The Kangaroo Island adventure that started my love affair with Australia

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Dreaming of Kangaroo Island
Steve went on to enjoy countless camping trips around Australia

Grey nomads have been remembering some of their favourite ever adventures. Here, inveterate traveller Steve Jones, recalls an early trip to Kangaroo Island  

Kangaroo Island. I’d never heard of it. Arriving in Australia on a working holiday as a fresh-faced backpacker, I hadn’t actually heard of much. I thought I knew a lot – what 18-year-old doesn’t – but the wonders of Australia, beyond the obvious? Well, I was clueless as it turned out.

Finding work had been difficult; Australia was going through a recession. Picking tobacco, in the freezing early mornings in Victoria’s King Valley, was the best job I could land, along with fruit picking; pumpkins, rock melons, oranges, anything so long as I had the funds for the mandatory trips to the Great Barrier Reef and Uluru. Both, of course, are terrific places. But I had become aware of this small island off the coast of Adelaide. With its promises of up-close wildlife encounters, rugged coastline and wonderful scenery. I made it my mission to visit this land before winding my way home, to London.

Hitching had become my preferred mode of transport, partly out of financial necessity but also for the uncertain adventure it promised. So it was that I found myself in Cape Jervis, courtesy of a cake delivery van, and the ferry to Penneshaw. The gateway to the wonders of Kangaroo Island was itself a delight.

Never before had I set eyes on a penguin. Balanced on rocks, with just the emerging moonlight and a French co-traveller for company, we scanned the foreshore for signs of the blue and white Little Penguins. And then they came. First a lone penguin, then two more, suddenly emerging from the water, pausing to gather themselves, flippers outstretched, scouring their surroundings as if to check their in-built radar had guided them to the correct landing spot. More followed, half stumbling and waddling up, over and through the rocks to their burrows. Decades later, the scene remains etched in my memory. Furthermore, it began a lifelong fascination and love of the flightless spheniscidae.

I bagged a lift with an American mother and son the following the day to explore beyond Penguin Central. For two days we ambled – you don’t rush on Kangaroo Island – from one side of the island to the other, stopping at remote coves and meandering along coastal pathways.

We said G’day to Australian sea lions languishing on the sand at the appropriately-named Seal Bay, peered through Admirals Arch at fur seals frolicking in the water, marvelled at the Remarkable Rocks in Flinders Chase National Park and learned of the heroic history of Cape Willoughby lighthouse.

Kangaroo Island didn’t just throw up a penguin first. It also provided my debut encounter with an echidna. As with us, it was ambling, snout close to the ground, sniffing out ants, termites and any other goodies it could find in the bush. We tracked the spiky character for a while, keeping a respectful distance, as it went about its daily business. We camped under the stars, relishing the remoteness and the tranquility. To all intents and purposes, the American mum and son were strangers to me. But it didn’t seem that way. On the contrary, the shared experiences bonded us in a way that, over the years, I’ve come to understand is almost unique to the open road.

As all grey nomads will know, there is so much to see in this vast land. But equally, who you meet along the way plays such an integral role.
Kangaroo Island left an indelible mark on me. I was captivated. It may have been a relatively brief sojourn, but I identify those few days as the time I truly caught the travel bug.

 Does one particular trip you have taken – either as a grey nomad or earlier in your life – stick in your mind as something truly special? Why not take advantage of your time off the road to put pen to paper and email us here share the memory.

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