Kangaroo Island Suprises

Mike Unwin takes you on a trip to Kangaroo Island

You freeze as a large kangaroo lollops out of the bush and into the clearing. Two more appear — one with a joey in its pouch. You’re amazed. But what did you expect? This is Kangaroo Island, after all.

It’s early morning in Flinders Chase National Park, and the wildlife is coming thick and fast on your pre-breakfast stroll. Just outside your cabin you’d been amazed to find a Short-beaked Echidna digging into a crumbling log. Oblivious to your clicking camera, this spiny, egg-laying mammal lapped with flickering tongue at the panicking termites that swarmed out. Now, as the ‘roos bound away out of sight, your attention turns to the birds flocking into a flowering gum tree overhead. They’re honeyeaters, come to feast on the bountiful nectar. Your binoculars pick out the slim forms and delicate markings of Purple-gaped Honey-eater, Crescent Honey-eater and Eastern Spinebill.

Back at breakfast, as you plan the day, you tuck into some honey of your own — harvested from the island’s pure-strain Ligurian bees. Kangaroo Island, just a 30-minute hop from Adelaide, is not only a wildlife haven but also an exceptional destination for lovers of local foods. Were you not chasing wildlife today, you could embark on one of the ‘Farm Gate and Cellar Door’ trails, which take in honeys, cheeses, yoghurts, jams and olive oils. Not forgetting wine, of course: the island’s 200 hectares of vineyards date back to 1837.

But today it’s nature that’s on your menu. Kangaroo Island’s rich wildlife reflects its isolated location, which leaves it beyond the reach of the invasive foxes and rabbits that have depleted wildlife on the mainland. As you work your way across Flinders Chase National Park you encounter diminutive Tamar Wallabies resting in the shade and an impressive Rosenberg’s Goanna basking on the verge, both species now endangered elsewhere in South Australia. Meanwhile, many local species have evolved here: those kangaroos you saw earlier are unique subspecies of the Western Grey Kangaroo, found only on Kangaroo Island. And a raucous party of Glossy Black-Cockatoos you spy winging into a Causarina Grove belong to a rare endemic subspecies, also found nowhere else.

Half the excitement of any island is, of course, the sea that surrounds it, and Kangaroo Island is no exception. Sheltering beneath the impressive natural sculptures of Remarkable Rocks, you watch breakers pound the granite coastline while thousands of Short-tailed Shearwaters commute past offshore. In season, Southern Right Whales cavort in these waters. Today, your marine mammal action comes further east at Seal Bay, where lumbering Australian Sea-lions pursue their territorial disputes while their doe-eyed pups sprawl beside the boardwalk. Meanwhile Hooded Plovers tend their nest at the top of the beach while Cape Barren Geese fly honking along the shoreline.

Afternoon takes you back east across the island towards the capital Kingscote. The mosaic of habitats, from sand-dunes to mallee scrub, brings ever more wildlife as you go — from a munching koala up a gum tree, baby on board like a mini backpack, to flotillas of Black Swans and Australian Pelicans on the wetlands of American River.

The evening could bring yet more wildlife delights — such as little penguins waddling ashore to their burrows. But after a day on the road, with nothing more than a hearty packed lunch to sustain you, it’s time to sample some of that famous local produce. At a waterfront restaurant, you tuck into a feast of the island’s celebrated seafood, fresh from the ocean that laps just beyond your table. Your plates comes piled high with oysters, prawns, whiting and marron, a prized local freshwater crayfish. And to wash it down? With 18 home-grown labels, you have no trouble finding a bottle that takes your fancy.

 

 

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