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The following trip diary was written by Guest Lecturers: Iain Campbell & Jeremy Roberts
Our journey began greeting and welcoming guests at the North British Hotel in Port Adelaide, and after negative COVID-19 rapid antigen tests we finally boarded the Coral Adventurer, grateful to mingle without being encumbered by face masks. Everyone enjoyed the scones with jam and exploring the ship before the life jacket drill. It was a relief to finally be aboard, health checks and concerns about border crossings having been constantly on the minds of many.
Casting off and leaving Outer Harbour in calm weather and sunshine we were accompanied by a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins on the start of our adventure. As we steamed slowly down St. Vincent’s Gulf with good views of the city of Adelaide and beachside suburbs including Glenelg and Brighton we were close enough to be able to observe strollers on the piers and swimmers enjoying the beach.
Our excellent seafood dinner was the perfect compliment to the start of our voyage introducing guests to the fine food that is a trademark aboard the Coral Adventurer.
The morning sky was slightly overcast, but cleared for a sunny morning on the beach. There was only a light onshore breeze and little swell which meant we had a smooth and only slightly wet landing from one of the Xplorers.
Guests split into two groups: one group spent the morning at the lighthouse at Cape Willoughby; while the other group explored the Lashmar Lagoon and Chapman River estuary. The groups swapped activities in the afternoon.
The Lashmar group walked to the northern end of the beach and were able to inspect the old sedimentary rocks with lines of quartzite intrusions. A few of us were lucky enough to spot a Little Penguin chick retreating out of sight into its burrow. All of us saw the penguin burrows with tracks and signs of the recent departure of the adult penguins, who spend the day fishing out at sea and only return to their nests at night to feed their young The biggest threat to the chicks are feral cats which enter the burrows looking for both the eggs and chicks. Fortunately, there are no foxes on Kangaroo Island and the feral cat numbers are reasonably controlled, particularly at this eastern end of the island, due to a fence across the narrowest part of the Dudley peninsula. Along the fence are innovative spray stations that use artificial intelligence algorithms to recognises all passing mammals and only spray cats with a poison they ingest when they clean their fur.
From the north end of the beach we took a bush track to the northern side of Lashmar Lagoon and crossed the picturesque new wooden bridge. We were looking for the rare Glossy Black Cockatoos and heard at least two calling from the trees on the ridge. Unfortunately we did not see any up close. The fires in late 2020 which devastated the western end of the Island has pushed many groups of cockatoos much further east to this end of the island.
Once across the bridge we spent some time in the beautiful paper-bark forest along the edge of the waters and successfully attracted a group of Superb Fairy-wrens who displayed and sang all around us. An excellent opportunity to discuss the intricate mating system of these enigmatic Australian birds. We also found the skull of a Brush-tailed Possum. We then took the scenic path along the dune tops to the lookout on the top of the dune rise, which gave us a panoramic view of the estuary and the Coral Adventurer at anchor in the bay. A lovely view despite the overcast conditions. We eventually emerged on the beach on the southern side of the river mouth. At this time of year the mouth is closed by a sand bar, but in winter it is opened by a combination of a high tide and the runoff of rain water from the surrounding hills breaking through the bar.
From the river mouth it was a gentle walk down the sand dune to wade out and board the Xplorer for a run back back to the ship and lunch.
The Cape Willoughby group met the two buses at the Chapman River Picnic area for the short drive along Cape Willoughby Road, which is flanked by the islands’ distinctive Narrow-leaf Mallee. We were delighted to see a Restless Flycatcher sallying from a branch in pursuit of insects. We also saw many kangaroos resting under the she-oaks along the road. These Kangaroo Island Kangaroos are a subspecies of the Western Grey Kangaroo and many guests commented on how dark they are and on the size of the big males. A highlight of the drive along Cape Willoughby Road was the evocative view of the lighthouse standing proud above the cape at the end of the road.
At Cape Willoughby one group took the walking loop to Smugglers Cove, observing the small remaining signs of the early lighthouse keepers cottages, the soak where they obtained water and the landing point on the boulder-strewn shore where their 3-monthly supplies used to be brought ashore. We had spectacular views across the calm, clear waters of Smugglers’ Cove and Pink Bay towards Cape St Albans and more northerly across Backstairs Passage to Cape Jervis and the Fleurieu Peninsula.
The second Cape Willoughby group joined Quentin for an informative introduction to the importance of lighthouses to shipping, especially in the early days when much navigation depended on ‘dead reckoning’ and the unique flashes of each lighthouse were a welcome confirmation of position as well as warning of potential hazards. We heard all about the evolving technology of lights and the way in which the complex rotating fresnel lenses floating on a bed of mercury changed into the much less evocative but more efficient LED lights of today. We contemplated the life and challenges the keepers and their families had to face and how all that has been superseded by a much less romantic automated era. Some of us took the opportunity to climb the 112 steps to the top of South Australia’s first lighthouse. The views from the top were spectacular, looking north to the mainland and Deep Creek Conservation Park and looking south over 4,000km of Southern Ocean towards Antarctica.
