Thursday, November 2, 2011: Kangaroo Island, Australia
Arriving into Adelaide from Sydney, we have begun the final leg of the journey, spending the next 17 days hopping from place to place in Australia as we close out our travels on this 100 day adventure. After a late departure from the Dawn Princess in Sydney, we landed in Adelaide on Wednesday evening and checked into the Adelaide Central YHA, our home for the next 3 days. Following a quick dinner, we were off to bed to get as much sleep as possible, given our 6am start time for a full day trip to Kangaroo Island the next morning.
Following a shorter than desired night of sleep, dawn had just broken in the city of Adelaide, giving us enough light to find our way to the main bus station, a short 10 minute walk from our accomodation. We boarded our SeaLink bus coach and headed south, winding our way through the southern suburbs of Adelaide as we made the 90 minute drive to the coast and arrived at Cape Jervis, our boarding point for the SeaLink passenger and vehicle ferry to Kangaroo Island.
With a capacity of 378 passengers and over 60 vehicles, the SeaLion2000 catamaran ferry made the 45 minute ferry crossing pass quickly and smoothly without any discernible movement on board. In fact, just a few minutes from the ferry’s destination port of Penneshaw, we even had a couple of dolphins join us for the final leg of the crossing. Arriving into the tiny port town of Penneshaw (Population: 450), we disembarked and transitioned to yet another bus coach to spend the day with Kangaroo Island local superguide Kevin, as he shared his home with the 48 or so passengers on our bus over the course of the next 8 hours.
The first thing that struck us about Kangaroo Island was its sheer size. At over 150 kilometers long and more than 50 kilometers at its widest point, it is a tremendous amount of ground to cover in a single day. Kevin certainly had his work cut out for him, as we were anticipating to drive more than 350 kilometers and seeing more than 8 maor points of interest during the course of the day. Moving from the most northeast point of the island to the furthest point Southwest, this highlights tour is designed to see and experience as much as possible. A few minutes into our tour, Kevin laid out our gameplan for the day and really helped us make the most of the available time. At no point in the process did we feel rushed or pushed to move on to the next location.
After a short drive towards the southern center of the island, we arrived at our first stop of the day, Seal Bay. Here, Australian sea lions have a breeding colony and humans have the opportunity to walk down a boardwalk to a beautiful stretch of beach and see these animals up close. Seal Bay guide Lilly carefully balanced the needs of the group with the safety requirements of the sea lions and we were able to get quite close to a set of sea lions and a mother and her pup came within 10 feet of where we were watching. We had about 30 minutes or so on the beach and then it was time to work our way back to the bus to continue to our next stop.
Though it was still a bit early, we headed to Vivonne Bay for lunch at a local restaurant. Curious as to why we had our lunch stop at 11am in the morning, we soon realized that Vivonne Bay was the last settlement of people we would see for the day, until returning to our start point at the end of the tour! The entire island only has 3,500 people and most of those are concentrated in 3 towns in the northeast of the island. As we were headed to the more scenic (read: devoid of people) part of the island, we needed to eat where food was available.
We enjoyed a great buffet meal of various locally produced salads, roast chicken, beef sausage, and an apple crumble for desert. We shared our lunch table with a younger couple from Austria who were visiting Australia for the second time, so we enjoyed hearing and sharing stories of our respective travels. From here, we left the restaurant, re-boarded our bus coach and drive no more than 30 seconds before arriving at our next point of interest, the Kangaroo Island Birds of Prey exhibit. Apparently, the passengers are no longer permitted to walk the short distance themselves as a couple folks got lost and search parties had to be sent out to find them… (No joke!)
Birds of Prey keeper Dave spent the next 45 minutes introducing us to the Birds of Prey in the sanctuary here on Kangaroo Island. These birds are trained and participate in the show as a reflection of their rehabiliation progress with hopes of being released back into the wild. In many cases, these birds arrived to the site because of injury or neglect. We were first introduced to a peregrine falcon, with bright yellow eyes and very sharp talons. These birds have been clocked at flying nearly 400 kph (240 mph) and have exceptional eyesight. Originally sought out as trained hunting birds, once the shotgun was invented, these birds began to decline in popularity and were actually hunted themselves as they ate the same game that the hunters sought after, so they were seen as a pest. They have once again surged in popularity in a number of areas and are now worth more than $10,000 each. The one on display had a damaged wing, so she is a part of the permanent show team, but was still stunning and drew respect from the crowd with its quick reflexes and razor like talons.
During the course of the show, we got to see a kestrel, a set of laughing kookaburas that the audience could hold (with the assistance of a thick heavy leather glove for those lovely talons, of course), and a beautiful snow white barn owl. In addition to seeing and petting a wing or the head of these amazing birds, several demonstrations were provided of their keen eyesight, remarkable agility in flight, and laser like hunting skills. The hour flew by and we were headed back to the bus to head towards our next stop, The Remarkables.
The Remarkable Rocks are a set of extremely mesmerizing boulders perched on the ledge of a very high sheer cliff rock face. Wind, weather, and rain have over time eroded these boulders into incredibly beautiful shapes and colors, making them look more like contemporary art than rocks on a beach. Seeing them from a distance was impressive enough, but being to walk among them really gave us a chance to experience just how large these magnificent elements of nature truly are. The Remarkables have a distinctive orange hue and shine in the sun as the waves of the ocean crash far below the cliff edge. We spent about a half hour walking amongst these massive rocks and admiring the beauty and power of the ocean and nature to create such things. We all made it on time back to the bus and continued to our next stop, Admiral’s Arch.
Admiral’s arch is located at the furthest point on our tour, and as we arrived to the far southwest corner of the island, we were presented with a stunning display of spring flowers in a wide array of colors perched along the rocky cliffsides. We worked our way down a long boardwalk towards a set of lookouts about 50 feet above the sea. From here, we could see a large rock face, worn away by the elements, leaving a sizable arch, defying gravity as the ocean waves crashed underneath. In addition to all of this, a colony of New Zealand fur seals was also present here warming themselves in the late afternoon sun.
As if that wasn’t enough, as we walked back to the bus, we grabbed photos of a very tall lighthouse that just seemed to be in the perfect spot for the landscape. We had a long way to return to Penneshaw to reboard our ferry for the trip home, so we all boarded the bus, and then Kevin made an announcement… Since we had been a good group and had held to our timetable as well as we had, we earned an additional 20-25 minutes at a nearby animal sanctuary, where we could see the “Black” kangaroos of the island (a much darker color than those on the mainland), along with koalas, and a unique breed of geese that look like they have glow in the dark beaks. In some cases, the tour groups lose time here and there throughout the day and can’t make the sanctaury, so it is no longer included on the tour itinerary, and is now offered as a bonus to those groups that have the available time.
We enjoyed seeing the kangaroos at the sanctuary, and though the koalas were pretty lethargic (they do sleep 20 hours a day, so we should give them a break), we enjoyed the chance to see some more unqiue animals to this region. We got back on the bus and then completed an express run (read: no stops, no commentary, and lots of nap time for passengers) back to Penneshaw. Here, we were permitted a short stop if folks wanted to pick up a bite to wat for the return trip home. We enjoyed the sunset from a waterfront park and saw a couple of dolphins before heading to the ferry and making our way back to the mainland.
About an hour later, we were back in Cape Jervis, boarding our bus coach and making the 90 minute drive back to Adelaide. We arrived home right around 10:30pm and headed back to our accommodation for the night. It was an incredibly long day, but very enjoyable and appreciative of the chance to see Kangaroo Island.