An island full of wildlife surprises and nature’s wonders
An island with soaring cliffs and breathtaking coastlines with exceptionally unique wilderness where you are sure to spot a koala dozing up a tree seals playing on the beach, frolicking sea lions and of course, kangaroos bouncing around.
Free of the usual and oft-repeated tourist trappings, Kangaroo Island in South Australia is a tiny, charming destination for outdoor enthusiasts and wildlife lovers. Besides being a pristine sanctuary for viewing the region’s endemic wildlife, the island offers all visitors unforgettable escapes amidst its soaring cliffs, dense forests, and deserted white sand beaches.
“So what do you think? Is it a camel or an elephant?” Nikki teases me. Standing on a hill right in front of me is a massive rock formation overlooking the sea. It looks like it has been sculpted by an artist, who could not make up his mind while carving it. As the bright orange lichen covering the rock surface glows in the rays of the sun, Nikki, my guide, tells me that these granite boulders have been shaped by nature more than 500 million years ago. These are the Remarkable Rocks of Kangaroo Island, Australia’s third largest island, located in South Australia.
I stand mesmerised, lost in the azure waters of the ocean surrounding the rocks, as a group of tourist poses for pictures. Nikki’s voice snaps me out of my reverie and I head back to the bus, listening to more stories of Kangaroo Island or KI as she fondly calls it.
“There is more to Kangaroo Island than just kangaroos”, she says, handing out some delicious muffins. And to prove that, she takes us to see a colony of New Zealand fur seals that are basking in the sun by the cliffs. As I take the boardwalk, the sea opens out in front of me, while the seals enjoy a snooze or splash by the waters. Nikki points out the Admiral Arch, a stalactite fringed cliff that seems to be the favourite haunt of the seals. One pair is in the throes of a fight, another pair is mating, while several younger pups are frolicking in the water. “Do you want to see some up and close?” She realises it is a rhetorical question. “Let’s head to the Seal Bay. You will see Australian sea lions there,” she adds.
As we drive down, Kangaroo Island fans out in front of us, a montage of expansive cliffs, virgin beaches, thorny scrublands and quiet towns. The island is an ode to quaintness. Even the most densely populated town does not house more than 300 inhabitants while the entire island would probably be home to around 5,000 people. This is where the 19th-century British explorer Mathew Flinders landed, looking for food and habitation for his crew; he discovered not just the island but also its endemic species – the Western grey kangaroos, which at that time satiated the hunger of his men. He named it Kangaroo Island after the marsupial, probably as a sign of gratitude, though apart from its namesake the island is a treasure trove of mammals and birds. From Penguins to Pelicans, almost every corner of the island is home to unique species.
Nikki warns us to be quiet and huddles together as we make our way towards the shore. Suddenly she points to my right. I just see a head pop out from amidst the greenery. We walk around and see a Sealion, standing like a statue, with no movement at all. “I call it the yoga pose,” whispers Nikki as we head to the beach. The Seal Bay is home to a huge colony of Australian sea lions, who live and breed here. Unlike the New Zealand fur seals, these light brown-and-beige hued creatures have taken over the beach completely. There is hardly any other tourist in the bay but us as we take a walk on the beach along with the seals. Some of them walk clumsily dragging their bodies to the shore, while the others are in deep slumber, probably after a hectic day in the sea. One of the pups scrambles along the sands, looking for his mother. He finds her finally and settles down to suckle. While most of them are lying in groups on the white sands, a few have walked away and found hiding places near the rocks. Some young pups are in no mood to sleep and they continue to frolic for a while. I am barely a few feet away from them but they don’t seem to mind the intrusion, lost as they are in their own worlds. And I am lost in mine. The sound of the waves is soothing. For a moment, it is just us and the seals and some seagulls that have landed on the shores. Nikki gestures to us and I tear myself away from the sea lions, leaving them to their siesta.
SURPRISE AT EVERY CORNER
Driving around, we cross some breathtaking vistas of bays straddled by mammoth cliffs and several water bodies. The Australian Pelican, apparently the largest of the species, stands on some of the rocks flanked by oystercatchers. I see a black swan swimming away. We continue driving when Nikki suddenly brakes to a halt. Sitting right on the road and feeding on the carcass of a kangaroo are two massive Wedge-tailed Eagles, the largest bird of prey in Australia, more than three feet long with a wingspan of seven feet. However, they fly away in a jiffy, even before I can get my camera ready.
