite flimsy, but was wonderful none the less.
The next morning we headed straight to Seal Bay, and there walked amongst the sea lions. This particular group of sea lions are endangered - the population has remained static over the past 30 years since they have been protected. This lack of population increase concerns the conservationists. No swimming with these sea lions. William in particular was quite upset by the visit, as we were told that many pups die when their mums don’t return from a fishing expedition. They cry out for their mums, and eventually wither and die. Oliver was making sea
lion noises and one of the babies responded and came bounding over to us, calling out. We had to walk away and the sea lion remained there crying out, and then wandering from one group of sea lions to the next. He looked quite healthy, so hopefully his mum was just out on her fishing excursion and would return. Fish are quite scarce, and they usually spend two to three days out fishing, and often travel hundreds of kilometres to get food. The sea lions we see sleeping and frolicking on the beach are recovering from these forays, and preparing for the next hunt.
We then travelled to the western part of the island, to visit the Remarkable Rocks at Flinders Chase National Park. This huge cluster of weather-sculpted granite boulders seem to perch precariously on a large granite dome which dramatically drops into the ocean. Remarkable is a good name for them, as they are really, well, remarkable. On the way back home we spotted our first wild echidna on the side of the road (alive! there was so much roadkill on the road, it prompted William to ask with great concern why Australian animals always have to
cross the road). We then stopped off at a koala conservancy, and we searched for koalas in their natural habitat. It was quite a thrill to spot them in trees, in the wild. Our search unfortunately was cut short by rain, but it was getting late anyway.
Thursday brought perhaps the two highlights of our visit, highlights for very different reasons. After having visited Stoke’s Bay, where we had to clamber through rocks and a small cave to end up on the most beautiful bay (this was perhaps one of Paul’s highlights, as there were some great rocks to clamber and explore, which he could do in peace) we headed off for ‘Paul’s Place’. We had to drive on some hectic corrugated road, and started to have some misgivings about this little venture, when we arrived just in time for the only ‘tour’ of the day. Paul is an eccentric character, a farmer who has taken to adopting orphan wildlife, ranging from kangaroos, koalas, emus, possums etc. As he described himself, he is his own worst enemy (farmers in Australia shoot kangaroos as they are regarded as pests, a nuisance which destroy crops etc). He himself is a sheep
and cattle farmer. Anyway, we arrived in time to feed the kangaroos, but it was quite a challenge to avoid the painful beaks of the ducks and emus who also wanted to partake in the feast, not to mention the rogue sheep who did not hesitate to butt in to get his (her?) fair share of food. It was chaotic to say the least!
Paul then took us into a small enclosure, where we all got to hold LuLu the koala, as well as a tiny orphan possum. Paul made sure everybody got a good photo with LuLu. Then, he got some of the men (including our Paul) to sit down, and he put feed on their laps and heads, and emus delighted in pecking the food off the heads and laps - cheesy, but hilarious.
But Farmer Paul was not finished with us yet. Harried though he appeared, he led us to his shearing shed (a very messy, chaotic shed) to give us a demonstration on how to shear a sheep. He put Quinton and William onto the wool sorting wheel, spun them around, and then hurled them into the wool. Quinn in particular got such a
fright he did not know whether to laugh or cry! Then it was my turn to be the ‘butt of the joke’ when he called me up to hold the wool, I thought to show everybody, but then in one deft move pulled the wool over my head, so to speak! - Paul managed to capture the moment. And he still was not finished with us. He then moved us on, finding time to give the young kids a horse ride, before bringing us to another enclosure where he has a collection of Australian birds, and he encouraged his kookaburra to laugh, and then he brought out a small collection of reptiles (a python, a frilled lizard and a couple of other creatures). Again, everybody had a photo opp. And then the coup de grace, he got Oliver, William and Quinton to sit down, and then plonked a young kangaroo down, and they got to feed it with a bottle. Just too cute - his paws went up to hold the hand that held the bottle, and he drank, and drank, and drank. It really was an unexpectedly funny and warming experience. Paul (the farmer) really seemed to have a
genuine interest and passion for his furry creatures, as well as to enlighten tourists on these animals (I think he has a good laugh at our expense as well!)
My second highlight was very different. We decided to drive back to Flinders Chase, as I had read that the boys could dig up fossils. While this little venture proved to be a bit of an anticlimax, it did prompt us to go for a walk to visit the Platypus Pools. It was already quite late (5pm) but the scenery looked so beautiful and peaceful, we decided to give the 4.5km round trek a go. The boys were quite active on the way to the pools, and Paul and I were feeling a bit disheartened at not being able to fully appreciate the sounds and beauty of the wilderness we were in. But then, amazingly, once at the pools, the boys were totally quiet, as to have any hope to spot the elusive platypus, silence was paramount. One did taunt us with bubble trails under the water, but after half an hour of fruitless searching, with darkness approaching, we decided to give up. But not after having spent a ½
hour with the boys listening to the sounds of the bush, we headed back, and they were still in a peaceful frame of mind. It was glorious to be able to enjoy this experience as a family. And then, at the carpark, we spotted a truly wild koala in a eucalyptus tree - magical!
