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Reports

Saturday, 3 August 2002
Willunga --> Kangaroo Island, South Australia

Hmmm. When my alarm woke me up at 5.30am I noticed that it had not stopped raining. I had myself a shower (hey: organic shampoo!) and when I came out of the shower, Michael was already cracking up a fire in the living room. When I got my stuff packed again, we headed through the rain from the chicken shed house to the under-construction house for a weetbix breakfast. Father Andrew, also already awake at 6am, helped me out with some toasts for on the road.

Michael took me along in the car and drove me to the nearby town Aldinga. From here I caught the SeaLink Coach that would take me to the port of Cape Jervis. Around 9am the SeaLink ferry departed towards the island in the distance. I was going to Kangaroo Island!



I had no invite to stay for a day on Kangaroo Island and the folks at Mix102.3FM in Adelaide did not really liked the fact that I had to skip this remarkable place. So two days ago, when I was the guest on the breakfast show with Kevin and Jana, they decided to try to get me there.

Kangaroo Island is Australia's third largest island (Tasmania and Melville Island are the first and second) and is situated 120km southwest of Adelaide or 16 kilometres offshore from Cape Jervis. The island is a nice 155 km long and up to 55 km wide.

So how did I eventually make my way to the island? It all went very fast. First Deidre Morrison called to the radio station telling that I could stay a night for free at her Acacia Apartments.

Then the Rabbit Warren Bakery in the island town Kingscote called up to support me in something to eat if I wanted. As last I got an email from Julie Anne Briscoe who works at SeaLink. Access to Kangaroo Island is made easy with Kangaroo Island SeaLink's regular daily passenger & vehicle ferry crossings from the small fishing port of Cape Jervis and she offered me a return ride for free!

And of course everybody is happy about me visiting KI (as how the locals call it), so there was Marc Warren, the executive director of Tourism Kangaroo Island, offering me a grand tour around the must-see places on the island. The main industry of this place is sheep farming, bees (yes, those honey flies) and tourism, so any publicity is good publicity!

KI was separated from the mainland by glacial action 200 million years ago. It was uninhabited at the time of European exploration, and very few traces of aboriginal occupation have been found. Matthew Flinders and a French expedition under Baudin circumnavigated it in 1802. The French inscribed a plaque at Penneshaw, now removed to the South Australian museum. The present feral pigs are descended from animals left behind by the French, as a food source for future shipwrecked sailors.

In the early 19th century, Kangaroo Island was a base for the sealing industry centred on Bass Strait. The town American River was so called after a crew of American sealers built a ship there in 1803. In 1836 Kingscote was the site of the first official settlement, prior to Adelaide, but was abandoned because of lack of water and poor soil. Subsequent development was slow until the discovery of trace elements boosted agriculture in 1930s.


SeaLink had me on Kangaroo Island in no time (just 45 minutes). On board the vessel a video already revealed some secret hot spots on the island. Next to the video I also saw all the tourists on board, obviously, because most of them looked Asian and had big lens cameras with them.

The arrival port was Penneshaw, a picturesque township with a beautiful white sandy beach. This is where I met up with Marc Warren. Today he would be my tour guide and show me the fascinating sights that KI consists of.

I came on a right day, because Marc is nowadays busy with his submission for the South Australian Tourism Awards. And therefore he needed some good photographs of the island again. And I could come along!

Marc tells me that 40% of the visitors of KI are internationals. “The Dutch folks, for example, drive around the island themselves.”

“People visit KI for three reasons: 1) wildlife 2) wildlife and 3) wildlife,” he tells me in the car as he introduces me with the island traffic jam. On the road in front of us are three other cars. That’s all there is and will be. It’s the traffic that just came of the ferry and finds their ways to different towns on the island.

Next to being the tourism director of the island, Marc is also one of the ambulance volunteers. “I am a bit of a control freak,” he says. “In case of an emergency a helicopter comes from Adelaide, but somebody has to give the first aid on the island. Why does he do that? “It’s a diversion of my normal work.”

We pass a few towns on the island on our way to Kingscote, where I’ll eventually stay for the night. You know, there are no traffic lights on this island! In Kingscote we pay a visit to the Rabbit Warren Bakery (not related with Marc). I met up with the folks there and they helped me out with a kangaroo meat pies, muffins, custard pies, a salad sandwich, ice coffee and a coke. For free. Just like that.

