Mon 12 Oct - Looking for a coffee

Morning. We made the right choice. Thorn Park on the Island is very good. It is fully equipped, pleasantly decorated, has electric blankets on the beds and heaps of extra blankets so we won't freeze in the night. It is situated high on the hill above Penneshaw with views out across bushland and the town to the sea. Just beyond the garden fence is bushland full of birds and other wildlife. Last evening we bought takeaway fish and chips from Two Birds and a Squid in Penneshaw, raced back to Thorn Park and had our dinner on the deck while a mob of wallabies grazed on the grass below.

This morning, my birthday, I was serenaded by a magpie who sat on the deck railing hoping for some brekkie. We have instructions not to let bird into the house. Apparently it likes to wander in and have a look around. The wildlife seems quite relaxed in our presence. Sunrise was sublime although the day has clouded over and it's going to be quite cold. This is not good good because, stupidly, I didn't bring any really toasty clothes.

After yesterday's long journey we decided we wouldn't venture too far today. The nearest two places are American River and then Kingscote. I fancied a good coffee and as this is a gourmet produce destination we thought we would get some in American River. I found out pretty quickly I need to leave my big city ideas back in Sydney. The island is both a wilderness area and also farming land. There are no chic cafes scattered about. Even the wineries don't necessarily have their own cellar door. American River is a fishing hamlet. It's main tourist establishment is the oyster shop and the general store is very last century. No respectable coffee there. 

As the day was getting on we headed for Kingscote, the island's capital and another 30kms away. We thought we might be out of luck in Kingscote too. There were cafes but not quite the sort I had in mind. We thought we'd try our luck in the last one which looked better but still wasn't what city folk are used to. What a gem it turned out to be. It's run by a photographer,  Pete Nash, who makes fantastic coffee. We started chatting to him about his photos and ended up booking him for a 3 hour teaching session on Wednesday afternoon. Paul has been teaching himself how to use his digital SLR and some professional guidance would be useful at this stage. Pete said for an extra $15 he'd also give me some pointers on how to use my compact camera to better effect. Pete will take us to some places we might not discover on our own and we'll be shooting in the late afternoon light.

60kms is a long way to drive for a cup of good coffee but it turned out well in the end. We didn't get much sightseeing done today for two reasons. Firstly, I needed to look for something warm to buy. Secondly, I went into a gallery in Kingscote that had some really nice artworks. As I contemplated one piece the owner, Fred, started to tell me the story of the artist and the piece in question. He talked at such length Paul had to come and find me. Paul's arrival only spurred Fred on to more talking. We left an hour and a half later filled with much knowledge of the Kangaroo Island glossy black cockatoo and its recovery from near extinction, an explanation of lithography and solar plate etching, a short life history of the artist, an anecdote about the owners of Thorn Park and finally some advice regarding snakes the thought of which had been concerning me. And yes, we did purchase some art.

We headed off in search of the Ligurian bee honey farm but took a detour to the gin distillery except I misread the sign and it turned out to be the eucalyptus oil distillery instead. We spent quite some time here too as we were able to get some lunch of a toasted sandwich and a glass of wine. They had a pet emu who had an unusual companion of a feral cat. Our next stop was the Ligurian bee honey farm. The bees are supposed to be the only pure strain of Ligurian bees in the world. They were brought to the island in 1884 and as there are no native honey bees here the strain has remained pure. Their European cousins meanwhile have interbred with other bees. The thing is, honey tastes of whatever flower the bees take pollen from. Being Ligurian bees makes no difference to the flavour of the honey. The bees' claim to fame is to do with their pure strain.

As the bee farm was close to the southern coast we drove to d'Estrees Bay. This is a remote windswept bay with a beach covered in mounds of dried seaweed. The part of the beach we were on faced due east but we were still at the edge of the Southern Ocean which wows me. The bushland grows right to the edge of the sand and some wild flowers were in bloom. It is evident from the names and the signage that French explorers spent some time investigating the Island and the southern coast of Australia. On our way back to Penneshaw we had to stop to let an echidna waddle cross the road in front of the car. We weren't quite quick enough to get a good photo.

Map of KI

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Tues 13 Oct - This coffee tastes like hot chocolate

As it is too far to drive to Kingscote for some morning coffee we decided to try Ultima Thule in Penneshaw. We had dinner there last night and thought we'd give the coffee a go and sit on the sofa in front of the picture window with a view to the pub across the road. Paul ordered my usual cappuccino; hot and with extra chocolate. Somehow the request for extra chocolate morphed into a request for hot chocolate, at least in the mind of the barista! Maybe we should have driven to Kingscote after all.

Today we decided to explore the Penneshaw end of the island which is known as the Dudley Peninsula. We set off for Cape Willoughby lighthouse which is at the eastern tip. It was a very pretty drive with the landscape changing from bushland to rich pasture and glimpses of the water and across to the mainland.

