February 26, 2004

Planes, Macropods, and Automobiles

For our trip to Kangaroo Island, long awaited and drooled over by yours truly, we planned an itinerary that also included Victoria's Great Ocean Road, Grampians National Park, and Adelaide, in South Australia, in a six-day whirlwind.

Ok, truthfully, we planned the itinerary to maximize kangaroo-viewing.

The Great Ocean Road

The Great Ocean Road stretches from Torquay, an hour southwest of Melbourne, to Warnambool, about halfway between Melbourne and Adelaide to the west. The road was built as a project for World War I vets and is billed as one of the most spectacular coastal drives in the world. It is. The road twists and winds along dramatic cliffs that overlook "the Shipwreck Coast". The driving was really fun, if you're into that sort of thing, and the views were truly breathtaking. The most amazing - and wonderful - thing about the Great Ocean Road is how undeveloped it is. Aside from a few towns dotting the coast, most of the shoreline and its beaches are pristine and untouched. No tacky bungalow developments, view-ruining skyscraper hotels, or neon restaurant signs. Lovely. Part of it must be the inaccessibility of the water, as well as the protection of several national parks along the way.


Country Club Kangaroos

Our first stop along the GOR was Anglesea, a small community past Torquay that features the world-famous Anglesea golf course. The golf course is famous for the fact that kangaroos graze along the fairways. Our Ottawa sublettor first informed us of this fact, and our Lonely Planet guide and the Torquay Visitors Centre backed him up. Unfortunately, we arrived to find that the golf course's management had become a little bit paranoid. So, being law-abiding citizens eager to do Canada proud, we ignored the warning, snuck onto the golf course, and saw our first kangaroo (a baby!).

The "Submarine Apostle"

We stopped for picnics and two short walks in beautiful Otway National Park (a coastal temperate rainforest) further along the GOR en route to our destination for the evening - Port Campbell National Park and The Twelve Apostles. These Apostles are rock formations left when the waves erode soft sandstone rock and leave a hardier pillar stranded in the ocean. The Apostles were great, although Miriam liked the next day's rock formations even better -- The Arch, the Grotto, and the London Bridge (pictured alongside the Apostles below). A section of the London Bridge collapsed in 1990, stranding two bewildered (but unharmed) tourists.


I think I got a little bit too into the rock-naming game, because I ended up dubbing another formation, located in the "Bay of Islands", the "Submarine Apostle" (can you spot it in this picture?).

Grampians National Park and Tourism par excellence

The GOR ends at Warnambool, and at that point we headed straight north into Grampians National Park. Our experience at the Visitors Centre at the southern gateway to the park was ... something special. We've noticed that Visitors Centres here in Australia, especially those that are more "out of the way," are, as could be expected, staffed by volunteers. These volunteers have, as could also be expected from people so giving of their time, hearts of gold. Unfortunately, the training they are provided with seems to be more in the nickel range as far as precious metals go, and they tend to be less invested in the subject of their work (parks, ecosystems, etc.) than their hired counterparts - rangers and the like - at the larger centres.

So picture this scene. We're standing in the Grampians National Park Visitors Centre at about 3:30 p.m. We are young, look reasonably fit, and are decked out in the latest "technical" gear (hiking boots, Gor-Tex jackets, etc.) from MEC. We are surrounded by informational pamphlets about the park. Sunset is at least four hours away.

So we ask the friendly staffer if there are any good 2-3 hour hikes we could do before heading to Hall's Gap (the Grampians' main town) for the evening. He hems and haws, notes the late hour, sizes us up and ... suggests that we do a loop walk around his town's arboretum. Now, don't get me wrong. I like arboretums as much as the next guy. Ottawa has a lovely arboretum. Trees rock my world. But here we are in a park famous for its wildlife, hiking, and spectacular rock formations, surrounded by pamphlets which this gentleman, bless his soul and his generosity with time, has clearly neglected to peruse, and he's recommending the town's arboretum. After several minutes of his trying to convince us to do this walk (and drawing, in excruciating detail, the loop), I interjected to thank him for his help, bought the two maps that appeared to be most relevant to the area we wanted to hike, and we fled. It may be the best $6 we've spent during our visit to Australia.

I should add that we also asked this kindly man about the beautiful white birds (cockatoos, it turns out) which were flying in large flocks around the town. He called them pests and made little "psheouw! psheouw!" noises as he fired at the birds through the window with a hastily produced finger-gun. Enough said.

To the Pinnacle!

As it turned out, of course, there were a multitude of hikes that fit the bill, including several which we later learned would have been obvious choices for their popularity with visitors to the park. We hiked to "the Pinnacle", one of the highlights of the park. It was a spectacular ascent to a lookout over a valley between two mountain ridges. We also did a shorter hike to Silverband Falls. We were done both by 7:30 p.m. and arrived in Hall's Gap before sunset.


