Monday, March 25, 2013

Day 9 - Raptor Domain, American River, Pennington Bay, Penneshaw, loop to Cape Willoughby and Dinner from the Sea Spray Cafe

Saturday 23rd March 2013

I slept quite well overnight and wake at just after 6 am, still pitch black. Hubby rises to see the time, he’s been awake for ages in the night as is fairly typical at home or away. I get up to do some journalling  It flows so much better in the early morning. From 7 oclock I open the curtains and watch entranced as the sky lightens, turns red, then pink creeps across the clouds against a sky of lightening blue.  There’s a fine mist of sea spray over the foaming waves rolling eternally into the sandy coves of the south coast.
It’s the day to move on up to American River so there’s no luxury of sitting and journaling for hours this morning. We wash up and Hubby sweeps and we are out and about at about 9.30. We’ll drive up to Raptor Domain and see how we’re going for time. Maybe we will have long enough before the flight display to take a run down to Seal Bay.
Just after 10.30 we pull into the drive of Raptor Domain. Perhaps they have some aviaries to look at before the shows. Nope. What will we do. Probably not enough time to justify the drive down to Seal Bay. We pay our $15 per person and decide to just hang about. There’s a video about KI playing so we have a look at that. Basically just hang out doing nothing much. We browse the gift shop. Good souvenirs for kids here. We’re worried about the weight of our luggage though so we restrict our purchases to a few light finger puppets of native animals.
The Infrastructure at Raptor Domain is impressive from the entrance of wings made of metallic feathers to the characatures of ants climbing up the tree. I like the gate out to the flight arena.  The arena itself is pretty impressive.
Our forbearance is sought as our presenter today is a person down and he will have to fetch the birds himself rather than leaving it to the assistant that can’t make it today. The birds in any particular show will inevitably vary according to their inclination on the day. When training any creature, humans included the animal needs to know what you want it to do and needs to have enough incentive.  A heavy bird, not in need of the food offered for the tasks with simply opt out. A couple of birds that were intended to fly today don’t want to so we’ll go with some others.
First on the program is a tawny frogmouth the masters of camouflage. These are not native to the island, this one is from the Adelaide area and is not exactly tawny like the birds in the east where the species was first described. It’s a beautiful mix of greys and black. Gorgeous plumage and it tolerates a backhanded pat from the audience.
Next the mopoke. He’s a sweet little guy but not yet really well trained he cooperates for some audience participation. As usual the children are given priority, but after a bit he displays a mind of his own. 
Caspar the Owl is in the mood for a sleep in too, but despite his lack of enthusiasm he is roused to earn his keep. Caspar hops onto the knees of the people over to our right and it is clearly the intention to have him hop right around the front row of the moderate crowd assembled. Suddenly the alarm call goes out. Casper looks up and flies back into the staging shed.  What’s more he’s got no intention of coming back. We look up. Wedgies. 5 of them circling high in the sky above. All birds are nervous when Wedge Tailed Eagles are in the air. There is no persuading Casper that he should stay up today now. There goes my owl on the knee fantasy. Pop!
While we wait for the next performer, a trio of Magpies invade the pitch.  These are special white backed magpies, Mum, Dad and a young one with more grey in his white, not so crisp black and white. These Maggies are not the same as the ones we have at home. I'm never quick enough to get a photo of them flying with their white backs clearly displayed. I'm clearly enjoying the Maggies more than our presenter and the interlopers are chased away to leave the stage clear for Mike and Mal the blue winged kookaburras. 
These two have a really good set of blue plumage. Mike and Mal take turns sitting on visitors gloved hand. When the opportunity arises I figure I’d better take my chance while it’s there and have the bird on my hand. Lots of people have a go at this before One of the birds d decides there are better ways to spend time and flies off to a perch on the dead tree on the other side of the arena. 
