'We only have one rule here. With the exception of Marron shells, which go back in the creak, all food scraps go over the deck. Between the kangaroos, the possums, the ants and the Goannas, everything goes.'
'Even the meat?'
'The Goannas love the meat and the more of those you have, the fewer snakes you have. Note I said fewer.'
When you hear this, you know you are somewhere remote, odd and a bit special.
It was nearly the end of our Kangaroo Island holiday and I didn't think I would blog about it but a few things changes my mind. Firstly we found ourselves for a few days in the most amazing place, surrounded by friendly kangaroos and the experience needed recording. Secondly, we had no telly so I needed something to stop me drinking large amounts of booze. Finally, Kangaroo Island continued to be a 150km x 50km land mass version of Faulty Towers.
The island is about 30km off the south coast of South Australia, which equates to a short ferry ride or 20 minutes on a small airplane (on which the inflight refreshment is a beaker of water and one Mentos). It is famous for its great beaches, its wildlife and its kangaroos so we had wanted to visit for a while.
Recently South Australia has spent a lot of cash on a very sexy KI ad that goes out all over Australia. It involves sexy people walking along pristine beaches, sexy people staying in beautiful hotels and sexy people eating great food. Sunshine is constant. It's a great ad and pushed us to come sooner rather than later.
Physically KI is entirely as the ad says it is. Lots of lush green bush bounded by deserted roads and dry yellow grassland. Clear, clear seas lap against white sanded deserted beaches or slams into impressive rocks and cliffs. The days are long and the nights are so clear that after a few bottles of wine it is impossible to not crank your head skyward and talk k*** s about the possibilities of the universe.
The creatures are pretty cool too. Rare seals charm you on the beaches, Echidnas wander around the roads looking like really tough Hedgehogs. Koalas do what Koalas do best. Sit in trees doing f*** all.
It's the people that are a bit s***. Before SA spent a gadzilion $ on a great ad they perhaps should have had a chat to the locals. They could have told them about the gourmet food theme. They could have mentioned the smiling faces. They should have hinted that they may need to lift their game a little.
Those in the tourist game out here come in three categories. The engaging professionals (20%). Pleasant incompetents (60%) and the tourist haters (20%).
Those in the first category include the staff at the Island Sheep's Cheese shop who manage to make you feel good about parting with $6.50 for a wee bit of a cheese tasting (and I mean wee) in between sitting in rooms watching very semi professional videos about making sheep's cheese. They have passion, enthusiasm and seem to like strangers.
Booking a tasting at the Islander vineyard is also rewarding. Sarah is a hugely enthusiastic Texan who gives a tour of a very interesting Frenchman's experiment before bringing to life some really pleasant wines (I should know; 5 bottles of the stuff has passed my lips in the past few days). Her theory is that people don't move to KI to work hard or spend time with lots of people so if they have to do either of these things, they get grumpy.
Kate at Island Source is also a stand out. She is a London trained Sydney chef who had decided that cooking ready meals to order is what in needed on KI and she's not wrong. Indian one day and Moroccan the next. Fantastic. Nothing seemed to be too difficult and the food really is great.
Those that hate tourist are funny. They look at you with contempt. They speak to you with contempt and they serve you only when they can be arssed. The Vivonne Bay General Store is the greatest version of this. This was a real shame as we were staying in Vivonne Bay. I believe they have been trying to sell up for the past 7 years but with no buyer, so perhaps it is understandable that they hate the ground visitors walk on. I think they even hate each other so rather than explain the coffee order one had just written down to the one that was to make the coffee, the preferred method is to pass over the badly written docket then walk out the room so the order needs to be repeated. Being a Sydney tosser, I have my coffee with soy milk and this goes down like a a snake in a hamster cage. The first time I asked the nice Captain Birdseye lookalike was serving and to him nothing was an issue so I got what I asked for. The second time one of the very grumpy owners served me and he just laughed in my face and said 'not a chance'. When I mentioned it had not been a problem the previous day he just went ahead and made me one without further conversation. The following day the lady who I think may have been the miserable wife of the miserable owner also greeted my order with a simple 'no' until I explained it had been ok for the last two days. She too delivered without a further word of explanation. It's a real shame they were so unbelievably bad as we ended up going miles out of our way not to go into the store. We spent precocious minutes arguing if our need for butter was so great that giving cash to these moral sucking tossers was justified. I am sure the demise of the business will be painful and deserved.
