Australia 2016 Part 11: The Wonders of Kangaroo Island

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Our plan for relaxation and sleeping in changed.  Southern Ocean Lodge scheduled us for two tours today, and we really wanted to see all that the island has to offer and so we said yes.  Our morning tour was billed as “The Wonders of Kangaroo Island.”

Having breakfast in courses is always a good start.  We began with pastries, followed by a seasonal fruit plate.  We rounded off the morning with a hot course of eggs and sausages, lest we starve on our morning tour.

Our guide for the day was Shane (Come back, Shane!  Come back!). He was a young, energetic redheaded Australian with his hair in a neat pony tail. He told us that he was the son of a forester, and I felt an instant kinship with him.  I’ve noticed that since Dad died, there are reminders of him everywhere, even in unlikely places–a man on Kangaroo Island, a tree at Uluru.  Grief is odd that way.  It has a way of finding you wherever you are.

The touring van was fully loaded.  There was a family of four from Canada, an older couple from Adelaide who came over on the ferry, and a French/Swedish couple.  It is always fun to find out where people are from and where they have been in the states.  We also like to get tips on where to go in their countries.  The people you meet on the road all have good traveling tales, just as we do.

Our first stop was a koala preserve.  We walked through a line of eucalyptus trees and cast our eyes upward.  It didn’t take Shane long to spot some of the furry fellows.  (He confessed later that someone else comes out earlier in the morning and puts flags at the bases of all the trees where koalas are spotted.  Cheaters!)

It was hard to get good pictures of most of them.  They look like a large black ball in the tree branches.  To give an Arkansas comparison, the koala in the tree looks a little like a very small squirrel’s nest at first.  Then your eyes adjust and you can see arms or legs moving and make out the shape.  Finally we found a koala that I could get a good camera angle on.  He was wedged into the branch and trunk of the tree, so I was able to get to one side and take advantage of some of the natural light.

The koala looks like a giant teddy bear, but do not be fooled.  They have large powerful claws and can be aggressive.  Shane told the story of one of the cooks at Southern Ocean Lodge who kept trying to get a koala to take his hat off.  The koala ended up punching him in the face, barely missing his eye with the claw.  They cannot see very well, which may explain some of their aggression.  You might swing first too if you couldn’t see what was coming at you.  The koala sleeps up to 21 hours a day.  They are marsupials, giving birth to an underdeveloped baby that crawls into its mother’s pouch, staying for the first six to seven months of life.  They are fully weaned at about a year.  They have few natural predators and parasites.  Their diet is their Achilles heel.  They eat eucalyptus leaves, and that’s it.  The species is threatened mostly because of habitat destruction.   Shane told us that koala meat does not make good eating.  Because of their exclusive diet, they absorb too much of the eucalyptus taste/odor.  Shane told the old joke about how the aborigines used to cook koala.  They put the carcass in a pot with two rocks and boil it.  Then they throw out the koala and eat the rocks.


What we did learn as we sat and watched this fellow is that koalas have big bladders.  As we watched, this guy urinated, and the stream ran all the way down the tree in a gush.  Then he took a dump.  He looked around for a minute and then jumped to a new limb, since he had completely soiled his sitting area.  Then he let out some kind of noise that was a cross between a pig grunt and a growl.  Charming!

Shane said that we were lucky to see him being so active, since koalas spend so much of the day sleeping.  I guess we caught this fellow in his three hour window of whizz/poop/grunt!

Our next stop was the lighthouse at Cape du Couedic. The loss of 71 lives from three major shipwrecks in the late 1800s led to the construction of this lighthouse, Kangaroo Island’s third such structure.  Stone and sand were gathered from nearby to construct the lighthouse.  Water for construction was gathered from a well constructed nearly 500 feet downhill.  Water was carried up the hill by bucket. The light was first lit in 1909 with visibility to 27 miles seawards.  The fuel for the light was kerosene.  Originally, three families lived on the island to man the lighthouse, and conditions were harsh.  Fresh supplies arrived only every three months, and sometimes the seas were so rough that the boats could not get close enough to deliver the supplies, which meant the families had to stretch their rations for another three months.    The light was automated when converted to acetylene gas in 1957, and they finally got electricity out here in 1974.

