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The following trip diary was written by Guest Lecturers: Quentin Chester, Joc schmieschen & Peter Canty
Our departure day was bright, clear and gloriously warm. After completing check in procedures at West Lakes it was a short bus ride to the passenger terminal at Outer Harbour. As always, the walk up the gangway was full of anticipation as we joined the Coral Geographer.
After being shown to our cabins we reconvened in the Bridge Deck Lounge for a briefing from the purser Manfred, as well as a session modelling the life jackets.
Meanwhile, the lines were cast off and the ‘CG’ – with the pilot on board – eased away from the wharf and into the channel leading into Gulf St Vincent.
Then it was over to Expedition Leader Dawn to introduce her team and outline the plan for our first full day on Kangaroo Island.
Over the next few hours Adelade’s ‘suburban’ coastline slipped by on the port beam. Before long it was time to descend to level four for the first of many delicious meals in the dining room.
We awoke to see the broad expanse of Antechamber Bay and its white beaches. The bay is the first of many destinations named by Matthew Flinders. (He also named Backstairs Passage, the Pages Islands and Cape Willoughby.)
It was a sparkling morning and although there was little wind, we experienced just enough swell to make this wet landing challenging. While Group 1 made the short trek through the dunes and waiting buses, Group 2 walked the beach and then rejoined the loop trail across Chapman River. (The groups then swapped activities in the afternoon.)
We started our exploration visiting the ancient, jagged black sedimentary rocks at the headland. Peter explained how this coastline was joined with Antarctica and almost 300 million years ago, the continent was much farther south near the Antarctic Circle. Even more mind boggling was how these rocks originated – as sediment washed from Antarctic mountains and how glaciers had once scoured the surrounding landscape.
We were lucky to see some vulnerable Hooded Plovers (Thinornis rubricollis) (we later found a nest with some eggs, which we stayed well away from), and some Pied Oystercatchers (Haematopus longirostris). Some observant beachcombing turned up a few ocean treasures amongst the seaweed with the discovery of a fresh live wavy painted lady shell (Phasianella auastralis) in all its pristine glory – a good find.
As we meandered inland GL Peter Canty, a botanist amongst other things, pointedout distinctive elements of the coastal flora. The feathery flowers of the clinging vine aptly named Old Man’s Beard (Clematis microphylla) covering many of the shrubs and bushes. A favoured medicine plant amongst the mainland coast Ngarrindjeri people, use for treating colds and respiratory ailments. Coastal Daisy (Olearia axillaris), Coastal Wattle (Acacia longifolia) and the Flax Lilies (Dianella species) among others were pointed out. Under the shade of the mallees we sawthe large blue flowers of the native iris, Morning Flag (Orthrosanthus multiflorus), aspecies largely confined to Kangaroo Island in South Australia.
The GLs talked about how to identify different Eucalyptus species and the differencebetween a Eucalyptus tree and a mallee. The distinctive multi trunked Narrow-leaf Mallee (Eucalyptus cneorifolia), which proliferates on the island and was a majorsource for distillation of Eucalyptus oil, another signature plant. The distinctive spearshape of the native Southern Cypress-pine (Callitris priessii) and the weepingcanopy of the Drooping She-oaks (Allocasuarina verticillata) also a feature as wewandered the trail to the banks of the Chapman River.
A new swinging suspension bridge only recently opened provided safe, dry access across the dark, tannin-stained waters. The reflections of the Swamp Paper-barks (Melaleuca halmaturorum), origin of the brown stained water provide some moody photo opportunities alongside the shores as we crossed. Peter heard, then spotted, a male Scarlet Robin up in the branches that posed long enough to show off his red breast for viewing.
In the shelter on the other side Joc provided some insights into the early sealers who occupied the Island soon after their discovery by Flinders and Baudin and established a feral presence for some thirty years before the colies official founding in 1836 supported largely by the hunting and gathering prowess of their Bass Strait Aboriginal partners. Seal and kangaroo skins as well as salt from the nearby salt lakes were traded to the visiting whalers for kegs of rum. William Cawthorne wrote an account of this ‘Robinson Crusoe’ lifestyle in his novella, The Kangaroo Islanders, describing the locals as “dressed in skins and smelling like foxes.” Great tales indeed and as we set out to head back to the beach, we were treated to the casual appearance of a good sized Rosenbergs Goanna (Varanus rosenbergi)- one of the signature critters on this island.
