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Published September 25th 2017
Hop on over and explore KI
I have to confess that I have become a KI tragic and have fallen in love with the place in a big way! What's not to like when you think about it - nature at its best, fantastic coastal scenery and natural environment, food and wine, walking trails and the list goes on.
In a previous article that I wrote for Weekend Notes, 6 Top Coastal Spots around KI I came up with a list of some great coastal areas around KI. This time around when I visited again recently, I decided to concentrate on the eastern part of the island, using Penneshaw as a base.
Despite Penneshaw being the main port for Sealink Ferries arriving from Cape Jervis on the mainland, it is a small, quaint town with a population of only around 300, located 107 kms from Adelaide. The town itself clings to Hog Bay with magnificent views across to the mainland, only a 16 km (45 minute) ferry ride away.
The name of the town of Penneshaw derived from a combination of Dr F W Pennefather, who was private secretary to one of South Australia's early governors, Jervois, as well as colonial editor for the Times, Flora Louisa Shaw. The bay was named after a group of pigs that had been released by the French explorer, Nicolas Baudin back in the early 1800's.
Apart from the normal influx of tourists throughout the year, Penneshaw and the island generally have seen a massive increase in cruise ships calling into port. In fact, for the upcoming 2017/2018 season it is expected that 21 cruise ships will dock at Penneshaw, up from 16 in the previous cruise season. Back in 2014/2015 season there were only 7 cruise ships which visited. The current number of cruise ships pulling into port equates to something like up to 15,000 passengers coming ashore, a great boon for the town of Penneshaw and KI in general.
What struck me about Penneshaw was its embrace of recognition of electric motor vehicles, and I noticed a charging station opposite the local IGA. I also discovered that South Australia's very first modern seawater desalination plant was established in Penneshaw in the 1990s, in order to supplement the town's limited dam water supply.
Penneshaw's foreshore ranges from jagged rocks to a smooth sandy beach in Hog Bay near the ferry terminal. Christmas Cove caters for boat enthusiasts with its very own marina.
Penneshaw Penguin Centre conducts nocturnal tours to see the approximately 15 pairs of Little Penguins. Penguin populations are dwindling, mainly due to their prime predator, the seals. Hopefully future breeding programs may see an increase in penguins and more opportunities for the public to learn more about these fascinating creatures.
One of the more popular areas for visiting, as well as accommodation on KI, is American River, about a 25 minute drive from Penneshaw. So named for the American sealers who visited there in the early 1800's, American River has a good range of accommodation options ranging from B& B's, hotels and self-contained properties, to camping.
Matthew Flinders and party were the first Europeans to visit American River, with American sealers camping for 4 months in the area, the following year. Their ship was the "Union" and as you turn off the main road to Kingscote, into American River, you will notice an anchor as well as a memorial plaque dedicated to these American visitors and their vessel. The anchor was recovered in 1969.
Today American River is deemed as an aquatic reserve teeming with many types of fish, seals and bird life. For us humans it is also an ideal location to pursue water based activities including fishing, swimming, boating and sailing.
An interesting project going on at the site is the restoration of the ship "Independence" which was originally built in 1803 by American whalers and sealers and described as an American schooner. The original was a 35 ton vessel and local timber was sourced to complete its construction. The 1803 vessel was believed to be the first ship ever built in South Australia - some 33 years before the state was proclaimed.
A locally based "Rebuild Independence"group have got together to build a sea going replica of the original ship and have built a shed right on the wharf, together with the opening of a cafe. The large boatshed, built mainly with volunteer labour took three years of lobbying and careful preparation.
Generous support has been received from the Kangaroo Island Council as well as cash and other support from donors. A solid timber keel has been donated by the Enterprise Trust in Melbourne, and machine tools and other equipment donated by a local retired engineer.
The adjacent Deck Cafe offers patrons a place to unwind, have lunch or sip on a coffee, and both the boatshed and cafe were opened officially in October 2015.
You can also observe close hand some of the traditional boat building skills involved in bringing this remarkable vessel back to life. Plans are in the wings eventually for an Interpretive Centre which will enable visitors to learn more about the "Independence" and American River.
Baudin Beach is around 28 kms (22 minute drive) east of American River and is becoming almost as popular with those looking to get away from it all. The name Baudin is synonymous with the French explorer, Nicolas Baudin, given in his honour.
