A wildlife photographer and blogger, I spend my free time finding and photographing wildlife in different parts of the world. Check out my blog at https://www.thewildlifediaries.com/
Published June 27th 2017
Road trip with a difference
To stave off the winter blues, my good friend Alexi and I made a spur of the moment decision to spend a weekend in South Australia. And even more on the spur of the moment, we made an ambitious plan to visit Kangaroo Island for a day.
We flew to Adelaide late on Friday afternoon, picked up our rental car and drove to the small town of Middleton at the eastern end of the Fleurieu Peninsula, where we have rented a country cottage.
Saturday morning dawned warm and sunny, despite the gloomy forecast and after a quick breakfast, we got underway, anxious to get to the wharf in time for the 9 am ferry.
By the time we arrived in Cape Jervis the sky turned borderline stormy. It made for some dramatic scenery: dark purple clouds in stark contrast to the orange, lichen covered rocks of the coastline and deep green colour of the ocean. But it also held a promise of rain, which was particularly undesirable on the island that only has two sealed roads.
After a rather bumpy and windy ferry ride, we arrived on Kangaroo Island on what was probably the coldest day in history and only days after Mother Nature unleashed Armageddon-like rainfall on the island. As a result, most of the unsealed roads were closed and detours were in place for parts of the main road that were currently underwater.
We decided to head straight to Seal Bay, thinking that we would see the sea lions first before the weather deteriorated further. We stopped for a quick look at Christmas Cove to check out an attractive section of the islands' coastline and dropped into the visitor centre to get the latest info on road closures.
As we were leaving the coastline, the sky was still dark and dramatic but it was hard to tell whether the storm was coming or going. We followed the road across the countryside until we suddenly found ourselves in a scene out of Game of Thrones.
The mighty eucalypts interlocked their branches above the road creating an almost mystical tunnel. The scene was incredibly photogenic. We pulled over on the side of the road and since the road was completely devoid of traffic we were able to sneak right into the middle of it and steal away a few shots of perfectly aligned road and trees.
Almost as soon as we got back in the car it started to rain. Light drizzle at first, it quickly gathered momentum and soon became a proper downpour. The sky turned uniform grey without a single break in the cloud cover. The rain was here to stay. What do you do on Kangaroo Island in heavy rain?
We gazed through the windshield at the flooded paddocks on both sides of the road. The water has already reached the edge of the road. Another few millimetres of rain and even this road will be flooded, effectively cutting the eastern end of the island from its western part. One road, pouring rain outside – we didn't have too many options, so we continued driving ahead.
Without any scenic stops on the way, we arrived at Seal Bay about an hour later. The only alternative to spending the day at the gift shop was the barn-style restaurant of Seal Bay Cottages and Café conveniently positioned right across the road from the Seal Bay turn off.
As we pulled it at the café, Alexi pointed to one of the trees: "There's a fluffy dude up the tree, but I can't see what it is" she offered by way of explanation.
The fluffy dude turned out to be a wet koala that had wedged its fluffy bum into the fork of the tree and tucked in its chin into its knees. On closer inspection, we noticed that it had its arms wrapped around a smaller version of itself. It was a mother with her young.
The restaurant was quite cosy with its floor to ceiling windows and a wood burning stove that kept the place warm and filled the room with the smoky scent of burning wood. We claimed a large wooden sofa padded with a multitude of dark coloured cushions and settled in for long lunch.
Over the next hour and a half, the rain went through different stages of intensity and finally stopped just in time for the 2.30pm session at Seal Bay. We knew we didn't have any time to waste – the rain could return any time, so we hurried to the car for the short drive to the bay.
When we got into the car I noticed a sign nailed to the base of the tree that read: 'Look up and smile, say hello to Kyle the koala'. So much for our excitement of discovering a wild animal. Though the fact that Mr. Kyle had given birth to a young, was still an unexpected development.
When we got to Seal Bay the clouds have parted enough to allow some rogue rays of sunshine to come through. Although, as exciting as the brightening sky was, it did nothing to warm up the day.
Our guide Susan came up from the beach, rounded us up, explained a few basic rules and led us towards the wooden walkway and into the gale-force wind. The walkway meandered through the wind-blown coastal bush that was crisscrossed with tunnels made by the sea lions.
'When it's cold on the beach', Susan explained, 'the sea lions come up to the shrubs, where it's much warmer than on the sand'. As if to prove her point, she led us past a large male lion that was deep asleep on top of a flattened bush right by the trail.
September is a good month to visit Seal Bay because this is when the pups are born. Just a few days old, the tiny chocolate brown pups were very shy and for a while, we could only catch brief glimpses of them. Their mothers tried to coax them out of hiding, calling to them insistently and patiently waiting out in the open.
Down on the beach, some sea lions braved the biting cold and the icy wind. Some were coming out of the surf, often taking a snooze halfway through their journey to the beach.
An impressive looking male sea lion was relaxing surrounded by his harem of smaller, lighter females. Male Australian Sea lions reach sexual maturity at seven years of age. The younger males live on the outskirts of the colony, watching and learning, bidding their time.
Once the formal tour was finished, we went on a self-guided walk along a different elevated wooden walkway. The sea lions don't come as close to the path here, but we had fantastic vistas of the broader landscape that gave us a good sense of thesea lions' world.
There is a huge whale carcass half buried in the sand. Amazingly, it belonged to a juvenile humpback whale, not a fully grown one.
From Seal Bay, we made our way to the nearby Vivonne Bay. Like most of the island, the beach was cold and not particularly welcoming, though we did catch a rainbow that stretched all the way across the sky.
And just like that, our day on Kangaroo Island came to an end. As short as it was, it was quite an experience to see the island in adverse weather. The wind, the dark sky, and the rain revealed the other face of Kangaroo Island – harsh but none the less beautiful.
As we drove back to Penneshaw, the sun was setting over the ocean, bathing the landscape in warm golden light – the photographer's magic hour.
Was it worth it in the end? Yes, absolutely. Visiting Kangaroo Island in the rain, in the cold and in a rush made for an adventurous trip that left us with a rewarding sense of accomplishment and a sense of having witnessed something quite unique.