Sunday, March 24, 2013

Day 8 - Snake Lagoon Hike, West Bay, and Vivonne Bay

Friday 22nd March 2013

In which we follow the adventures of a fat grandmother on the Snake Lagoon Hike.
Wind has abated overnight but the sea is bigger and louder. Hanson Bay yesterday was fairly calm and still, today it is awash with breakers. At the beach further east the breakers are rolling through with a thundering landfall, the spray flying behind to a leaden sky and grey horizon that blends with the heavens. It is easy to imagine white horses harnessed and charging towards the sand. It would not be a hardship to sit in this chair and simply watch the surf for hours. Well, in fact that's essentially what I'm doing along with the journalling.
We stick to our usual pattern of mid morning departures. Today we are heading back into the National Park. I have a rough tentative itinerary in my head, but I will seek the advice of the staff at the visitor centre.
The day is calm with passing showers. We wander into the visitor centre and while I'm loitering around waiting my turn for the lady on the desk I hear her enthusiastically recommend the Snake Lagoon Walk to another couple. I'm sure I heard her say that it is rated as one of the best walks in South Australia.  It sounds great.  When our own turn comes I say that we were thinking of heading out to West Bay. She comments that West Bay is a beautiful remote beach and the road should be pretty good at the moment. Talking about roads, how did we find the road out to Cape Borda yesterday? The platypus walk has less water in the ponds at this time of year, so it can mean it is easier to spot the platypus. They get more sightings at this time of year, but I get the impression the chances are still pretty iffy. Well, we are talking about platypus, they are shy and nocturnal!
A plan for the day has firmed. We’ll head off quick stix and do the Snake Lagoon walk – estimated 2 hrs or so and then drive out for a quick look at West Bay, come back for lunch at the visitor centre café, go and then go and do a cave tour. Maybe come back for platypus viewing later on depending on how the time goes.
So, first things first. We drive the 8 kms, mostly on the dirt, to the car park for the Snake Lagoon walk. As we pull up the rain starts. Not to be deterred we don our rain gear and head off.  
The first part of the walk is along a narrow track through head high vegetation glistening in the rain. Most of the track is firm sand a small section at this stage is natural rock where more care needs to be taken due to the uneven surface. 
We take our time, stopping to admire some interesting flora, a pale green bush with what look like they might be flower buds in profusion; the glowing red stems of young branches on a low growing eucalypt; a comprehensively nibbled leaf; a small dainty flower on a correa. 

I’m quite happy to proceed at modest pace and just enjoy the moment today. Periodically we come to a hint of views, but overall this section of the walk is consistent in its offerings. 
In about half an hour we reach the river crossing and views across to Snake Lagoon. At this dry end of the year, there is no water flowing through. Just the signs warning hikers not to cross if the bridge is under water. 
We wander across the boardwalk and I’m having doubts about the value of continuing to be honest. This place would be something to see when it’s flowing.  Now, in the dry, the area is a mass of rocks and boulders, the hillsides covered in patchy scrub. Hm. It’s certainly wild looking. It’s quite exposed. I can’t say this is my favourite sort of country visually.
In an unexpected role reversal, Hubby is keen to continue and urges me on. Hmm. The path when we've crossed the river is rough. More than rough. It’s aweful  Every step has to be chosen carefully. We are, in reality scrambling across the natural rocky hillside. Up and down, awkward steps, a thousand opportunities for a sprained ankle or a slip. This walk is moderate. Yes, by definition. The walk down to Harvey’s return is hard due to the incline. In terms of effort required, IMHO this walk at Snake Lagoon is harder than the one to Harvey’s return because the track is significantly rougher and it goes longer.  With all this up and down, I can feel my leg muscles misbehaving and have a stretch for a bit. 
Ah. That’s better.  Being, as it is, just the natural terrain with a narrow track simply a lack of plants for a foot or so, the path is often difficult to distinguish. In some places it seems that hikers have just taken their best guess and there is a wide area where the vegetation has been out competed for real estate. Some time is consumed pausing momentarily to wonder, hmm, is the path that bare rock or that other bare rock.  
Now and again when it is particularly unclear a sign with an arrow points the general direction we are supposed to go.  Gees this beach better be good.  Finally, after about 48 mins where my tolerance of the difficult terrain is steadily eroded we come to what I instantly name the Cairn of Hope.  
I'm sure I remember the lady at the visitor centre saying that the walk is “a bit rocky”. Uh huh. Remember the staff there are Aussies and we’re prone to understatement. Something I have not taken sufficiently into account!! She also said that many people stay at the beach a while. Uh huh.  Yeah.  It’s a pretty beach they say. I'm actually wondering if the delay in coming back is because having worked this damn hard to get there, they figure they’d better stay long enough to justify it. Or perhaps they’re just hoping a passing ship might send a dinghy ashore to rescue them. This cairn appears to be evidence of the latter.