Then it was back on the buses to the beach where an Osprey flew around us. A stiff onshore breeze meant that no one boarded the Xplorer with dry feet. An excellent excursion was topped off with drinks with the Captain.
A lie-in until a 0745 breakfast where crew festively dressed and wished everyone a Merry Christmas full of good cheer. Not so cheery was the miserable weather, with clouds and showers of rain coming in on 15-20 knot winds. Undeterred, we set off at 0900 over the swell to land at the wharf at American River only to be surprised by the enthusiastic arrival of Father Christmas ingeniously substituting a Zodiac for his usual sleigh…
Splitting into two groups, one group walked around the Independence Heritage Trail, while the second group enjoyed a guided tour of the Independence Schooner Boathouse. The Heritage Trail was done in wet and blustery weather, but we saw some Black Swans with cygnets, Pacific Gulls, Black-faced Cormorants, Pied and Sooty Oystercatchers, Masked Lapwings, Caspian Tern, White Ibis, White-faced Herons, New Holland Honeyeaters, Red Wattlebirds and some Superb Fairy-wrens.
At the boathouse the group had the advantage of being out of the rain and were able to hear the early history of American River. In 1803 American sealers arrived on the Union having heard from Baudin about the abundant ‘seals’ (Sea Lions and Fur Seals are not true seals). To increase their access to more islands they decided to build a 45 foot long schooner, largely from materials they had on board. A modern day group of local enthusiasts are building a replica and we were privileged to be shown around despite it being Christmas Day. A great deal of skill is going into covering the heavy frames with a longitudinal layer of Douglas Fir/Oregon Pine planking, which in turn be covered with diagonal planking, over which will be laid another layer of longitudinal planking. When finished the hull will thus be about 50mm thick and extremely strong. They plan to use the schooner for small trips around the bay at American River and as it will be used for carrying passengers the regulations stipulate they must have an inboard engine in addition to the traditional masts and sails. COVID-19 has slowed down the construction, but they hope to have it completed in the next two years. It was sobering to hear that the original schooner was lost in less than two years on the return from the Antipodes Islands in the New Zealand sub-Antarctic islands. Interestingly, the original sealing ship, the Union, was wrecked in Fiji the following year and all of its crew were either drowned or eaten by the Indigenous Fijians.
We returned to the Coral Adventurer for a delicious Christmas lunch of a seafood entré followed by ham and chicken with stuffing. All very filling and with all the festive good cheer it made it difficult for some to contemplate an afternoon excursion. Nevertheless, at 1430 some intrepid souls braved the weather to return to American River for a repeat of the morning activities in slightly better weather.
We returned to the ship at about 1715, with time for showers and preparation for the pre-dinner drinks at 1800 followed by the Christmas Dinner. The Captain made a dramatic appearance dressed as Father Christmas and shamelessly encouraged all who were willing to sit on his lap. A highlight was Mel performing a lovely version of John Lennon’s Happy Xmas (War Is Over), with the crew providing a chorus to Mel’s beautiful voice and engaging in a spirited dance that was somewhat disrupted by the Captains antics in his white beard and red costume. Dinner was an abundance of well cooked seasonal food. A delightful meal in good company.
The luxury of another lie-in as breakfast was not until 0800. Unfortunately, another overcast day with a top temperature of 22C. We departed in the Xplorer at 0915 for an uneventful landing on a beautiful beach. We split into three groups: one party stayed with Iain in the Xplorer for
a coastal cruise looking at the landforms and habitats; the second group
joined Jeremy for a coastal walk through Lincoln National Park; and the third group joined Emily and Dani for a longer coastal hike.
All three groups had pleasant excursions and even the group on the Xplorer landed and stretched their legs. We all enjoyed the beautiful coastal scenery under constantly changing spectacular skies. The long walk proved a little too long for some, but we all returned to the beach satisfied we had walked off our previous day’s large Christmas lunch and dinner. It was unseasonably cold so everyone was glad to board the Xplorer for a breezy crossing to the ship.
In the afternoon Jeremy presented a talk on Matthew Flinders: exploration, triumphs, disasters and a cat called Trim, with the intention of adding a human dimension to this historic figure. Later in the afternoon Iain followed up with a talk on Habitats of the world, how to interpret Australian habitats in a global perspective. This was an ambitious and enlightening review of how vaguely habitats are defined in different ways in different countries and how he and his coauthors are providing a coherent and consistent methodology.
