An Island For All Seasons
Kangaroo Island, Australia
As winter takes hold in the Antarctic, family pods of Southern Right Whales move with effortless grace through the waters of the Antarctic Sea. Skirting the shores of Kangaroo Island an irresistible reproductive urge drives them forward towards the Great Australia Bight.
In the skies above the island, Ospreys, in a quest to attract a mate, wheel and soar in spectacular aerial displays. In dense bush, Echidnas, similar to hedgehogs, and surely one of the most single-minded of nature’s creatures, link up in a procession of up to eight males (known as an “echidna train”) as they pursue a solitary female for sometimes four weeks at a time.
A brief 45-minute crossing from the mainland aboard a SeaLink ferry had brought us to the small sheltered harbour of Penneshaw. Here on the beach Little Penguins en masse emerge nightly from burrows to forage and socialize.
Covering an area of 4,500 square kilometres, 30% of which is taken up by 19 National Parks and five Wilderness Protection areas, Kangaroo Island is a natural sanctuary for many of Australia’s wild creatures. The island’s isolation and its lack of predatory animals have meant that many species endangered on the mainland have survived and flourished….sometimes too well. In the early 1920s Koalas introduced to the island numbered 11. Today, because of the human population’s emotional attachment to these cute cuddly bears and a resultant strong disapproval of culling, their numbers have soared to over 30,000, threatening certain species of eucalyptus tree; the koalas favourite food.
We traveled with our small tour group to an area known for its koalas. While lunch was being prepared we set off to explore. Before leaving, Paul, our guide alerted us to the habits of stinging ants. To stand on or near an ant nest is an invitation to a swarming he said. Nancy, a fellow tour member and I hastily tucked our trousers into long socks. Even more alarming was the possibility of an encounter with a Black Tiger snake. Australia has the most venomous snakes in the world and its more lethal reptiles contain venom 50 times more toxic than that of the deadly cobra. “But don’t worry”, Paul assured us. “Snakes usually move off long before you see them.”
Like the koalas that sleep for up to 19 hours a day, Australia’s sea lions are equally lethargic while on land. Guarded by massive white-maned males, dozens of plump females, many of them nursing pups, lay in drowsy splendour along the beach at the Seal Bay Conservation Park. As we watched, a sleek ‘teenager’ with energy to spare and an eye for a bit of mischief, surfed towards the beach inside the rising crest of a huge wave. For brief seconds we saw his darting body in a foaming coat of bubbles as the wave curled then crashed to the sand. He, sleek as a swatch of watered-down silk, emerged and flopped onto the beach; then like a mischievous boy headed straight for the nearest unguarded female. Used to male advances, the creamy beauty flared her whiskers, bared her teeth and sent him on his way. Wherever the dominant male was asleep he visited, each time receiving a similar rebuff until he finally gave up and tumbled back into the surf for more innocent fun.
Rising early in American River the following morning, I set off for a walk along the shores of eastern Cove. The sun was just emerging above the horizon. Overhead, flocks of screeching parrots, pink and white Galahs and Crimson Rosellas swooped and dived in a coordinated mass above the lagoon. Close to the water’s edge the wet sand was covered in a mat of bubbled seaweed. A spongy carpet of beach succulents with tiny scarlet flowers kept my feet from sinking into sticky dark mud.
In the shallow waters of the lagoon Black Swans with necks arched and heads submerged, probed and pulled at loose vegetation. Australian Pelicans sailed by. Ibises with slender curved beaks huddled together on the rocks. And on the beach a woman with eyes closed and moving as if in a trance, faced the rising sun as she exercised. Standing near I could hear the whoosh of her breath each time she lowered her arms.
On our way to Flinders National Park we stopped beside a meadow where Cape Barren Geese grazed and kangaroos sunbathed on a grassy plain. I wandered off to photograph. On my return James was chatting to the owner of an SUV who was giving him a friendly warning: “If you feed the kangaroos mate, and you leave your car door open, they are liable to jump in and you won’t get them out.” At that moment James was unaware of a kangaroo standing upright behind him. Once alone and against better advice we gave the friendly animal an orange, but kept the car door firmly closed. After thirty minutes in the Visitor’s Centre we returned to our car to discover a young Canadian girl sitting in the parking lot stroking the same kangaroo. “It was the funniest thing,” she said, “He was trying to get into your vehicle.” The determined marsupial had followed us for almost two kilometres!
One of the major attractions in Flinder’s National Park are the “Remarkable Rocks’. These massive granite boulders sculpted over milennia by wind and weather and balanced on a smooth 75 metre high rock that plunges straight to the sea, gleamed golden in the light of late afternoon. A local story relates how 3000 years ago the entire Aboriginal population of the island committed mass suicide from these same rocks. Because of this event and others of a spiritual nature, mainland Aborigines call Kangaroo Island Karta, Land of the Dead. Under no condition will they venture anywhere near it.
On our last evening before returning to the mainland we stopped off at Kingscote for the nightly feeding of the pelicans. At exactly 5 pm John, the pelican feeder, accompanied by a powerful aroma of fish, pulled up beside the rocky shoreline in his small ute (truck). For nine years, rain, hail and shine, he has fed the pelicans with a dedication to be admired.
Dressed in a sloppy sweater, he donned long waterproof fisherman’s pants and a squashed partially brimmed greasy hat. “We don’t want any unpleasant surprises even if it is supposed to be lucky,” he quipped. Above him seabirds dive bombed the pelicans and the pelicans, with the aplomb of seasoned performers knowing that the show is theirs, climbed labouriously but with confidence onto the rocks, to stand patiently awaiting their meal.
As the feeding time approached more pelicans swept in over the cliffs at the edge of the bay. With their legs tucked neatly under them, they dived straight into the feeding circle and landed with a splash on the waves. In the meantime John, enveloped in a swirling cloud of birds that swooped in to take fishy chunks from his outstretched hand, entertained us with an amusing and occasionally ribald commentary. As he talked, some of the pelicans, like well-bred ladies stood in a row in front of him and waited their turn. Others, impatient, snatched and grabbed. As far as they were concerned his rubber-gloved fingers were part of the meal.
This amazing show has earned John an international reputation. It is not surprising that letters from all over the world addressed to ‘John, the Pelican Man, Australia’ arrive on his doorstep regularly.
WHERE TO STAY
KANGAROO ISLAND LODGE
Email | Website | TripAdvisor
1 800 355 581
Scenic Road, American River, Kangaroo Island, South Australia 5221, Australia
A 4-star hotel within 30 minutes of the ferry and the Kingscote Airport. An early morning walk beside the lagoon is great for bird watchers.
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