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Friday, 08 June 2007

Kangaroo Island's Bird Man

Written by Jennifer M. Eisenlau, Ph. D.
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When I travel, I usually go alone. I need a guidebook, some on-line research, and a few tips written on cocktail napkins from friends who’ve been where I’m heading. But upon arriving on Kangaroo Island (KI), I knew I needed professional help.  Kangaroo Island is only a 45-minute ferry ride crossing from the mainland of Southern Australia.

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When I travel, I usually go alone. I need a guidebook, some on-line research, and a few tips written on cocktail napkins from friends who’ve been where I’m heading. But upon arriving on Kangaroo Island (KI), I knew I needed professional help.

Kangaroo Island is only a 45-minute ferry ride crossing from the mainland of Southern Australia. Although it is known for its wildlife, I could not find a Koala in the eucalyptus trees, no matter how hard I looked. After driving around for a day and a half, all I saw were dead wildlife: dead wallabies, dead kangaroos, and unfortunately, lots of other unrecognizable things littering the roadside.

“That’s it,” I said. I booked a full-day private tour. My guide picked us the next day up at nine o’clock sharp. A retired National Parks Ranger and a bird specialist, Chris Baxter knew his stuff. Our route along the southern coast lasted for nine full hours, with stops at all the island’s top sites: Seal Bay Visitors Centre, Vivonne Bay, Flinders Chase National Park Visitors Centre, the Remarkable Rocks, and the Admirals Arch. In a Range Rover, my family set out with Chris to see the wildlife of KI. And see it we did: within minutes along two-lane Playford Highway, there was a group of twenty wallabies sunning themselves. This was a prelude to Seal Beach, where we walked among hundreds of seals, also sunning themselves. Passing within feet of seal pups, our guide told us of his childhood and how he and his brothers played here as children with the sea creatures on this very beach, which now is a seal sanctuary. He grew up on KI: his father was one of the WWII soldiers sent to farm the empty island.

I learned about this fascinating island full of fascinating animals from a local man who loved his island. Chris was so proud to share KI with us. We saw everything up close, so close we could touch it: I was lucky enough to hold a baby koala that smelled like a eucalyptus cough lozenge. I scratched the ears of several kangaroos, and I even fed one some raisins while Chris wasn’t looking.

Toward the end of the day, the abundance of natural beauty was overwhelming. I was suffering from Stendhalismo -- a curious affliction named for the author Henri Beyle (aka Stendhal). While touring Florence, Italy, the author of Le Rouge et le Noir (1830) claimed that he could take no more beauty. He saw another painting, and then – Bang! He promptly passed out. I, too, felt like the woozy Stendhal when I saw the Remarkable Rocks: giant boulders as big as houses perched upon sandy cliffs overlooking a sea lion filled surf. I just could not stand anymore of Nature’s splendor. My soul felt too full, if such a thing were possible.

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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