For their part, the lighthouse team had a varied experience with a walk down to Smugglers Cove as well as a tour of the lighthouse and its precinct.
Cape Willoughby is South Australia’s first lighthouse and is only the 12th of Australia’s highway lights. There are only 2 others older than Cape Willoughby that still operate in their original tower and they are in Bass Strait. As well as climbing the tower for spectacular views over Backstairs Passage we had close look at the Order One Chance Brothers lens. It’s a beautiful thing and its aesthetics and workmanship were much admired.
The walkers followed the trail to the landing at the bay where all the goods and people were landed at Cape Willoughby. The foundations of the original keeper’s cottages are still visible.
As an aside, Cape Willoughby is thought to be named after one of the most colourful characters in British naval history Sir Nesbit Josiah Willoughby who was court-martialled four times. The Annual Register of his death noted: “He was eleven times wounded with balls, three times with splinters, and cut in every part of his body with sabres and tomahawkes: his face was disfigured by explosions of gunpowder, and he lost an eye and had part of his neck and jaw shot away… and at Leipzig had his right arm shattered by cannon shot.”
Returning to the ship, we spruced ourselves up to take full advantage of Captain JB’s generosity with his Welcome Drinks in the sunshine bathing the Bridge Deck aft.
After an overnight steam around Kangaroo Island’s southeast corner, the CG nosed into Vivonne Bay just after sunrise. A pod of a dozen or so bottlenose dolphins rode our bow waves on approach, a fitting escort for the first visit to the island’s wild south coast by a Coral Expeditions ship.
Captain JB had us anchored in the ‘hook’, with Point Ellen and the jetty to the seaward side of the vessel and the great arc of the bay sweeping around us to the north. Vivonne Bay is the only bay anchorage on this forbidding 200km of shore. From the ship we could glimpse the small settlement of shacks and holiday homes nestled behind the dunes. A haunt for surfers and fishing folk, Vivonne acquired some notoriety when its beach was declared by University of Sydney researchers as the best in Australia – a big call!
Despite a valiant effort to land the Xplorers at Castle Rock beach, the dumping waves from the ocean swell were too great and our planned walk was replaced by a coastal cruise. Though not especially elevated, Point Ellen is a stunning headland. The rocks here are migmatite, where the older metamorphosed sandstones have been melted in with igneous material.
Our cruise took us to the seaward face of the point where wild seas have scoured the dark slabs of rock. The heavily rusted cabinet of the beacon light was another measure of the salt spray that flails across the point. Looking westward along the coast towards Cape Kersaint, the vivid demarcation between the upper band of limestone and the much older metasedimentary rocks was lit by the morning sun. Once back in the shelter of the bay we swung by the short jetty, a popular fishing spot for island visitors and a busy platform during the lobster season when the cray boats unload their catch.
After a brief coffee break back on board the CG, the more intrepid among us returned to the lee of Point Ellen for a snorkelling session. A series of rock platforms here are draped in seaweed and species of macro algae, including large expanses of sea grapes – Hormosira banksii. Many fish were also spotted and the guests, plus Chef Jamie and crew, revelled in the chance to explore the bracing waters of the bay.
By lunchtime the northerly winds had picked up and the CG made for open sea and our long trek to the southwest. These rugged, exposed shores are rarely seen and, aside from lobster boats, very few vessels venture here.
The geology and natural forces that shape the coast were outlined in Quentin’s first presentation in the Bridge Deck Lounge.
These concepts were writ large in the landscapes we passed. Each of the capes that define the coast revealed wave-swept aprons of granite backed by deeply weathered limestone ramparts. At Cape Bouguer, round-leafed pigface carpeted the hinterland with a swathe of magenta. Elsewhere seals were spotted basking on the rocks. Then it was onwards past Hanson Bay and Cape Younghusband to the famed Cape de Couedic. Even from afar, the wonderful granite formations of Remarkable Rocks were eye-catching atop Point Kirkpatrick.