We suddenly come to views of a pretty beach. Oh good. Isn't that nice. Oh *&%$. Look how much more of this bloody hike we have to go.  Hmm. We've seen the damn beach can we just go back. No. Hubby is insistent. I stretch again and press on. Hang in there knees.  I stop to bird watch. There’s quite a bid of bird call in the scrub around here. I employ my binoculars.  
Oh, look at that, a white browed scrub wren; a silvereye and some fairy wrens away over there keeping well out of the way. I guess for those who are not bird watchers, I should explain that these area all very common birds where I am from. Indeed I get silvereyes and fairy wrens in my garden on a daily basis, so while all god’s creatures are great to see, and lighten one’s spirit, I don’t need to work too hard for these ones usually. Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention there was also a quite bizarrely shy white faced heron in the area. It would fly off into the distance any time we got within a couple of hundred yards. I get white faced heron in my garden too believe it or not. I conclude this is a consequence of having a very healthy frog population and no dogs.
Hubby has been in control of the camera. He’s photographing me fairly often. Why aren't you smiling? I imagine a long series of photos of me on the path look a lot like I'm not enjoying myself.  Our banter brings regular chuckles and it seems hubby has been fairly expert in capturing the merriment along the way.
Ok. Here we are on the beach at last. And it is a pretty beach. Prone to freak waves apparently.  We loiter for a while. It has taken us almost exactly one hour to reach the beach, which is what was indicated for this hike, however I'm thinking the way back is more uphill, on the way here downhill dominated. I'm thinking that the way back will probably take us longer. Groan. I can see my day slipping through my fingers. I'm not happy. We spend 10 minutes on the beach. Right. I'm over this bloody walk. It said it takes 2 hrs walking in the book. That’s all the time it’s getting. Let’s go. Now. I set myself a deadline.  I am feeling a little encouraged by the knowledge that my knees prefer up hill to down hill. 
The scenery is more attractive heading back. Its funny how the direction of travel can sometimes make such a difference. We’re making pretty reasonable time, and as we know the return journey from anywhere always seems quicker than the outward stretch. Thank God.  We reach the section where I had to clamber down on my bottom on the way out. This time, with my short stubby legs (thanks Dad) I am obliged to climb up on all fours. Hubby has hung back. This is too good to miss. No I'm not posting a photograph of myself on all fours with my bum to the camera!
I feel I have gone a really long way in quick time. Sigh. We’re only back at the Cairn of Hope.  You know, I think this walk is the South Australian version of an Aussie offering a foreign visitor some vegemite. You should see this walk… it’s a real beauty (chuckle chuckle).
We emerge from concealment and surprise a group of kangaroos who have come down for a drink. They look like they can hardly believe this. Humans. Here.  They stare at us for a while and bound away. I kick myself for not anticipating the opportunity to capture a kangaroo in full flight. Reflexes and camera recovery too slow. That’s the one downside on this new camera. It does seem to take a while to process an image you've taken before you can take another, unless you are on a setting that expects it.
25 minutes after departing the beach we are back at the river crossing and my lips are meeting weathered timber.  Holy Moses let me cross the river.  It’s all easy from here.  
Along the way Hubby has been acquiring more and more of the gear we brought with us. It starts with the camera, then my raincoat. Later a cheerful comment earns him my jacket as well, and finally even my bins. If he keeps it up he'll have my jeans to boot. Haha. On the easy path he begins to extend those long legs of his and he’s out of sight.  I'm walking briskly, checking my watch. Good, we’re on track to be back at the car in 2 hrs. Then a complication. A strange bird call. What was that?  Not something I've ever heard before. Could it be a Glossy Black Cockatoo?  Hubby has my bins. Oh no. Surely not. Never mind, it appears to have been a group of Currawongs speaking in a different language than they use at home. Funny about how the same species can speak a different dialect of birdsong in different areas.  They were worried about that when the captive bred Regent Honeyeaters were being released, but the birds seem to have got along OK.
As I near the carpark the cart horse phenomenon starts to take effect. I'm nearly there. Within sight of the car I find Hubby is coming back up the path armed with some water and the scant remains of our survival ration chips we had in the car.  YES. We are back. At last. This walk has consumed almost exactly two hours in total including our 10 minutes on the beach, so we've shaved some time on the return. 2 hours 2 minutes to be precise, but I’ll accept the extra couple of minutes because I felt it wise to stop and stretch my legs a couple of times. At least we are running to time.
As we come out of the bush we meet a group that we've passed before, they sound like they are from North America. I volunteer that she should not believe that this walk is “moderate”.  The lady smiles good naturedly and jokes “so it’s easier then?”  I laugh.. Yeah.
