Saturday, February 23, 2013

Kangaroo Island, Australia

While checking in to our hotel in Adelaide, we made a snap decision to book a tour of Kangaroo Island for the following day.  There were only two spots left on it, and the weather forecast made that day the best option.  We had moments later when we wondered if that was the right decision, especially when we saw the large tour bus we’d be on.  Our other option was to take our rental car across on the ferry, and take the self-guided approach, but the cost to take a car on the ferry was more than tickets for both of us on the fully guided tour, and we didn’t have any specific info on the Island to guide ourselves with.  The tour experience ended up being a mixed blessing, but mostly good.

We had an early morning pick up, which was especially early for us since we hadn’t set our watches ahead the 1/2 hour that Adelaide from Melbourne. On every plane flight we’ve taken they tell you the local time when you take off and land, so you can set your watch ahead/back as appropriate. Not so much when you’re driving. If there was a “you are now entering Adelaide time zone” we didn’t see it. And we operated on a 1/2 hour difference schedule until it became evident as to why the clock in our room was off, and why the place we went for dinner wasn’t yet open for dinner at 6:00 pm as they said they would be. And also we'll go ahead and say this right now: being a half hour off is a stupid time zone.

Anyway we drove for about an hour or so from Adelaide down to the point where the ferry departs to go over to Kangaroo Island.  The island was on our list because of the amount of wildlife that can be seen there, as well as some beautiful scenery and rock formations. In that sense, the trip didn’t disappoint. But we did feel somewhat rushed and herded around, which is the drawback of a large tour group. The day was an especially hot one, over 40 degrees Celsius (that’s 104 Fahrenheit), so we were really grateful for that air-conditioned bus.
Anyway after an hour drive in which we got a lecture on politics of the area and spotted some kangaroos, we took a 40 minute ferry ride across the channel to the island, on thankfully calm seas.
Once on the island our first stop was at Seal Bay, where we could see Australian sea lions.  We were trying to reign in being jaded, since we’d seen sea lions swim up to within inches of us while snorkeling previously, but the park ranger had some interesting things to say, and Lana picked her brain on some outstanding questions she still had.  We also loved watching the seals body surf—this one rode a wave all the way to shore:
Our next stop was an “Australian Barbecue” lunch, which was adequate, but lackluster and therefore un-pictured.  After lunch, while waiting to get back on the bus, we had an unscheduled wildlife stop when Lana noticed a bat clinging to the backpack of one of the other tourists, just before she was going to put it on. Everyone else wanted to run away, but we think bats are fascinating. It was neat to see this one up close.
Our next stop was a wildlife refuge area for koalas, which aren’t native, but were introduced on the island in the hopes of providing a good habitat for them back in the twenties when the powers that be were worried about their extinction. Unfortunately they are prone to stripping the trees bare because they can eat so much more of the eucalyptus leaves here in these trees than back on the mainland of Australia. The trees in Australia have evolved with koalas, and so they’ve figured out a way to make about 2/3 of their leaves toxic to koalas, who in turn leave those alone and the tree can continue to grow. On Kangaroo Island, the gum trees hadn’t evolved with koalas, so they didn’t have any defense mechanism built in. Hence the need to control this population of koalas now, so they don’t destroy their own habitat for the sake of a midnight snack.  They’re pretty cute though, and sleepily uninterested in us in part because of how hot it was.

Our next stop was a promontory locally referred to as Remarkable Rocks (we’ve learned Aussies like an alliterative name). As the link indicates, these rocks are interestingly shaped due to their erosion through wind and weather.  Very beautiful, although the trip came with warnings about staying away from the edge, complete with the anecdote about someone who didn’t listen, and while she didn’t drown, at least two rescuers, including her guide did drown.  Needless to stay we were all careful at the precipice, and probably less willing to help a fool in distress, if it came down to it.
After that stop we drove for a while across one end of the island, where the road furled out like a dotted ribbon:
Admiral’s Arch (see, we told you) was quite pretty, but it became a lot more interesting to us when our guide mentioned that those are not stalactites, but are fossilized tree roots that have been exposed by the same weathering that carved the arch*.
At the end of the tour, we had enough time to grab a bite to eat on the Island before our ferry arrived.  We got a pizza and a salad, and shared them on a park bench overlooking the straight, with a view of mainland Australia, as well as the island’s harbor.  We chatted with some of the folks from the tour about their travels over dinner.  It was finally cooling down, and it was a very nice way to wrap up the tour.
It had reached something like 42 in town, so we were in fact glad we had chosen to be out in the purportedly cooler Kangaroo Island, but it was still hot, and it was still a tour group. While it wasn’t a bad day, and it did end up being an ok deal for us, we probably won’t be doing any large-scale tour bus-type tours. Just not our cup of tea, but it was nevertheless a fun day, and we got to meet some nice people and enjoy a pretty special place to boot.

*If you like a good story, stop here.  If you like geology and/or factual data, read on:
Sadly, it appears our guide was mistaken about the tree roots, though in his defense, the signs on the path are also mistaken about the formation, which was originally a fresh water flank margin cave that was exposed and subsequently modified by wave action, and not a natural arch eroded by wind and water.  We loved the idea of exposed fossilized roots, but David had too much skepticism hammered in to him by his parents to pass that tidbit on without a bit of Googling first.  The Journal of Cave and Karst Studies was lurking out there to explain that the gnarled appearance of the stalactites is a result of being exposed to sea and air, along with algal growth.