Later in the afternoon we joined Purser Manfred in the Bridge Deck Lounge for an informative – and very tasty – wine tasting session where a range of wines were matched with canapés. As well as Manfred’s introductions to each wine style, Joc – our GL and resident bon vivant – shared his insights into South Australia’s wine history and innovations.
After a fascinating afternoon observing the south coast we finally reached Cape de Couedic. With lobster season underway, and many pots in the water close to the cape, the CG swung south of the Casuarina Islets. Even so, we were able to enjoy views of the islands and the classic limestone bridge of Admirals Arch. Pacific Gulls whirled over us during pre-dinner drinks and guest Mark was fortunate to dodge a ‘calling card’ from one of the birds.
The clouds had been thickening over the course of the afternoon. As the dining room beckoned and darkness fell, lightning split the heavy skies to the south. Meanwhile, looking east, the heavens revealed glimpses of a blood moon and the beginning of a lunar eclipse. All in all, a timely ending to a stellar day.
More moody skies greeted us at first light as we steamed towards Spalding Cove. Rain threatened and winds were due to gather strength during the day. Our destination was Lincoln National Park and the network of walking trails that weave through this end of the peninsula. After a full day on board the ship everyone was looking forward to stretching their legs.
HMS Investigator spent many days at anchor in this area following the tragic loss of eight men in a boating accident in nearby Thorny Passage. Perhaps feeling the pangs of homesickness, Matthew Flinders named several locations after places in his home county of Lincolnshire, such as Donington, Boston, Spalding and Stamford.
For more than 40,000 years these shores of Eyre Peninsula have been the traditional land and sea country of the Barngala and Nauo peoples. Like so many Australian coastal areas blessed with bays and natural harbours, Galinyala (Boston Bay) has long been a stronghold of Indigenous life and culture.
After wading through the shallows from the Xplorer we gathered on the beach There were two choices for our morning activities – a steepish climb of Stamford Hill, a shorter amble around the coast towards Woodcutters Beach.
The ‘short’ walkers had a leisurely time looking for birds among the coastal mallee. After good winter rains the trees were sporting lush new growth as we wandered along the limestone dips and rises. Birds were quite scare though we enjoyed good sightings of a rufous songlark and a female wren. All up, it was a pleasant walk with the chance of a beach stroll at the end for those with more energy to burn.
Meanwhile the long walkers took the steep but very well-made track up Stamford Hill. Stopping points along the way afforded spectacular views over Spalding Cove and Cape Donington. At the summit, the group took in more panoramic views at the base of the obelisk commemorating the Investigator expedition.
First built in1841, this is a remarkable early monument for South Australia. Tasmania’s then Governor, Sir John Franklin and his wife Lady Jane. Later a renowned Arctic explorer, Sir John was a young midshipman aboard HMS Investigator.
Peter pointed out the changes in plant communities as we gained altitude and distance from the sea. The rock and soil type also changed from limestone to granite influencing the species of plants that we saw. The Ridge-fruited Mallee (Eucalyptus incrassata) with its large creamy yellow flowers stood out on the lower slopes, shading thickets of different Melaleucas – the white flowers of Dryland Tea-tree (Melaleuca lanceolata) and the purple of Slender Honey-myrtle (Melaleuca gibbosa) stood out. In the thick leaf litter, mounds of moss and fronds of Annual Rock Fern (Cheilanthes austrotenuifolia) broke through.
Higher up the trees thinned and we had colourful heath including the star flowers of the Common Fringe-myrtle (Calytrix tetragona), bright yellow Guinea Flowers (Hibbertia species) and the red and greenish yellow bells of Common Correa (Correa reflexa). Peter was excited to see the stunning mauve flowers of the uncommon Coast Eyebright (Euphrasia collina) amongst the other colourful shrubs.
