Facebook reminded me this week that I was on Kangaroo Island exactly nine years ago, on my first ever trip to Australia. I don’t really need reminding as my living room is filled with some of the beautiful photographs I took there. But, it’s not quite the same place anymore.
The fires in Australia hit especially hard this year. I was sad as I heard about what it was doing to the country and the wildlife, but when I heard that the fires were also on Kangaroo Island, it stopped me dead in my tracks. It’s hard to describe everything about this magical spot that will always remain a most special place in my heart.
I remember stepping off the plane from Adelaide to Kingscote on Kangaroo Island. The tourism board had set me up with a private guide through Exceptional Kangaroo Island to help me gather what I needed for my stories while there.
Rob was there waiting for me and asked what I wanted to see most while I was there and I said, “a beach.”
He said, “That’s not a problem, we have 50 of them.”
He told me that most people come here to see the wildlife. I told him I wanted that too, but I had been in Australia for nearly two weeks and had yet to see a beach.
It turned out it wasn’t difficult to see wildlife on Kangaroo Island without trying. They were everywhere. The middle of the island was a habitat for marsupials, while the outskirts were filled with those who loved the waters. Koalas hung from the trees, kangaroos jumped across the roads and the fields, and wallabies were enjoying the grass between them.
In fact, it was just outside of the airport that I saw my first Kangaroo Island koala, sleeping in a River Red Gum Tree.
These are the trees that we heard were recently burned to the ground across this paradise. I remember casually thinking how cute those koalas were in these gum trees, never imagining that this could become a wasteland of injured and dead marsupials and charred wood.
I stayed for two nights at the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat, where they wandered freely outside my room. It was a natural feeling to be greeted as I opened my door, though I do admit having been a little taken aback that they were serving the same creatures on the menu at the restaurant.
We didn’t make it to all 50 beaches, but I did:
See pelicans on Kingscote Beach;
Look at the diving paradise of Jaom Beach;
Have a picnic on Emu Beach;
Witness a mother and pup playing right next to us on Seal Beach;
Watch the boats on Vivonne Bay Jetty;
Look in awe at the granite formation on Remarkable Rocks;
Stare at the New Zealand seals and black tiger snakes on Cape Du Couedic;
Enjoy some of the southern hemisphere’s tallest cliffs at Snelling Beach;
See the waves on Hanson Bay;
And, go through a rocky tunnel to Stokes Beach, a popular snorkeling spot.
The beaches, the food, and the wine were all wonderful throughout the island, but it always came back to the wildlife down a strip through the middle of it all.
Unlike Long Island, where I grew up and spent most of my life, people were not crowding this island. There was no traffic on the roads or the beaches. Maybe that’s what drew me to Kangaroo Island.
At 90 miles long, it is about the same size as New York land I grew up on that bordered the Atlantic Ocean from top to bottom, but the center was about a different population.
On January 3, 2020, that all changed. Lightning strikes started fires across Kangaroo Island that continued to burn until nearly half the hectares were destroyed, along with as much as 85% of animals, some of whom succumbed to their injuries and trauma in the coming days.
Koalas are particularly difficult to acclimate, with their gum trees gone. That accounted for the demise of approximately 50,000 of those. Other unusual species, including the gloss black cockatoo, nearly extinct off the island, suffered great losses.
The native animals received most of the attention because so many species represented here are not found in other parts of the world. Livestock are also in those totals, including 9,000 sheep lost by one farmer. Many lost their homes and businesses in the destructive fires.
I felt I needed to do something, even with my limitations. I found some solace in crocheting nests and blankets for some of the wildlife in need. The Facebook group, Relief Crafters of America, led me to the local Illinois Wildlife Crafters, whom I gave a bag full of handmade help.
The groups are still active for anyone who wishes to help in that way, but what Kangaroo Island really needs right now is visitors. The summer tourism season, which is at its height in January and February, was annihilated along with so much else.
The island has a long way to go to be even close to “normal.” That doesn’t mean there’s not still plenty of beauty to see, and watersports companies are open for business. Ferries to the island are running and slashing prices to attract tourists.
The Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat I stayed at is now described as a ghost town as they try to pick up the pieces, but there are still accommodations left to stay at to bring tourists back to the island. (Visit the official tourism website for details on what is open.)
Unfortunately, I am not in a position to make a trip there, but Kangaroo Island will always be the most special place I visited. I hope it will return to the glory of its deserving nickname, Australia’s Galapagos.