Sunday, 14 February 2016

Bonding with Nature and Wildlife at Kangaroo Island - Part 6

Day 9 - South Coast Region
     It was really hard to bid au revoir to Hanson Bay, such an incredibly beautiful spot. However, the Australian sea lions were calling out to us from the Seal Bay Conservation Park
Flat out on the sand
(54.6km away). We had to pay A$33 each for a 45-minute guided tour right down to the beach in order to get quite close to the adorable seals, which was quite a hefty price to pay but it’s all for the conservation of these Australian sea lions, one of the rarest seals in the world. The Seal Bay Conservation Park is now home to the 3rd largest breeding colony of the Australian seal lions. After the tour had ended, we were also allowed to walk on the boardwalk to view the animals for as long as we wished.
     Many of the seals were asleep, not because they were lazy but because they were worn out after 3 days of hunting at sea. The pups joined their mums to bask on the unspoilt beach, but some grew restless and got up to play. One extremely young pup waddled around looking for its mum. When its mum was nowhere to be found, it bravely and resolutely proceeded to swim out in the sea in search of its mum. It sure was a lesson on courage and determination!
We were told, on strict terms, to stay a certain distance away from the lounging seals on the beach 

Tis good to bask on the soft sand

Acrobatics on the sand

Flying kiss for you, my dear 

We should never forget to be playful
     We finally tore ourselves away from the lovable creatures and dropped by at the Vivonne Bay General Store for lunch. It’s the home of the famous Whiting Burger so it would be a sacrilege not to give it a try while Derrick settled for the equally famous KI Lamb Burger (A$17 each). Sadly, the taste of both burgers did not live up to our expectations.
Quaint little store

Vivonne Bay General Store - Home of the Famous Whiting Burger

Whiting burger - not as tasty as it looks

KI Lamb Burger - not as tasty as it looks too
     Vivonne Bay Lodge, a youth hostel, was located just behind the Vivonne Bay General Store so we did not have to drive far to check in. Although we were early, our private room was ready. The communal bathroom, lounge and cooking area were extremely clean. This may be a youth
Darts King
hostel but we both agreed that it was extremely comfortable. For the rest of the day, I was happily ensconced in a Virginia Andrews book that I grabbed from the mini library while Derrick caught up on his sleep. To my delight, there was also free wifi.

     After Derrick returned from a very satisfying sunset outing
The whole stretch of beach in the background is Vivonne Bay

At the Vivonne Bay Jetty
at Vivonne Bay, voted as the best beach in Australia, we had a late dinner. We had earlier ordered the BBQ pack from the lodge and so we had a tasty dinner of chicken, pork sausage and steak with our noodles, all cooked by Chef Derrick.
Chef Derrick hard at work

Friday, 5 February 2016

Bonding with Nature and Wildlife in Kangaroo Island - Part 5

Days 4, 5 6, 7 and 8 - West End Region
     The journey to Cape Borda, on the northwestern corner of KI, involved a drive on an unsealed road towards the final one third of the journey. It was my first experience driving on gravel road, a fairly bumpy one it was.
Derrick fumbles with the gate key code
We arrived to find the gates to Cape Borda locked. Fortunately, I had been given the gate key code. It took us several fumbles before we finally got the key out, opened the gate, drove in, replaced the key in the digital lock and locked up the gate again. Interesting experience!
     I had read that Mick, the ranger, lives in one of the Lighthouse Keepers Heritage Cottages on Cape Borda.
Two of the Lighthouse Keepers Heritage Cottages, one of which is occupied by Mick

The cheap but very basic Woodward Hut
However, it must have been his day off, because he was not in throughout our stay. There were no other guests around so although we only occupied Hartley Hut, we practically had the entire Cape Borda as our playground. Some people might find it a little creepy staying in such remote desolation, with only the company of kangaroos, a faithfully-beaming lighthouse, howling winds and waves crashing onto the rocks. But Derrick and I thoroughly enjoyed the seclusion and solitude.
     Hartley Hut, a one-bedroomed cottage, served as the accommodation for the relieving lighthouse keeper back in those days. It was equipped with a fully-furnished kitchen, bathroom cum laundry and a separate toilet just outside the back door. It was part of the building so it was covered, which was fortunate, as I would not relish the idea of making my way to the toilet in the cold of the night.
Kangaroo just outside Hartley Hut
I did some washing and as I was walking to the clothes line in front of the cottage, a slight movement halted me in my tracks. A curious kangaroo was checking me out from the bushes. It must have been thinking, “Who on earth has come to invade my territory?” I slowly approached the kangaroo, and for a moment, it seemed to be torn between befriending me and hopping away. It finally decided I was not a sexy kangaroo so it hopped away in disgust.
     After a quick lunch of the pastries bought from Rabbit Warren Bakery, Derrick and I drove out to explore the nearby Scott’s Cove. The views elicited oohs and aahs from us. We then drove back to Cape Borda and went on the 30-minute Clifftop Hike.
We were rewarded with this view at the Clifftop Hike
Again, the dramatic views across the Investigator Strait took our breaths away.