He is concentrating hard on something as we hear about stationary hunting; the workings of a kookaburra’s brain; and kidnapping problems. We don’t hear that kookaburras need to be lucky to survive long enough to fledge due to their fellow hatchlings trying to kill them and be the sole survivor.  The other Leyland Brother is being super obedient, which must be something of a relief to our presenter. The birds seem to be a bit bolshy today overall.
So, something special next. He’s only a bubby, 3 months old and not yet trained, but perhaps we’d like to see him.  Oooh, a Sooty Owl, you bet we’d like to see him, he is gorgeous. He was born in captivity. There is only a couple of breeding pairs in Australia, and this fellow’s parents are at… wait for it… Featherdale in Sydney. Ah, a fellow Sydney-sider then.
It’s nearing the end of the show time, so it’s time to bring out the Show Stopper. Jedda the Wedgetailed eagle is turning 21 this year. I’m not surprised to hear it really because she is almost totally black. Wedgies get darker as they get older.  Unfortunately for us though, they are not flying the wedgies at the moment with the wild eagles in the air. When she gets the chance to hang out with wild eagles Jedda is not inclined to remember her training and do as she’s told. 
I’m disappointed by this obviously.  The best bird show I’ve ever seen was at the Desert Park in Alice Springs. They flew a Wedgie that day and as the bird interacted with a pair of wild eagles with a territory that included the park the presenter interpreted the behaviour for us. It was totally awesome.  Perhaps that bird was a male or something who had some motivation for returning to his own territory within the park. Who knows. A wedge tailed eagle is always an impressive sight. Jedda is only about half the size of the biggest wedgies. The big ones come from Tasmania and can have wing spans of well over 2 metres.  Jedda demonstrates her wingspan and is rewarded and our show comes to a close. 
Hubby had elected not to have lunch here. There’s a lobster burger which the woman at the Visitor Centre café recommended… a persuasive recommendation in my opinion.  The lobster burger is just under $20, but there are other cheaper options and the idea is you should order before the show and collect afterwards, then you are in the right place at the right time for the reptile show, which runs for about 40 mins. It’s tempting, but the opportunity cost is just too great and we are committed to moving on.  Our destination is American River.  We've programmed Tommie to take us via the fastest route and apparently it believes we are better of sticking to the blacktop. It is a pleasant drive with some very pretty sections. The red, black and white ribbon of the road streams off into the distance through the dense stands of roadside vegetation.
We have decided we’ll just do a bit of a reccie at American River before heading out towards Cape Willoughby. Hubby’s on the lookout for lunch. I'm not much fussed whether we buy food or not.
On our way into American River we miss the turn and indulge our road trip ritual of chucking a u-ey every now and again in order to see the views from Muston Lookout. On arrival we head over to climb the ramped rock platform provided to get you above the trees. It is clear that the potential views here are decidedly impressive, unfortunately the trees have grown protecting the modesty of the bay. 
Well, that doesn’t really need much contemplation so we make a quick getaway. We find the Island Coastal Units easily, travelling slowly so as not to endanger the local swans.  There’s a note on the door of reception for us.  Our cabin is open and ready waiting. We mosey on over to collect the key and check it out. 
We find a quite new, spotlessly clean little cabin with verandah nestled among some dense shrubs that are clearly popular with the local birdlife. This was a good, and economical choice of place to stay and we are happy with the selection. I am impressed by the information on the area and the  island provided for us. The living area and kitchen have large windows that catch the breeze and the birdsons.

