Int. Travel: Fierce creatures

Rugged terrain, extreme weather, volatile wildlife and hungry marsupials-Simon Rowe introduces us to the untamed charms of Australia's Kangaroo Island.

There are few highways in South Australia that can claim a driver's sanity faster than the one that traverses Kangaroo Island. Lurching left and right through the spear grass and dense bush country of the South Coast Road, travelers quickly learn that dust, long distances and busted car axles are as much a part of Kangaroo Island's culture as its lighthouses and tall fishing tales.

 

Island life
The journey begins in Kingscote, the island's drowsy port town, where the Adelaide Fast Ferry makes the two hour journey from Glenelg Beach every day, laden with passengers and essential provisions.

Australia's third largest island is its own Animal Planet

When we disembarked, the docks were a flurry of activity: Bearded fishermen and burly farm hands were filling their clapped out vehicles with crates of cooking oil and fresh vegetables, magazines and motor oil, while the town's publicans rolled their kegs of beer toward waiting pick ups. Ê
From Kingscote, we set out in a beefed up Land Cruiser for the wild west coast. Roughly 150 kilometers long and 45km wide, Kangaroo Island is Australia's third largest island and, like many of South Australia's early settlements, its history is a rough and tumble one. Roving mobs of sealers and whalers, together with the odd escaped convict, have all etched their roguish adventures into the island's history books.

You can rub shoulders with their descendants in the Kingscote Hotel on any Sunday afternoon. Big, ogreish and smelling vaguely of fish, they are friendly folk who will tell you the best place to catch bull salmon or hook one of their famed King George whiting.

 

Stormy weather
After the smoky pubs and quiet inlets of Kingscote, the towering cliffs and rolling surf of Cape Borda, at the island's far northwest end, offer a refreshing contrast. With winds of up to 75 knots, and mercury levels plunging to around freezing even in the summer, it's not a place for those who suffer the cold easily.

Getting close to nature

Extreme weather conditions are something David Cinzio knows all about. Cinzio, 58, and his wife Tina regularly send weather reports to the Adelaide Bureau of Meteorology from Cape Borda's lighthouse. For the past 25 years, Cinzio has lived the light keeper's lot on some of South Australia's most remote islands. "There's plenty of time to ponder the meaning of life out here," he smiled. "Though not everyone can live with the loneliness and the long stormy nights."

From Cape Borda, the highway snakes south to Flinders Chase National Park, the largest of the island's 18 nature reserves. Camping out in the park among the eucalyptus trees is allowed, and a small shop and information office at nearby Rocky River park headquarters keep the steady stream of travelers informed and well supplied.

The night we set up camp, a spectacular electrical storm rolled across the Chase, lighting up the western sky like artillery fire and providing us with an evening of free entertainment. Not so impressed, though, were a team of Japanese trail bikers who had strung a web of hammocks between the trees, anticipating a night under the stars; packets of rain sodden instant noodles and one soggy guidebook were all that remained of their midnight escape to the park's shelters.

 

Native contact
Daybreak came with clear skies and a riot of bird noise: honey eaters flitted through the mallee, flocks of galahs and cockatoos rose and swooped over the dry riverbeds while, beyond the ranger's office, hundreds of Cape Barren geese grazed across the damp savannah.

The park's resident kangaroos, tamar wallabies and brush tailed possums have acquired a taste for campers' canned Irish stew and dried fruit, though feeding them is strictly forbidden. Rules and regulations, however, didn't stop one kangaroo from burrowing into our tent to chew on our freeze dried rations and nibble at a Norman Mailer novel.

The hardships of island living become obvious to anyone who spends more than a few days on Kangaroo Island. The week before we arrived, the entire western half of the island suffered a ten hour power blackout. Islanders have learned to make good of a bad situation throwing "freezer parties" during a blackout to cook up the contents of their refrigerators before they go bad.

With our own perishables threatening to kick up a stink, we head for Cape de Couedic, 16km south of Rocky River, in search of sea lions, lighthouses and fishy tales. Rising out of the salt bush like a bright red sentinel, Cape de Couedic's lighthouse serves as a beacon not only to passing ships, but also to tourists wanting to experience a wild and remote part of the island's heritage. Built in 1909 after three shipwrecks claimed 79 lives, the lighthouse and its cottages stand to remind visitors of the grit and determination of the early settlers.

 

Environmentally unfriendly
For modern day city slickers, the big drawing card of Cape de Couedic is a glimpse of the vacationing New Zealand fur seals, and the large population of Australian sea lions that speckle its coastline.
While seals abound, so too do sharks. Perched on the windswept headland, I could make out Nautilus Rock, one of the island's five seal breeding grounds. Beyond the rock shelves, great white sharks are known to prowl the steely blue swells looking for a quick baby seal takeout. Park rangers, even the occasional tourist, sometimes witness the macabre spectacle of sharks attacking and then toying with hapless seals, before pulling them to their murky deaths.