The Local Kangaroo Motel

That night it was finally time to see some non-golfing kangaroos. We headed to a plain at the foot of the nearby hills and saw three Eastern Grey kangaroos grazing and - yes! - bounding across the plain. It is a thrilling thing to see a real kangaroo bound. Kangaroos look pretty odd to start with, if you're not used to them - but to see them jump ... well!

We thought this was a pretty successful kangaroo outing, but we decided to drive just a little further on. It was almost dusk at this point, and a kangaroo bounded along across the road in front of us. We didn't have to wait for long to figure out where it was coming from: the nearby motel, of course. About 40 kangaroos, including babies, were grazing on a motel lawn in Hall's Gap! We got out of the car and joined some of the motel's guests who were walking amongst the largely unperturbed kangaroos.

Now, seeing kangaroos is one thing. Seeing them bound across the plains in a manner clearly unbefitting most mammals is quite another. Seeing kangaroos at the local motel can make you scratch your head. But seeing kangaroos at the local motel boxing makes you wish somebody had gently suggested that you be sitting down first. Yes, kangaroos actually box. We've seen it. It looks just like humans boxing, except with less biting of ears (hi, Mr. Tyson!).

Top the evening off with a few more kangaroos grazing outside the restaurant we ate at, and I went to sleep a happy man indeed.

En route to South Australia

We got an unusually early start the next morning. We had a lot to see before leaving the park. We visited the Brambuk Aboriginal Living Cultural Centre in Hall's Gap and inquired about visiting rock art sites in the park. I don't know how we managed it, but we visited two rock art sites (several hundred years old) and did two more hikes (one to another rock formation called "the Balconies" and another to Mackenzie Falls) by mid-afternoon before hitting the highway en route to Adelaide, our launching pad for Kangaroo Island.


The drive to Adelaide was uneventful, although we had a lovely dinner at a pub in Bordertown, South Australia. It was not, oddly enough, on the border.

Kangaroo Island

The next morning we were up early again - headed to Kangaroo Island. The island separated from the continent some 10,000 years ago and has, as a result, become a bit of a wilderness paradise. It has avoided most of the onslaught of invasive species that have ravaged mainland Australia.

"The Emu's a Flightless Bird!"

We flew to Kangaroo Island on Regional Express or REX. This would not be interesting were it not for the fact that I had hoped to fly on Emu Airways. It may still not be interesting, but the story is brief. Lonely Planet names Emu Airways as an airline that flies from Adelaide to Kangaroo Island. When I visited Flight Centre to book tickets, I enjoyed the following conversation:

Anatole: "We wanted to fly from Adelaide to Kangaroo Island. I read that Emu Airways does the flight, although I'm not sure if others do as well."
FC#1: "Emu Airways? Regional Express flies to Kangaroo Island, but I don't know Emu Airways." "Have you heard of Emu Airways?"
FC#2: "Emu Airways? No."
FC#3: "Emu Airways?! The emu's a flightless bird!"

Now, you can imagine my embarrassment at this point. She had the facts on her side. Here's the silly Canadian tourist who thinks he's heard of "Emu Airways." As if any businessperson in their right mind would name an airline after a flightless bird. Was this some sort of practical joke by Lonely Planet?

Well, sweet redemption. We arrived in Kangaroo Island and encountered an Emu Airways jet on the runway. Turns out they do the Adelaide-island roundtrip 84 times a week. Ha! Still, I wonder who's idea it was to call the airline "Emu Airways".

But I digress.

Holy cow - fauna everywhere!

Kangaroo Island was everything we had hoped for - pristine wilderness and a lot of wildlife. We started off our first day at Murray Lagoon on the south side of the island, taking in some very interesting marshlands and a lot of birdlife (including a swamp harrier circling over a dead goose!).


We then headed off to popular Seal Bay, where you can see one of the larger and more accessible populations of Australian sea-lions. The sea-lions were great and they had very cute babies. We were lucky to arrive in Australia at a time when most animals are showing off their newborns - penguins, koalas, kangaroos, seals and sea-lions, etc.


After Seal Bay we went to have lunch at nearby Vivonne Bay. A researcher at a Sydney university recently determined that Vivonne Bay beach was the "best beach in Australia." Personally, I quickly determined that that is the "best research topic ever." In any case, the beach, like most of the island, was surprisingly empty. We basically had the entire, enormous beach to ourselves. A walk along the beach after the picnic revealed cuttlefish skeletons, jellyfish, mussels, and two blowfish washed up on the shore.


"Run away! Run away!"

Next stop was Flinders Chase National Park, on the southwest corner of the island, where we had booked a night at the Postman's Cottage. We parked at the Visitors Centre and encountered several kangaroos, first cousins, 10,000 years removed of the mainland's Eastern Grey kangaroos.

These kangaroos, two of them, seemed quite tame, in that they were unafraid of the people or cars in the parking lot. Now, remember, we've seen countless signs telling us not to feed the wildlife in Australia. And now we are about to find out why.