The day was overcast to start with so some of the photos seem a bit dull. It fined up in the afternoon which made everything look much brighter From the lighthouse there are views along both the south and north coasts of the peninsula. In 1919 a ship called the Kona was shipwrecked about 2.5 miles north of the Cape. We found out from the talkative local who ran the nearby cafe that there is a huge sandbar that runs for approx 2 kms off the Cape. The particular night the ship was passing there was an extreme storm and an unusually low tide which saw the ship hit the sandbar. It was loaded with Californian redwood and the whole lot, vessel and cargo ended up as matchsticks so to speak. Amazingly the captain and crew escaped unscathed but not before having to mend the remaining life raft which was damaged by the storm! The other life raft had been washed overboard.

From the cafe it was easy to spot the location of the sandbar because of the line of whitecaps in the water. The locals do like to chat. We paid for lunch and edged our way towards the door so we could be on our way to visit Dudley Winery. On the drive to the winery we saw some kangaroos grazing in a paddock filled with what looked like white irises. Further along the road we simply had to stop to photograph a most beautiful vista of lush springtime pasture. In a few months it will no longer be as green and tall but right now it looks pretty similar to the Evenlode Valley in the Cotswolds. The photo is a little underexposed and doesn't do it justice.

Dudley Winery is situated high on a cliff overlooking Backstairs Passage and the mainland. The drive up to the cellar door was between more lush rolling pastureland which was being grazed by extraordinarily healthy, well fed brown cattle. We were told the owner of the cattle started the winery in order to have some red wine to go with his prime beef. One thing about being in the country is that you are reminded of a few facts of life you maybe don't otherwise wish to think about. We bought three bottles of wine including a lightly sparkling rosé and set off back to Thorn Park.

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Wed 14 Oct -Sunscreen in his eye

As we had our photography session booked for the late afternoon we didn't leave Thorn Park until midday. It was a lovely blue sky day and it was nice just to sit on the deck to have my coffee. Today's brew was courtesy of the Nespresso machine and was quite good once I worked out how to get the machine going.

The idea was to drive to Pennington Bay and then move to the north coast near Kingscote before driving back to town to meet Pete. Before we left Paul applied sunscreen and managed to put some in his eye. He washed his eye and rested it for a while before we set off.

Pennington Bay! Wow! What a stunning place. It's on the south coast of the island and is completely unspoilt. There were only 12 of us there today plus two dogs. About four guys were fishing from the beach. The sand is off white and the water a spectacular turquoise for some way out after which it turns dark blue. It's a surf beach so the waves were rolling in and crashing along the shore. The dunes were covered in plenty of vegetation including wild flowers. We stayed there for about an hour, walking down to the beach from the lookout decks at the top of the dunes. I took my shoes off and paddled in the Southern Ocean which was nippy but not unpleasant.

Paul managed to get lots of photos but by now his eye was hurting a lot so we headed straight to Kingscote to seek out the pharmacy. We couldn't find it in the main street so we went to the district hospital. A nurse printed off some information for Paul about treatment for sunscreen in the eye. The advice was to wash the eye with plenty of water and expect it to sting and burn for about 24 hours.

Paul, by now, didn't feel up to tackling the photography session followed by a 50km drive back to Thorn Park at dusk when there is a heightened risk of hitting a grazing roo. Unfortunately, because the weather was perfect, we had to cancel the session.

Before we left Kingscote we drove down to the jetty. It was lovely there looking out over striking and peaceful Nepean Bay Western Cove. The waterways are all beautiful being surrounded by either native bushland or pasture. A flock of pelicans hangs around the Kingscote jetty because every afternoon at 5.00pm "The Pelican Man" feeds them. There is a kind of amphitheatre with seating and a platform for the birds. We were there about 3.00pm and the birds were snoozing or preening to pass the time until dinner was served.

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Fri 16 Oct - Seal Bay, Vivonne Bay

It was hot yesterday and we didn't feel like any long drives so we stayed at Thorn Park and had a leisurely day instead. Paul sorted his photos and I applied paint to a few drawings. The day ended with a bit of excitement however when Paul noticed a small winged creature flying about his head. We have no idea what it was nor how it got in because we have been careful to shut the door every time we go in or out. Fortunately Paul managed to encourage it back outdoors.

This morning we drove to Seal Bay to see the sea lions. We turned off the main sealed highway which saved about 34kms in distance but probably nothing in time. Going on the unsealed road was a good idea because it enabled us to see beyond the trees and into the countryside. Every so often I'd ask Paul to stop and back up because there was a great view to be had over a farm gate or a break in the scrub.

At one spot I saw flock of peacocks. When we backed up they high tailed it into the bush. It's impossible to know if they were wild or belonged to someone.

On the way back this afternoon we saw two beautiful roosters with black and dark blue tail feathers wandering along the side of a road. They shot through before a photo could be taken.

