Impressions of Kangaroo Island, changes of plan, more Aussie kindnesses – and an all-night vigil…
Monday 23rd March 2020. The news this morning was not good – because there wasn’t any. Were we flying on Friday or not? We just didn’t know, because there had been nothing further overnight from Travel Trolley. We remained positive, as after all, we only had to confirm we were happy with their alternative arrangements – and we’d done that. It was time for our latest excursion, and this was one I had been particularly looking forward to. Today we would be joining Linc and Lyn on a ferry trip to Kangaroo Island.
Earlier in our travels, Elaine had discovered this was an island sufficient in size to support humans as well as kangaroos. It was easy to affirm from the Cape, where we could see a stretch of land towards the horizon. But being from the UK, I wondered how it compared geographically with anything I might recognise back home. Was it bigger than the Isle of Wight, for example? Or Anglesey off the coast of North Wales? So I Googled it.
The answer is that Kangaroo Island covers 4,405 square kilometres. To put it in perspective to a Brit, that is equal to the Isles of Man and Anglesey added together, plus the whole of Lancashire! A sizeable chunk of rock indeed.
Linc had organised our trip weeks ago. Some friends from Adelaide were taking their caravan onto the Island for a short break, and had volunteered to loan their car to Linc so that he would not need to take his own over for the day. Besides enjoying a pre-booked lunch in a pub near the ferry terminal, that meant we could travel a bit further and see more of what the Island had to offer. All sounded very promising.
After a warm and pleasant day on Sunday, the weather had brought a little cloud cover on an easterly wind, and the temperature was down to 17 degrees. We saw an occasional “white horse” streaking the surface of the sea as we descended the last hill down to the Cape, but the forecast was for calmer weather. It was our turn to drive Linc and Lyn the short journey to the ferry terminal, where we joined a sprinkling of other foot passengers waiting for the ten o’clock ferry. The virus was clearly keeping numbers down at a time when a boost from visitors was desperately needed. Barely two months had passed since bushfires had devastated three quarters of the Island (imagine the whole of Lancashire consumed by flames).
A few of the staff at the Sealink terminal were on nodding terms with Linc and Lyn, neighbours perhaps, or just people who recognised “the regulars”. Each of us noting the subtle changes affecting this part of the world, where signs now cautioned us to stay 1.5 metres apart. At the sales counter extra precautions were in place over the handling of money – cards the preferred choice.
Fortune favours the brave, they say, and our crossing was uneventful apart from one major disappointment: halfway across Linc received a phone call from the pub at Penneshaw where we were booked for lunch. They’d had to cancel it, as Government restrictions meant closing completely from noon today. Bugger!
Our plans needed urgent revision, as we were expecting to meet the Adelaide friends at the pub. Instead, once communication was established, we managed to rendezvous with Peter and Ann at a lovely “shabby chic” coffee shop called Milly Mae’s Pantry. The coffee was excellent, but we were put on notice that, if we wanted food, we had to order it before twelve…
With less than an hour to curfew, our table for six made the democratic decision that the preferred option for lunch would be fish and chips. Takeaway was the only option for food outlets now, and we’d just walked past a place round the corner we were confident would be open for business.
Penneshaw is, if anything, a smaller community than Cape Jervis, but nonetheless picturesque. After our six polystyrene-boxed meals had been collated, we found an ideal place, sheltered from the prevailing wind, next to a small marina. The quaintly named Christmas Cove provided an idyllic lunch break before the four of us took off in Peter and Ann’s wheels.
Linc was aiming to be back in time for the 3.30 pm ferry, so we would only have an opportunity to see a small amount of the island, and none of what we would see had been impacted by bushfires. It was the western and middle section that had suffered the most, with people’s livelihoods and thousands of animals lost. Nature was doing its best to restore new growth, but it would take years to bring Kangaroo Island back to where it was at the end of 2019 – always assuming it escaped any further fires of the ferocity seen in January.
For our part, we could relax and enjoy the scenery of the eastern end, with just the one main road leading us toward the centre past low-lying scrub, and through a parade of gum trees.
This stretch is similar to many other parts of K I, and it was not difficult to imagine how fire could spread so easily in hot, tinder-dry conditions. Strong coastal winds had fanned the flames, carrying them from branch to branch. Alan Cole told me the original source of the fire had been quite small, and was not considered to be serious enough at first. How wrong they were.
We took a brief diversion south to Pennington Bay, through rolling sand dunes where every effort was being made to preserve the natural habitat.
Then we continued on past Prospect Hill, one of the highest points on K I, before bearing north again to the place where Peter and Ann were camping: American River. It’s another quiet little community with tourist facilities and a boat-building facility by a peaceful cove, popular with wild pelicans.
Curiously, the place was named in part after some American sealers who operated in the neighbourhood in the early nineteenth century, but the area is simply a natural inlet on the coast. There is NO river, and no-one seems to know how it got that part of its name!
Time was getting short, so we re-traced our route back to Penneshaw. I had mixed feelings about what we had seen. Knowing how badly K I had been affected by fire, it was almost a disappointment to have only explored a part of it that remained untouched. But Elaine and I had come across some small areas on our visit to Robe that suffered from the flames, and we had all witnessed the news footage in January. Every ferry crossing seemed to include heavy plant vehicles and materials intended to help re-build communities that had not been as lucky as American River, and we could only hope that one day we might have an opportunity to return, in happier circumstances.
Another alteration to our schedule lay ahead. We returned in plenty of time for the 3.30 ferry, only to find it had been cancelled. With over ninety minutes to wait for the next one, we found Peter and Ann near Milly Mae’s and handed back the car keys before finding some liquid refreshment on what had become another warm day. We sat outside a closed establishment calling itself “The Fat Beagle”, but saw no evidence of its namesake while watching the world go by at a very unhurried pace.
We said goodbye to our kindly friends as we boarded the ferry back, although it was not to be the last time I would be in touch. It was only after dropping off Linc and Lyn at home that I discovered I had mislaid my glasses somewhere during the day. For the most part I had used my sunglasses, leaving my normal specs inside a pouch I had placed in the side pocket of a small backpack. When I hadn’t been carrying it, the bag had been left in the back of Peter’s car, and my immediate thought was it must have fallen out there. The word went out but, alas – to no avail. Could they have fallen out on the ferry? Linc would have a word.
Losing my specs was a nuisance, but it wasn’t to be a major source of interest compared to what we were about to discover. With no further news from our travel agent by email, we decided to phone them again and try to confirm what would happen on Friday. With Sue’s permission I used her landline to call Travel Trolley once office hours had been reached in the UK. “We’re in lockdown,” they told me. What the Hell did that mean? “Nothing is happening here. You’ll have to send an email to our emergency team at…”
It was the beginning of what would be a long night. The world had gone crazy. Flights had become things of fantasy, and travel agents were being hunted like prized rare specimens.
Elaine, Sue, Kato and Lizzie left me alone in the kitchen and went to bed. I hunkered down for the duration, reminding myself that UK time meant they were still only halfway through Monday. Surely someone would get back to me soon? I remained at my laptop, sending out questions that seemed to evaporate unanswered in the vague blackness of the internet.
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