The bedrooms are no bigger than they really need to be, but they are sufficient.

We pop our milk in the fridge and the chiller bag full of water and coke bottles that we have refilled with water and frozen, back in the car. 
We cruise slowly around American River, there are eating options around and open but we figure we like the look of the Oyster Farm shop, so head back there. Where to park. Hubby fields a funny look of a passing motorist as he fusses positioning our little Corolla in the shade by the shop. 
We hop out and laugh. Oh. It’s shut on the weekends. Haha. Well that makes that an easy decision.  We will head in to Penneshaw. However I have a couple of stops I want to do on the way, and of course we need to explore in between.
My map shows an enticing waterfront dirt road as an alternative route to the black top. Let’s do that. 
Our first stop is at what I think was Independence Point which provides clear views across the water and a covered picnic table. 
A flock of grey teal bob along on the water. 
Our next stop is down at Pennington Bay. The dirt approach road contrasts with the red of the roads in many other parts of the island shining bright white in the sun. The vegetation too has adopted a complementary grey green.  On arrival at the bay we find there are a number of parking options. It’s fairly quiet with not much traffic and only a few cars here. We make a brief stop at a small wooden lookout and head to the western parking area for views over the beach. Another car has arrived and a group hops out. It appears to be someone showing people the local sights. Pennington Bay is described as where the local surfers chance death because offshore there 5m white pointer sharks lurk.  
I have to say, dressing up to look like shark food and whizzing around the southern coastal waters is not exactly my idea of a good time, but the scene below us provides evidence that there are people for whom the risks seem acceptable, or perhaps even an enhancement to the adrenaline rush of gliding down the face of a wave. 
We’ve not been watching long when a group of dolphins drops in. They appear to be fishing out between the sets rolling in and after awhile are seen through the waves. Pennington Bay is yet another of KI’s beautiful ocean views. We don’t have time for more than a reccie today and move on.
It’s not long before we pass a Gallery sign on the road. As we pass I peer into the driveway to see whose gallery it is.  That’s it! Turn around. That’s M B Stonor Glass. That’s my no 1 priority up this way. It’s a modest property with a couple of roos feeding alongside some rusty farm machinery. What is it about rusty farm machinery? It always looks so picturesque.  
A few fluttering banners tip us off as to the display room and we wander in, finding it unattended but we are soon joined by M B Stonor himself, an elderly gent with 35 years experience in art glass and it shows. Oh how it shows.  I dearly covet one of his flower mantis sculptures. We are very doubtful that we would be able to get it home safety with the luggage we are already carrying. They are bigger than I anticipated.  Among the items displayed for sale are a few pieces not for sale. I can see why. They are beautifully crafted and I can understand the artist wanting to keep them for display. The most impressive piece in the gallery is a large mantis on a wooden stand. It is simply magnificent but is $1200. Way beyond our capacity to pay. 
There is however a really cute frog with excellent eyes for $160. Too good to pass up. I am also sorely tempted by some glass fish mounted on driftwood, but again the transportation is a problem as is the money required. Each fish is $200. Not only that but I am not sure where I would put them. We chat with Mr Stonor as he packs froggy carefully into a box in a nest of quilting wadding, place froggy carefully into the car and head on our way.
It’s only a short way further to Penneshaw. Almost as soon as we hit the township we pass a great looking little maritime and folk museum with limited opening hours: Wed – Sun 3 – 5pm so it is open now. It looks great and I’d like a closer look at the outside displays if nothing else,  but my head is not in the right space and I really want to run out to Cape Willoughby.  Anyway, we need to leave some things to do another time!
When we reach the main part of Penneshaw I like the place straight away, we take a spin around the town and pass the ferry in port with the back open ready for vehicles to drive aboard.  Hubby is still keen for some food. These late lunch/teas are becoming an entrenched habit.  We decide that he will pop in and sus out the Sea Spray café. Meanwhile I decide I will wander over and take a few snaps of the area and the Penneshaw Hotel, or the Penny as it is apparently known judging by the signage.
Hubby gets some hot chips and dim sims. Aweful things take away fried dim sims, I sample just to remind myself of the degree of unhingedness required to consume them… uggh. I don’t understand why Hubby loves them so. I find I am quite in the mood for a milkshake so go for my usual caramel. There’s method in our approach to lunch. We are sussing out whether this might be where to grab some dinner a bit later. The chips were passable but the milkshake was really good. Lovely and thick and nicely flavoured.
As we munch we drive out in the general direction of Cape Willoughby enjoying the sudden apparition of landscapes as the road reaches a crest or turns a corner. The roadside vegetation provides a frame for the upcoming scenes like a natural viewfinder.
As the coast comes into sight the clear sunshine and sky reflects in the water in a glorious blue contrasting to the rich green of the bushland and I can’t resist the opportunity to head down to Antechamber bay (west). Hubby exclaims at a section of the dirt road which appears to have a marked delineation between white and red. We pass a car that has parked and has a group of people with chairs starting to make their way onto the beach. We move up to the further car park near to an amenities block and get out to have a look around. 