The pleasant incompetents are just plain irritating. If they haven't run out of something then they will get your order wrong. If you ask for any changes they look like they will have a meltdown. Want a coffee? 'You'll have a long wait. A party of 4 (the only 4 in the place) have just ordered' (Seal Bay cafe). What lunch in a reasonably busy hotel? That'll be a 45 minute wait (Penshaw Hotel). Want a salad and chips on the same plate? Not a chance. The menu says a plate of salad and a cone of chips so they will be served separately. And by the way, don't mind the Tiger snake (Rockpool Cafe). I could go on.
Now these are on top of the list of 'first world problems'. We have travelled in India, South East Asia, rural South America and even Northern Ireland so we can rough it. We can live without soy milk, we can transfer the chips from the cone to the plate and we can decide to skip a meal if we don't like deadly snakes slithering under the tables. The thing is we are in the first world and the Island advertises itself to be a pretty dammed sophisticated place and it's not. It's way off. KI is famous for great lamb but you cannot buy it on the island as it is all exported. And the whiting fishermen were on holiday so that was off the menu too. Expectations need to be set.
The good news is that if you do want beautiful beaches, great wildlife, clear nights and lost and lots of silence, then Kangaroo Island will exceed expectations.
Vivone Bay is miles of white sand and crystal clear water with spectacular sunsets. Rolling hills stretch to the horizon or plunge into the sea (depending on where you are looking). The north coast has bay after bay of sheltered water and clean beaches. And there are Koalas! It is truly spectacular.
Now we know what to expect, we will be back.
I write this from the De Mole River Retreat which is on the north west of the island and is about as remote as you can get. You reach it after leaving tarmac roads for about 10km before you reach the end of the road, marked 'End of the Road'. You then travel through an electric gate then another 8km along dirt tracks that get smaller and smaller as you drive until the vegetation is rubbing both sides of the car, over numerous cattle-grids and lovely creaks. The destination is a wooden house in scruffy bush land. The large open plan living area looks out over a large deck surrounded by busk. There is not a blind or curtain or door key in the place but there is a wood burning stove. And Kangaroos.
A number of years ago, Graham who is the lovely man who owns the place, came across a dead kangaroo with a live joey. He reared the Roo and she had a family. Some of her kids now have kids. There are at least 11 of them now and we get all or some of them on the deck throughout the day. They come for food. They stare at you through the window in the evening. They are outside the bedroom window when you wake up. They are demanding.
J and I have been in Oz for 5 years now but we still find roos interesting. After three days living so closely this interest may have come to an end. They really are stupid creatures. In a University Challenge against Sheep and Pheasant universities they wouldn't make it past the heats. They sit and stare at us with dead eyes, so immobile I think they are in screen saver mode. They don't play but they sometimes fight. There is no interaction to repay the provision of food. Just dead staring eyes. Graham gave me a length of plastic pipe to assist in keeping them away if they got too much. I couldn't believe anyone would ever use it. I've used it.
So Whilst I am over roos I think I understand a little more about the attractiveness of Australia and why so many Australians have big 4x4s, boats, every bit of camping gear you can imagine and a huge desire to get into the bush. Outside the main cities it is not about café's, restaurants and theatres. It is all about adventures, spectacular and unique scenery, remote beaches, captivating wildlife and the odd cold beer whilst cooking a barbie. The more of Australia I visit, the more I get this.