It still is a weird feeling to just receive little things like that to support me. I mean, I stand in line with other costumers and introduce myself and there you go: “So what would you like to have?”. I felt a bit embarrassed to the other people in the bakery as I smoothly got everything in a bag and left with a big-hearted “Thank you.” Thanks again guys!

We start driving to the south part of the island, to a place called Sealbay. Ah, Seals! What about sharks? “Oh,” explains Marc, “there are enough sharks swimming around. But in the history of… well, we actually never had a shark bite a human here. The marine life is so rich, that sharks have enough fish to eat.”

Along the road I see many roadkill. I hope that the island did not get its name from all the dead kangaroos along the road. A friend back home asked me why it’s called Kangaroo Island? “Are there so many kangaroos or i it that small that you can jump over it?”

On the road Marc tells me that the island’s tourism is monitored. “We look at how tourism deals with the environment, the economy and the social impact. Everything is monitored, how many people are on tours, how many are driving around themselves. We can’t actually welcome the entire world to poke at the seals, it will scare them to somewhere else and we’ll loose the tourism that we depend on here.”

At Sealbay Marc makes photographs of the small tourism shop on top of the dunes as he puts me on a tour to meet the seal lions. Yes a tour, because without a guide nobody is allowed to approach the animals. The guide will haul the visitors, but will also very aware of where the sea lions are and how close a person might get.

And I was lucky, I had a personal guide as a full load of bus passengers just left the place. A walk down the track showed me a place where the seals rule the beach and the dunes. I saw many of them just sleeping around, scratching themselves a bit and sleep another bit.

They were all over the place! I haven’t seen so many seals on land in my life! My friendly guide, who studied animal biology and escaped the laboratory labs to observe the seal life here, explained me that females are light-coloured and how the males get a really thick-furred brown skin.

On the deck we walked on a small seal was sleeping. It seemed not bothered by our appearance at all. It looked up and snoozed away again. It is to the guide to tell people to leave the seal alone and simply walk around it.

Down on the beach we walked to a romantic couple: a seal lion had its fin on a female and they kept warm while they were resting. In the water a few young seals were playing around and making funny noises.

I made the remark that they had a great life, as I saw it. You sleep a lot as a seal. But here comes the dark side of the story: After a few days of rest the seals get back into the ocean again, hunting for fish some 50km off shore, escaping sharks and surviving fish nets. No wonder they come back to the island and just simply sleep for a few days. Who wouldn’t?

We got so close to the seals that I was actually standing above one on the wooden deck. Below one young seal was trying to get attention while it was playing with a sea sponge. “They are just like dogs, don’t you love them?” the guide said and it was clear that he had a great passion for these animals.

From Sealbay Marc drove on to the Little Sahara. I like the name for this wide space of sandy dunes that make you feel you are walking through a desert because after one dune you’ll see another one and another one until you reach the beach.

“Once they had camel rides here,” Marc told me, “but the camels could not survive the weather conditions here.” I had already noticed it wasn’t a tropical hot spot around here.

A strong arctic wind was blowing hard and I had already exchanged my summer jacket for my winter version. Antarctica is only 2000km south from here. Actually if you would sail straight west from KI, the first land you’ll reach is not South Africa, but in South America. It’s really down under here!

Marc offered me the unique King George Whiting (a fish name) on a sandwich for lunch at the Vivonne Bay General Store. Just along the road is a general store, run by folks who escaped the glamorous world of theatre and drama. While eating there the man told Marc about his latest visit to Adelaide and when he enjoyed the musical Sweeney Todd. What a coincidence! I have seen that musical way back in 1990 and it still is in my mind as one of my favourite musicals.

In the Vivonne Bay General Store on Kangaroo Island I was discussing Sweeney Todd with the manager. What a small world this was again.

Marc told me that a professor from Melbourne did some big research thing for Australia’s best beaches and came to the conclusion that Vivonne Beach is The Best Beach Of Australia. “Because it’s remote, quiet, has no mass commercial area and is also beautiful.” I kind-of had to agree with him, but still I wouldn’t lay down my towel here in the summertime. There would hardly be anybody around. However it was indeed stunningly beautiful.

The trip continued and from Vivonne Bay we drove more west down the south coast of KI and entered the Flinders Chase National Park, the protected area of the island. After a stop at the soon-to-be-officially-opened brand new information centre we got south to Cape Du Couedic, where we walked down to the Admiral Arch.

