Kangaroo Island is not what we expected, and on the other hand, more than we expected. It is more expensive than anywhere else we’ve traveled. The car rental is twice what we paid for the self-contained lodging. Fuel is almost 30 cents a liter ($1.14/gal.) higher. Food is more expensive. But, when you consider that most everything comes to the island via ferry, it is easy to understand why.
Wildlife is abundant here, though koalas are not dropping out of the trees as we had heard earlier. Most of the animals are found on the western end of the island, around Flinders Chase National Park. The pelicans and penguins are found mostly on the northern coast, in and around Kingscote and Penneshaw. The pelicans have a beautiful white body with contrasting black wings and a pink beak and pouch. The tiny fairy penguin is a miniature of the emperor or king penguins of the Antarctic.
The large male sea lion with its golden ‘mane’ drags itself to shore after three days at sea; a battle scar on his side. It is all he can do to pull himself out of the water and collapse on the shore for a much needed rest. The tiniest pup sits waiting for its mother’s return – she’s been gone for three days, and calls for her pup at the edge of the surf. That’s the way of life for the Australian sea lion. Three days rest on shore, three days of solid fishing at sea where they will eat their weight in fish, squid, and cuttlefish every day.
The sea lions that inhabit the Seal Bay area are majestic creatures. They were nearly hunted to extinction in the 1800s. The oil rendered from their fat was used in lanterns to light homes in England. Now they are protected and access is restricted. A small colony gradually recovers from the brink.
Animals here have had to adapt to the isolation of island life. The land bridge to the mainland was covered by the sea some 50,000 years ago. Most are smaller, some are more venomous (yes, we did see one of the two species of snakes on the island), and most have adapted how they eat, breed, and survive.
For the past two years, wildfire has ravaged Flinders Chase National Park – a complete burn (fire chief jargon). Acres upon acres are scorched – the smell of a cold fire hangs in the air, even a year later. The land is recovering – slowly. Patches of new growth can be seen – but it is minimal. It will take years for a full recovery. Drought is evident here – as with all of Australia.
KI, as it is called by the locals, is not a tourist haven, though there are a lot of tourists. Most come on the morning ferry, catch a tour bus, and leave on the evening ferry. The day-tripper doesn’t experience nocturnal activity. Staying late to photograph kangaroos, our car slowly plied the 120 kilometer road between Flinders Chase National Park and Kingscote. Every few kilometers there was another wallaby, kangaroo, possum, bird, echidna, feral cat, or some other unidentified mammal. Driving after dark is hazardous on the island (and anywhere in Oz for that matter).
As we leave bush and country travels behind to return to the city, we reflect on all that we’ve seen. It seems like a year has past since we struck out from Sydney on the Great Inland Way to experience the rural outback. We have seen so much. Yet, there is so much more to see.
* Baseball jargon for a grand slam homerun by the Seattle Mariners, also the grand slam of wildlife sightings by the Catons.