Ravine des Casoars, located in the northern part of the island, is a far safer place altogether. Here the green and gold fields fall away to the deep blue ocean, and crayfish fishing boats chug about with flocks of seagulls in tow.

Ravine des Casoars is billed as one of the island's most spectacular walking spots, yet it's also one of the least visited. From the trailhead at the top of 150 meter high cliffs, a narrow pathway leads down through thick groves of sugar gums and mallee bushes. Red and blue rosella parrots rocketed through the undergrowth like tracer bullets ahead of us. A startled meter long banded sand goanna suddenly reared its wrinkled head and let out an agitated hiss. We continued with caution.

Where the ravine widens onto a white sand beach, the full fury of the Southern Ocean can be experienced. Hikers can explore a maze of caves gouged out of the limestone cliffs by years of crashing waves.

Entering these caverns is like stepping into the jaws of some huge prehistoric beast. Sunlight streams through fissures high in the rock walls, and the pungent smell of guano is often a telltale sign that fairy penguins are close by. Inside the cave, the thundering surf outside was amplified ten fold, and at one stage foaming seawater surged in through vents, momentarily cutting us off from the exit.

Time has not diminished the island's rugged charm and mystery, which must have greeted early settlers, and perhaps the odd smuggler, over a century ago.

 

Getting there
A number of domestic and international airlines offer flights from Narita to Adelaide. From there, Kangaroo Island Ferry Connections Ltd runs regular ferries to the island. Tel: (61) 8 8553 1233, fax: (61) 8 8553 1190,
enquiries@ki ferryconnections.com


Where to stay
See www.tourkangarooisland.com.au, Tour Kangaroo Island's website, for loads of information about camping and accommodation. The South Australian Visitor & Travel Center, at 18 King William Street, Adelaide, also has info and recommendations on accommodation on the island. See www.southaustralia.com for details.


Other Information
There are many tour packages available. Recommended are Kangaroo Island 5 Day Walking Tour (A$955/¥66,415) run by Ecotrek; Bogong Jack Adventures, tel: (61) 8 8383 7198, www.ecotrek.com.au, and Right Whaler B&B 3 Day Tour (A$1,140/¥79,280) run by Australian Wildlife Walkabouts, tel: (61) 8 8553 5350, www.australianwildlifewalkabouts.com. Car rental from Hertz Kangaroo Island (Ki Rental Cars, hertzki@kin.net.au) costs about A$91.00 per day for a 4WD vehicle.

Photo credit: Simon Rowe

B u y  i t  o n l i n e !
Hokkaido Highway Blues: Hitchhiking Japan

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Travelogue
HIS Experience Japan is offering tourists and residents of Japan a chance to experience “real Japanese culture,” in addition to the usual tourist spots. The company has nearly a dozen programs that allow participants to learn directly from professionals. Activities include sushi-making, yuzen silk-dying, calligraphy, karate and ninja lessons, taiko drumming and lantern-making, among others. Guides who speak English, Chinese, Korean and Spanish are available, and reservations can be made online at http://hisexperience.jp/. Further info is available in English by calling 03-5322-8988.

From August 26 through September 13 (excluding September 7-9), Tokyo Dome Hotel is offering a late summer accommodation promotion, in which rooms will be discounted by up to 45 percent. During the period, the rate is ¥14,000 for a single room, ¥18,500 for a twin or double and ¥21,000 for a triple. Fifty rooms will be available per day. A variety of events are being held at Tokyo Dome City during this period, including the 78th Intercity Baseball Tournament (August 24-September 4) and the popular children’s program The Jukensentai Geki Ranger Show will be performing on stage at Sky Theater until September 2. For reservations, call 03-5805-2222 or visit www.tokyodome-hotels.co.jp. CB

