Oct 29 - Nov 2 Kangaroo Island
Drove down the Fleurieu Peninsula towards Cape Jervis. It's where one catches the ferry to Kangaroo Island.
It was raining lightly. Through the mist, acacia and eucalyptus trees silhouetted against the lush green rolling hills. Cows, sheep, and even some kangaroos reclined in the grass, idly watching us pass by. I would like to have taken more photos but the road was fast, winding, and had no shoulders to pull off onto. A bit like driving the Indy, but in a top-heavy campervan instead of a sleek little roadster.
We finally pulled into the Cape Jervis Station for the night. This is an old sheep station, still running about 300 sheep – making it pretty much a hobby farm compared to the size of herds normally run there. The current owners are redeveloping it as tourist accommodation site. The buildings date to the 1840s and one from even before that. It is all a bit rustic ...as in piles of old building materials lying about. They put people up, bed and breakfast style, in the old huts and cabins. With our campervan we were pointed at a grassy patch beside the barn and shown an electrical outlet on the side. It all seems very informal, but there are bathrooms and showers, so it’s all that we need.
Went to bed pretty exhausted and slept very well. Was awoken by the lady of the house banging against the side of the campervan – apparently daylight savings arrived during the night and we were an hour behind. We had less than an hour to get to the ferry. Fortunately it’s only five minutes down the road.
So up we get and off we go ...plenty of time as it turned out, the ferry was 30 minutes late leaving.
This is an expensive ferry – return fare for the van and us is $296. For a 35-minute ride!
The ferry is full of loud-talking self-proclaimed “Macedonians” on a bus tour. They had a bottle of whiskey on the table that the men were taking long, noisy pulls off of. The women were passing wine coolers around – it was only 9:30 am!
First stop on Kangaroo Island is the Visitor Centre. We find the people at the Visitor Centres invariably knowledgeable and helpful. In this case they give us a three-day “plan” and we’re off.
First we’ll head for Seal Bay. Initially I wasn’t too excited about this because, living on the coast, I’ve seen plenty of seals in my lifetime. But Seal Bay is THE thing to do on Kangaroo Island so we give it a go. For $13 per person you get a guided beach walk among the seal lions lounging at water’s edge. They are an endangered species and this specific beach on Kangaroo Island is one of the few places they come to breed. The guide keeps you a good 15 feet off the herd ...but it is interesting to see them lying about, mothers suckling their young, adolescent males making a nuisance of themselves, etc. The sea lions don’t necessarily respect the 15-foot rule either – they hump themselves up and down the sand dunes, even into the parking lot when the weather is cold and they are looking for warmth. I turned around at one point and there was one directly behind me.
From there we headed off to Kelly’s Caves. Access to these caves is not anywhere near as challenging as the Ngigli or Lake Caves we visited earlier in the trip. It’s an easy stair/ladder trip down of about 30-40 rungs. The cave has 13 named chambers but they’ve only opened four chambers to the public. That’s enough. There is a limit to how many stalactites you can ooh and aah over. Very nice cave though.
Followed that by checking out Vivonne Bay. This was voted the best beach in Australia – have no idea why. The water is an incredible turquoise blue ...just a stunning colour. And it is very clear. But the white sand beach is covered in ocean debris – sea grass and so on. Didn’t look like the best beach I’ve seen in Australia. Maybe I’m getting jaundiced.
It was still light so we headed down to Remarkable Rocks in Flinders Chase National Park. These are amazing granite outcroppings just sitting out there on the ocean’s edge. Admirals Arch is right there too so Steve hiked down to see those rock formations to see the New Zealand fur seals that call that beach home.
Me? I get a bit over stimulated by seeing too many wondrous things in one day. I start to turn off and get grumpy. I sat in the van and tried to make sense of all the maps and brochures we’d been given.
We settled in for the night at Flinders Chase National Park. Basic no-power bush camping, although we were surprised at the flush toilets and showers. Cooked a good dinner of stir-fried chicken, broccoli, red pepper, and mushrooms, on rice. Damn, fine meal if I say so myself. While I was doing that Steve went off in the dusk looking for koala bears and platypus. Didn’t find them but did see a big snake and a number of echidna.
While we were eating dinner our campsite was visited by a bush possum ...bold as brass. While cooking I’d spilled some rice on the floor mat, then shaken it out on the ground outside. He was sniffing around gobbling up the rice grains. He wasn’t spooked by the light or our voices.
Weather today was fantastic ....blue sky and fairly warm ...still needed jackets near the ocean, but overall very nice.
Steve pulled out all the stops this morning and cooked up bacon and eggs. The smell attracted some visitors – two small, dark brown kangaroos. They hopped right up to the van door to see what he was doing – they really seemed to take to him. When he took his breakfast outside and settled into his chair to eat they were all over him. We were very firm about saying “No” and they seemed to understand that. Hopped away a few feet then slumped down in the dirt and stared at us with the most hurt expressions. Just like our dog does when we refuse him treats from the table.
Tore ourselves away from them eventually and drove up to the north shore beaches. Snelling Beach was very nice - white sand, lovely turquoise water, but no shells. Walked for a long time there ...basically the only people on the beach. As we left another couple arrived, pushing down a wheelbarrow full of fishing gear. Australians do seem to have an endless amount of patience and passion for fishing.