On the downhill run, Peter and Joc tried to make our mouths water, pointing out the delights of eating Snotty Gobbles (Cassytha species), Pig Face (Carpobtorus rossii) and Native Cherries (Exocarpos species).
Following a well-earned lunch, we re-joined the Xplorers. As a brisk easterly breeze precluded our planned cruise to Donnington Island we made for the shelter of Engine Point Beach. Here the water was crystal clear and warm – at least by SA standards. While some lingered on the shore for a swim and kayak, the long walkers took to the trail for Donington Lighthouse. In contrast to the charm of Donington Cottage – built by farmer and lightkeeper William Argent in 1899 – the lighthouse is a very different affair. This hexagonal concrete tower has all the hallmarks of a 1970’s structure. On the way to the tower we had to give way to a small a peninsular brown snake crossing the road. Apart from this encounter it was a pleasant coastal stroll back to the Xplorers via the granites of Donington Beach.
Meanwhile Peter led the short walkers along a track above the beach, pointing out the various coast- adapted plants as we encountered them. We saw many plants in flower, including the low hummocks of Native Rosemary (Westringia dampieri) amongst the larger shrubs of Common Boobialla (Myoporum insulare), Coast Daisy-bush (Olearia axillaris) (both have been used to flavour gin), Sea Box (Alyxia buxifolia) and Coast Bearded Heath (Leucopogon parviflorus). Poking through the shrubs were the pink-tinged paper daisies Coast Everlasting (Helichrysum leucopsideum) and the beautiful native Feather Spear-grass (Austrostipa elegantissima). A scattered stand of the small tree, Native Apricot (Pittosporum angustifolium) stood out, some with its distinctive small, orange, apricot-like fruits – sadly inedible. Time sped past and we had to head back to the beach before reaching the headland. We were rewarded with the sight of a pair of beautiful Port Lincoln Ringneck Parrots (Barnardius zonarius), distinctive with their black heads and yellow neck rings, contrasting against bluish green bodies, some Superb Blue Fairywrens (Malurus cyaneus) and a father Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae), strolling across our path with two chicks. We imitated emus by raising an arm up and making our hands look like an Emu head. This can draw curious Emus back for a closer look but our father only hesitated briefly and wasn’t fooled, before herding his offspring to safety.
Soon after re-joining the CG, our GL Peter gave an entertaining and eye-opening talk on his photography, much of it relating to his decades of work on South Australia’s islands. By then we were underway again to begin our long steam to Flinders Island. As pre-dinner drinks were being served the ship was well into Thorny Passage on the south-eastern corner of Eyre Peninsula. It was here that Matthew Flinders had lost eight of his crew when the ship’s cutter overturned. The islands all around us were named after those eight lost souls.
Steaming south of Williams Island, more landmarks hove into view as we partook of pre-dinner tipples. To the south lay the low, wave-lashed granite forms of the Neptune Islands. In the north-east the tangerine-hued cliffs of mighty Thistle Island straddled the horizon. Meanwhile, the westward views were of misty headlands that shape the southern tip of Eyre Peninsula. As the CG rode the ocean swell, we watched Shearwaters and Gannets wheeling in the evening light – a spectacular contrast to sheltered reaches of Boston Bay.
SA’s second largest offshore island, Flinders Island was named after Matthew’s younger brother Samuel, a mid-shipman aboard the HMS Investigator. This island, and the entire Investigator Group of islands, was the western limit of exploration on our voyage.
Misty cloud and showers swirled about the ship as we dropped anchor near Home Beach. Given the damp weather, we began the day by collecting the Woolford brothers from the beach and heading off for a coastal cruise to Bryants Bay.
An enterprising family of farmers and Abalone divers, the Woolfords have owned Flinders Island for more than 40 years, starting off as sheep farmers and then moving in to Abalone. Tobin and his brother Jonas, are among the leading Abalone fishers in South Australia and their forward-thinking is helping to drive the partnership with government agencies for the restoration of Flinders. Plans include removing feral pests and revegetating the island. Fingers crossed, this will allow for reintroduction of vulnerable or endangered animals as a safe haven. Tied in with this project is a long-term goal of building a future for nature-based tourism.