As we walked down toward Admiral’s Arch, we were treated to one of the most magnificent rainbows I have ever seen.  Before our eyes, it changed from partial to full to double.

And this guy was hiding in the rocks.

And these fellows were surfing in the water.

Whoa!  It’s a double rainbow, man!

Can you see all the fur seals in this photo?  Shane claimed that he had never seen so many at Admiral’s Arch.

Admiral’s Arch was loaded with fur seals on this day.

The pups frolicked together.  We all spent a long time just watching them play.  Genene was particularly amused by the youngsters.  They belly-flopped and slid into each other.  They had mock battles.  And then they all hit the water together.

The sea looked very rough.

The roof of Admiral’s Arch is uneven.  These icicle-like structures look like stalactites, but they are not:  these are petrified roots of long gone trees.  The sea water has eroded the rock, leaving the roots.  Eventually, the arch will lose its roof, and the remaining rock will become an islet.  The sea will begin to erode the next inland rock and will form another arch.

The seal pups were fearless.  They swam in the rough surf with abandon.

None of us wanted to leave Admiral’s Arch, but the tour had to continue.  We piled back into the van and headed onward.

We stopped to look at the remains of the storage area once used by the lighthouse settlers.  As I already mentioned, the families had to wait 3 months for their supplies.  In 1907, this jetty and the “flying fox” (a winch) were constructed, and that made movement of materials up the hill a little bit easier.  For 24 years, almost everything, including visitors, was winched up this hill.  An overland service did not begin until 1930.  Nearby was the ruin of the storage shed, which was partitioned into three rooms, so that the families could separate their rations and avoid disagreements.

Those early settlers had a stunning view, but life must have been hard.

We took a rest stop, and I had to get this picture of the handwashing station.  What a great way to use rainwater!

Our last stop was Remarkable Rocks, a collection of striking granite boulders on the edge of the sea. They have been eroded by the crashing sea and the wind over 500 million years.  Many of the rocks are colored by golden orange lichen, which can be slippery when wet.  It was drizzling lightly, so we had to step carefully.  Shane told us to be on the lookout for all the different shapes in the rocks.  It was a bit like cloud-watching.

All of us found the pig.  Woo pig sooie!

Can you see the camel?

I think this rock is paying homage to Uluru.

We all scrabbled around on the rocks.  Genene and I were feeling silly, so we kept looking at each rock and exclaiming in our best English accents:  “Remarkable!”  (You can’t take us anywhere.)  After a while, we got tired of getting rained on and the rocks had stopped being remarkable, and so we all went back up the boardwalk to our van and headed back.

We returned to the lodge for lunch.  We all had a tomato salad for a first course.  Genene had risotto with blue cheese.  Greg and I had smoked salmon tartarine with fennel, along with a side salad.  Dessert was ice cream made with condensed buttermilk with crumbled almonds and some kind of candied fruit.  It was all good.

After lunch, I was ready for a nap.  Greg and Genene found a chess board, and Genene asked her dad to teach her how to play.  Apparently they had a pretty spirited game of chess because they were gone a long time while I was snoozing.  Greg said that he beat her, but it was close.  He doesn’t want to play her again.

They eventually joined me in the room, and everyone agreed that a nap was a good idea.

Here is a shot of Genene taking a nap in her fancy bed with her beloved stuffed dog Senior.  She has had him since her first Christmas, and he has been on all our trips except for Peru.  (Genene cried when she realized she had forgotten him on that trip.)   I think I saw Senior staring off to Antarctica and dreaming of knocking off his seventh continent.  He’s on his own for that one because I have no interest.

We spent a little time hanging around the bar, which is all-inclusive and always open.  Wouldn’t you?