In all honesty, despite the bitching and moaning and joking along the way, I'm glad to have done the walk. All experiences are a mix of light and shadow. It's good to push yourself occasionally.
So what now. At least we are running to time. We set off along the road to west bay, which initially involves some very steep inclines. The road is pretty good, and we pass the grader which is heading back. That explains the good condition of the road. It’s still quite loose though. As we travel we joke about the days adventures so far and it suddenly occurs to me that West Bay was recommended by the same lady who was so enthusiastic about the Snake Lagoon hike. Hmm. LOL
It’s only 12 kms out to West Bay. 
We park and hop out of the car by the memorial anchor.  Wow. The smell of the ocean and fresh seaweed fills the air. Breathe deeply.  I suggest we take the walk to the lookout and leave it at that, dismissing Hubby’s suggestion of heading down to the beach.. it looks a long way and it will be sand dunes. I'm far from keen to be walking over sand dunes at the moment.
The walk to the lookout is very beautiful. Extraordinarily beautiful. Gasp. Look at that bay and that beach.  Oh my god. Words fail. West Bay is unutterably beautiful. This whole area is unutterably lovely. This is quite possibly the most beautiful beach we have ever seen. Absolutely stunning and the weather is with us all the way. Sunlight on the breaking waves, threatening clouds over the Southern Ocean, waves crashing against the ramparts in the distance. Noone else in sight. Simply magnificent. What am I going to say about this? I wonder. Temptation: “West Bay is aweful. Don’t go there.” Leave this place pristine as it is today.
I pause armed with the camera to capture nature’s garden along the track back from the lookout.  A Japanese garden designer couldn't do a better job than this.  Wonderful.  Lets go to the beach I think, but Hubby has hopped out of shot and is ahead of me. He is already down the path. Take a picture he says, calling up to me.  There’s a couple of picnic tables at the upper section of the beach walk. Lovely spot for a picnic!  
I bound down the steps and am taken aback to find the dune walk has a non slip path laid down. This is easy, even though it’s got quite a slope to it.  I stop to capture the scene and Hubby wandering across the broad sands. We've discovered the panorama feature on the camera and employ it enthusiastically. Hubby wanders up to see how far the deposits of fresh red seaweed go. The tide must come in and cover all this sand.  
Gee this must have been something to see yesterday, or when it’s full tide. I could handle just having a towel or blanket and sitting in a sand chair soaking up the wild serenity of this place. Fantastic. Absolutely fantastic.  Eventually we decide it’s time to start heading back. That imposing looking sand hill is a breeze with the laid track over it. Just a little tricky when first getting a foot hold coming up off the beach.
Back at the Bower Anchor Memorial, we contemplate the story of a local shipwreck.  Everywhere we've gone there are tales of loss and suffering on the high seas. It adds a melancholic aspect to our appreciation of the natural masterpiece we've been exploring.
We no sooner on the road than the rain comes down. Talk about timing. The weather loves us on this holiday we've been so incredibly lucky with it.
As if West Bay were not fabulous enough, along the way back we see our first KI echidna crossing the road. In a horrible bust of incompetence, I manage to pretty much miss a photograph.  Yeah, come on, you can see it in the bushes there can't you?
Delayed again when we spot a skyscraper spear on a grass tree. Even hubby hops out to get some perspective on it. I have repeated tries to use the panorama setting in a vertical dimension. Ah that'll do. Score that one as a fail, but that spear had to be at least 4 metres tall.
Our day is getting better and better.  It took us 35 minutes to drive out to West Bay and we spend about 50 minutes there. We’re back at the visitor centre well before 3 oclock, I think it was about 2.40ish. Plenty of time for the main meal of the day here at the excellent café. I know what I’m having thanks: Kangaroo Island Whiting meal – locally caught fresh whiting battered (or herbed) and pan fried served with our gourmet salad and chips $26.95.
Hubby also has no need of deliberation and has the Warm Chicken and King Island Haloumi Salad – Pan fried seasoned chicken fillet with local halmoumi cheese, served on a bed of lettuce, cucumber, tomato, capsicum, carrot, red onion, served with KI honey mustard dressing. $21.95.
Yes, both were as delicious as they looked. My salad was outstanding. The fish was cooked beautifully in a light crisp batter. It’s not often you find fish and chips cooked and presented this well. Not cheap in any sense. Well worth the price. As we sit enjoying the outdoors at the café most other diners depart and the clean up crew arrives. The young woman from the café comes out and we all hang about for a few minutes admiring the birds.  It is a little troup of blue wrens: a coloured up male (breeding plumage), another male in eclipse plumage (dark blue tail but otherwise looking like a female ie not in breeding plumage) and a couple of others which most people assume are female but in fact you can’t tell. You can only tell that a blue wren IS a male, unless you get the bird in your hand and there is some tangible evidence of female gender eg an egg in the abdomen.  We are talking like this of birds and our hostess tells us that she is the daughter of the people who operate Raptor Domain. Another couple dining have done both the bird and reptile show there and it sounds great. I could handle having Casper the Owl sit on my knee!  I decide to give it a go tomorrow for the morning session at 11.30.
