Saturday, May 3, 2008

Kangaroo Island

01/05/08

Wow! What an adventure. We were up at 5:30 to be down in the lobby just after 6 for our pick up. We were the lucky ones, the last to be picked up before heading to the bus terminal where we got our boarding passes for the ferry. The bus took us to the ferry, which was almost 2 hours away at the tip of the peninsula. Then, the ferry had to load up and we were finally off at 9. The crossing took a little less than an hour, so it was 10 by the time we got off and found our group. We are a small group – just us and a young Dane and, of course, our driver/guide.

When Flinders discovered Kangaroo Island (just before the French explorer, Nicolas Baudin), it was because his crew were starving and he found the meat supply so plentiful that he named it so. Once they had eaten enough, he climbed up Prospect Hill to see the prospects of the island and was disappointed to find it so narrow and so poor, not good for farming. Prospect Hill is really just an enormous sand dune with lots of bush. It's a hard enough climb with steps; it must have been really hard for Flinders.

Not far away is a lagoon named for a later adventurer who got separated from his group and was never seen again. They found his remains two years later and were able to identify him from his wrist watch. It's a beautiful lagoon, though.

We stopped at a eucalyptus distillery. This is a farm that re-discovered the benefits of eucalyptus distillation when the drought set in in the 1990s. They are the only ones doing it now, but at the beginning of the 20th century, it was a common occupation. The place smelled like Vicks.

But you come to kangaroo island to see the kangaroos, koalas, wallabies, etc. And there are plenty. I'm getting pretty good at spotting the koalas in the trees. We also went to seal beach, where the sea lions rest. They spend three days out at sea eating, then come to shore and spend three days sleeping. The pups are left alone on the beach while their mothers eat, but since there are no predators, they are safe. There are plenty of sea lions to watch.

There was another stop at the Little Sahara for snowboarding on the dunes. Well, we let the other two go snowboarding and we just walked in the dunes. The sand is very fine, white sand.

Everywhere you could see the effect of the fire from December, just five months ago. But, if you look at the ground level rather than the burnt tree tops, you can see the regenerated growth at the base of the trees. It really is remarkable.

We are on a low-budget tour. So we get to help out with meals and everything. Our room is fine for a night. We went for an after-dinner walk to find some wallabies, possums, and kangaroos and to admire the stars.

02/05/08

A second day on Kangaroo Island and more sights to see. Our retreat last night was a farm on the edge of Flinders Chase National Park. Most of the park burned in the fire in December. When we set out this morning, the sight was incredible. The fire in the Grampians dated from January 2006 and the one here from December 2007 – 2 years apart, really. It's amazing how fast the regeneration happens. We noticed the growth in the Grampians and, here too, the mallee trees have sprouted new branches at ground level. Our guide explained that this type of tree has an underground trunk and that the bushy growth we saw was new branches on the old tree. The tall branches that had all burned would end up falling after a few years and would be disintegrated by the termites. The taller trees have a different technique for immediate photosynthesis – they sprout leaves all over their trunks and branches. New branches will sort themselves out over the years. So, if you are looking at ground level, you see lots of green, but if you lift your eyes, it's mostly black. It's strangely beautiful.

Our first stop this morning was at "Remarkable Rocks" and they were. When the ground level was much higher, many millions of years ago, a volcano started pushing through. It was mostly granite (it would have changed to something else had there been an eruption.) and it formed a layered dome but never pierced the surface. As time went by, the surface eroded and today you have this dome solid granite dome that coming out of the sand. There were other rocks in the granite, heavier than the granite, and as they fell out, they left perfectly smooth concave imprints. We''d never seen anything like it before.

Weir's Point is near the lighthouse at the Cape de Couderic (many place names are French, named by Nicolas Baudin). This goes back to the beginning of the 20th century, when there were three families at the lighthouse – the keeper and his assistants and their families. A supply ship came every three months and they cut a passage in the cliff to winch the supplies up from the ship to the top. They finally had a dirt road cut through in the 1940s. Our guide explained that it used to be thought that lighthouse keepers went mad from solitude and difficult living conditions, but it has recently been discovered that it was due to the mercury used in the lighthouse, much in the same way mercury, which was used for hat forms, made hat makers crazy – mad hatters. Even the wives of the lighthouse staff went mad.

Below the lighthouse, there's are two islands and an arch that leads specialists to speculate that eventually there will be a third island. This is "Admiral's Arch" and it's the resting and breeding ground for the New Zealand fur seals. The sea lions we saw yesterday chose a wide, open beach in the sun. These seals prefer rocks. They are dark brown on dark brown rocks, so not too easy to see at first.

We also went for a walk in the forest, down to the river. The river is not full but with the nightly rains they've been having for the past few days, it's starting to flow better. This is when we got a closer look at the forest.

After lunch at the park's visitor center, we went to a fine, white sand beach. It looked like pictures of tropical islands, but the waves pounding about 100 meters off the beach made it look colder. Our guide and our Danish fellow tourist went for a swim. Paul and I were happy to watch them play.

We visited the Kelly Hill cave – a dry cave. You've got the stalactites and stalagmites and something unique to dry caves: helico something or other. These start out like stalactites but don't have enough water to sustain the dripping growth. They start to dry out and then when new water comes down, the capillary action pulls the growth upward or sideways.

A short stop in the main town of Kangaroo Island, Kingscote, which was the very first town in South Australia, marked the end of our trip. We watched the Australian pelicans get fed at 5:00. They are much bigger than the pelicans we've seen in Florida and prettier. They are mostly white, and their pouches are pinkish. The trees nearby were full of cuckatoos. After that, we went to the airport and caught a short fight in a tiny plane back to Adelaide. Tomorrow, we're off to Alice Springs.

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