Derrick’s sunset shots of the day was of the unusual square and squat Cape Borda Lighthouse, constructed in 1858. The lofty cliff site was the reason for its unique design. Although I had some simple cooking to do, I did not want to miss out on enjoying the spectacular sunset around the lighthouse whilst watching the many kangaroos that had come out to play and feed. This would truly leave indelible memories in my mind.
Kangaroo out to play at dusk

Cape Borda at sunset
The next morning (Day 5), we checked out at 9 a.m. and travelled via the West End Highway to the more popular section of Flinders Chase National Park.
Gateway to more encounters with nature and wildlife
The Flinders Chase National Parks is a staggering 326 square kilometres in size and is a wildlife sanctuary for kangaroos, Tammar wallabies, koalas, echidnas, platypus, Rosenberg goannas and a myriad of birdlife. 
     We stopped at the Flinders Chase Visitor Centre to obtain our entry permit, which was free as we were staying at the Cape du Couedic Lighthouse Keepers Heritage Cottage. Not only does the Visitor Centre provide helpful information on the rugged wilderness, it also showcases KI’s natural and cultural heritage through interactive screens, has a touch table of different animal skins to satisfy the curious souls, allows kids to be preoccupied in a fossil dig pit, is the start of numerous trails around the national park and serves great meals at its Chase Cafe.
     Our Troubridge Lodge had been prepared the day before so we were able to check in early. It was a 15-minute drive from the Visitor Centre to our accommodation at Cape du Couedic, and it entailed driving on a long winding road
Roller coaster ride to Cape du Couedic
that surged and dipped. Together with the other two cottages, Karatta Lodge and Parndana Lodge, Troubridge Lodge
Cape du Couedic Lighthouse...mere minutes away

Our Troubridge Lodge

Spacious kitchen inside Troubridge Lodge

A mix of old and modern at the back section of the lodge

Firewood to warm up a winter's night
originally housed one of the three lighthouse keepers and their families. With only minor refurbishment done and the addition of a very modern bathroom at the back section of the building, the three identical limestone cottages still retained much of the original architecture and design. It was terribly exciting to live in a cottage of such heritage value and imagine what life must have been like for the lighthouse keepers and their families. In addition to a mini library of books and games, there was also the book “Lighthouse Keeper’s Son” written by Ron Dent to enlighten guests on the life of the lighthouse keepers and their families. Unlike our previous stay at Cape Borda, we had neighbours at Cape du Couedic. They checked in on the same day as us and occupied Karatta Lodge, but we hardly saw them around.
Pretty Cape du Couedic Lighthouse
     The Cape du Couedic Lighthouse opened in 1909 and is a pretty one, with its bright red cap. But it played second (or
To infinity and beyond
even third) fiddle to our explorations of the area as we were drawn to the majestic Admirals Arch with its limestone arches framing the colony of New Zealand fur seals basking on the rocks below. They alternated between dozing blissfully and frolicking happily in the rockpools, completely unperturbed by the wild swirls of the Southern Ocean hammering the coastline. Over 7000 fur seals live and breed around Cape du Couedic.
Playground of the seals

Oblivious to cameras clicking away

Boardwalk descent to Admirals Arch
     After admiring Admirals Arch, we drove back to the Visitors Centre for a late lunch of hot dog (A$5) and salt &
Tasty lunch 
pepper squid (A$19.95). We ventured on to visit the other iconic landmark of KI - the world-famous windswept sculptures of the Remarkable Rocks. Unfortunately, it started to drizzle whilst we were walking to the granite boulders so we abandoned our plan. After all, we were staying at Cape du Couedic for 2 nights and we would have plenty of time at Nature’s Playground.
     One of the advantages of staying at the Lighthouse Keepers Heritage Accommodation is you have the two Photographer’s Mecca (Admirals Arch and Remarkable Rocks) almost entirely to yourselves after the flocks of tourists have left. So when we returned to Admirals Arch for sunset, we were delighted to find the place devoid of tourists. It was just us, the seals and the sea!
Admirals Arch with the falling light
     And on the following day (Day 6), we were able to marvel at the lichen-covered Remarkable Rocks, which have been in the making for 500 million years, before the droves of tourists arrived. The Rocks, lying atop the granite dome, were like a giant’s discarded toys. It was fascinating to weave around the Rocks, exploring every nook and cranny, being amazed by the wondrous artwork of Nature. We were glad to be warmly-attired as the winds were mighty strong.
Me, sun, sea and the Remarkable Rocks in the background

Boardwalk leading to the Remarkable Rocks
     That day’s lunch was again taken at the Visitors Centre and this time, I tried the Kangaroo Island Whiting Burger with
KI Whiting Burger
chips (A$19.95) while Derrick ordered a Bacon Double Cheese Burger (A$11.95). I enjoyed every bite of my burger, perhaps owing to the fact that I was famished.
     Once again, after the masses of tourists had left, we made our way back to the awe-inspiring Remarkable Rocks for sunset. A handful of tourists joined us, including a very courageous lone female traveller, who stayed on with us till the last light of the day. The experience of watching the glorious sunset whilst leaning against or sitting on the Rocks, listening to the swells pounding the rocks down below…completely mind-blowing and soul-humbling at the same time. The hymn “How Great Thou Art” sprang from my lips as I praised God for His masterpiece.
Awe-inspiring Rocks

