South Australia – part 2

After the Flinders Ranges we were moving on to Kangaroo Island, an island off the Fleurieu Peninsula south of Adelaide.

From Hawker we drove south through Quorn, another former railway town shrunk in on itself to Port Augusta where we joined the main road from Adelaide to Perth and Darwin – the two split slightly to the west of the town.

Due to the previous day’s rain in the desert the car was covered with what can best be described as orange clag, a thin dried on hard coating of desert mud. We managed to find a coin operated jetwash without too much difficulty – coming back onto a major trucking route had some advantages and cleaned the car down as best we could.

Turning back onto the highway we set off towards Adelaide over fairly featureless dry scrubby plain overtaking and being overtaken by roadtrains.

We soon tired of the highway and as soon as possible turned off to head through Clare and the Barossa valley to Adelaide, rejoining the line of the old Main North Road (which incidentally ran up through Burra) to reach Adelaide.

We were staying in a hotel in the centre of Adelaide. Here Samantha came into her own, guiding us quickly and accurately to the hotel, even when we took a wrong turn at an intersection and started heading west rather than east.

We’d chosen the hotel because it had a secure underground carpark and was within three or four blocks of a couple main restaurant areas, meaning we should have been able to find somewhere decent without difficulty.

Unfortunately we’d failed to take account of it being Saturday evening, and didn’t try calling ahead to make a reservation, which meant that we ended up eating somewhere not quite as good as we’d intended.

We’d also naively thought that we would be able to do some shopping on Sunday morning before checking out, but Adelaide sleeps later than Canberra with a lot of places not opening until 10.30 on a Sunday morning.

So, we checked out early and drove down towards the Fleurieu peninsula and Cape Jervis, which is where you get the Kangaroo Island ferry.

On a whim we stopped in Aldinga, and not only discovered an excellent bakery, but also the Vine cafe which served a superlative breakfast, more a brunch, which more than made up for the previous night’s indifferent dinner.

Then on, meandering down the road to Cape Jervis – due to our aborted shopping plans we were ridiculously early, and stopped at Foodworks in Yanakilla to buy supplies for our time on the island, as we’d been warned that supplies were expensive and that shops were few and far between away from the populated end of the island around Penneshaw and Kingscote.

Being us, we of course were headed to the far end of the island to stay in a cottage at the edge of the national park.

Despite our best efforts we were still ridiculously early for the ferry and were reduced to playing ‘I spy with my little eye’ to pass the time while we waited.

As it was winter the ferry was on a reduced service which meant it didn’t leave until four o’clock, and that meant the sun was setting as we drove off onto the island.

As we drove off it gently began to spit with rain which gradually intensified. What we had failed to appreciate is just how big the island was – our cottage was 125km from the ferry terminal on the fairly uninhabited south west end of the island.

As the sun dimmed the rain started to come in short intense squalls, and after we passed the township of American River we seemed to be the only car on the road.

Certainly the wildlife thought so as we had to brake several time to avoid various hopping things including wallabies and small kangaroos.

The cottage was up a dirt road. 8km up a wet muddy dirt road. It seemed longer in the rain, but we found it (One good thing about South Australia is that rural properties all have to display their block number on an official government sign at the end of their access – the sign is a very simple reflective black and white sign, but it did make spotting the gate for block 837 straight forward.

The cottage was remote and on the edge of the national park. So remote that the gas was bottled gas and electricity either came from solar panels on the roof,  or from the backup generator. No TV, mobile phone or internet.

The access key was in a key safe, the sort real estate agents use. After fumbling the combination a couple of times in the rain and the dark we manged to open it and get the key and let ourselves in.

The lights came on, flickering as the backup generator built up speed, and the gas heater lit, and the owner had laid a fire for us in the wood stove.

We were there, we were warm, we had light. After a simple pasta dinner we sat and listened to music while the rain continued to beat on the roof in fierce squalls out of somewhere in the Southern ocean.

Kangaroo Island is so named because when the explorer Matthew Flinders reached it in 1802 he found large numbers of kangaroos, some of which he promptly shot for supplies. More importantly for the history of the island, when a few days later he encountered the French explorer Nicolas Baudin’s expedition ship in Encounter Bay off the Fleurieu peninsula, he told Baudin of the island.

