ISLAND OF THE DEAD
Days 18 – 21 May 13-16 , 2022
We are finally visiting Kangaroo Island, located just 15km off the South Australian mainland. We’ve been wanting to visit Kangaroo Island for ages. Despite numerous visits to Adelaide and having lived there in the early 1990’s we never found the right time to visit.
This will be a long post with lots of pictures. The textured shades of the island and the sight and sound of the thundering icy blue ocean will stay with us for a long time.
It’s not a huge island, 150km long and approx 50km wide and just over 4,000 permanent residents. As we had a car we took the ferry across to the island but many people chose to fly from Adelaide and hire a car once they are here.
From the moment we drove off the ferry we knew we were in for a treat.
Driving towards our accomodation through a canopy of towering gums lining the road, late afternoon sunlight reflecting off their bark made me feel so happy to finally be here.
Kangaroos grazing in the field stopped to stare before hopping out across the road. We were warned about driving carefully to avoid an encounter with the wildlife. We had a chance to more closely observe the local kangaroos later in our stay here. Kangaroo Island kangaroos are different to the mainland ones, being darker and with much thicker fur.
We are staying near Flour Cask Bay, midway between the two largest towns on the island, Kinsgcote and Penneshaw, perfectly placed to explore the island. There is one main sealed road which rings the island and to get to the coastline requires driving on dirt roads.
On the day after we arrived, it was a relief to get a message from the very helpful SeaLink Ferry staff that our return trip had been brought forward to our planned day – next Tuesday.
The first two days we explored the southern and western sides of the island. There are a few hiking trails along the shoreline which offer incredible views over the southern ocean.
We started at Seal Bay, one of the largest Sea Lion colonies in Australia. The landscape is captivating. The greys, reds and greens of the coastal heath vegetation frame white sand beaches and crystal clear blue ocean. Perfectly formed waves crash onto the shore.
It is birthing season at the Sea Lion colony and the park rangers told us to look out for two females who had just given birth a few days ago. To view the seals we walked along a boardwalk above the beach. We were totally absorbed for a couple of hours watching the seals below – resting, playing, fighting, swimming and surfing to shore.
We spotted the new mother seals with their pups being guarded by a couple of big males. There was something magical about watching these wild animals having the freedom to roam without the threat of land based predators, mainly us humans. The pups were tiny and it was a privilege to see them. Later we watched two slightly older pups playing in a rockpool while their mothers were out at sea feeding.
We left Seal Bay with smiles on our faces feeling so fortunate to have witnessed nature at work.
The geology of the southern shoreline is so varied. A short distance away is a series of enormous sand dunes on private land. The nearby protected waters of Vivonne Bay were a complete contrast to the wild shores of Seal Bay and the enormous sand dunes nearby. Protected from the wind and a gentle surf breaking onshore, in summer Vivonne Bay would be an incredible spot for swimming and snorkelling. Beachcoming along the squeeky white sand was fascinating. Interesting sponges, algae and shells littered the high water mark.
With our senses overwhelmed we returned to our accomodation excited about the next day, exploring the western side of the island at Flinders Chase National Park. The wildfires of 2019/2020 destroyed 98% of the Park. All the park infrastructure and the nearby privately owned Southern Ocean Lodge were burnt to the ground.
The recovery is remarkable both in the natural and built environments. Burnt limbs of the Slender Honey Myrtle stick out on a carpet of lush green regrowth droping away towards pounding waves of the southern ocean.
Seeing the Remarkable Rocks from a distance felt rather otherworldly. Giant granite boulders that look like they were placed on the edge of a cliff. So surreal in comparison to the surrounding landscape.
It took 500 million years for rain, wind, and pounding waves to create these granite boulders. The wind coming off the southern ocean was fierce and at times felt like it could sweep you off the smooth granite surface.
The nearby Admirals Arch is an eroded tunnel through the cliff with pounding waves and ferrocious winds continuing the erosion process. Standing on the viewing platform facing the oncoming wind and crashing waves felt like I imagine standing in front of a jet engine would feel. A salty wind fascial after only a few minutes exposure. Hundreds of Fur Seals snoozed on the rocks below.
On the two capes of the western shoreline are two lighthouses, the beautiful Cape du Couedic lighthouse at the southern end and the more utilitarian Cape Borda in the north. What tough conditions must have been endured by the early lighthouse keepers and their families.
On our remaing two days we explored the more agricultural northern and the calm and protected eastern sides of the island, areas settled by European arrivals in the early 1800’s.
European explorers believed the island to be uninhabited. Recognised as Karta or “Island of the Dead” by mainland Aboriginal tribes, the existence of shell middens and stone tools suggests that Aboriginal people lived on Kangaroo Island and may have disappeared from the island as recently as 2,000 years ago.
While the north side of the island is largely agricultural the eastern side which we explored on our last day was another delightful surprise. White sandy beaches and calm, crystal clear and protected waters line the eastern shoreline. Visiting the beautiful Cape Willoughby lighthouse was a great way to bookend our KI visit.