Sssssh, quiet please. I’m in an MGM. Magically Great Moment. You know the kind of moment that is so hard to come by. A moment you can’t buy for the love of money in this jaded, been-here-done-that world. So let’s have some calm and savour the moment. Which may never come again.
So now, I want you all to meet Angelina and Brad. Two very charismatic kangaroos, who I’m lunching with! As a bedtime story for one’s grandchildren, this experience can’t be topped. Not a digital image on the computer, not a wine-induced colourful dream, but the real thing. Brigitte and Benedict, my two French journalist friends are in ecstasy, mouths agape, while Angelina and Brad eat away to their heart’s content.
I can’t resist the names. Angelina, female roo (Australian short form for kangaroo) is friendly, flirtatious and fearless. She eats the barbequed meat right out of our hands and later, even hops over to the table and reaches out for the chocolate brownies. Without a thank you, but none expected anyway. Male roo Brad watches warily from ten feet away, never coming close but accepting tasty morsels thrown his way.
What a marvelous day this is turning out to be on Kangaroo Island, South Australia. Seven times the size of Singapore, it’s only a half an hour flight from Adelaide. And crawling with wildlife. The koalas aren’t hiding — they’re relaxing at home in native trees. The seals aren’t performing in an aquarium waterworld — they’re lazing beside you on the beach. There are echidnas, platypus, goannas, wallabies and kangaroos. All thriving. All mesmerising.
Half the native bushland on Kangaroo Island remains just as it was when British navigator Matthew Flinders put a name to this untamed wilderness in 1802. And more than one-third of the island is National or Conservation Park.
Global travelers in last year’s survey called Kangaroo Island one of the earth’s last unspoilt refuges. When I read the National Geographic Traveller had ranked Kangaroo island higher than Sicily, Seychelles and even Hawaii as an island destination, I packed my bags forthwith. We are being thoroughly spoilt with Mother Nature’s ample charms, our greedy senses hungry for more. A three-day guided tour suddenly seems too short. Having finally eaten our lunch, in the cook-your-own-stuff demarcated areas in the Flinders Chase National Park, we wistfully bid adieu to Brad and Angelina. Who are already at the next log cabin where newly arrived visitors are laying out their feast. So much for friendship.
Enmity and friendship are marked characteristics in seals and sealions. Each is a different species as our wildlife guide informs us. The next day, at Seal Bay, we walk down the cliff on to the sandy beach on guided tours. Getting up close with Australian Sea Lions is another vibe altogether. Each sea lion family claims its own designated area. Males will snap ferociously and make threatening noises at any intruder. Only 10,000 sea lions are left in the world and Seal Bay has the third largest colony of 600, each one tagged by officials to keep track of the numbers. From December to February, sea lions enter the mating season, with pups being born from January to June.
Hey look! Two young pups have just surfed in, now on the sandy beach, walking on all flippers. Oblivious to human presence, they flop five feet away, burp heartily after an obviously satisfying meal and promptly fall asleep. Our mouths are once again wide open. It’s another MGM.
Back in our 4 WD, we drive through the native bushland (which remains just as it was when Flinders discovered the island in 1802) and soon have arrived at the top of Cape du Couedic. What a view! Stretched as far as the horizon, the infinite Indian Ocean. Small islands rise out of the quamarine waters like step-ping stones in a zen pond. We descend the wooden steps to come close to the sea and say hello to New Zealand Fur Seals. Which look very different from the Australian sea lions we have just said goodbye to. Over 7,000 of the Fur Seals live and breed here. Energetic and argumentative, these mammals jump in and out of the freezing waters with ease.
Not looking at ease at all are two Swiss mountain climbers, who are trapped on top of the next tourist spot we are exploring. The Remarkable Rocks, ten minutes away from Cape du Couedic, is one of Australia’s biggest tourist draws. Huge boulders, carved by wind force over centuries, precariously balanced against each other. Great possibilities for candid camera. But I bet these two Swiss will never say cheese again. For the rocks look easy to climb onto but strangely enough impossible to climb down from. Since they have shown us what not to do, I opt for the world’s most remarkable sofa. And lay me down for 40 winks.
Talking of sleep, it’s not just owls who toowhooootoot all night. It’s also endearingly funny birds called penguins whose alarm clock wakes them up in the twilight hour! These are special ones called Little Penguins, found only here (and in New Zealand) are impossible to tell apart at night. Which ironically is the best time to meet them. Trevor Jaggard, owner of the Kangaroo Island Seafront Hotel in Penneshaw coastal village takes us on a guided tour after dinner. Little Penguins lead fascinating lives. Also known as Fairy Penguins, these nocturnal creatures will walk along with you on their way to their favourite bedroom, the local golf course.
Before we bed down for the night in Trevor’s hotel in Penneshaw, he explains why his town is the best penguin rookery on Kangaroo Island. “The cool waters of the Southern Ocean and the warm waters of St Vincent’s Gulf come together in backstairs passage, where Penneshaw is located. This temperate environment provides an abundant food source for the Little Penguin who feeds on squid, anchovies and small school fish.”
I’ve saved the best memory for last. Our visit to the Parndana Wildlife Park. Located in the geographical centre of Kangaroo Island, the Parndana Wildlife Park is only 20 minutes away from the airport and 30 minutes from the largest town of Kingscote. This award-winning wildlife park is famous for its birds and is an absolutely unmissable experience. Open every day of the year, this park is where people and animals meet face to face. Here, you can hand feed kangaroos, say hello to wallabies and emus, exchange squawks with yellow tailed cockatoos, watch echidnas sleep and even cuddle a Koala. I do. Cuddle a koala. I’m in MGM heaven.
The Best Hotel
In 2009, Tatler called it the Best Hotel In The World! For the discerning Indian traveller, the Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island is the ultimate word in luxury. This expensive sanctuary of comfort, style and personal intimacy, the resort known as SOL has spectacular views that overlook the mighty pounding seas. So seductive is its setting that Teri Hatcher of Desperate Housewives fame came for two days, but stayed on for a week! The view from my deluxe suite with sunken lounge and sheer glass walled bathroom was mesmerising. The daily changing menu honoured fine local ingre-dients accompanied by fine wines, so for me it was a real gastronomic journey.
- From Adelaide Airport, Kangaroo Island is a 30-minute flight by Regional Express (REX) to its largest town Kingscote. There are at least four return flights daily. www.rex.com.au
- There is a daily pas-senger/vehicle ferry service operated by Kangaroo Island SeaLink. First get to Cape Jervis (90-minute drive from Adelaide CBD) and take the 45-minute ferry to Penneshaw on Kangaroo Island. Bookings essential. www.sealink.com.au
- There is no public transport/taxi service on the Island. 4WD vehicles are not necessary for travelling on the island. Vehicle hire is available in Kingscote, Pen-neshaw and the Kangaroo Island airport. It is strongly suggested to book car hire in advance in Adelaide if you want to drive around. www. budgetki.com
- Accommodation ranges from boutique and heritage houses to service apart-ments and hotels. Recom-mended are the Kangaroo Island Seafront Resort (www.seafront.com.au), Aurora Ozone Hotel (www. auroraresorts.com.au) and Kingscote Pier Apartments (www.kikingscotepier.com. au).