Baudin and his team spent several months there, surveying the island, with the result that many of the capes and headlands have French names, and describing the wildlife, including the kangaroos, the Australian sea lions and a now extinct species of dwarf emu, which they mistook for a sort of cassowary, with the result that there is now a ‘Ravine des Casoars’ on the island.

After Baudin left a group of American sealers set up camp at American River, where they built themselves a second boat and harvested the seals and sealions of the island. There was no formal settlement of the island until the 1830‘s, and even then it clustered around Kingscote and Penneshaw leaving most of the west end unsettled and uncleared.

Even now there are very few people living on the south and west of the island.

When we woke the next morning the rain was still coming in squalls, meaning that we had a slow start, but drove down to Seal Bay in the national park. Seal Bay is a major breeding and residential site for the now critically endangered Australian sea lion.

National park wardens offer guided tours of the sea lion colony. It was cold, it was wet, it was windy and we were the only people there.

The consequence was the rangers gave us a great tour, especially once they realised that we were not only genuinely interested and actually knew about wildlife. taking us on a tour of the dunes where there were sealions huddling in hollows to escape the wind and out onto the beach, deserted save for a couple of animals hauling out.

Sealions tend to stay faithful to the location in which they were born, meaning that when the sealers attacked them in the nineteenth century they tended to wipe out whole colonies, however somehow the Seal Bay colony survived, perhaps because the rocks and skerries at the entrance to the bay made it too dangerous for men in wooden boats.

The result is that the Seal Bay colony is one of the largest remaining colonies -it is quite a humbling thought to realise that we probably saw around five percent of the remaining world population in a single afternoon.

The weather the next day was no better so we contented ourselves with a drive around the island. Typically, the next, our last day was better, so before we left to catch the afternoon ferry we drove down to Flinders Chase national park to photograph the fur seal colony at admiral’s arch and take a look at the Remarkable Rocks – strange mad wind sculpted rocks above a stormy point over the ocean.

We of course spent too long at the national park and had a mad dash the length of the island to catch the ferry, but we made it in time for a rough and stormy crossing.

This dumped us back on the mainland  mid afternoon. Rather than drive back to Adelaide we dog-legged cross country to Hahndorf, a little town on the freeway out of Adelaide, originally settled by Lutheran settlers from Germany in the late 1840‘s. Hahndorf retains its German heritage in a slightly kitschy way, with  German style pubs and pub food, not to mention some wonderful apple strudel.

Due to it’s German-ness Hahndorf was placed under martial law during the first world war and renamed Ambleside until sometime in the 1930‘s. The railway station never changed its name back, and was till Ambleside until it closed in the 1960‘s.

We’d chosen Hahndorf as it was on the freeway as we had a long drive to Ballarat in Victoria the next day – in fact we had a longer drive than we intended as we turned off the main highway after Tailem Bend to drive across the Cooryong salt lagoon country – hordes of pelicans and seabirds before turning off at Kingston SE – where we picked up some fresh crayfish sandwiches for lunch to head cross country through Penola – notable as the place where Mary Mackillop – Australia’s only Catholic saint – began her work teaching the children of the poor, and then to Hamilton in Victoria, through the Grampians past Dunkeld – you can tell from where the original European settlers came and all to Ballarat, the site of Eureka stockade where the gold miners rebelled against what they felt was excessive government regulation and restriction.

All this took longer than planned meaning that we arrived after dark, and after dinner collapsed in bed.

The next day it was still cold and windy and we had a late start. We’d originally had plans to visit the art gallery but instead drove up to Daylesford and Trentham before driving down to stay with J’s relatives in Mornington. It was not only Friday but the start of a long weekend with the result that the highway was clogged and it took us much longer than planned.

After a day in Mornington we drove back to Canberra – stopping off to allow J to have a look at Eltham where she lived when a girl including taking a look at her parents old house which is still there and then rejoining the freeway.

All in all we’d done around 5000km in two weeks and seen a lot of the country -truly an excellent adventure.


About dgm

Former IT professional, previously a digital archiving and repository person, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical medieval and nineteenth century historian ...
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