As the cruise got underway the clouds parted and bright morning light lit up the swells wrapping around Seal Point. The deeply-weathered limestone ridge of Bob’s Nose loomed overhead. Our progress was watched by an Osprey mum, ensconced in her nest atop a nearby sea stack. From here it was a quick run across Groper Bay to the low shoreline to the south. Bryant’s Bay is named after a sealer who was based on the island in the rough and tumble days of sealing in these waters. With the Woolford brothers leading the way we made landfall here and explored the vivid granite headland, as well as rusting relics from the Kapara, a coastal steamer that ran aground on the island during wartime blackout conditions in 1942.
After another delicious lunch we returned to Home Beach where Jonas, Tobin and his wife Clarissa set to work at their al fresco cooking station. Both green lip and black lip sashimi abalone were prepared for us in a variety of ways – all up, a great introduction to this seafood delicacy. It was also fascinating to hear about the family’s underwater exploits, as well as the strategies designed to ensure the sustainability of the catch.
After this beachfront intro we crossed the dunes and walked a few hundred metres to the shearing shed, past some artistically ‘mouldering’ tractors and farm vehicles. Inside the shed there was an array of historic photos and press clippings of the family’s farming and abalone history.
After hauling the anchor Captain JB guided the ship to the magnificent Pearson Island group. For the guest lecturers it was an opportunity to share their experiences of this ‘ultimate’ collection of isles – remote, pristine and festooned with granite formations.
Our overnight steam brought us back to the mainland and the shallow waters of Coffin Bay, part of the traditional lands of the Nauo people.
Matthew Flinders named this expanse after Sir Isaac Coffin who, after a varied and distinguished career, became the Commissioner of the Navy at Sheerness. It was here that the Investigator was fitted out for its voyage to the great south land and Coffin gave Flinders considerable assistance with this often fraught process. At the entrance to Coffin Bay is Mount Greenly, named after Sir Isaac’s wife, the heiress Elizabeth Greenly.
The day began with a run to Seasick Bay. This hideout is renowned among fishermen as a quiet haven to run to when the sea’s rough and the crew is stricken by ‘mal de mer’. For us, however, it was simply a chance to visit Point Sir Isaac, one of the ‘poles of extremity’ on the rugged Coffin Bay Peninsula.
Some of us were happy to enjoy a swim and explore the bay with its superb granite terraces curving down into crystal clear water. The walkers scampered up the sand bank for the leisurely cliff-top stroll to the beacon light on the point and then along the seaward coast of the peninsula. Here, broad granite slabs faced the open swell with many cormorants, oyster catchers and gulls waiting for a feed.
As the track edged south it rose into the dunes and afforded spectacular views south, down the shoreline to Mullalong Bay. On the distant horizon the hulking profile of Greenly Island was another reminder of the significant isles scattered all around Eyre Peninsula. But the foreground was just as intriguing, with the vegetation hugging the dunes looking lush with new growth and flowers.
The emu scats were proof positive of this vigour and GL Peter identified quandong seeds among many others in one he bravely picked up. We were however more than rewarded with carpets of white flowers from Creeping Boobialla (Myoporum parvifolium), blue or white fans from the Cushion or Coastal Fanflower (Scaevola crassifolia), orange and yellow peas of Common Eutaxia (Eutaxia microphylla), purple Coast Velvet-bush (Lasiopetalum discolor) and the bright yellow ‘pom-poms’ of the Yellow Microcybe (Microcybe pauciflora). After a quick photo op it was time to retrace our steps back to Seasick Bay for our Xplorer pick up.
With winds forecast to increase, our afternoon activities were focused on the more sheltered inner waters of the bay. After lunch we ‘rugged up’ for the long boat trip along the entrance channel to Coffin Bay. A welcome dry landing at the boat ramp was the kick off point for our two walking parties. The shorter trip followed the Oyster Walk into the main township, past a variety of waterfront dwellings, many being spruced up for the holiday season ahead. Protected from the sou’easter, this trail also afforded glimpses of the bay and range of wildlife encounters, including shorebirds, lizards and an emu dad with two offspring.
