The jaunt to Kangaroo Island off the coast near Adelaide was brief but thoroughly enjoyable. Green, hilly pastures inland contrast with scrub vegetation closer to the sea and giant yuccas punctuate the landscape. The island’s economy depends heavily on sheep, cattle and other forms of agriculture like canola, which paints many of the fields a gorgeous yellow hue. The island is blessed with good rain but not such good soil, however, and salinity is a problem here as elsewhere in Australia.
Kangaroo Island has a fair amount for tourists to see as well. We went on a two-day guided drive around the island, stopping off at Flinder’s Chase National Park at the west end to look for birds, reptiles and other creatures, and several hikes rewarded us with fantastic coastal and inland scenery.
In the park, at one pond we found a long black tiger snake — the fifth-deadliest in the world — not too far away from us. Australia boasts more living things than can kill or maim a person, from reptiles, birds and sea creatures to plants, insects and spiders, but you can’t let the fear of dangerous wildlife deter you from enjoying the outdoors. And plenty of animals may not necessarily be completely harmless but are disarming nonetheless. We stopped for lunch at a small campground filled with kangaroos that glanced at us with deadpan expressions but otherwise went about eating their own lunch in the grass nearby.
We spent the afternoon checking out the park’s Remarkable Rocks, which were indeed remarkable. These massive granite boulders have been sculpted by seaside wind and water into fanciful shapes with craggy hollows.
We also drove out to Cape du Coeudic, home to a colony of New Zealand fur seals. These plump, fuzzy cigars lolled around on the rocks, with the big males occasionally barking loudly at one another, mouths agape and heads swinging in an attempt to prove who’s the boss.
In the afternoon we had the good fortune to come across a few koalas sleeping high in the trees, and the most enchanting echidnas waddling around on the ground. Like the platypus, the echidna is a monotreme (an egg-laying mammal), and it resembles a brown pincushion with a pointy, leathery snout. You’d think it would be related to the hedgehog, but it isn’t. The huge Cape Barren goose, with its bright yellow-green bill, was another treat, as was the small Tammar wallaby.
One of the things I took away with me from the entire Australia journey, but especially dawning on me here, was the iconic sight of a kangaroo or wallaby hopping off. Their bodies form such a distinctive shape as they lean forward with their tails curved up behind them.
At night we went out to a beach on Kingscote, the major town on the island, to see fairy penguins coming ashore to their burrows from a day at sea. These comical little creatures lurched about and held their stumpy arms at their sides for balance. The chicks were the same size as the adults, only fuzzier, and they all made a braying, barking sound.
The next day we went to Seal Bay where Australian sea lions slept on the beach like lazy sausages, paying no attention to the crested terns and silver gulls that accompanied them on the beach. These huge beasts — some males topping 900 pounds — can also tug at the heartstrings on occasion. One poor sea lion pup came out of the water calling pitifully for his mother and searching the beach to find her, moving from sea lion to sea lion in vain.
Kangaroo Island rated as one of my favorite places in Australia. The town of Kingscote is small but charming, and the countryside scenery varies pleasantly from rolling green farmland to high cliffs and dramatically sculpted coastlines. As much as we wanted to linger, our next destination was calling: Tasmania.