These "parking lot kangaroos" amble about begging for food. So they begin to amble towards us, loping lazily on all fours rather than hopping.

Now, I'm no coward, but this animal that I have little experience with, with its beady, black, nocturnal-engineered eyes is ambling calmly towards me as if to say "You don't really believe those signs, do you? I mean, you will feed me. You'd better feed me." And I'm thinking to myself, "Now, I know kangaroos can kick like nobody's business. And I've seen them box. Clearly this is a well-disguised killing machine. Maybe that sign said ‘Don't feed yourself to the wildlife' ..."

And so, in true Monty Python "The Search for the Holy Grail" style, Miriam and I cried "run away! run away!" and fled to the car.

I'm not proud of this moment, but there you have it.

The story ends somewhat anticlimactically, as the kangaroos eventually got bored waiting for us and we managed to evade them to get to the Visitors Centre. We spent the rest of the day on the Platypus Waterholes Walk where we saw platypus bubbles and beak, but no entire platypus. On the way back we saw some wallabies and kangaroos, including more babies.


And on the second day, there were more kangaroos.

The Postman's Cottage was quite nice, and we woke up refreshed for a second day of exploring Kangaroo Island. I went for an early morning walk to see more kangaroos and wallabies (yes, I'm obsessed) while Miriam chatted with our cottagey neighbours who were on their honeymoon and spending a week in the national park.


We began the second day on the Snake Lagoon trail, a fantastic hike that follows the riverbed valley of the Rocky River all the way to the ocean and a beautiful beach. We saw a goanna on the trail, which was pretty cool (bonus points to anyone who knows or has the time to research any etymological links between the words "goanna" and "iguana").


After Snake Lagoon, we decided to hit the last few obvious tourist destinations in the southwest of the island - the Remarkable Rocks and Admiral's Arch.

Obvious Pleasures: Where the Remarkable Rocks Turn Out to Be Remarkable and The Admiral's Arch is Indeed an Arch!

We were sceptical about the Remarkable Rocks - the name was, ironically enough, not very promising - but these oddly-shaped granite formations, covered here and there with orange lichen, were indeed remarkable. We had some fun taking goofy photos with the Remarkable Rocks before heading off to visit Cape de Couedic lighthouse and the New Zealand fur seals at Admiral's Arch. The seals were plentiful, noisy, and, well, smelly. Seals can be like that, I guess.


$24 Buys Us a Brief Lesson on Southern Hemisphere Astronomy

We left the southwest Cape to drive back towards Kingscote, where we would stay for the night before heading back to Adelaide. In Kingscote, I persuaded an exhausted Miriam to do the local penguin tour. Now, I'm not sure what I was thinking. Here's what I was up against: at the Penguin Parade on Phillip Island near Melbourne we had seen over 400 happy little penguins up close. I thought that the Kingscote experience, smaller and less touristy, might afford a more intimate penguin experience. I was wrong. Dead wrong. Unbelievably, abominably wrong. I'll skip over the pain of the informational presentation and go straight to the "grand finale", where a bubbly "penguin ranger" took us down to the beach where, she lamented, there were "only four birds" that night. She could barely find the penguins, despite having seen them just half an hour earlier, and she shone - briefly and shakily, I might add - a red-light flashlight on the cowering little penguins (the Penguin Parade people have done a number of clever things to make the penguins feel comfortable, including hiring a rather more elite troop of penguin rangers).

Fortunately, we had a good laugh at what is easily the worst $24 we have spent in Australia. And, to be fair, the experience wasn't a total loss. The ranger did show us how ancient sea-goers used the Southern Cross constellation and some nearby stars to locate - unfailingly, when there were no clouds - the true south pole. She also helped us locate our hostel.

A Conversation ... With Another Person!

Back in Adelaide, we briefly explored the city's downtown, including the market, central square, and pedestrian mall, before meeting up with an old family friend of a friend of Miriam's - got that? - for lunch. We walked around a little more after lunch, seeing the university and the nearby river, before heading to the airport for our evening flight back to Melbourne - home, sweet home, rather surreally.

To see more pictures from this trip, check out the full photo galleries for the Great Ocean Road, Otway National Park, Grampians National Park, Kangaroo Island, and Adelaide.

Posted by anatole at February 26, 2004 02:18 PM

Indeed, iguana and goanna are etymologically related. The OED lists goanna as a corruption of iguana (which comes through Spanish from the Carib name iwana and has various early spellings: hiuana, igoana, iuanna, yuana). Apparently the iguana in South America and the West Indies is also refered to as guana.

Posted by: Mark at February 29, 2004 03:11 AM

If you think Emu is a funny name for an airline, what about QANTAS, the winged kangaroo?

Posted by: Martin at February 29, 2004 04:19 AM

Thanks, Mark! As a reward you get ... um ... your very own signed and numbered goanna print. ;)

Posted by: Anatole at March 2, 2004 12:07 PM