Meanwhile, the longer walkers followed the shoreline heading west through coastal vegetation to a low headland overlooking the outer channels. Here we finally found many groves of Quandongs. Though they were covered in tiny flowers there was no fruit to be seen so our Emu’s source remains a secret. More traditional culinary rewards greeted us as we emerged back at the wharf with the arrival of an ice cream ‘tricycle’, which many of us couldn’t resist. We enjoyed our ice creams while admiring the many pelicans on the foreshore, effortlessly soaring in like prehistoric pterodactyls.
Once reunited at the boat ramp we began our homeward Xplorer journey, whirling past the channel markers where the pale blue shallows either side bristled with posts marking the oyster beds.
Back on board we spruced up for pre-dinner drinks and then a fun evening with a special BBQ dinner prepared and presented by our ebullient Chef Jamie and his hard-working team.
Thunder, lightning and rain squalls engulfed the ship in the wee small hours and rolled through the morning. This storm would cause flooding and havouc across SA through the coming 24 hours. Not surprisingly, it also prompted a cancellation of our Xplorer jaunts to the oyster leases.
On the flip side, the CG gave us secure front-row seats as the storm rumbled and flashed around the ship. Heavy clouds billowed across Mt Dutton and the Marble Range as Joc took the Bridge Deck ‘stage’ to share his deep south Antarctic experiences as Station Leader at Casey Base.
By late morning conditions eased somewhat and after lunch the Experience Coffin Bay team joined us aboard the CG. Scott gave a very lively and thorough run-down on what makes Coffin Bay so special for oysters. Key factors included the bays clean environment and seasonal upwellings that circulate the goodies that oysters thrive on.
Then it was time to sample the product – freshly shucked just minutes earlier – along with a glass or two of bubbly.
With brightening skies and conditions improving Dawn offered an impromptu excursion to Farm Beach for those wanting to stretch their legs. This long strip of shoreline is a time-honoured summer haunt for boaties and local families camped on the sand. For our visit it was all-but deserted and many in the group strode out in the sunshine or paddled along the vivid turquoise shallows. As well as the usual beach combing, we spotted several eagle rays hoovering through the shallows and, at one point, a large group of pied oystercatchers passed overhead.
We had the beach to ourselves other than a visit from local oyster farmer Glyn Owen, a friend of GL Joc. He lived just on the other side of the spit at Little Douglas where he has his oyster packing shed. His very handsome Border Collie, Henry proved a hit as he romped amongst the strolling passengers enjoying their beachcomb in bright sunshine. A few brave souls took the opportunity for another bracing swim in the Southern Ocean before we all made a hurried retreat back to the ship as the wind suddenly whipped up sending white caps over the bay and the sun disappeared in the onrushing clouds. Despite the inclement weather, which was creating havoc in suburban Adelaide – and drenched nearby Port Lincoln with a 60mm deluge within an hour flooding the main street – we managed to avoid the worst for an interesting day out.
As dinner time approached, the nor-wester was ripping across the bay. Banks of cloud ridged across the sky, though occasional slots opened and shafts of evening light beamed onto the dark sea. On dusk the CG was steaming out of Coffin Bay, kicking off our return voyage around the foot of Eyre Peninsula.
Soon after sunrise the CG was back in the protected waters of Boston Bay. Once again, we faced the rollercoaster of weather, with a forecast of gale force winds and significant swells to come. Mercifully the morning was sunny and breezy but not too windy – at least at first.
It was an early start to take advantage of this lull. Our destination was Boston Island in the heart of the bay – – the first visit here by a Coral Ex group. Owned by the Davis family since 1954, this 960-hectare island has been extensively grazed since early settlement in the 1840s and at one stage in the 1850s was the site for an Anglican Mission for the local Bangala Aborigines by Archbishop Hale. This did not last very long before it was transferred to the nearby mainland at Poonindie. In those early days two potential towns were surveyed on the island but never established.
