The first time we went to Australia was when our oldest was only nine months old. It was December of 1996 and we were on a cruise with my in-laws that started in Sydney, Australia and ended in Auckland, New Zealand. The parts of the trip that I remember were amazing but we were trying to cope with a nine month old little boy who decided that he needed to start walking, like NOW! and nausea from being in my first trimester with baby number two.
Needless to say, I was a little distracted.
Fast forward to 2012 and we now have three tween/teenage boys who had a few days off for Chinese New Year. When Neil announced he was able to book five tickets to Adelaide for the holiday, I was excited to have another chance to visit Australia. All we had to do was decide how we were going to spend our time Down Under.
After going through the choices, and there were many, we decided that Kangaroo Island would be perfect for our family.
Kangaroo Island is a pristine wilderness - a place that has offered protection to substantial populations of native Australian animals, a place of beauty and a place of escape.
Kangaroo Island (or ‘KI' as the locals call it) is also big and surprisingly diverse. If you traverse its 155km length you'll find soaring cliffs, dense forest, towering sand dunes, wetlands and massive arcs of bone white beach.
There are so many things to do and see on the island that our 3.5 days (not including travel) were not enough to even scratch the surface.
We spent the majority of our time on the South side of the island and stayed at the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat, which the guys thought was very cool.
When we checked into the hotel, we were handed three small bags of food and the boys loved that they could feed the wallabies that would wander around the courtyard every night at dusk. They would take the food, sit quietly on the balcony and the wallabies would hop over to hang out for a while and snack. One evening I counted more than 10 of them in the courtyard. We were told that they also have the occasional Western Grey Kangaroo come in as well but not while we were there.
The only part I didn't love so much was the evening I was out in the courtyard, trying to take a photo of the most amazing night sky I had ever seen, and a Brushtail Possum started getting a little overly friendly with my tripod. I'm all for getting close to nature but that was a little too close for me. I thought I had persuaded it to leave my tripod alone when it climbed the tree next to me. It took me a few moments to figure out that it was just changing tactics. Just when I thought I had won, the branch hanging just next to my camera started to wobble and my amorous possum was lurking at the end of it. I finally resorted to shining the flashlight that I snagged from the room into it's face and, I swear, if it could have, it would have been whistling and trying to act nonchalant, like it wasn't about to take a flying leap onto my camera. Instead it just froze and starred at me all innocent like with it's big brown eyes.
"What???? I'm not doing anything"
Yeah, right. I have kids. I know that look.
I finally gave up and hauled my tripod and camera back to the room as the possum watched from the branch. It's bad enough having a person looking over your shoulder the whole time you're doing something. Try having a possum do it.
You'd have quit too.
While that particular possum I could have done without, Kangaroo Island is teeming with wildlife and you can see everything from wallabies and kangaroos to sea lions and dolphins. The island is a haven for adventure and nature lovers and we enjoyed all of the activities available and seeing all of the animals. We could have been as busy or relaxed as we wanted on this trip but we decided that we preferred to stay busy.
And boy, were we busy!
Our first full day on the island saw us fishing and beach combing at Hanson Bay, where, besides being blown away by the beauty of the beach, a penguin decided to come out of the water at my feet while I was taking photos. I thought it might be scared off when it realized I was standing there but instead, it went about shaking off the water and preening it's feathers. In the end, I was the one to walk away, not the penguin. Of course, it wasn't until I had taken a dozen or more photos of the little guy.
It was FREAKING AWESOME! Seriously, a penguin suddenly shows up at my feet...and I have my camera in hand!
On that first day, we also headed out to Flinders Chase National Park to see Remarkable Rocks, Admiral's Arch, the New Zealand fur seals lounging on the rocks and the most majestic ocean views you can imagine. We had intended to walk to Snake Lagoon as well but we ran out of time. We spent nearly half a day there and, again, we saw only a fraction of what the park had to offer.
At the visitors center, we were told that the sunset from Admiral's Arch was gorgeous but Neil had planned an evening quad bike tour and we had to run by the hotel to change into jeans before heading over to Kangaroo Island Outdoor Action.
While I would have loved the sunset, the men in my life, all four of them, could not wait to climb onto the quad bikes and start blazing a trail across the Australian wilderness.
<Insert Tim Allen man grunting here>
Our guide, Justin, was fantastic and took us up and down rocky terrain, across the yellow grasslands to see the kangaroos, to a gorgeous beach and to areas of the island otherwise inaccessible by car. Despite my girly hesitation about the quad bikes and my sincere dislike of some of the rougher terrain, we did see some spectacular sites on our tour and the boys had a phenomenal time. Zachary loved it so much, he offered his entire savings to the owner if he could have the ATV. Much to his dismay, his saving would only buy him an engine. Thank God! The world's not ready for Zach to have his own quad bike.
OK, maybe I'm just not ready for it. LOL!
On day two, we started by stopping by Outdoor Action again to pick up some boards and a toboggan so we could head to Little Sahara to sand board. Little Sahara is an inland dessert formed over time from eroded limestone. The dunes are bright white and towering and just when you think you've climbed the tallest one, you see another one even larger. The boys did a couple of practice runs on a few small dunes and then quickly moved to the large one. It only took an hour or so for them to become exhausted from the heat and the exertion of climbing up the dunes.
