Lifestyle

OFF THE RECORD: G'day, mate, I'm just back from Australia

The travel plan was to send my final Australian installment from Melbourne, but it didn't happen. Hence, no postcard from Oz last week.

I wasn't whisked away by a herd of wild 'roos, nor did I singe my fingers while tossing another shrimp on the barby. But between the 17-hour time difference and not having access to the Internet, it didn't happen.

Now that I've returned to the rock, folks ask me what I liked best about my two and-a-half weeks down under. Having spent time in Sydney, the Barossa Wine Valley, Kangaroo Island, Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays and Melbourne, I'd have to say Kangaroo Island.

Located off the southern coast of mainland Australia, it's the continent's third-largest island (right behind Tasmania and Melville) and was discovered and named by British Capt. Matthew Flinders in 1802. It's a two-hour bus ride from Adelaide to Cape Jervis and from there, a 30-minute ride aboard a SeaLink car/passenger ferry across Backstairs Passage to the small town of Penneshaw on Kangaroo Island.

There are very few similarities between Kangaroo and Whidbey islands. Kangaroo runs horizontally and is nearly 100 miles long. And although there are nearly 1,000 miles of roads on the island (but no traffic lights), many of them are unsealed (gravel), creating a very bumpy ride (don't forget, Aussies drive on the other side of the road, a skill that takes some time and talent to acquire).

Wildlife is everywhere, but their road kill doesn't resemble our deer that leap out of nowhere. It's mainly kangaroos and feral cats. It was an unsettling sight at first, but after three days I became somewhat immune to it.

Our headquarters was The Lookout, a lovely two-bedroom self-contained apartment owned and operated by Peter Walker and Malcolm Kleemann. Located just a few miles from Penneshaw (be warned, the shops all close at 4 p.m.), the sun-splashed dwelling is located on 6.5 acres amidst lush gardens and with breathtaking sunrises over the mainland of Australia. We booked in for three nights, and also for a one-day Outlook Tour of the island with Malcolm, which included tea, lunch and a four-course dinner served in our apartment later that evening.

The affable Malcolm (who in his pre-Kangaroo life was a buyer at a major department store in Adelaide) met us at the ferry landing in his four-wheel-drive Toyota Landcruiser. With nearly 20 years experience as a tour guide on the island, we were in good hands, and this chap knew every secret washboard road on the island.

For nearly nine hours we took in Kangaroo's highlights with Malcolm at the wheel, along with morning tea and biscuits at Pennington Bay and a decadent picnic lunch set up amidst the trees above spectacular Vivonne Bay.

Just before lunch we visited Seal Bay Conservation Park, a habitat for Australian sea lions that use the beach as an area to rest and care for their young. There are more than 600 in the area, and with Malcolm as our guide we were able to walk down to the beach where they basked in the sand and seaweed while others slept under the boardwalks and on the dunes. One young pup was crying for its mom, and Malcolm explained the mother most likely abandoned it once she had another pup.

From there it was searching for koalas at Pioneer Bend, a 3,000-acre sheep farm with 6,000 sheep. We spotted three of the fuzzy creatures high up in the eucalyptus trees.

Other stops included Lathami Conservation Park, where we looked unsuccessfully for the rare glossy black cockatoos. There were also plenty of Kangaroo Island kangaroos and several Tammar wallabies.

Heading back to Penneshaw, I shouted, "Porcupine!" as a creature waddled in front of our Landcruiser's headlights. Malcolm said it was in fact a short-beaked echidna, an egg-laying mammal that produces milk for its young.

But the highlight of our tour was at day's end, when we visited the fairy penguin colony at Penneshaw. A specially lit boardwalk allows visitors to see the barely foot-tall fairy penguins in their rookery as they waddle along the cliffside rocks into their burrows.

The remaining two days we explored on our own. We took in Flinders Chase National Park, highlighted by Admiral's Arch with its large colony of New Zealand fur seals and the spectacular Remarkable Rocks, a cluster of weather-sculptured granite boulders perched on a granite dome that plunges 246 feet to the sea. Little Sahara is an area of pure white sand dunes surrounded by bush vegetation and The Cape Willoughby Lightstation is South Australia's first lighthouse. We took a tour with park employee Bart, who had me convinced that on a clear day he could see all the way to the tips of the icebergs in Antarctica.

Those darn Aussies get me every time.

Sue Frause can be reached by e-mail at skfrause@whidbey.com.

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