At times, more than 3000 sheep have grazed its pastures, but in recent years the Davis clan have turned to a program of destocking and revegetation – all pointing to a future of nature-based tourism.
A preliminary Xplorer run along the leeward side of the island revealed a craggy granite shoreline. Several groups of Cape Barren Geese occupied the nearby grassy slopes, as well as remnant stands of mallee and tea tree. Once the walkers had jumped ashore at Picnic Beach, those cruising tracked along the shoreline with its intriguing geology and busy mobs of geese.
Those of us walking made a safe landing on Picnic Beach and wandered into the hinterland to see what we could discover. A mix of farming relics and regenerating native vegetation were found. Peter was excited to see former stock paddocks covered thickly with native Spear-grass (Austrostipa species) and wallaby-grass (Rytidosperma species), keeping the usual grassy weeds at bay. A hilltop with ancient gnarled mallees beckoned. We took in the expansive views from the top with the complex coastline harbouring kingfish and tuna farms. Some flushed Stubble Quails (Coturnix pectoralis) from the dense grasses whilst others scanned the trees to home in on the loud double-note calls of Striated Pardalotes (Pardalotus striatus).
Back on board the CG we tucked into lunch. By this time the weather predictions were beginning to take effect with westerly winds whipping across the cove. JB attempted to relocate the Geographer closer in shore into a more protected anchorage to allow for a possible afternoon shore excursion back to the Lincoln National Park. It proved futile as winds of up to 40 knots were causing the Geographer to drag its anchors – even with full chain out – and the Captain decided to make a run from the impending storm by steaming SE to the shelter of American River on Kangaroo Island. This would take us back close to our starting point a week ago and after a brief period running across the swell the Geographer made a steady run ahead of the storm for our next destination.
It was indeed a wild and stormy night, though the CG rode it well. Once in the relative shelter of the north coast of Kangaroo Island most of us managed to have a good night’s sleep. Daybreak revealed a moody grey sky and brisk southerlies raking across our anchorage in the Eastern Cove of Nepean Bay. Given the conditions American River was the only real safe haven, and we were grateful for the crew’s overnight efforts to get us here.
Rugged up in jackets, we make a very comfortable – and dry – landing at the town wharf. While Joc joined the short walkers on a stroll along the shores of Pelican Lagoon, Quentin and Peter lead the group on the longer coastal Cannery Walk. Signs of the storm were immediately visible with several large native Southern Cypress-pines (Callitris priessii) sadly blown over along the foreshore.
As we left the township behind, the trail beckoned us into an open forest with Kangaroo Island Narrow-leaved Mallees (Eucalyptus cneorifolia) and large Sugar Gums (Eucalyptus cladocalyx) on a hillslope over-looking the bay. The foreshore was carpeted with a low samphire ‘meadow’ and numerous Black Swans (Cygnus atratus) fed and gracefully cruised just off-shore.
Before entering the forest Quentin gave us some background on the Kangaroo Island Eucalyptus oil industry while we held the oil-rich Narrow-leaved Mallee leaves up to see their numerous oil glands then crushed them to smell the strong scent of peppermint.The ground was carpeted in leaf litter with almost no weeds. Scattered Guinea Flowers (Hibbertia species) were covered in their bright yellow flowers, reinforcing the plant’s naming after golden guinea coins. Pockets of Annual Rock Fern (Cheilanthes austrotenuifolia), yellow Leek Lilies (Bulbine semibarbata) and domes of moss poked through the leaf litter. Other flowering shrubs seen were the purple Paper-flowers (Thomasia petalocalyx).
Sadly, our sailing schedule meant having to call a halt to these excursions and after quick Xplorer run we were back in the dining room for another hearty lunch. Though shipbound for the remainder of the day, our course lay along the island’s north coast. This was a great opportunity to observe both the scale of the shoreline and its diversity with the afternoon light washing across the isle’s ever-steepening ridges.
Given tumultuous storms and seas it was also fitting that Quentin should give his presentation on South Australia’s lighthouses. For all the advances in satellite navigation these trusted beacons still serve a vital role.