The following day saw the obligatory visit to the sand dunes, where the kids rejoiced in leaping off the dunes, and then we decided not to take a chance in missing our ferry, so drove to the other end of the island and, while waiting for the ferry, visited one of the earliest lighthouses built in Australia. Apparently 16 men were dropped off, and two years later, using only handheld tools to break blocks out of the nearby granite cliffs they had built the lighthouse that still stands today. And just the day prior to our visit, the lanterns had been replaced with, believe it or not, LED lighting, which is controlled in Adelaide. Also, up until a few years ago, the lighthouse keepers had to keep half-hourly records of the weather, but that has now been automated, so no more need for lighthouse keepers.
Today, they conduct tours of lighthouses. With GPS, lighthouses are pretty much becoming obsolete.
And on the way back, I had a wonderful treat. We had still a couple of hours to kill before getting on the ferry, and lunch time had been and gone (our ferry departed at 5pm), our tummies were rumbling, when I spotted a winery which offered “KI platters”. We pulled over, and had a wonderfully decadent lunch (platter was full of the delights made on the island), with a glass of wine, sitting in beautiful surroundings, kids ran around the gardens, and it was all very civilised!
Caught the ferry - boys and I watched with great intrigue all the trucks boarding the ferry, amazed that the ferry wasn’t going to sink - and returned to the mainland, on the sunniest day! We had to get back to Adelaide to pick up our home - it was waiting for us outside the workshop (by this time it was nearly 8pm) - the orange map giving us a warm welcome home. Hitched it up, and then, as prearranged (it was too late to check into a caravan park) we headed to the Wilson’s and
parked by their house, on the road, which is were we also slept. It was great to have a chance to see them again, we enjoy their company, and it is also very interesting to hear their anecdotes about caravan travelling with four kids. I have to say though, they have perfected the art of free caravanning (Paul, came up with a good name - extreme caravanning!) and we have taken some notes, and then the following morning, promptly scuttled off to another Big Four caravan park, in a small town called Horsham in Victoria (yes, we have crossed another border!). I needed to do some washing, and to give the caravan a good clean out, and there is also a pool here (where Quinn finally learnt to swim - he is so proud of himself!), so some nice (more?) unwind time. Tomorrow we head out into the Grampians proper where we will most likely free camp for a couple of days, while Paul tries to find some guys to climb with.
Horsham is a small town close to the Grampians and Mt Arapiles-Tooan State Park - great climbing spots. We arrived just in time to see the annual
fishing competition - well, it is supposed to be an annual event, but this is the first time in six years that it could be held due to severe drought. Then, to add insult to injury, over the past few months the area has experienced excessive rain, causing the Wimmera River to overflow and flood the township, devastatingly. The good rains though meant fish were finally back in the river (and that the river was flowing), but it has also brought with it a plague of locusts. The boys spent most of the first morning catching them - and Quinton had himself a few new pets, and was crushed when I forbade him to bring them inside the caravan - what a horrible mother I am! One farmer Paul was chatting to said the first flood in September destroyed about 4kms of fencing, which they fixed, only to be flooded again in January, the second time destroying over 12kms of fencing.
Paul also managed to get some serious rock climbing in today - trad climbing in the Arapiles, where there are over 2,000 routes.
And that is about it from my end. As I mentioned earlier, tomorrow we
head into the Grampians proper for a couple of days, before wending our way down to the coast to do the Great Ocean Drive, and we hope to be in Melbourne sometime over the weekend. We have booked the ferry to go across to Tasmania on March 23rd, and will return on April 19th. Can’t wait!
Also, I forgot to mention in my previous blog that while at Port Augusta we met the parents of Quinton’s newest friend, a girl called Scarlet. The father, Shane was looking after Scarlet by himself as his wife, Rebecca, was on a three-day tour to check out the Great Whites. We caught up with her on her return, and it sounds like it was an absolutely amazing experience. Though she has said she no longer wants to go into any water by a beach, as the Great Whites were truly big, but worse than that, despite their size, they were so camouflaged that even when looking out for them, and knowing from which way they were approaching, they only ‘appeared’ or became visible when they were a couple of metres away! They are from Queensland and also travelling around Australia. He works for
the airforce, and has actually just spent the past year in Afghanistan building airstrips (and planes) for the army base. His stories were quite harrowing, and it is his experience here that prompted him to take a year out - stress relief. Sadly for them, three weeks after they left their home in Queensland, the floods wiped out everything they had in storage, furniture, photos, memorabilia, everything. They returned to salvage what they could, and continued on their trip, but might have to cut their trip short as, while they were insured for flooding, the insurance company said that it was water released from the dam, and therefore defined as ‘inundation’!
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