Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Days 19, 20, 21, and 22: Kangaroo Island

After two hours on a bus and an hour on a ferry, we arrived in Kangaroo Island. Until the 1980s, there was no ferry to Kangaroo Island, meaning that it is still relatively uninhabited and pristine. The Australian government relocated so many endangered animals there that they are now looking at having to cull the koala population.

We were enchanted instantly. First, we found a sweet little campsite near a river with hundreds of tropical birds and not a single other person. Then we took a hike along the coast, which is edged with green, green grass. The peninsula where we spent the first day was populated primarily by sheep. The car had to be stopped for cooing at the baby lambs many, many times.

After spending sunset with a cheese plate and a bottle at a local winery, we settled in in front of the fireplace at the local pub to play cards until time for the penguin tour.

Yes, I said penguin tour. The rocks along the coast of the peninsula were infested with penguins. Given the full moon, many penguins were keeping out of sight, but we did get to see two little babies huddling together while they waited for their mom to come back from fishing.

The next day we toured various eco-tourism attractions on the island. First, we visited an Emu Distillery, where they turn the layer of fat under an emu’s skin into amazing lip balm. The owner of the distillery rescues little joeys who survive their mothers being hit by cars and raises them in cloth shopping bags that he hangs from door knobs to simulate the pouch. He had two joeys hanging on the door when we visited, and one of them decided to pop up and say hello for a bit. We also visited a lavender farm, where we sampled their lavender fudge and lavender scones, and a bee farm, where we sampled honey mead and honey soft drinks.

That evening we found a secluded camp site on a cliff overlooking the ocean, where Dylan mentioned what I’d been waiting to hear all day. At the emu distillery, Dylan and I were chatting with the owner, who mentioned that the trail we were going to hike the next day actually continued around the entire peninsula, about 20 miles all together. From the glint in Dylan’s eyes, I knew he wanted to do the full walk. He had a GPS and plenty of supplies, so we walked a ways down the path with him in the morning and then sent him on his way.

Now on our own, Angela and I did a couple of short walks and then went to the marron farm for lunch. The marketers of marron will tell you it is like a more succulent lobster. I can tell you that it looks like a cockroach and tastes like nothing. However, we had a nice feast on other tasty treats, including a bottle of local wine.

That afternoon we visited the Remarkable Rocks, the Admiral’s Arch, and the three different types of seals that live on the beaches surrounding the two landmarks before stopping in at the Flinder’s Chase National Park visitor centre to check in to our campsite.

The first thing we noted at the visitor centre was a map of the peninsula that Dylan was trying to hike, clearly indicating that the trail only went half way. Angela and I both began to panic a bit as we had no means of communicating with Dylan (we only had one phone), and we had not made a back up plan if he didn’t meet us at the other end the next day.

The ranger was very keen to know whether we had 4WD as the recent rains made it impossible to reach our campsite without it. As we did not have 4WD, he suggested that we drive out of the park to one of the caravan parks, which are typically fields full of RVs that cost about $40/night. I pushed for other options as I’d made these reservations several months before, which lead him to consult with two other rangers. From their group investigation, they could not tell whether I’d paid over the phone or not, because their detailed record keeping system involved writing names in a notebook and highlighting them if they’d paid. The conclusion, mostly because they couldn’t tell if they owed us a refund and wouldn’t have known how to process it anyway, was that we would probably be fine as no additional rain was anticipated in the next 24 hours. With not a lot of confidence, we set out on the 20 km track back to the camping area. To be sure, there were a lot of low points in the road with some standing water, but it didn’t look like anything to be concerned about without quite a bit of rain.

Angela and I set up the tent on top of a sand dune overlooking a pristine beach and played nine games of Yahtzee while consuming about 2 litres of wine once it was dark.

Then at 10 pm it began to rain. And rain. And rain. We both spent most of the night wondering whether we had left Dylan to die, whether we might wash away, and whether we’d ever get back out on the road to find Dylan if we weren’t washed away. The camping area had only one other inhabitant, who we had been avoiding since we weren’t camping in a designated spot. Obviously we weren’t as tricky as we hoped as she was parked by our car in the morning when we ran up the hill in the rain with our gear. She did have 4WD and very, very nicely agreed to let us follow her so that she could see if we got stuck.

Anyway, all’s well that ends well: we made it out without incident, and we found Dylan. He’d realised that the trail ended about mid-day the day before and hoped that we wouldn’t make the discovery. With the help of the GPS, he found his way out, and then we found him.

That afternoon, we decided to stop in at Kingscote, the main town on the island, just to see it before we caught the evening ferry. As we filled the car with petrol, the owner of the station casually mentioned how rare it was that all ferries were suspended. With alarm, we proceeded to the ferry office in the town centre, where we were told that all ferries were indeed cancelled due to rough seas. Looking out at the sea from Kingscote, it was difficult to imagine how they’d come to this conclusion – it looked relatively placid. The lady at the ferry office was able to book us into one of the last rooms remaining on the island, a hostel room that slept 8 for $150. A bit pricy, but none of us was keen on camping in the cold rain another night. As it had been 4 or 5 days since our last showers, warm water sounded nice, too.

We also stopped in at the car rental agency to confirm that the gentleman would still be at the ferry stop to collect the car that evening as we were staying close enough to the dock to walk the next day. The lady looked down at her notebook full of scribbles and erasures and said that according to her records, we had turned the car in at 10 am that morning. We really must get these Australians access to Excel; it would revolutionise their world. However, she assured me that he would still be there to meet me that evening.

When we got back to Penneshaw, the town where the ferry actually docked, we understood why the ferries were cancelled. The seas there looked like they’d been churned by a tropical cyclone. The wind was howling and the rain was driving hard. We were shocked by how different the weather was just 30 km around the side of the island.

At the designated time, we drove over to return the car. We waited. And then we waited. But no one came. Then Angela noticed that the keys to the office were sticking in the lock on the outside of the door. I simply walked up, turned the key, walking into the office, and turned on the lights. In the unlocked drop box near the door were the keys to several vehicles parked just outside – I could have had my pick. I called the emergency number for the rental agency and reported the situation, expecting shock, alarm, and immediate action. Instead, I was instructed to leave my car keys in the box, turn off the lights, take the keys out of the front door, put them on the desk, and leave. I explained that I wasn’t comfortable doing that as someone could steal a car for which I was still responsible. Sighing, the man on the other end of the line explained that in that case he’d have to come up there, which I affirmed was a good idea. I let him know that he could find me in the pub with the keys. At this point, I’d simply had enough of the Australian lasseiz-faire approach to life. While charming in some situations, trying to book travel arrangements and adhere to an itinerary were not those situations.

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