I can barely get over the sighting when a pair of kangaroos crosses the road. Nikki slows down and the landscape changes as we see another kangaroo standing tall, surrounded by a sea of dainty yellow flowers. Nikki stops the car and bids us follow her. Surrounding us is a smattering of sparse vegetation, tall grass, some rocks, and bushes. Standing amidst the rocks and curiously looking at us is a mob of kangaroos. We stand happily staring for a while and then quietly tiptoe our way back to the car.
Nikki promises to show us some wallabies after lunch as we sit in the open in the bush, biting into delicious burgers. And who should come calling but a pair of Australian Blue Wren, the male standing out in the dry landscape, while the female camouflages herself brilliantly in the shrubland. We also have another guest. Curled up, right in the open, camouflaged in the dry yellow grass, yet showing off its spines is another endemic species – the egg-laying mammal called echidna or the spiny ant-eater. Nikki warns us that the animal can feel the vibrations as it has electro sensors. It buries its snout in the ground, looking for ants and termites as we watch it quietly from a distance.
DAY WELL SPENT
A little further down is a grove of eucalyptus trees, native to the island. Curled up in the branches are sleepy Koalas, lost in a world of dreams. There is one wedged in the branch of almost every tree. One of them looks at me, its eyes half shut and then slowly turns around and sleeps. I remind Nikki about the Wallabies and we set off to the wild environs of dry scrubland and bushes. We virtually tiptoe, ensuring our feet do not crush the dry branches. The silence echoes. And then we see them, hiding behind the shrubs. Shy and yet curious about their new visitors, the wallabies willingly pose for us before scurrying away.
It is time for us to scurry too. There is a certain raw beauty about this wild island as parts of it appear virtually untouched by man. As we drive, all we see for miles and miles are patches of forests and scrublands. Finally, Nikki says that we are in for a final surprise. She stops the car in front of a rocky landscape, where all I can see are tall boulders huddled around each other. We walk towards the end and a tiny tunnel shows itself to us. Crouching and bending, we follow the narrow path and suddenly my eyes are blinded. There is not just light at the end of the tunnel, but a bright blue sea touched by cotton candy clouds and a pristine white beach that seems to go on for miles. A magical world hidden from the view of the man tucked away in the wilderness. I sit there for what seems like an eternity, losing myself to the sound of the waves.
Kangaroo Island is a true wildlife sanctuary. Owing to its isolation from the mainland, the Island has suffered less from the impact of European settlement and retains more than half of its native ‘old-growth’ vegetation—a vast area of some 2,250 square kilometers. Similarly, the Island has been spared the damage done by foxes and rabbits, ensuring the integrity of native bushland. As a result, animal and bird populations have thrived. Today, more than one-third of the Island is declared as Conservation or National Park and it has five significant Wilderness Protection Areas.
Kingscote is the biggest town on the island. It has a small shopping strip downtown, which, in addition to a supermarket has a choice of cafes, a bookshop, choice of restaurants, pubs, and a couple of other stores to browse. You can also refuel here. There is a harbour, and some history to be discovered, particularly at Reeves Point, a few hundred meters north of the main town. The sole airport on the island is also at Kingscote.
How to go
Kangaroo Island is about three hours by road and sea from Adelaide, the capital of South Australia. You can take a bus to Cape Jervis, a journey that takes a couple of hours and then boards a ferry to Penneshaw at Kangaroo Island.
There are several flights to Adelaide, from India. Singapore Airlines offers some of the best connections.
Where to stay
There are several places to stay in Kangaroo Island – from hotels to bed and breakfasts. It is ideal to spend at least a day here. Tours can be booked either from Adelaide or in Kangaroo Island.
When to go
Kangaroo Island, like much of Australia, is a round-the-year destination offering different attractions in different seasons. The landscape also changes according to the season, ranging from a dry brown to a lush green, in some places with bright carpets of flowers. Winter (June to August) is generally considered a good time to visit Australia and Kangaroo Island – it is a great time to spot wildlife, as they come out in the open.
Things to remember
• Kangaroo Island’s remoteness and isolation have created a special environment and many of Australia’s pests and diseases are not found here. Ensure that you travel responsibly.
• Visitors must notify the Kangaroo Island Council if they are bringing a dog or cat to the island.
• You can purchase National Park Passes at the Kangaroo Island Gateway Visitor Information Centre in Penneshaw, from any of the National Park Visitor Centres or the Department of Environment, Water, and Natural Resources in Kingscote.
For more information
Cover Pic: Perched 200ft above the crashing sea, the ‘Remarkable Rocks’ are a collection of enormous eroded granite boulders sitting atop a giant dome of lava, that has been shaped by the erosive forces of wind, sea spray, and rain over some 500 million years.
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