Ella Roles, who’d picked me up right on sunset from Kingscote Airport for the drive to Kangaroo Island’s Southern Ocean Lodge, is only half joking when she says that I’d already had my nocturnal wildlife excursion.
The drive is normally of about an hour’s duration, but at that time of day you can add half an hour, because of the care required to avoid native animals crossing the road.
Ella has only been at Southern Ocean Lodge about a month but she already does the drive like a veteran, expertly picking her way between kangaroos, wallabies and possums, at times coming to a complete stop while a recalcitrant animal crosses the road in front of us.
There sure is plenty of wildlife on Kangaroo Island, something I guess I’d expected, though the length of the trip certainly brings home the somewhat surprising size of the place.
Its area of just under 4500 square kilometres makes it Australia’s third-largest island, coming in well behind Tasmania (more than 68,000 square kilometres) but being only just shaded by the Northern Territory’s Melville Island (just under 5800 square kilometres).
But Kangaroo Island is not just a haven for wildlife. It’s also home to some wonderful coastline — which the truly luxurious Southern Ocean Lodge takes full advantage of — and as I find out the following morning on the Wonders of Kangaroo Island experience it also harbours stunning natural phenomenon such as Admirals Arch and Remarkable Rocks.
A group of three of us is led on the Wonders adventure by Michael Caspar, who obviously loves Kangaroo Island and has acquired intimate knowledge of its history and features.
We start off with a stroll along the Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary Koala Walk, where there are plenty of trees carrying the prominent markers which indicate current residency by one of Australia’s favourite marsupials.
The koalas aren’t difficult to spot. In fact, the island has an estimated 50,000, at least three times as many as is good for it, explains Michael.
They’re certainly not endangered on Kangaroo Island.
Then it’s into Flinders Chase National Park, where a lighthouse stands proudly and bears testament to a treacherous coast that has claimed its share of shipping.
These days it’s electrified and the three keepers’ cottage available as restored historic holiday accommodation.
Michael Caspar is right in his element here, especially as he takes us along the easily negotiated boardwalk and down the solidly constructed wooden stairs to see his personal favourite, Admirals Arch.
The arch itself has been formed over millions of years by the power of the Southern Ocean and to stand there is to appreciate just how intense the force of that ocean can be.
The area around the arch is also a breeding ground for fur seals and to call their young cute is clearly understatement of the highest order. It is indeed unfathomable to think of the species as the target for hunters.
The location and its inhabitants are outstanding and quickly become the natural highlight of my all-too-brief couple of days on Kangaroo Island. And the weather gods are indeed kind and have plenty of winter’s sun shining on us.
Nearby Remarkable Rocks are mystical in their allure, and probably constitute Kangaroo Island’s single greatest landmark and attraction.
A well formed, easily negotiated boardwalk links a carpark to a set of fantastically eroded granite boulders sitting on top of a large granite dome.
They appear to have been arranged by an especially imaginative, perhaps warped mind.
Visitors are welcome to step off the boardwalk and wander among the boulders but please be careful. There is no protective fencing, some of the edges are very steep and the ocean looks particularly unforgiving.
Staying at Southern Ocean Lodge makes the visit especially attractive. We know that it’s back to the grand glassed-in restaurant for a sumptuous three-course gourmet lunch and the most attentive yet unobtrusive service imaginable … but the food and the accommodation are worthy stories in their own right and well deserving on their own space.
Meanwhile, enjoy the island’s awesome physical nature and the cute appeal of its wildlife.
John Rozentals was a guest of Southern Ocean Lodge and the South Australian Tourism Commission.
IF YOU GO
Southern Ocean Lodge: www.southernoceanlodge.com.au
South Australian Tourism: www.southaustralia.com
Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary: www.hansonbay.com.au