Remarkable Rocks at sunset

Drawn to the Rocks

Nature splashes its colours on the Remarkable Rocks
     Leaving the marvellously-rugged Flinders Chase National Park with heavy hearts the next day (Day 7), we drove on the South Coast Road to get to our next destination, pausing at the KI Wilderness Retreat to refuel. The KI Wilderness Retreat is the closest accommodation outside of the National Park.
     We were headed for Hanson Bay (32.8 km away), where we stayed for two nights at the Hanson Bay Cabins. After obtaining our key from the Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, we turned into a gravel road leading to the luxurious Southern Ocean Lodge, the popular yet secluded surf fishing area of Hanson Bay (where large Australian salmon is often caught) and our (1 of 6) rustic beachfront log cabin. When booking our accommodation, I had requested for an end cabin, as advised by TripAdvisor. We were given Loch Sloy, named after the Scottish ship that sank at Maupertis Bay (near Cape du Couedic) in 1899. Revelling in the views of the sparkling turquoise waters and pristine white sand after delighting in the simple yet fully-furnished cabin, we were immensely glad that we were there for more than a night.
Hanson Bay Cabins overlooking Hanson Bay

Enjoying the view and breeze outside our log cabin
     Eager to try some of KI’s local produce, we drove to Andermel Marron (45.8km away). Marron is a boutique luxury
Meet Mr. Marron
freshwater crayfish, which takes two and a half to three years to be grown to cafe size. I zeroed in on the Marron’ara (grilled tiger prawns, scallops and honey chilli cherry tomato Napoli tossed through linguine topped with oven baked marron and served with grated parmesan) while Derrick, the meat-lover, chose the grilled rib eye fillet. As we had room to

Grilled rib eye fillet

Yummylicious lemon myrtle cheesecake
spare, we went on to order desserts. One bite of my lemon myrtle cheesecake and I was hooked! Lemon myrtle tastes just like lemongrass so for the die-hard lemongrass fan, it sure was heavenly. Derrick did not share my opinion but he loved his choice of blueberry brûlée cheesecake. At A$92, our meal did not come in cheap but we agreed it was a truly scrumptious lunch.
     A quick stop at the quaint Vivonne Bay General Store ensued as we wanted to buy some broccoli, onion and mushrooms for tonight’s dinner. We then drove to Little Sahara to check out the massive sand dunes.
Little Sahara
However, as the place is locked up at 5 p.m., dawn and dusk photography was out of the question for Mr. Photographer. 
     Derrick was contented to stay at Hanson Bay to capture some sunset shots while I turned adventurous. I drove out to join the Nocturnal Tour at the 5000 acre Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary (A$21.60, a discount of 10% for guests staying at the cabins). Surprisingly, I was the only one at the tour, but I was joined by three volunteers from Hong Kong. They were staying and working at the sanctuary for a month. We had fun tracking down the  kangaroos, skittish wallabies,
Wary wallaby watching us
possums and of course, the adorable koalas. We were so
"Who's spying on me?"

Baby gets a ride
excited to spot a mummy koala and her baby riding on her back. I had another delightful surprise as I was cautiously driving out of the sanctuary in the dark. A big koala appeared right in the path of my car, and then ambled closer as if to bid me goodbye. It was my first experience driving in pitch darkness and I was ever so careful not to run over the abundant wildlife that become active in the dark. I had a scare when the headlights of my car shone on a Tammar wallaby sitting in the middle of the gravel road. Fortunately, it recovered its senses and dashed away to safety.
     That night, it was a wondrous experience being lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves. I can now understand why properties by the beach fetch such great prices. 
     Derrick turned one year older on Day 8 (Sunday, 13 December). He enjoyed a lovely birthday as he managed to capture part of the Milky Way, the Southern Cross, just outside our cabin at 3 a.m. and savoured a golden yellow sunrise over Hanson Bay. Exhausted, he slept till noon. On the other hand, I sipped coffee, read and blogged whilst enjoying the splendid views of Hanson Bay from the comfort of the cabin. Talk about an excellent choice of accommodation!     
Milky Way over Hanson Bay

Restless night at Hanson Bay Cabins

Hanson Bay at dawn

Dawn breaks
Battered shark, calamari rings and prawns with chips

Hot & spicy chicken wings
We had simple fast food fare for lunch at the Vivonne Bay General Store before going koala hunting at the Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. Combing the Koala Avenue and the eucalyptus forest behind, we pitted against each other in a competition to see who spotted the most koalas, with the agreement that the loser would have to cook dinner. The final score was 11-3, with me being the triumphant one. Derrick was not a sore loser as he had a most enjoyable time shooting the lovable balls of fur, with his camera of course.
Spot the lovable ball of fur on the tree

Deep in his dreams

Dreaming of being a kung fu koala?

Sweet slumber

Nimble gymnast
Awakened from slumber

Mama Koala and her baby

However, I later took pity on birthday boy and cooked dinner whilst he walked down to the bay for some spectacular sunset shots.