Stokes Bay looked like a big disappointment. The brochures had listed it as a “MUST SEE” but it was just a smelly, rocky beach. So while we were having our tea I decided to have another look at the brochure. We had to be missing something if this beach was a must see.
The brochure described it as a “lovely white sand beach with a safe swimming and snorkelling cove ...accessed through the rocks at the east end of the beach.”
Steve immediately set off to check out the last half of that quote. He returned ten minutes later insisting that no matter how bad my ankle hurt I had to come see this – it was very special.
And it was. The best part is probably how you get there – through a secretive passage between huge rocks. Like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. Kids would love it. WE loved it! And on the other side – lovely white sand beach with spectacular crashing surf, but inside of the surf line, a lovely quiet cove perfect for swimming or snorkelling – if only it were warmer.
Kangaroo Island to Cape Jervis
Today we set off for the Emu Eucalyptus Factory. Since Kangaroo Island has the only functioning eucalyptus distillery in all of Australia I thought this would be interesting.
The whole distillery thing is pretty low-key and hoaky. You do a self-guided tour around an old work shed and a big pot set over a fire – that’s the distillery. There are a couple of mangy looking emus in a pen that are part of the tour – no idea what the connection to eucalyptus is. Then you are back into the shop – there is a five- minute video, a photocopied guide that explains a little about the product. Then a lady leads you around the shop and shows you all the products they make out of eucalyptus oil ...all very expensive too. Then we had to give back the photocopied “guide” because the photocopy machine was broken and they’d run out and only had the one copy for visitors to share around.
You can use this oil to do a million things – clean paintbrushes, cure arthritis, remove stains, soften your skin, etc. These people are extremely entrepreneurial. They make soap and lotions and potions. They trap feral cats and tans their skins, cut up the eucalypt trees into fridge magnets, make candles, dry the wild flowers in the field and package them into potpourri, etc. Then they charge you $4.50 to walk around their old barn. You have to admire their moxie.
From there we went to the Jumbuck Australiana barn. This is basically a one-man operation – run by a fellow who lost his shirt when wool prices tanked 16 years ago. Now he has set up a shop in an old shearing shed to teach people about the wool industry and make a few bucks for himself in the process. The display consists of some sheep, some wool fleeces, some photos and newspaper clippings, etc. Several times a day he does a “tour” by shearing one of his sheep (that need it anyway), spins wool on an old wooden treadle, knits on a cap, etc. He has a small gift shop of course too.
When we got there it was already time for him to close up, we were too late for the “tour” but we chatted for another hour. Really enjoyed our time with him, I think he enjoyed having an audience to explain what happened with the wool industry. Basically a story of bureaucracy getting too big for its britches.
Continued on to Penneshaw for lunch. This was Melbourne Cup Day so many of the townspeople were in their best duds, old ladies in fantastical hats and lunch in the cafe was fixed price at $28.50 each. We had takeout instead – steak and mushroom pie for me and fish and chips for Steve plus cheesecake and cappuccinos for $22 total. Excellent repast on the picnic table on their back porch. We chatted for a while and it was time to catch the ferry.
The most interesting thing about the ferry was watching them load these huge sheep trailers onboard. Drivers in big semis backed them onto the ferry like they were backing up the family car – with a lot more finesse, frankly, than I would do that. Then the ferry crew jumped into action and secured the trailers to the deck with chains. The driver unhitched the cab and drove back off.
All the while the sheep were baaing and the dogs were barking. In the bottom of the sheep trailers were special cages for the sheep dogs...one of them distinctly unhappy about being confined there. I guess they are needed to muster the sheep at the abbattoir.
Other big freight trucks and oversized vans and trucks were also being loaded backwards. I had a great view of it all, as passengers have to go up on deck during loading. Steve stayed down below in the van to take his turn at backing up onto the ferry. In one case there was a truck pulling a trailer full of kayaks and the driver got out of the truck and a tubby guy in a blue shirt got in and backed the unit into a particularly tricky corner of the ferry deck. We were later to discover that this was the captain of the ferry. Steve was finally given the go ahead to board – last of all – backing in beside one of the sheep trailers. He wasn’t thrilled about this, with the entire world looking on from the top decks. But he did brilliantly and I have the video to prove it.
Once on the ferry we took photos and video from the top deck then wandered into the wheel room. Literally. The door was open and Steve just walked in. No one was piloting the ship. The captain was walking around doing other stuff. He said he’d plotted the course on the computer and the ship was doing its own thing. When Steve asked what would happen if a small boat crossed the path, he said, “Yeah, I guess I should be looking out for that,” and blithely walked back out of the room.
Came back for the night to Cape Jervis Station again. Did I mention that this is a functioning sheep station? The “barn” we were parked against must have been the shearing shed and the wind must have been blowing through it and into the van that night because it had my nostrils crying for mercy. Having spent a good part of my life on my grandparent’s dairy farm, I am not a barnyard wuss, but sheep are nasty.
As a result we were up early and back on the road to continue our route around the Fleurieu Peninsula. We are heading for the Great Ocean Road. That should get the smell of sheep out of our nostrils.