No way we’ll make the 3.15 tour at Kelly’s Hill Caves but there’s another tour at 4.15 according to our guide book. Showers have been passing as we've had our lunch. The vegetation in the car park is glistening and there is that glorious smell of the Australian bushland on the air. Fresh and scented of eucalypt. Breath deep.  The birds are very active. There’s nothing shabby about the birding at the Visitor’s Centre. 
A red wattle bird
A grey fantail
And a mystery bird foraging under the bark but too quick for me to get a good enough look to be sure what it is. It looks like a honeyeater. I'm busily trying to get a good binocular free look at the birds when – oh look at that, there is a koala. He opens his eyes and looks down at me as I take his portrait.
Time is moving on and we don’t want to miss the cave tours, so I drag myself way. Really. I would have been very happy to stay here just moseying around looking at the birds for ages.  But, places to go, tours to take, so I jump in the car and we head off.  Along the way another echidna! Hubby needs no prompting to pull over. 
The echidna, now safety off the road, senses my approach and does what all sensible echidnas do when approached by something scary. It nestles down and presents as a bit ball of spines. AWESOME. Two echidna’s. They make no guarantees you’ll see any.
It’s about 20 mins to Kelly’s Hill Caves. We’re not alone in our intention to take this tour. There is a steady stream of cars pulling in and people heading for the ticket office.  The office is closed and there is a clock face and sign indicating that the next tour is at 4.30 and ticket office will open 10 minutes before the tour. Groan. OK. The area around has a couple of large picnic shelters and lots of fallen timber but to be honest it not terribly nice as a venue for hanging around. Hubby and I make our way across and sit under the shelter out of the sun. Puzzle over the enormous size of the tables. And wait. And wait. I’m a bit sick of this spot so I amuse myself stalking the blue wrens. KI has a LOT of blue wrens. 4.30 comes and goes. No sign of any tour people turning up. We decide to go. There’s three coloured up male blue wrens flitting about in the car park and they delay me for a while. Leading me a merry dance as they avoid having their portrait taken. Ah. Give up. What now. Now we’ve come this far, how about we head up to Vivonne Bay and get fuel and check it out then maybe come back for the platypus walk?
We get our fuel successfully. Not much of a challenge there. Then we drive out towards Point Ellen, taking opportunities as they present to admire the views. We couldn't be bothered walking out to the point after the walks completed and anticipated today.
Back along the road heading back to the National Park we spot another echidna. THREE! Woo hoo!
As we arrive in the car park we have a good look at the park walks book. Hmm. This walk is easy but given 2 hrs. It’s nearly 6pm. Not enough time. We give it away and have no sooner got back in the car and closed the doors than the rain comes down in a heavy downpour. We laugh.  Glad we hadn't started out on that.  Oh well.
On the way back to our Cabin a FOURTH echidna!  This one is restricted to video and that has worked well because this little guy is made of sterner or perhaps less prudent stuff. He’s a bit smaller and darker, perhaps he is younger, but he reckons he can just walk away from me.  Brilliant.
As we drive up to our cabin a rainbow has appeared across Hanson Bay.  It intensifies and fades away then reappears a while later.
Back unusually early, top of my agenda is to spend some time hanging out on the wide verandah just soaking up the views. Our next door neighbours are friends of the operators of the cabin and the friendly manager starts up a conversation with us and we spend a lovely half hour enjoying the wallabies who have come out to nibble on the pigface and whatever else they can scrounge. Feeding is discouraged but for those who cannot resist an appeal is made in the cabin information to restrict offerings to fruit and vegetables. Anything with yeast in it will kill them in a very unpleasant way. Apparently the wallabies like banana skins and the possums like the fruit itself.
The little children, a couple of them about our grandson’s age are running here and there.  One little boy run us and announces he has found a dinosaur!!  His mum heads off to investigate and I follow, perhaps they’ve spotted a lizard. Haha he was only joking!
We realize we have not employed the panorama setting to capture the views.  So as the light fades we do what we can to ensure we can enjoy the scene at home.  Hubby reminds me I was going to soak the Ravine du Casoars ready for our light dinner so I head on in for a while.
Curtains closed and some journalling being indulged in, and almighty ruckus starts up outside. Three possums are arguing about the greens that are outside the door of the cabin next door.  Righto. We have a spare banana.
They bicker and squabble and screech. They are looking exceedingly healthy. Gees look at that one it’s a solid looking thing. Possums are cute but the brushies can be quite an aggressive beast.  We draw the curtains and settle down for a nights rest before our last day on KI.

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