Apart from the link to the days of the French exploration of the area, nearby the boat ramp is an historic copper sculpture recognising a lady called Mary Beckwith, who is believed to have been the first European woman to set foot on South Australian soil, the year - 1803. Mary was a young English convict who was taken on board Baudin's ship Le Geographe in Sydney to "accompany" him on his journey around the southern part of Australia and all the way back to France.
The adjacent waters of Eastern Cove are renowned for King George Whiting.
A visit to the rugged south coast of KI reveals some breathtaking scenery incorporating rocky outcrops and pristine white sandy beaches. If you take a turn off Hog Bay Road onto an unsealed section, that will lead you down to Pennington Bay. The Bay offers some of the best surfing available on Kangaroo Island. At the right time of the year, you can also view both dolphins and whales swimming and cavorting in the Southern Ocean.
The beach, although protected somewhat by the accompanying bay, can still be rough and treacherous, therefore is not recommended for swimming. To think there is no land between this area and the Antarctic is quite incredible.
On the day that I visited there were very few visitors, possibly because of the time of the year, however it was a surreal experience to be able to touch foot on some of the beautiful beaches where there was no-one around.
The rocky outcrops along parts of the coast break up the long white sandy beaches and add some interesting diversity to the landscape. This is one of my favourite spots on KI!
The entire area comprises kilometres of beaches, the Chapman River and abundance in wildlife, and you will be spoilt for choice for spots to stop for a picnic. Apart from a chance to soak in the atmosphere, there are also great options for fishing, swimming and kayaking, particularly along the river.
The day I visited Antechamber Bay area, the Chapman River had burst its banks and water was lying on either side of the road that connected all the way down to Cape WIlloughby. I find it an awesome experience to witness an extra burst of wildlife that seems to come out of nowhere when nature delivers excess rainfall.
If you travel over to the most easterly point on Kangaroo Island, you will find Cape Willoughby, which offers stunning coastal scenery and its renowned lighthouse. The name was given by Matthew Flinders when he visited the area and had connections to a village in Lincolnshire in England, Flinder's home county.
The lighthouse has important historic significance as it was the very first lighthouse built in South Australia, therefore also the oldest, dating from 1852. South Australia, particularly back in the nineteenth century, had notoriety for its rugged coastlines and high incidence of shipwrecks. In fact, over a 20 year period there were something like 800 shipwrecks along our coast. It wasn't until telegraph was installed in lighthouses during the 1870's that the death toll from ships running aground improved dramatically.
The lighthouse was originally known as the Sturt Light, named after Captain Charles Sturt, South Australia's epic explorer and navigator of Australia's river systems. It was built of limestone and granite sourced from the site.
The original keeper's cottage was located 500 metres from the current site, closer to the beach so that supplies could be more easily received from the mainland. In 1927 the existing cottages were built and today they are available for accommodation. The lighthouse itself can be viewed anytime from Thursday through to Monday and is open from 9 am until 3.30 pm (except Christmas Day) for a gold coin donation.
A guide will accompany you as you climb the steps of the lighthouse to experience breath-taking views across Backstairs Passage, and will give you an insight into what it must have been like to live and work as a Lighthouse keeper and the lonely isolation that would have come with the role.
There is also an option available for a heritage walk around the adjacent Conservation Park and of course the centre's museum.
Arguably one of the best wineries on KI, Dudley Wines has not only won prestigious awards for its brilliant wines, including Food, Wine and Tourism Awards 2017 winner for Cellar Door Experience, but is located in an incredible location with excellent views across Backstairs Passage to the mainland.
You will find Dudley Wines about 12 or so kilometres ( 13 minute drive) from Penneshaw, run by the Howard family and is very much a family affair with the son being the winemaker, and two daughters and daughter-in-law running the cellar door sales, marketing and book-keeping for the business.
The winery was established in 1997 and offers a great range of wines, from the Island range with its Roses, Rieslings, Reds, Merlots, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc to its Vineyard series comprising Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. The food menu changes regularly but fresh KI produce is on hand to tempt the tastebuds, including King Prawns, gourmet pizzas and homemade desserts, together with artisan cheese platters.
During the nice weather, the outdoor decking and balcony offer the best views from its lofty position. The winery also has function rooms and caters for weddings.
Dudley Wines is open 10 am to 5 pm, 7 days a week.