Our evening tour was called “Kangaroos and Kanapes.”  (Aren’t they cute with the K’s?)   Our driver told us the alternate name for it:  Roos and Booze.   We piled into the van and made a short trip to a grassy field full of kangaroos.

We learned that a group of kangaroos is called a mob, and we definitely had a mob on our hands here.  Baby kangaroos are called joeys, as are the offspring of all marsupials.   (So the koala has a joey too.)  I wanted to see a joey in the pouch, but we could not spot one.

Our guide explained that we should approach the kangaroos with caution.  While not aggressive, they can attack if they feel threatened.  She suggested that we approach them using the same principles as the old childhood game, red-light-green-light.  As you approach, as long as the kangaroo keeps grazing, you may continue to advance.  If it puts its head up to look at you like the one below…stop.  When the kangaroo begins to graze again, you may step forward another step, and so on.

The field was full, and our guide invited us to spread out and “find your own kangaroos.”

We all walked among them.  I was a little disappointed in one young man in our group.  His family was from California, and the boy was about Genene’s age.  He had a camera and he was excited to get an up-close shot of the kangaroo.  He paid no attention to the red-light-green-light concept and instead walked quickly toward all of them.  The kangaroos’ responses were universal:  they simply hopped away out of range.  The boy would change directions and walk quickly toward the next batch, to the same effect.  I could tell that he had never been hunting in his life.  He had no concept of how to approach cautiously.  It was aggravating because he would walk from batch to batch and thought nothing of running off kangaroos that we were trying to approach.  It took us quite a while to spread out into a different part of the field to get away from him.  Kids will be kids.

We managed to get up pretty close and I got some good shots.

Yes, that is dried kangaroo poop on the ground all around this guy.  The field was loaded with it.

We happily followed the kangaroos around the field as the sun went down.  At dusk, we walked to the nearby cabin, where our hosts had prepared wines and appetizers.  Our guide told us about the people who had once lived in Edwards Cabin.  Their story was one of a hard life.  The man of the story, Clem, was a native of Kangaroo Island and convinced his young wife, Lucy, to leave the big city of Adelaide, come to the island and live with him.  They had one son, Robert, but Clem died of cancer when Robert was still a toddler.  Lucy raised her son all alone there.  She stayed loyal and true to the island and the land.    She lived a hard life there without electricity and running water.  When her son grew up, he met a woman, married her, left the island and didn’t come back.  Mom was broken-hearted and donated the cabin and nearby land to the conservation society.  People in the community have a shorthand way of referring to anyone who lives a hard life in the country:  they call it “pulling a Lucy.”

We also learned that Kangaroo Island was once inhabited by aboriginal people, but they were gone by the time of European settlement.  There is physical evidence that they were on the island from about 16,000 years ago to 2,000 years ago. Why and how they left the island remains a mystery.  Mainland indigenous people call the island “Karta” which means “Land of the Dead.”  Creepy!

We were so happy with our day.  We started with koalas in the trees and ended with roos and booze in the field.  And now we got to roll back to our resort just in time for drinks and dinner.  What more could you want?

We got back to the lodge and changed out of our roo poo shoes and tried to spiff up. We made our way to the dining room to start another long hard evening of three-course dining.  First we had a little starter:  a bit of lamb bacon with beef-fat fried crouton.  For the appetizer, Greg had American River oyster, and Genene and I had some shaved pumpkin, pumpkin puree, and pumpkin seeds.  For the main course, Greg and Genene had free range pork cheek with roasted cauliflower.  I had kingfish on a bed of sweet savoy cabbage.  For dessert,  Greg had green apple and rose macaroons, while Genene and I had olive oil ice cream with chocolate cake side.  We were feeling really fancy so we got them to bring us a cheese tray to finish.  We are definitely not “pulling a Lucy.”

Tomorrow, our itinerary calls for us to take a cliff top walk and go to Seal Bay.  Are we really finishing our last full day here tomorrow? Didn’t we just get here?  I want to be pampered some more!

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