Across to the east the path leads to the edge of the Chapman river which curves around out of sight in either direction.  There are picnic tables and heaps of bird song. This is a really pleasant little spot.
I am still amusing myself trying to create portraits of the birds, encouraged by the presence in the area of a now shy adult male golden whistler. The male whistler being nowhere to be seen I appreciate the generosity of one of the other locals who sits for me.
All around the area here are swathes of long stemmed pussy grass. I decide that I will pick some to take home.  Luckily I have a pair of scissors in my luggage and they prove very handy. My occupation for the next little while causes hubby some merriment. He’s still chuckling away about the pussy grass.  I on the other hand am still enjoying the birds here. A white browed scrub wren hops about in the pine tree near the path.
Eventually, when I feel I have a reasonable bunch we make our way over to the beach. At the start of the path is a sign warning that there is frequently a tiger snake basking on the path. Good reason to cautious. Tiger snakes are a bit more aggressive than others or so I understand. We are disappointed to find that the snake is not in position today.
Antechamber bay is pretty, there are several groups enjoying the beach, some sunbathers and some people fishing. I decide to aim my camera in a different direction, glad of the decision as a sunbather turns over and flashes her scantily clad bottom in my direction. The eastern end of the beach will give the idea enough.
We've spent a while here. It would be a pleasant place to return to. For now we head along the river track which follows the course of the Chapman river for a short way and emphasizes with orange construction fencing and warning signs, a couple of spots that would be tempting for campers but too dangerous to pitch a tent under due to the likelihood of falling limbs from the mature trees overhead.  The orange barriers are unsightly and probably do more than the possibility of death by falling object to deter those with a lovely shady camping spot in mind.
We pass through some very pleasing sections of roadway before Cape Willoughby lighthouse and its trio of pretty red topped white houses comes into view prettily framed by the roadway. The lighthouse sits on a fairly exposed grass covered hillside surrounded by grazing paddocks.  This late in the day, it’s now about 5:20pm, we have missed any chance of a lighthouse tour, but at the moment it’s only a tour around the grounds, the lighthouse itself being temporarily closed for maintenance prevents the advertised climb and views from the balcony. Hubby reads the information about yet another shipwreck commenting that it is a particularly interesting one – the wreck of the Kona.
Up at the Visitor Centre, white picket veranda railings frame lovely blue views across to the mainland and a wind farm which appears from a distance to be an enormous ornament to a landscape similarly dominated by dry grasslands.  Kangaroo Island is about as dry as it gets at the moment.
With access to the lighthouse closed I am unable to get a clear view of the more attractive leeward side where the windows lighting the interior have been sensibly positioned. I stalk the grounds seeking a clearer view, venturing out beyond the helipad marked out with white painted, surf smoothed rocks.
Having loitered here for about 15 mins it’s time to head back, driving at our now customary slow pace we stop momentarily to capture the scene along the south coast. 
Though the surf looks quite calm occasional large breakers dump on the rocks lining the nearby bay in a frothy white arc.
It seems the locals are well aware of the beauty of their landscape when 15 minutes down the road we are stopped in our tracks by a clearing in the roadside trees and shrubs providing views down across fields and patches of remnant vegetation to Lashmar Lagoon.  This late in the day the light is poor. I do my best and hop back into the passenger seat exclaiming to Hubby my appreciation of the scenery which has brought to mind memories of the beautiful views and scenes we saw driving through the English countryside. This prospect could stand proudly beside the best England can offer.
We have a choice on the way back. The road signs suggest we might like to add a couple of kms to our trip and head via Wilson River. Yeah, why not? We make the turn to the left to return to Penneshaw in a loop. 
This route presents an opportunity to step into a typical and iconic rural Australian scene. Sheep grazing in the paddocks, a humble stone farmhouse sitting like a relic of the past under a tall gum tree, corrugated iron outbuildings basking in the golden light of early evening; a narrow bridge crossing a dry creek bed.  My Aussie heartstrings are pulled at each and stops are made.
We wander in to the Sea Spray café at about 6.40-45ish, our return further delayed by the need to slow right down as dusk approaches, a wallaby hopping across the road a reminder that the risk of collision is increasing now. We should perhaps have taken a little longer because we find we have walked in right in the midst of the nightly ferry crowd.  Apparently passengers on the evening ferry pop into the Sea Spray to buy dinner to eat as they cross to the mainland. Consequently there’s a queue of a dozen or so ahead of us and steadily walking in behind us maintaining a line from the counter to the door.  There we are, number 37 in a periodic calling of numbers from 25 to 42. Our Fish Basket basks in the heat lamp light, as our accompanying milkshakes are delayed in the mad rush to get the folk with a deadline out the door in time.  Just as I'm starting to get somewhat irritated by the continuing delay the crowd evaporates like foam on the sands and we are serviced and retreat with relief out the door ourselves. 
I had noticed what appeared to be a parking area on the western side of the Penny Hotel so we make our way around there and sit overlooking the Backstairs Passage and a ferry which appears to be moored just offshore, munching away on $23 worth of mixed crumbed seafood: 1 piece of fish, 2 scallops; what was billed as 2 salt and pepper calamari and 2 pieces of spicy calamari but has been provided as numerous shreds of pepper speckled calamari strips; 2 prawns, chips, lemon and aioli. As I opened the box I am delighted to find they have not only supplied a generous amount of lemon and aioli but a single serve portion of Kraft Tartare sauce. The aioli is also delicious and the chips are better than the ones Hubby got earlier. Our milkshakes are excellent once again.
The sun is still a good half hour from the horizon as we head westward Hubby watching the road as I watch the sky. A modest amount of colour with some half hearted pink splashed across the western clouds, but overall not a lot to fuss about today.
As the light dims we make the turn into Prospect Hill which is clearly a long set of steps leading up to the lookout.. Oh bugger that. Neither of us have any desire whatever to exert  ourselves now or in the morning. Perhaps another one for next time. 
It is dark and about 8 pm when we arrive back at Island Coastal Units. I'm still a bit keyed up, so I drag Hubby on a nocturnal exploration of the waterfront of American River. We wander over towards the boat ramp and watch the boats tied offshore and listen to the water slapping the sides of the boats moored just off shore. An occasional flapping and calling of some water bird lurking in the dark and surprised to find pesky humans out and about at this unsociable hour. The sky is clear and the Southern Cross is high in the eastern sky. I turn around and find Orion his belt and sword clearly visible here where there is little light pollution. 
It’s late and it’s been a long day, so we head on back and made a few preliminary preparations for departure before calling it a night.

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