Time to show KI some TLC - tender loving cash!
Every South Australian should see Kangaroo Island … and there is no better time than right now.
It might seem like a strange thing to do so soon after the island has been ravaged by bushfires, but, it’s exactly what KI needs – an injection of TLC – tender loving cash!
Tourist operators all over the island are suffering from a perception that KI is closed to visitors. It’s not. Most places are open for business and they need visitors more than ever.
One Kangaroo Island tour operator, KI Connect, has come up with a special one-day tour to get people back to the island – and to entice new tourists across Backstairs Passage.
KI is hard to beat for wilderness, wildlife, jaw-dropping scenery and unique local produce. The fires have not changed that.
The One-Day Experience starts with a 30-minute KI Connect ferry ride from Cape Jervis to Penneshaw where you are met by your tour driver for the day.
Our guide is Darryl – or “Curly” to the locals. As we set off, Darryl paints a pretty impressive picture of KI starting with a bit of history. Did we know, for example, that Kangaroo Island was where the first settlers landed in South Australia? It was not at Glenelg. And that Penneshaw was where English and French explorers, Matthew Flinders and Nicholas Baudin, met and discussed the abundance of food in the form of “kunguroos”.
We head west, taking the limestone and dirt back roads that cut across the island.
We don’t go far before the subject of bushfires comes up. According to the Country Fire Service, 211,000ha of land has been burned.
“It’s been tough,” Darryl says. “It sounds like a lot – and it is – but that’s only part of the 440,000ha of the island. There’s still a lot to see.”
Almost on cue, we pass through pockets of burnt out land where spot fires took hold. The worst damage was done in the western end of the island, but this is still bleak: the scrub is stripped bare and only black sticks poke out of the ash.
Our first stop is Seal Bay – about halfway along the 155km-long island. It is home to about 800 Australian sea lions.
The tour gives us access to a self-guided tour along the impressive boardwalk to see the sea lions from a distance. There are views over the haul-out zone, where the sea lions rest, all the way down to the beach. Interpretative signs explain everything from breeding to what they eat and how they behave.
Did you know, for example, that these sea lions make a 120km return journey to the continental shelf looking for food every six days? If you want to get closer, take the guided tour and head on to the beach with a National Parks ranger.
Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Oil Distillery is next. Eucalyptus oil was one of the first exports from KI and the industry is still going strong at Emu Ridge. But it’s how they extract the oil from the trees that is fascinating. That labour-intensive process is all explained at the distillery. They sell all things eucalyptus from oils to skincare products and there’s a cafe, art space and you might meet some of the orphaned kangaroo joeys that they look after.
Just down the road is Clifford’s Honey Farm, a family business enjoying sweet success thanks to one of the only pure strains of Ligurian bees in the world. The fires have destroyed many of the bees and bee hives that were placed all around the island … but not all are lost.
Tours detail how the honey is collected and bottled. You can taste (and buy) different flavours and should not leave the shop without a tub of honey ice cream.
Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park & Aquarium, run by Dana and Sam Mitchell, is one of the best wildlife experiences on the island – and one where you can get really close to the 600 animals they look after. You might have seen Sam on TV during the fires, refusing to leave his animals. Since then, the park has taken on the task of looking after even more injured animals. They are caring for an extra 50 koalas – some need hand feeding while others need their bandages changed regularly.
You can get close to a koala in a special enclosure at the park, or you can pay extra to hold one.
The loss of wildlife weighs heavy on locals. “It’s impossible to put a number on how many roos and wallabies and koalas we lost,” our guide Darryl says.
“And it looks like the dunnart is gone again. The dunnart is a little marsupial thought to have been extinct – but it was found on the island and numbers were building up.
“And then there are the farm animals … they estimate about 100,000 sheep lost. I’ve talked to some of the Army volunteers. The worst job they have had is burying dead animals – some caught in fence lines, and others, just farm animals caught in the blaze. One farmer had 8000 sheep and now he’s only got 100 left.
“One of the biggest things we missed was the birdsong. We had more than 250 species but their habitats have gone. We don’t know what is happening to the birds.”
Pennington Bay is a quick stop to check the surf and take in views of the rugged coastline and Southern Ocean.
The last stop before returning to the ferry is at Rob’s Sheep Shearing and Sheepdogs.
Rob is a shearer turned farmer turned comedian who still shears sheep and trains sheep dogs. He is a character – irreverent, funny and full of information.
He knows how to work the crowd and his dogs, Champ and Bella, know how to work the sheep.
This One-Day Experience offers a compact, informative taste of Kangaroo Island and will leave you wanting more.
The writer was a guest of KI Connect