2005: Kangaroo Island offers respite from golf

By John Steinbreder

Kingscote, Australia

After spending nearly a week in and around Adelaide, my traveling companions and I determined that as idyllic as it might sound, none of us could live on wine and golf alone. So we signed up for a two-day trip to the ecotourism hot spot of Kangaroo Island.

Located about 75 miles south of the South Australian capital, the island is a vast hideaway some 90 miles by 40 miles in size. Sheep outnumber the 4,500 human residents 300 to 1, and wallabies, koalas, seals and, yes, kangaroos thrive in a self-contained environment that gives an extraordinary sense of old Australia. Farms producing oats, barley and winter wheat dominate the landscape, and much of what isn’t tilled or under pasturage is part of a network of parks and conservation areas that make up a third of the island’s total acreage.

Kangaroo Island also has several vineyards and one golf course, though the modest nine-holer with sand greens hardly measures up to the other fine layouts we had played during our journey.

On this trip, however, we had left our clubs in the city and had nary a winery on our itinerary. We were determined, instead, to explore the flora and fauna of the country’s third-largest island, which was first settled in 1836.

Getting there was a breeze. We made the 20-minute flight from Adelaide aboard a 10-seat Cessna Caravan II, then began a mini-bus sightseeing tour.

I marveled at the seemingly endless stretches of fields dotted with grazing sheep or rows of grain and gawked at the kangaroos and wallabies bounding across clearings. On a couple of occasions, we stopped by groves of eucalyptuses to gander at koalas feeding on the seminarcotic leaves and watching them catch monumental buzzes in the process. We also hiked through a couple of nature areas, spying more kangaroos and wallabies as well as enough bird life to dazzle John Audubon. We even spent a few hours fishing on a boat off the southern coast, catching whiting, snapper and sundry other species, many of them so oddly configured they could have been created for a Tim Burton movie.

At sunset, we enjoyed glasses of wine and pieces of a sheep’s cheese called “haloumi” at a lookout point above the American River, so named because U.S. whalers used to call there during voyages.

Good stuff indeed, but they were not my favorite part of Kangaroo Island. That would be dinner that night at the Stranraer Homestead, a bed and breakfast as well as a working sheep and grain farm of 2,500 acres that occasionally offers meals in one of its sheep shearing sheds. And what a meal it was: lobster and steaks expertly done on a grill set outside the tin-roofed shed. As the chef created béarnaise sauce from scratch in a pan over the coals, a local band played what I can describe only as Australian folk music. We supped at tables arrayed among bales of hay and boughs of eucalyptus, and the Shiraz flowed freely.

The following day, we paid a visit to the Seal Bay Conservation Park on the island’s south shore, permanent home to a colony of perhaps 500 Australian sea lions, representing about 10 percent of the species’ total world population. At any given time, about half of the creatures are out at sea, where they will spend as many as 72 sleepless hours feeding before dragging themselves back to the refuge to sleep – and recover. Our guide led us up and down the length of the beach, sometimes only 15 feet from seals who were strewn across the sand like frat boys after a keg party. We watched as others surfed the waves back into shore as they returned from their eating expeditions, even as still more slithered into the cold water, once again ready to dine.

It was a fascinating sight that held us rapt for a couple of hours. And not once did I hear anyone lament that we were not teeing it up.

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