By dinner time we were beginning to nose into the ocean swell. It was to be another long night at sea, yet, for once, the forecast was hinting that conditions might ease for our next day’s adventure.
Calmer waters today provided shelter on the western side of Reevesby Island, the second largest after Spilsby Island in the Sir Joseph Banks Group. Reevesby is a tombolo island – four original islands linked by sandbars. It was a long haul back across Spencer Gulf to pay a visit but we rewarded for the effort.
One group headed for a landing on Reevesby. The second group went on a circumnavigation of nearby Winceby Island looking for Australian Sea-lions (Neophoca cinerea).
Winceby Island is known to host a significant breeding colony of Black-faced Cormorants (Phalacrocorax fuscescens). We didn’t see any sign of breeding but there were several groups of cormorants resting on rocky spits. The sighting of a Pied Cormorant (Phalacrocorax varius) provided Peter with an opportunity to explain how to tell these similar black and white cormorants apart (Pied have orange-pink facial and throat skin and a small yellow patch above the eye; Black-faced have a dark bill, black facial colouring and no yellow facial skin).
There were Cape Barren Geese (Cereopsis novaehollandiae) sighted along the shore and a currently unoccupied White-bellied Sea-eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) nest atop a boulder. Quentin confirmed that another unoccupied stick-based nest on the island’s lighthouse, belonged to Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus).
The animal that everyone particularly wanted to see, the Australian Sea-lion, was loafing on rocks and up into the vegetation on the island’s cap. There were numerous adult females with pups, plus a number of playful and inquisitive juveniles, many of whom swam out to inspect the boat (from a safe distance). Others leapt spectacularly from the water. A dolphin was also sighted nearby.
On Reevesby Island, the old homestead was visited. The tin fence built to keep snakes out was still evident though the inspiration for the fence, the island’s Death Adders (Acanthophis antarcticus) and Black Tiger Snakes (Notechis scutatus) were nowhere to be seen. Western Australian Tuart trees (Eucalyptus gomphocephala) planted by the homestead still looked healthy. A couple of Fairy Penguins (Eudyptula minor) lurked in a shallow burrow under some piles of building debris. The walk across the narrow section of the island revealed Haystack Bay. A beach walk found a wonderful array of shells and the remains of sponges and soft corals, before a return traverse to Home Bay. A pair of Sea-eagles were seen soaring off the northern end of Haystack Bay and may have been the pair that built the nest on Winceby.
Reevesby Island was named after Sir Joseph Bank’s country estate, Reevesby Abbey. Well known as a breeding habitat for White-faced Storm Petrels, the island is also famous for a re-introduced population of Stick-nest Rats.
Despite their unfortunate name, the ‘Stickies’ are among Australia’s most endearing and endangered native rodents. Once prolific on the mainland, by the 1970s they were known from only from the Franklin Islands in the Nuyts Archipelago. Since then, captive bred Stickies have been introduced on a number of islands.
Back on board it was time to get togged up for an afternoon of fun – not to mention Captain’s Farewell Drinks and our last dinner together. Our wonderful Maree – in full Captain mode – presented the legendary Coral Expeditions Quiz. This event was lively as always and provoked much hushed conversation as each team wrestled with the questions.
Soon after it was time to settle back and enjoy the side show of images put together by Maree. It was remarkable to see all the various highlights and activities of the voyage. In spite of some turbulent weather, we’d managed to achieve quite a bit during our 10 days aboard the Geographer. All that remained was enjoy the canapes and drinks on JB’s shout before descending to the dining room for another fine feast.
Our homeward leg was a cruise around the foot of York Peninsula, with glimpses of the limestone bulwarks of West Cape and Cape Spencer straddling the horizon. The overnight run into Gulf St Vincent was a relatively smooth and even, in the muted pre-dawn, Adelaide lights were well in view.
After so many rugged coastlines the port structures of Outer Harbour were a bit of a shock. Following a hearty breakfast – and with bags on the dock – we said our final farewells from the Coral Geographer and crew. Then, rather reluctantly, it was time to leave the ‘bubble’ of shipboard life and step back into the realty of being landlubbers once more.