By Barbara Kingstone

Last year, somewhere between a trip to South Africa and another to Spain, I decided that off beat tropical destinations where I could concentrate on flora and fauna and not cathedrals and museums, was, for the time, my priority. In a world that is constantly and rapidly changing, Kangaroo Island, Australia’s first free settled colony and now in the state of South Australia, seems increasingly rare. This is a haven for Australian wildlife including koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, echnidnas and reptiles. The towering cliffs and clean ultramarine seas are a playground for penguins, seals, dolphins and whales. It’s one of the last unspoilt wonders of the world.

Dawn had just begun to break through when the pre arranged bus picked up the passengers at the my hotel in Adelaide. One hour and forty five minutes later we were at Cape Jervis for the forty five minute ferry ride. (I returned via a small prop plane which took 20 minutes and dropped us at the local airport.).

We reached Penneshaw on the northeast coast of Kangaroo Island, a very Cornish-style town, where I was met by my guide/driver, Terry. It was obvious from the get-go, Terry was a naturalist and ecologist. And this ecologically prominent island has a reputation for unique flora and fauna. It’s like a natural zoo and the locals are determined to keep wildlife wild and the “please do not feed the animals” rule is taken very seriously.

Because I was only staying for one night, two days, Terry quickly made ‘tracks’ to our first stop. During the ride, he told me of the history of the island (155km by 56 km), Australia’s third largest island after Tasmania and Melville, the largest township is Kingscote, that there were once over 600,000 sheep but with the decline of the demand for wool, that industry barely exists today, roads are paved (when they are) with laterite which, is quarried here, there is some earthquake activity but it’s nothing of concerned and there are two types of venomous snakes, Black Tiger and Pigmy Copperhead, which sent a chill down my now stiffened spine. Norfolk Island pine and casuaryna trees are distinctive along the coastal road and a dolphin popped up in the ocean as we bumped along the potholed dirt road.

The population of 4,200 seem to be industrious and dedicated to keeping their island as natural as possible while still entertaining the over 1 million tourist who come each year.

About one third of the island is covered by National Parks. About 9500 years ago, Kangaroo Island was part of the main land. Because of the isolation, plants, animals and birds have evolved differently than their mainland brothers

When we finally reach BAUDIN CONSERVATION PARK, within minutes we saw a wallaby then many more. “They don’t have to worry about predatory foxes or rabbits. They don’t exist on the island”. However, when one wallaby approached me, immediately Terry stated that someone must be feeding him since these wallabies are usually more timid. Wallabies are of the monotreme family, and there are only three in the world – the platypus and echidna. “We don’t want our animals to become humanized. After all, we’re invading their land, not the other way around.”

As we walked over areas of large plants and other vegetation, Terry pointed out thick eucalypti scrubs and smaller herbaceous plants. Among the indigenous animals are Kangaroo Island kangaroo, Tammar wallaby, Brushtrail possum, Short Beaked Echidna (unusual egg laying mammals), six bat species, six frog species, Rosenberg’s Sand Goanna, (a predatory reptile e.g. Tiger snakes, Pygmy Copperheads) and Australian Sea lions (seen on the sandy beaches at Seal Bay) to name a few. The platypus sightings are rare but sometimes can be seen in Flinders Chase. Koalas ( found wherever they have their favoured eucalyptus trees) and Ringtail Possums were introduced to the island, and still survive here.

As Terry described the area, I could hear the sweet tweeting of magpies and continued to spot wallabies with their small fine features. The Glossy Black Cockatoo, a large black bird with striking red tails, flew overhead. It’s only found in this part of South Australia

The Island’s fauna is also rare and many survive well here.

Walking down the long wooden boardwalk to the waterfront, I’m told that there is a pre determined time for us. This is to control the numbers of people on the beach at any one time. Only about 100 are allowed so as not to impact on the seal lions in their natural habitat. Also, loud noises of any sort are frowned upon. The large sandy beach and dune is home to thousands of Australian Sea Lions who loll about in groups. The sun was hot and high which seems to be conducive to this vast amount of sleeping animals. These rare Sea-Lions are protected under the guidance of a National Parks SA. As we walk within a hair’s breadth of these sleek furred animals, a solitary baby sea lion, Terry tells me, has been left to die since the mother has disappeared for whatever reason and no other sea-lion will look after another’s baby. The things one learns about the animal kingdom especially in a close encounter!

Although this is private farm property, it’s probably the best place to spot the adorable koala bears. It also takes a good eye as they hide among the leaves of the eucalyptus trees. The pouch is upside down and the baby koala attaches and remain for six to seven months unless it emerges then mom doesn’t allowed it to enter again. It seems koalas learn about separation and guilt at an early age.

Lunch is al fresco and Terry has brought along plates of roast beef, potato salad, veggies locally made cheese and fresh fruit and home made cookies for lunch at the park. We sit under an open-sided picnic hut. As we eat, kangaroos hop by, undisturbed by our presence. After all it is called Kangaroo Island so it isn’t exactly a surprise to see them leaping here and there throughout the island.

