The Road Ahead : December 2010
THE ROAD AHEAD DEC 2010/JAN 2011 28 WWW.ROADAHEAD.COM.AU TRAVEL DEPARTURE NATIONAL PHOTOS, ABOVE, FROM LEFT: WALLABY IN THE WILD. SEAL BAY. CAPE DU COUEDIC LIGHTHOUSE. TRAFFIC CONGESTION IS scarcely a problem on Kangaroo Island, a largely pristine wilderness only 120 km from Adelaide. But since most visitors arrive via the ferry terminal at the little town of Penneshaw, the road up from the dock sees the island's heaviest traffic. It also sees lots of penguins. Penneshaw is home to a big colony of Little Penguins. They waddle the town's streets at night. You could literally trip over one in the dark. It is hard to believe that the penguins -- so small, slow and defenceless -- haven't been wiped out. But fatalities are rare, people and birds co-exist happily, and the colony thrives. All of Kangaroo Island's wildlife species thrive, mainly because it is free of most of the feral species, such as rabbits and foxes, which plague the mainland. At well over twice the size of Fraser Island, at least three days are required to fully explore it, but its main attractions, located along the southern coast, can be covered in a day. Seal Bay, a wide sweep of immaculate white sand backed by high wind-carved dunes, is home to about 600 sea lions, all that remains of an island population of about 100,000. Decimated by the early explorers, they were still illegally hunted in the 1950s in the more remote bays. We sat on the cool sand watching the sea lions snoozing on the beach, fat and clumsy, or frolicking sleek and shiny in the water. They can sleep for three days after spending up to a week out in the ocean hunting the huge quantities of fish they need to survive. At lunchtime, with the sun dazzling white-hot off the salt lakes that dot the island's interior, we stopped beneath a stand of eucalyptus trees and ate barbequed King George whiting, one of the island's many gastronomic specialities, and drank wine from a nearby vineyard while a fat koala dozed in a tree fork above our heads and an electric-blue Fairy Wren hopped around the table. Farther west is Flinders Chase National Park, one of the 21 national and conservation parks on the island, which retains 45 per cent of its original forest growth. Ron, our guide, said that Flinders Chase was arguably the most intact ecosystem in Australia. It is the size of Singapore, yet virtually uninhabited. 'A big chunk of nothingness,' as he put it. In late 2007, bushfires damaged large swathes of the park, but natural regeneration is now well under way. We entered the park from the north, where an undulating orange dirt road bisected the endless rolling mallee scrubland, with a blue strip of Southern Ocean on the horizon. Nearer the coast, the trees become stunted due to the salty soil and vicious southerly wind. They are green and healthy but only around three feet tall, like an endless bonsai forest. Shipwrecks clutter the seabed along TRAVEL OFFER RACQ members can receive up to 15 percent off with an AAT Kings Southern Australia tour and visit to Kangaroo Island. To findouthowto save, call RACQ Travel on 1300 888 449 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. au. STORY + PHOTOS RICHARD WATERS born to be wild Getting up close and personal with the best of Australia's wildlife on Kangaroo Island, South Australia's very accessible wilderness.