The National Parks service has done a great job at Seal Bay. The visitor centre has been recently upgraded and landscaped. Board walks have been built to take people over the dunes to the beach where the sea lions rest on the sand. Paul and I opted for the guided tour which allowed us to go right onto the beach with the dear creatures. Sea lion mothers have their babies and soon after the birth they need to eat. They leave their pup for a day at a time to start with. As the pup grows the mother leaves her baby for up to three days while she searches for food for herself. On her return the baby is able to suckle. While mum is away the little ones often stick together for company.

We were asked to keep our voices lowered and not to get too close because after her three day hunting excursion the mothers need to rest and that's what you see; lots of tired sea lions sleeping on the sand. Some of the younger ones play and the males pick half hearted fights with each other if they get bored. The males also go out for days at a time to feed. Sea lions don't have particularly thick coats because they are bottom feeders and need to be able to dive easily. Because they don't have really furry coats they eat a lot in order to build up a layer of insulating fat. The females nurse the pup for around 17 months.

It was an extraordinary experience to see these beautiful animals resting on the sand. There are only three colonies where the seals can rest on the sand. This one is the biggest and scarily it is diminishing by a few percent each year. At Seal Bay the colony was protected from sealers because of an offshore reef. Other colonies were plundered to extinction. Even though sealing is no longer practised the sea lions along with loads of other marine species are now facing the threat of increased ocean pollution especially from plastic flotsam.

After out visit to the colony we wandered along the headland path to a lookout high above the beach. We saw a goanna strolling into the low scrub. The surrounding dunes were covered in various forms of vegetation including some wildflowers and they too had a special beauty. Meanwhile the great Southern Ocean rolled in. We spent two hours at Seal Bay and it was a fantastic experience.

We drove a little further along the coast to Vivonne Bay. This is another spectacular and remote bay. We walked out to the light station and watched the waves break over the interesting rock formations.

By now it was 3.30pm and we needed some lunch so we headed for the Marron Cafe about 14kms inland. We got there in the nick of time to place an order for Mediterranean Salad with marron. The marron (a freshwater crayfish) was pleasant of texture but almost devoid of flavour. Any taste sensation was due to the salad dressing.

It was now time to head home before the roos came out to graze along roadside. On the last bit of unsealed road we saw an echidna, the two roosters and two cattle who were where they shouldn't be.

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Sat 17 Oct - Be distillery, my beating heart

The day dawned bright blue and sunny with a perfect temperature of around 20 degrees and a light breeze. We decided to visit Emu Bay and, if we had time, maybe Stokes Bay further west along the North Coast. As we like to meander rather than flog our way around we didn't make it to Stokes Bay.

We drove into Kingscote to get a good coffee which we sipped down by the water's edge overlooking the bay. As we left town we took a detour around the waterfront which turned out to be a fortunate idea as we stumbled upon Shoal Bay. It's another big, beauteous bay containing a couple of large sand bars. One is in fact so long and has built itself up to such a degree it is referred to on the map as an islet. As usual there was plenty of bird life to watch. There were pelicans and sea gulls but also some Royal Spoonbill. It sounds as though we are terribly up on bird species. We aren't. Thorn Park is just so well equipped it even has two guides to Australian birds.

It was so lovely and peaceful there we stayed quite some time. Paul took photos and I sketched the pelicans trying for gestural pencil lines to capture "essence of pelican".

Emu Bay was only another 18kms along the coast. On the way we stopped at the Lavender Farm. It's about two months until the lavender will be in full bloom so we didn't see fields of purple. We ate our lunch in the pretty garden and enjoyed the tranquility of the surrounding beautiful farming countryside.

Emu Bay is a large bay bounded by white sand dunes. It is possible to drive along the beach for probably a couple of kilometres. I counted and there were about 16 of us on the beach and half of that number were so far away I could only make them out with my binoculars. The water was shallow and calm so I paddled a way out on foot to photograph a flock of terns who were sitting and preening on a low rock platform. What can I say! Again the words magical, beautiful, awe inspiring, serene, tranquil, etc, etc come to mind. We had to drag ourselves away.

Our last stop for the day was Kangaroo Island Spirits (KIS), the gin distillery. It turned out to be a quirky and welcoming local business. It's a small batch distillery and was located in a rustic little old farm house with a pretty garden which presumably grew some of the botanicals used in manufacture. One of their gins has won the bronze medal four times in New York and it did taste good enough to buy a bottle. We tasted three gins and about five liqueurs. We finished off by sharing an affogato in the garden.

When we got back to Thorn Park Paul stayed on the deck watching and photographing the wallabies grazing below. It was too cold for me so I went inside. Paul called me to come quickly because a white wallaby had appeared out of the bush and was grazing with her joey. This was a pretty special end to another perfect day in this beautiful place. We leave in the morning to catch the 10 o'clock ferry and it's going to be a huge wrench.

Today's photo gallery


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