INT. TRAVEL ARCHIVE:
677: The Little Island
Escape the late-winter blues with a tropical blast from the past
675: Scenic Spirituality
Commune with religion and nature in an ancient land
673: Aoni Onsen
Return to a forgotten time at one of Honshu’s most remote getaways
671: The Golden Rock
One of Burma’s many splendid attractions hangs by a hair
669: Hida Takayama
For personal trips gentle to the soul, seek out the old-time charm of Hida Takayama
665: Okayama
A serene stroll through history awaits at this seaside retreat
663: Cruising the Bay
Ha Long Bay offers a breath of calm away from Vietnam’s urban rush
661: Agamachi
Fox fires and bar codes help a rural Niigata town reinvent itself
535: Hotel California
Mark Parren Taylor kicks up the desert dust in Palm Springs, the perennial Hollywood star retreat.
531: Race through time
The Xterra Saipan triathlon journeys through tropical jungle, up steep mountain paths and across the sands of history. Tama M. Lung joins the chase.
527: Bohemian rhapsody
No visit to Paris would be complete without taking in the Montmartre district. Bon vivant Simon Rowe dusts off his French to go exploring.
523: Slow Motion
Mark Parren Taylor touches down in the timeless former seaport of Lukang, Taiwan.
519: Rock of ages
From ancient times to the present, Gibraltar has always been an island of legends. Stephen Mansfield sifts through its history.
515: Go west, young man
Simon Rowe takes in the big skies and dust trails of Western Australia's East Kimberley region.
511: All mixed up
Mark Parren Taylor makes land on Macau and finds an enigmatic blend of cultures, cuisine and heated competition.
505: Earth, wind and fire
A historically imperiled town in Papua New Guinea holds the keys to a magical getaway. Carlo Niederberger splashes ashore.
501: Off the rails
Braving the 2,010 kilometers of Vietnam's Reunification Express from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi is quite the adventure. Simon Rowe goes along for the ride.
493: Rites of passage
From firecrackers and cheek piercing to divinations and buffalo races, Thailand's most colorful customs come alive at two annual festivals. Mark Parren Taylor joins the crowds.
489: Paradise found
Beaches, battlefields and a colossal casino provide tropical pleasures on the Pacific isle of Tinian. Carlo Niederberger touches down.
485: Through the grapevine
Stephen Mansfield drinks up the delights of the Château Monbazillac in southwest France.
481: Pleasure island
Saipan awaits the young and young at heart with its pristine beaches, pointy peaks, and perfect amount of entertainment. Carlo Niederberger checks in.
477: Reservoir of dogs
Simon Rowe visits the Kingdom of Tonga, where storms burst without warning and wild canines rule the night.
473: Into the bat cave
Sarawak’s Niah Caves are home to hairless bats, birds on the brink of extinction, and lots of bugs, according to Simon Rowe.
469: A fork in the river
Laos’ ethnic minorities battle the forces of time. Stephen Mansfield goes upriver in search of them.
465: Action scene
Sick of the short, humid Japanese summer? Tired of the winter? In NZ it’s summertime and the living is easy, the food and drink inexpensive, and the evenings long and lazy. Mark Devlin heads south to explore and party.
457/458: In living color
Simon Rowe soaks in the glow of Samoa's kaleidoscopic streets.
454: From Jamaica with love
Michael McDonagh soaks up the atmosphere in James Bond's balmy birthplace
449: See worthy
Dan Grunebaum drops oar in the stunning caves of Thailand's Phang Nga Bay
445: Great heights
Simon Rowe packs his hiking boots and sets out for Malaysia's Mount Kinabalu
441: Split personality
There are few cities with such an exacting dividing line between past and present as Lijiang in China's southwestern province of Yunnan
438: Fierce creatures
Simon Rowe introduces us to the untamed charms of Australia's Kangaroo Island
434: Leap of Faith
Simon Rowe dives into a tropical island paradise of waterfalls, reefs and bush rugby on the Fijian archipelago
430: A week in Provence
Stephen Mansfield explores the historic festival city of Avignon, a medieval diamond in the south of France
426: Outer space
Surreal sites, lunar landscapes and UFO sightings go with the territory in Chile
422: The Big Easy
The Moorish streets of Granada, Spain are alive with a new Bohemian rhapsody
418: Small awakening
Japan's microbrewers
414: Fowl play
The animal kingdom comes alive in the Galapagos
410: The river of spirits
Wading through soulful waters in Varanasi, India
406: Heading north
Marching to the beat of a modern drum in North Korea
403: Santa's lap
Santa's lap - enjoy saunas, Santa and sightseeing in Finland’s Lapland
399: Shanghaied
Seeking the past in China's megacity
395: Rising from the ashes
Mary King explores the rich history, culture and art of Croatia’s phoenix city, Dubrovnik.
391: The betels and the stones
Simon Rowe rolls with the tropical exotica on the obscure island of Yap
387: Prague
World heritage site
383: South Africa
Land of hope
381: Hawaii
Pearl Harbor
377: Salt of the earth
Tour the Uyuni Salt Pan
374: China
Suzhou and Hangzhou
370: The Nile
The river mild
367: Tibet
Top of the world
363: Laos
Memo from the Lower Mekong
360: Cuzco, Peru
Lost cities
357: Namibia
Call of the wild
354: Southern India
Mad about Madurai

ISSUES 349-   
ISSUES 299-

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