It was cold and windy and Marc will remember me saying that a lot, because it was really cold and windy. Massively big waves hit the rocks and the surrounding rock islets. The Admiral Arch is a gigantic wind/water hole where white water rushed through and up and against and etcetera.

Every year some 9,000 New Zealand Fur Seals live and breed around Cape du Couedic. As they breed in summertime I could only see some 30 of them playing around in the various rock pools around here. A sign was explaining that the colour of that rock pool water was pink because of the seals excretings... That also explained that indescribable smell hanging around. Many Asian tourists smiled for photographs, but held their nose closed with their hands.

From the cape it was just a short drive to the Remarkable Rocks, that were called this way because they are – how apparent – pretty remarkable. This is where molten rock is pushed from the hot centre of the earth was pushed up and created this rocky hill. Erosion by wind and water had shaped the rocks in remarkable shapes.

On the West End Highway (you have to give those two lanes a name anyway) Marc pulled over at a typical koala corridor. A long lane with specific eucalypt trees along them contained various wild koalas. And I as I walked on this lane I looked up and saw koalas in almost every tree. Some awake and eating leaves, but most of them exposed me only their bottoms as they were far away in dreamland.

By this time it had gotten late in the afternoon and it would take over an hour to get back to Kingscote. Marc has made his necessary shots on the island and took me back. But still I had not seen the rest of the island yet, which would also be impossible within one day. No wonder the slogan for KI is: “You’ll need to stay another day.”

“We are working on that,” Marc said, “to get less one-day visitors and more people that really want to see all the unique things on the island.” Today I would only have seen 1/6th of the island and also in a blink of an eye as we moved on a lot. So actually people should stay a very long weekend on the island. Next to an escape to busy life, it is also a retreat to another lifestyle where wildlife goes first.

The sun set in the west as we drove east back to Kingscote again. In the car I snoozed away, but did get to see my share of kangaroos as they came out of the bush land, looking for food. With utmost care Marc hoped he wouldn’t come across a sudden kangaroo on the road.

In Kingscote Marc dropped me off at the Acacia Apartments, just after 6pm. Nobody was there, but signs on doors and walls welcomed me and told me that I stayed in apartment 5 for the night. Marc carried my backpack inside and I was amazed by the sudden luxury that was offered me. I had a big double bed (with mattress heating!), a comfy living area with a TV, a fully equipped kitchen and a luxurious bathroom with a spa (! Again).

I thanked Marc for being my introductory guide to the island. The place surely impressed me as it was indeed a difference from all the other Australian islands I have visited until now. Let’s hope Tasmania will still get a chance too…

It was Deidre Morrisson who had invited me to stay at one of her apartments, but she couldn’t be there as she helped out at the show of a local drama play. Her 25-year-old daughter Tammy and her friend Phoebe (visiting from Adelaide) picked me up from the apartment and treated me on dinner at the local restaurant.

Tammy and Phoebe both study in Adelaide and were over for a few days. Only yesterday Tammy heard she’d have some extra company during dinner and never expected to be hosting “a celebrity”.

After ordering dinner (rump steak for me) we were offered a glass of wine by the waitress. “Hmmm, they certainly know you here,” Tammy joked. “You should come here more often.”

I was actually invited to come along to this play in town, but I really had to cancel out on that. After waking up early this morning, being driven around the island for the whole day and seeing so many things, I had to retreat myself for the rest of the night, otherwise I’d would not be able to enjoy the next day with the usual vows. Tammy visited her mum and the play and Phoebe and I got back to the apartments, where she would stay with Tammy at the manager’s house.

I had already seen it and could not resist it: as soon as I got back I changed my clothing into my swimmers and had a good swim in the roofed and warm swimming pool in the middle of the apartment park. This opportunity I could not just let pass me. For weekend celebrating Phoebe it was also a reason to get out for a swim, as would see the entire island tomorrow.

Mmm. Swimming and the heated bubbling spa there was really good, especially after yesterday’s back problems that seem to disappear slowly.

In my apartment I crawled behind my laptop to start writing the stories for which I wish days had 28 hours.

Deidre came over for a short visit after the play had finished and I really had to thank her a lot for her hospitality. It was nothing much to her, she said, she was very pleased to be able to help me out on my travels and get me to this island this way too.

Tomorrow a bus is picking me up outside. At 6.30am. And I’d leave this magical place.

Maybe it’s called Kangaroo Island because you can easily jump on and off the island gain? I can always come back here in the future…

Good night Kangaroo Island!

Ramon.