Monday, February 16, 2009

More Kangaroo Island Capers

We've been on this stunning island in the Southern Ocean for nearly two weeks. And we have just loved it. When you look forward to something so much, as I did with KI, there's always a chance that you'll be let down. Not so with this place, if anything it's surpassed my expectations. It's a nature lovers paradise! We've seen seals, dolphins, almost a shark, echidnas, koalas, KI kangaroos, Tammar Wallabies, snakes and big lizards plus birds, birds, birds.

* A very photogenic Australian Sea Lion.

We've done all the touristy stuff ; Seal Bay - a conservation area for the endangered Aust Sea Lions where you're allowed onto their beach, visited the Remarkable Rocks, Admirals Arch and the fire ravaged Flinders Chase National Park, we've done lighthouse tours and eaten the famous Whiting Burger at Australia's #1 beach Vivonne Bay (where we camped last night and might just stay another), visited a honey farm and nearly all the car accessible beaches on the island. As well as being a place of great beauty it is also an area providing wealth to the community with the mainstays being fat lambs, cray fishing, sheeps milk cheeses and other foodie delights.

*Below left- VJ on her way to the rockpools where I found I could have my hands + nails cleaned for free by just dipping them in and letting the effective cleaner shrimp do their jobs. Mostly it tickled, the bigger ones have big nippers that can pinch though.
*Below right - I think Western River Cove will be one of our favourite camps. A gorgeous and protected cove with sparkly clear water for swimming. That's the "White Pointer" you can see in the photo, a crayfish boat belonging to a colourful local.

*Us at Vivonne Bay beach. Rated by some scientists as Australia's Best Beach. It is a pretty stretch of surf and sand but not suitable for swimming and was the location of a white pointer (just a baby ~3m) sighting here by a fisherman last week. We heard him warning other tourists about the shark and that swimming here probably not a hot idea. I looked for ages but alas did not see the mighty fish. There is a river, that I'm assured in winter runs to the ocean, with a sandy bottom good for swimming.
* Payniac at Bales Bay, K.I

*Sea Lions at Seal Bay. This was our second visit to see the seals. This is a breeding colony of ~600 animals (explains the sharky water) and you get about 45 minutes on the beach with them. They are very funny to watch and there's always something going on- the bulls fighting for mating rights, babies calling for their mums, juveniles porpoising through the shallow surf within the safety of the reef. We only saw one of the giant eyed, dark brown velvet newborns at a very safe distance and if he/she hadn't been moving it would've just looked like all the other kelp on the beach. I generally associate a bad smell with a seal colony, perhaps because it's on the beach rather than rocky ledges or some other reason, but this one really didn't whiff at all...except when the bulls released their sexy musky scent to establish superiority - yuk!

* More views of Western River Cove. A popular local spot for fishing, they were just hauling the mullet out. We had it almost to ourselves in the mornings and then a tour group might come through. We stayed here for 4 nights over two separate visits we loved it so much.

*The toopy all set up at Western River, as you can see we're right on the banks. We initially thought that this site on the north coast of the island would be protected from the prevailing southerlies. Wrong. The wind just howled down the valley rattling us around in our little tent with one night seeing us give in and pack up to sleep in the BBQ shelter on the ground with all the ants and possums and on others to lie awake for hours just wondering how much she can take. She took it all, the worry was for nought.

* A pretty sunset over Western River.

*The crazy road to the Remarkable Rocks, eroded granite formations with perfectly contrasting orange lichen growing over. This is in the Flinders Chase National Park (one of the 2 parks our cheeky SA National Parks holiday pass does not cover) which was devastated by fire in December '07. As you can see the views along the coast are quite dramatic.

*Goofy photos at the Remarkable Rocks. You can pretty much walk and climb all around them, just not allowed to go too close to the edge as the algae makes it very slippery, one big wave and WHOOSHKA over you go(as did one tourist a few years ago). It was a little bit Flinstones.

*Left - Admirals Arch, also in Flinders Chase. Eroded by the sea and wind, eventually it will erode right through and create another island off the coast of KI. My favourite bit of this visit was the seals - blow up the photo, those brown slugs are NZ fur seals. Again a breeding colony. This colony was once almost decimated by sealers but it looks pretty healthy now.
*Payniac at Stokes Bay being silly.

*Below - another shot of Western River Cove.

Western River Cove will forever be a special place for me as on Valentines Day I had wangled myself a spot on a dive boat for a double dive.Andy didn't really think about it much after he heard the water was just 19-20C - warm enough for me! I was under the (false) impression that diving could be organised from KI, these guys had come from Adelaide (Mark Snadden from Divers Service) for a 4 day diveathon and I was very lucky to catch them on their last day. They specialise in Leafy Seadragons, seals and dolphins.

I was up super early on Saturday morning, a bit excited as I hadn't dived in so long and going through my gear. Glad I did as I discovered my computer had a flat battery requiring some quick fix-it and swapping of transmitters and computers. I was picked up on the beach at 8am and rowed out to the boat sitting in the cove. Almost immediately a huge pod of dolphins started carrying on at the back of the boat. A good day!

The diving is classic temperate water diving, a vast kelp bed with greater diversity than I'm used to seeing, weedy sea dragons galore as well as all the standard temperate fishes. As we dropped down all my nerves dissipated as an Australian Fur Seal came to say hello! I found out later this is quite rare as these animals tend to be quite shy.

He sort of lay down on the bottom and posed for any photos we might require. This is when I realised that my camera had failed. NOOOOOOO! I was determined to enjoy the dive anyhow. A leafy sea dragon was spotted and although I knew where the animal was meant to be and what it looked like I still had trouble finding it! A beautiful, ridiculously ornate fish that looks like a seaweedy rocking seahorse that people come from all over the world to
photograph....! Arggghh. (This is one I found on google so you know what I'm talking about!)

The surface interval (break between dives for those strange folk who don't scuba) was full of sights as we moved towards a rocky headland. As soon as we stopped NZ fur seals started splashing their way toward the boat to check us out.

We decided to do a "seal dive" for the 2nd dive. I had never dived with seals, any chance I ever get I will do it again. 4 divers, a channel about 2m wide, I didn't go deeper than 10m and about a dozen NZ fur seals swimming over and under, hurtling up and down, their fur sleek and silver with bubbles. I didn't know where to look. The fastest 40 mins of my life. They're awkward on land, beneath the surface they're so, so fast, agile, graceful, funny and extremely curious. They like it when you try and play with them although there's no way I could keep up. They like to stop on the bottom while you catch your breath and just check you out with their enormous caramel eyes. They blow bubbles back at you in response to the constant stream from your regulator. I am still spewing about the camera failing, bright side is I just got to enjoy this incredible dive with the seals.

Sharks you ask? I did look over my shoulder a few times, not that that would've helped. A few times when all the seals disappeared at the same time I thought oh-oh, but they were just playing hide and seek. The sharks are there for sure, big ones, so it doesn't hurt to be wary, this is home of the white pointer. If I'd seen one it would've saved me from doing the white sharks off Port Lincoln next week, sorry Mum.
Payniac had a nice Valentine's Day too - he got to sleep in and listen to podcasts without me bugging him all morning. There was nobody to make the second cup of joe though.

*VJ at West Bay where we spent Andy's Happy Birthday. We went down to the beach with a few beers to watch the sunset....which didn't really happen. Note my get up - fleece and long duds!

*VJ on her way to Stokes Bay. Not sure how the surfers managed to get their boards through this maze of rock, it was quite tight in spots.

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