Surprisingly, there’s a strong entrepreneurial ethic on Kangaroo Island. Also surprising, is that the choices are as unique as the animals. For instance, there’s a Ligurian Bee Story that starts with the fact that before 1880 there were no honeybees here. However, somewhere between 1881 and 1885 they started to breed purebred queen bees originating in Liguria, Italy. South Australian Government proclaimed the island a sanctuary for these since none is left in the world. Now with Clifford’s Honey Farm, strong regulatory efforts disallow any other strains of bee be brought to Kangaroo Island. The Liguarian bees produce excellent honey and the small shop has their produce for tasting and of course, for buying.. Small plastic spoons give guests the opportunity to test along with the homemade ice cream which is great with any choice of honey. There’s also the by-product – furniture beeswax. Terry, knowing that there was a large bus with dozens of tourists about to arrive, rushed me into the back ‘honey room’ where some of the bees are kept for viewing in a glass hive. On the walls are pictures of the process of communication and social status of the bee colonies and how to keep and get the honey just perfect

Produced from a large variety of native eucalyptus trees as well as Tea trees, Bottlebrush, Banksias and crops of Canola, now quite important for the production of the honey. However, the sub plot is that this 600- hectare property was once filled with wool producing sheep. But some serious lateral thinking was a priority when wool prices dramatically dropped. And starting with the few hives of the Ligurian Bees, the production was stepped up and the development now produces 10,0000 kilograms of honey annually.

Elsegood Road. Ph 08 8553 8295

At Emu Ridge, there’s still another entrepreneurial tale. It’s the only commercial eucalyptus oil distillery with an unique solar steam and wind powered operation in south Australia.. Narrow leaf mallee Eucalyptus (Mallee cneorifolia) is a dense multi stemmed tree and is restricted almost entirely to the island. There’s a lot of hard hand work involved since no fertilizers or additives are used. Run and owned by Larry and Bev Taylor, they too had “to think out of the box” when the wool industry collapsed. Over 800 sheep on this farm were destroyed. Here on the property they cut the leaves, distill, refine, bottle, label and retail. The small shop of course sells oils but also has an extensive range of local crafts and Bushcraft souvenirs manufactured on the site. At a small table, one of the Taylor’s teenage daughters, was painting greeting cards, the proceeds going to an island charity. The oil is useful for daily life from disinfectants, stain removers, solvent cleansers, insect repellents to oil that soothes insect bites and stings and will even get rid of your dog’s fleas.

Willsons Road. Kingscote. Ph. 08 8553 8228

Island Pure Sheep Dairy owned and run by the Johnson family, is yet another success story which only adds to the tourists knowledge of the island. We arrive at milking time and Terry carefully locks the gate after we enter. There’s a cute sign that states ‘Ewes Welcome’. The smell along with the bleating baa baas, is a hint of the many sheep in the area. Inside is the most up to the minute milking device for the 1200 sheep which are milked twice a day, 300 hundred at one time. I watched from an observation platform and enclosed window area, as the floor is hosed down after every the milking. The machines, I’m told, don’t hurt or bruise the sheep. The milking platform is at a perfect height for the milkers and the quantity of milk each gives is computerized. Out of this comes a fine cheese industry. Ricotta, Holoumi, Kefalotiri, feta, manchego plus yogurt, are produced and sold in volume to retailers or to individuals in the front shop. It’s a family who learned about cheese making on their own since they didn’t want to get rid of the sheep. Every farmer, I was told, was giving away the animals and so with their inexpensive collection of sheep, yet another industry was born on this the 640 acre farm. “There’s good fat in sheep cheese. It doesn’t clog the arteries,” I was told as I tried several of the tempting samples. And that eased my guilt.

Although everything I had seen and places I had visited were interesting, this was keeping the best for last. This cluster of weather sculptured boulders located on a granite dome are called Remarkable Rocks and they are. Sculptors Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and many other artists could not have done better than these natural nature crafted rocks which swoop 75 metres to the sea. The blue water meets the blue sky and the only other color are the white waves. As I walk along the convenient boardwalk approach, a wonderful aroma of honey myrtle plants fills the air. The scale of these rocks can only be realized when I saw a young man walk beside them. “You can’t compete with Mother Nature,” Terry tells me when I say this could be an architectural triumph like a Frank Ghery creation. Underneath one of these huge rocks, I see angles that seem like a scooped out melon. About 160,0000 lucky visitors come annually to see these granite formations formed by erosion.

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I stayed overnight at Kangaroo Island Lodge in American River,

TEL 61 8 8553 7053. Newly renovated, with all the amenities including a fine dining room.

Left Adelaide Central bus Station for Cape Jervis and the ferry with Kangaroo Island Sealink, TEL. 13 13 01

Returned by air with Emu Airways
My guide who met me at Penneshaw was a representative from Kangaroo Island Odysseys TEL. 61 8 85531311

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