On Friday we got on a plane for the first time since the pandemic and made our way to beautiful South Australia for a romantic weekend away. It was our 18th wedding anniversary and part of our success at this thing called marriage is, I think, taking time to hang out and reconnect with each other on a regular basis.
As we traverse through the airport, and sit in our tiny economy Qantas seats (did they get smaller?), everyone happily masked up, I marvel at the adaptability of human beings. I think it’s one of the superpowers of our species, this ability to flexibly adjust to changing circumstances.
It’s a two hour, largely smooth, flight to Adelaide and then an 80 minute drive down the ferry to Kangaroo Island. The landscape we drive through is brown and dry; large, rounded hills that seem covered in a mousy coating of dried grass. But they fall off into a sea of startling turquoise, and between them are lush moments of greenery and endless vineyards too that are still heavy with tinges of burnt umber autumnal leaves.
The ferry ferries (!) our car and several trucks and caravans across an aqua sea towards Australia’s third biggest island, for now merely a brown smudge on the horizon. The boat trip is smooth and the lunch we gulped down during a whistle stop visit to Victor Habour remains safely where it belongs. (Not so on the way home, although being outside to avoid seasick vomiting meant I saw the dolphins).
It is a 45 minute trip and we arrive at Penneshaw with a mechanical pirouette that spins the boat around on a dime to reverse in. The ship sounds like it is gnashing its teeth, but I’m distracted by the transparency of the water. How can it be so clear?
We arrive in the late afternoon, but not too late to make it across to Kangaroo Island Spirits for a flight of gin and a little rest in their fairy light bedecked gin-garden. The gins are lovely, the service brimming with good cheer (everyone seems friendly in South Australia, but that probably says more about NSW). I have a lychee gin and tonic, and determine that it will not be my last. Mike buys two bottles to go with our other 16. We could open a bar.
Because the gin place closes early and dinner is a while away yet, we stop at the brewery. It’s a tin shed, with leather sofas and a roaring fire, and bar seating in front of wide windows that frame a stunning view across the countryside. We plonk ourselves down in front of it, wine and beer in hand, and fall into conversation with neighbouring patrons from Melbourne. We like it so much we come back the next night too.
Our first full day on Kangaroo Island starts early with a park run. I think there are about 26 people in attendance – pretty usual, we’re told, and mostly tourists. We run along the edge of the island, in the company of some sort of brown soaring kite, past gliding swans (who knew they did saltwater?) and ungainly pelicans, and flocks of pied cormorants, gathered together in large messy groups, like skulking judges in their frocks.
We drive down to the other end of the island, to the fire ravished Flinders Chase National Park. I can’t imagine what this placed looked like before last year’s fires ripped through this half of the island, taking 98% of the park with it. But for now, it is lush with low growth – a sea of green and budding life that stretches out until the sea. It is for the rocks we’ve come though.
Admirals Arch is impressive, but it is the seals and sealions that really get our attention. Lollying over rocks they are at first hard to spot. But once we see one, we see that the rocks below seethe with them – different shapes, shades and species. Little ones cavort endlessly, falling into the crashing waves and chasing each other through the sea spray, while fat and tired mamma’s take in the sunshine. It is cold here on this peninsula that stretches into an ocean that bumps up against Antarctica. The wind howls in our ears and tugs at our jackets, and whips our hair into a birds nest of knots.
The Remarkable Rocks are, indeed, remarkable. They stand like a monument to Dali, shaped and smoothed and carved out by nature herself. I’m reminded of the ones we saw crossing from Chile to Bolivia via the Salar de Uyuni. They are sentinels to the passing of time, standing between the ocean and a sandy landscape of blackened trees. It is stark place, but also beautiful. Timeless.
The route home takes us past Vivonne Bay, which is supposed to be renowned for a beautiful beach. The sand is white but it starts to rain when we arrive and the sea is violent and thundery. Instead, we stop at The General Store for lunch (whiting burger on gluten free roll, very yum). I’m glad I made the decision to stay in Kingscote though. Vivonne Bay is beautiful, but it’s remote from shops and restaurants for only a weekend stay.
Finally we wrap up our touristy day with a quick stop to Seal Bay. And this is a highlight on a highlight filled day. Do not skip this! We haven’t booked a tour, but the boardwalk takes us around the breeding grounds where mums and babies lie in paired cocoons. Baby seals are about the cutest things you can ever hope to see in your life. They are playful, curious, social and lost babies cry with a heart rending plea that sets my own mum hormones alight. I’m in awe of people who dedicate their life to conservation work like this.
As we walk to the look out we have an encounter of a less cute kind. A black tiger snake is making its way along the pathway. He (she?) flares his head at us in annoyance and I’m almost paralysed by fear. Not by this one, particularly, although I’m definitely following instructions and slowly stepping away. But rather by the notion that I’ve probably walked past any number of them just out of sight below a bush or beneath a rock today, a momentary breath away from a deadly encounter. To be fair, I’ve lived in Australia for 20 years and it is the first snake in the wild I’ve seen. Nonetheless, we stopped at the brewery for a calming drink on the way home!
We’re pretty tired out from driving the next day, so we stay closer to Kingscote. We visit the Sunday market, about 6 stalls in total and buy a few knick knacks to take home. There are all of 30 people there, but no one seems that fussed. It is hard to conceive living in so small a community. Even a late night trip to Coles has more people where we live.
After that, we go wine tasting. There are five wine makers on the island, I think. We visit the three closest to us and are not disappointed. At The Islander Estate we taste beautiful reds we would never buy ourselves ($150 a bottle is a little steep for my uneducated palate, but I can see the appeal for those with a wine interest), and beautiful reds and whites we would. We have a prosecco that sparkles off my tongue with dancing deliciousness. We order 6 to be delivered – as soon as possible. Sophie gives us an entertaining rundown on both wine and island life, and we go and see her dad’s sheep munching in the vineyards at the next place.
I love this local feel of thing. The lack of pretence and the quiet confidence of something done well for its own sake. For pleasure.
Springs Road Wines is our next stop, but I’ve already been drinking their wines at the local brewery. Still, with limited distribution, we bring some home with us all the same (one breaks in transit, soaking everything in the smell of fermented grapes ;( ) . Finally, we stop at Bay of Shoals. We order a platter of goodies – meats and cheeses and olives and what not, and a bottle of wine and sit on the hill watching the water sparkle in the bay and the kangaroos graze amongst the vines that roll down the hill towards it.
Is two days enough to see Kangaroo island? It depends I suppose on what you want to do. One additional day would have allowed us to visit the other part of the island, the part closest to Penneshaw. American River and False Cape and Dudley Wines. A bit more time and we could have gone Koala seeking, or at least visited the wildlife parks. Still, it was enough to get a taste of it. Enough to feel rested and rejuvenated, and #blessed to live in this fine and bountiful land, with its phenomenal trove of natural treasures.
Onwards to the next adventure
Sharlene – April 2021