If the climbing hadn't done them in, the eating of the sand each time they wiped out very quickly would have.
And because their mother was being obnoxious with the sun screen, we all left the dunes wearing a thin coating of extremely fine sand that was nearly impossible to get off until we got to a shower that night. Better safe than sorry though. :)
You know, some people would have paid big bucks for the exfoliating effects of that thin sand coating. ;) Just sayin'
After returning the boards, we took off for Seal Bay Conservation Park, which I had been anticipating for weeks. There is a boardwalk that you can walk along at your leisure for free but I wasn't going to pass by the opportunity to take the guided tour that goes down on the beach WITH the seals.
When we got down there, they were napping all over the place, playing out in the water, nursing from mom, displaying their dominance, and completely ignoring us as we were walking on their beach. With the guide, we were able to get remarkably close to them and still be safely out of the way. It was as amazing as I had expected it would be. First a penguin and now seals...it couldn't get much better than that. Well, now that I know there was a sunset seal tour, that might have been a smidge better but, under the circumstances, I'm not going to complain. It was an awesome experience just as it was!
We ended our second day with a nocturnal tour at Hanson Bay's Koala Walk were we were taken around a Koala sanctuary. We were able to view several Koalas actually awake, eating, and moving from tree to tree. It was a fantastic opportunity because, come to find out, koalas sleep 20 out of 24 hours a day, so catching them awake can be difficult. We were also able to see Wallabies, Kangaroos, Brushtail Possum, and Echidnas on our walk. That morning, on our way to Little Sahara, we had the rare experience of having a Koala cross the street in front of us at around 10am. At the time, I had been impressed at the slow speed at which the thing had walked across the road but we learned that night that Koalas can actually run quite quickly when they want.
Apparently, the threat of an on coming car does not warrant running (actually they gallop.) However, wanting to move from one tree to the adjacent one for a fresh batch of leaves does.
Hmmm...running for food...sounds like a teenage boy. Go figure.
At one point during the walk, the sun had gone down and I happened to look up for a moment, trying to spot a Koala in one of the trees. What caught my eye wasn't an animal but the most magnificent star covered sky I have seen since I lived on the farm in Washington State. Kangaroo Island doesn't have many cities, nor does it have street lights in the area where we were, so there was nothing blocking my view of practically every star in the universe.
OK, so I might be exaggerating a tiny bit but, truthfully, I haven't seen a sky like that in nearly 25 years. The Koala Walk was great and very educational but the sky that night....I'll remember it until I die. It was that beautiful.
My later trying, unsuccessfully, to photograph that sky is how my escapade with the possum I mentioned earlier came to happen.
On our last full day on the island, we drove to Emu Bay, on the North shore, to meet Andrew from KI Marine Adventure, a marine eco tour operator, for what turned out to be an unbelievable day out on the water. Now, I have to admit, I am always hesitant getting on a boat. I never know when I'm going to get sea sick and it's usually when I least expect it. I came prepared with my ginger pills and the day turned out perfect. And I do mean P-E-R-F-E-C-T. Our guide, having been born and raised on KI, knew the island and it's waters like the back of his hand.
We had brought fishing gear for the boys and they were eager to try and catch something... really anything would do. Andrew was able to take us straight to a 20 ton school of salmon that made fishing practically a joke. The boys would cast their line in and almost instantaneously get a hit. I don't think they have ever caught so many fish so easily in their whole life and every fish that was reeled in seemed to be larger than the one before.
If the fishing wasn't enough, throughout the day Andrew also spotted a seal and a sea lion and we were able to hop into the water and swim with both of them for a bit. Neither of them were too eager to be social but it was still a once in a lifetime experience to be sharing the water with them. Another thing checked off my bucket list.
So what could be better than a penguin, koalas, seals and sea lions?
Throw in a pod of dolphins and you have the most extraordinary vacation EVER!
I have previously had the opportunity to swim with dolphins that were in captivity but slipping into the open water with a pod of 20 or so is a whole other thing. I wish I could accurately describe what it's like to be swimming in the ocean and have 3, 4 or 5 dolphins swimming along beside you and then have others darting in front and behind you.
It's just exhilarating and surreal.
To say that our day on the boat was great would be a gross understatement. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I'd give anything to go back and do it all again. Threat of sea sickness included.
Actually, if I were honest, I would do the whole trip again, only I'd go for longer.
Yeah, I know it's unlikely, but I'm allowed to dream.
If you ever have the chance to go to South Australia, you absolutely must head over to Kangaroo Island. I promise, you don't want to miss it!
Until next time!
Disclaimer: None of the people, companies, or parks mentioned in this post know who I am (other than my family) nor do they likely care. I link you to their websites because we had a wonderful time, enjoyed their services and, if you ever find yourself plannng a trip to Kangaroo Island, I would suggest checking into what they offer. Perhaps you will enjoy them as much as we did.
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