Our Outback Spirit trip to South Australia began in Karta Pintingga or Kangaroo Island. In Adelaide, Janine and Darren our husband and wife tour guide team, whisked us into their 4WD truck and down to the Sealink Ferry terminal at Cape Jervis. Our journey across the calm Backstairs Passage was highlighted by a humpback whale calf surfing as the full moon rose in front of Penneshaw Harbour.
Karta Pintingga, the Island of the Dead in the Kaurna language is as big as Bali according to Darren; 145 km long and between 900m and 54km wide and is the third largest island in Australia. Its was uninhabited when Matthew Flinders and Nicholas Baudin met up at Hog Bay, however the indigenous Kartan people disappeared after the land became an island, 10,000 years ago. During the 19th century sealers brought local Kaurna and Tasmanian women as slaves, to assist them in preparing seal pelts. With a current population of about 5,000, it’s largely made up of farming land and national parks. Tragically, in the 2019-2020 bushfires, two locals perished however, the regrowth of the bush has been helped by some of the wettest weather recorded on KI.
We drove through the Flinders Chase National Park to The Remarkables, a granite outcrop on the edge of the southern coast. We were able to scramble all over the rocks but we were warned not to venture onto the orange lichen in case we slipped into the raging sea below.
Further on from The Remarkables at the very southern tip of KI is Cape de Couedic and its lighthouse. The Cape was named by Nicholas Baudin in 1803 after Charles de Couedic, a French naval officer. Baudin who was conducting a scientific expedition of Australia famously met Matthew Flinders on Kangaroo Island, where they shared water and provisions even though their countries were at war at the time.
Below the lighthouse is a steep descent to Admiralty Arch where below on the slippery rocks, long nosed fur seals bask. These were hunted for their pelts in the 19th century almost to extinction but have fortunately recovered.
Along the southern coastline, at Seal Bay is the third largest colony of sea lions in Australia. These majestic creatures grow to over 100kg, males up to 400kg. They were once hunted for their blubber but are now protected, their greatest predator now, being the great white shark. Females breed within 3-4 years and then remain almost constantly pregnant or lactating until they die. Sea lions will travel up to 200km to feed and can be away from their pups for 3 days. No wonder they sleep a lot, although the young pups we saw were gamboling all over the beach.
We stayed at the Ozone Aurora hotel in Kingscote, which is the capital of KI, and which has a beautiful harbour and a tidal pool, where we spotted lap swimmers in double wetsuits.
By our third day together we 20 Outback Spiriters had bonded pretty well and were beginning to know each other’s foibles. Visiting Kangaroo Island Spirits or KIS for their excellent gin certainly helped the bonding process.
The gin distillery was only expanded during the 2020 COVID pandemic and their signature Wild Gin, using Boobialla or native juniper was a hit. This was followed by O’Gin, using Olearia axillaris or coastal daisy which had a strong, rather oily taste made more drinkable with added tonic water. Finally we tried Mulberry Gin. The story goes that the original South Australian settlers landed on Kangaroo Island before finally moving to mainland Glenelg and while on KI, planted a mulberry tree. The original mulberry tree is looking a little the worse for wear but it has produced cuttings of all mulberry trees on the island. The gin is exceptional and we tried it with blood orange sparkling.
Our second day included a tour on Kangaroo Island Ocean Safari with Elijah and Natalie where we spotted white bellied sea eagles, long nosed fur seals and a bottle nosed dolphin. On return to Penneshaw we wandered through their sculpture park where Basketboy had made a tribute to Dick and Clayton Lock who perished in the fires. The sculpture mimics the local Kauna tradition of wrapping dead bodies in paperback and burying them in trees.
Our final destination was the Emu Ridge Oil Distillery where Larry, the entrepreneurial owner regaled us with his anti-environmental spiel about harvesting eucalyptus oil from the narrow leaf mallee, Eucalyptus cneorifolia. The tree is native to KI and because it sprouts from the ground the leaves are regularly harvested in spring. Larry and his family diversified into oil production from 1991 and he has constructed his own still which is sustainably powered by wood collected on the property.
Larry is no friend of protection, particularly of the introduced koalas who he says strip the mallee and destroy them. We were impressed with the marketing of so many products and bought some Eucalyptus oil, which has done wonders for arthritic knees.
We left KI after visiting American River a settlement developed by American sealers in the early 1800’s. Locals are now recreating their schooner, the Independence.