Hopping Across to Kangaroo Island
On March 22nd 1802, the Englishman, Matthew Flinders, was charting what was then known in Latin as ‘Terra Australis Incognita’… The Unknown Southern Land. During his circumnavigation of what is now known as Australia he came across an uncharted and unknown island with an abundance of kangaroos that inhabited the fertile land; not surprisingly he named it Kangaroo Island.
Having lived on salt pork for much of their journey, the crew of Flinders’ ship, the HMS Investigator, were said to have shot 31 island kangaroos for a fresh supply of meat. Half a hundredweight of heads, forequarters and tails were stewed down for soup, and as much kangaroo steak was available for officers and men as they could consume “by day and night”. It was declared to be a “delightful regale”.
I was travelling there with AAT Kings. It’s a 45 minute ferry ride from Cape Jervis on the Fleurieu Peninsula to cross the Backstairs Passage to the small community of Penneshaw on Kangaroo Island. The island’s 4,350 square km land mass measures about 150 km long and is between 57 km - 90 km wide with a resident population of about 4,600 people.
The third largest island in Australia is a sanctuary to large populations of native Australian animals, with rock formations unique to South Australia and with just three small townships; there is pristine wilderness in abundance. Besides Kangaroos, the island is home to sea lions, fur seals, pelicans, short beaked echidnas, koala, Rosenberg goannas, Tammar wallabies, brushtail possums, Southern Brown bandicoots, Western and Little Pygmy possums, bush and swamp rats, bats, frogs and, I was told on good authority, many thousands of slithery Black Tiger and Pygmy Copperhead snakes.
Our accommodation for the night was the unusually named Ozone Hotel in Kingscote, managed by the Aurora Resorts Group. The original building was constructed in 1908 and was once considered the finest hotel in the state with a 155 foot long sandstone frontage. The hotel offered 57 rooms, saloon, ordinary bars, billiard room, two dining rooms, and several parlour rooms, but alas it was razed to the ground in a destructive fire in 1918. It was rebuilt in 1920 but is a less ornate replica of the original.
Very little of the hotel today shows the glimpses of it’s glory days, as inside it is now a fully modern bistro restaurant and bar as well as contemporary furnished bedrooms. For dinner on a cold, windswept night I started with delicious local oysters and then opted for a kangaroo and vegetable potpie but on seeing the King George whiting on other peoples’ plates, I wish I had chosen more wisely.
After an early breakfast we were on the road at 8.00 am. It was cloudy with light drizzle but the forecast was for clearing skies, as our friendly AAT Kings tour director Dave informed us. Our first stop was the Flinders Chase Visitors Centre in Flinders Chase National Park. During our visit a big Cape Barron Goose wandered down from the scrub and walked across the zebra crossing as though it had right of way – as it very likely did – a loose goose taking a bit of a gander.
We motored on for another 15 minutes to the southwestern edge of the island to a place named Cape du Couedic where the island’s famous Admirals Arch is hidden below the cliffs. Here you’ll find the Cape du Couedic Lighthouse built in 1909 and a network of walking trails, the best of which is a boardwalk to the base of the cliffs where the stunning see-through Admirals Arch is located. It’s a preferred location for a colony of basking New Zealand fur seals, a small portion of over 7,000 seals that live and breed around Kangaroo Island.
From the Cape it was another short drive to Remarkable Rocks, ginormous granite boulders in sculptured formations that are said to be more than 500 million years old on a dramatic coastal bluff with spectacular views out to the Southern Ocean. This is an iconic tourist draw card on Kangaroo Island, especially at sunset due to the symmetry of the shapes and shadows.
The beating heart of Kangaroo Island was where lunch was being served. Leaving the smooth highway we ventured onto the red dirt road for about 15 minutes until we reached Andermel Marron & Café, which turned out to be the highlight of our visit. It was started 16 years ago on the site of a former run-down sheep station that over time was converted into a vineyard and a series of breeding ponds stretched over five hectares filled with freshwater crayfish (Marron).
It looks like a simple café, but the cuisine served is anything but. We were first introduced to the owner, John Melbourne, who guided us through the history of freshwater crayfish in Australia and how they rear the clawed critters and eventually plate up the dishes in their café. After a short wine tasting of John’s Two Wheeler Creek Vineyard wines it was on to lunch. A no brainer was choosing from the menu their Marron seafood platter for two. It consisted of roasted crayfish in the shell, cold crayfish in the shell, prawns, scallops, fresh fruit, green salad and garlic bread. This was a platter that stole the show.
There is a range of activities to keep any visitor happy on Kangaroo Island: wines, vines and spirits – try the KIS Island Gin, charter fishing, kayaking, quad bike tours, golf, photographic tours, wildlife walkabouts, local festivals, walking tracks, wildlife parks and sanctuaries, as well as national parks and wilderness areas. There’s something for all the family to enjoy.
Following our guided tour across the Marron Estate we headed for another well-known tourist attraction, Seal Bay Visitor Centre and Seal Bay Beach, based inside the Cape Gantheaume Wilderness Protection Area. Only guided tours by qualified staff allow visitors to amble down onto the chalky white sands where a colony of sea lions bask (lounge room lizard like) in the afternoon sunlight, where occasionally a male on male ruckus would turn into a loud grumpy sea lion slanging match – a scene where bigger males always seemed to win handsomely.
Visiting the seals was a great way to end our Harvest Tour of South Australia. We’d happily engaged in and witnessed a chef’s life, sea life, wildlife, nightlife, freshwater fish life and people just living the good life.
We never did get to see any slithery snakes, but that aside our group all had huge smiles on their faces and a memory bank of unique experiences that will be hard to let go of. Hopping across to Kangaroo Island is one ferry journey that will last forever.
Marron Cafe seafood platter
Old Goal at Kingscote