An early breakfast at 0615 and from the deck we had the township of Tumby Bay in view across a grey sea. We set off on the Xplorer at 0730 towards the town with a steep following sea, but unfortunately had to be called back to pick up two late passengers. Returning to the ship into the steep swell was much rougher and wetter, even at a slow speed, so many of us had a refreshing spray of cold sea water to wake us up for the day! As usual we split into two groups: one going on the guided mangrove tour; while the larger group went on a guided tour of the street art plus a few anarchists who just wanted to roam the town.
At the mangoves on the western side of town, locals Eric, Ross and Merin guided us through the diverse vegetation flanking the tidal channels, with Rob providing an Indigenous perspective. Iain and Jeremy were also on hand to identify birds and habitats. We learnt about the importance of these southerly Grey Mangroves, both as fish nursery and bird habitat – as well as being the site for many boyhood memories in the Tumby Bay ‘rites of passage.’ The tour was an excellent opportunity to discover the diversity of coastal plants and their Indigenous uses. The poor weather meant we were unable to visit the Indigenous fish traps that had been used by the local Aborigines, but we were compensated with Meril’s home-cooked scones with Quandong jam and her superb wattle seed biscuits.
Our second group were focused on the town and the murals on a number of walls around the town. We spent over an hour wandering around town admiring a succession of spectacular street art murals. These billboard-sized images adorning the side walls of residences and commercial buildings were radically diverse and richly coloured and all had a story. Some of the stories reflected the ancient aboriginal connection and some looked at recent history and events in the town. Our guides from Colour Tumby gave a great commentary at each stop, outlining the background and history of each artist’s work.
For a small country town that once struggled to survive, the rise in visitation has been a blessing. The deeper social and economic benefits were plain to see as we observed the shops and townsfolk going about their business. Overall, it was a fascinating insight into street art and the power of a simple, well-executed idea to capture the imagination.
Back on board at 1145 as the ship was departing for the long voyage to Coffin Bay. At 1430 Ian gave a short presentation on Seabirding 101 and then some brave souls joined Iain and Jeremy on the aft bridge deck as we headed south into heavy swell and a stiff breeze – ideal conditions for seabirds! And sure enough we soon had many shearwaters, a few petrels and a lone distant albatross. This was excellent practice on the use of binoculars and acquiring the skills to quickly find those rapidly moving dots…
The late afternoon was occupied with Engine Room and Bridge tours for an inside knowledge on how the ship operates. Both tours were heavily booked showing keen the passengers were to gain insights and meet the operational crew.
An early breakfast at 0630 was needed to allow time for the Xplorer to run past Longnose Point to our rendezvous with oysters and champagne at the Coffin Bay township. The shallow seas meant that we had to follow the circuitous markers for the 45-minutes run to the Commercial wharf.
For the group on the Oyster Experience it was an easy transfer to another boat to be taken to a nearby oyster bed to learn about oyster farming and how to shuck the oysters. We also were able to sample four of the renowned Coffin Bay oysters that couldn’t have been any fresher. All washed down withsome local bubbly.
While one group was enjoying oysters the other half took a lovely walk along the Oyster Trail looking out over the bay and weaving through the coastal vegetation. A few joined Iain and Jeremy for birdwatching and had excellent views of some birds typical to this habitat including the Port Lincoln race of the Eastern Ringneck parrot.
After lunch the Xplorer went to another sheltered beach adjacent to Seasick Bay.
Seasick Bay is a renowned fisherman’s hideout, where they run when the sea is rough and the crew is stricken by mal de mer. At 1730 we again landed in perfect calm seas on a beautiful beach where the crew had set up tables and served us hors d’œvre and a choice of Champagne, beer or wine. A fitting end to a fine day.
Awoke at anchor off the north coast of Flinders Island in calm seas with the sun breaking through the clouds. We were anchored off sheltered Gem Bay to escape the southerly swell we had been running before for most of the night.
Flinders Island is one of SAs’ largest offshore islands, and was named by Matthew Flinders, not after himself, but after his brother Samuel who was an officer aboard HMS Investigator. This island, and the entire Investigator Group of islands, was to be our western limit of exploration on this voyage.
On Gem Beach half of us disembarked to find out about the abalone fishery with Tobin Woolford, while the other half were joined on the Xplorer by Jonas Woolford for a visit to Flinders Beach to the east of Gem Beach. A family of farmers and Abalone divers, the Woolfords have owned Flinders Island for more than 40 years. We were also able to meet the brothers’ partners and their beautiful daughters – apparently professional divers rarely have sons…
On Gem Beach there was a table laid out with abalone shells that were being sold by the daughters as extra pocket money. On another table there was a gas stove to cook us some Green-lip Abalone. The fishery lasts from January to July and the two brothers own 2 of the 22 Abalone licences. We were shown a whole green lip abalone and they demonstrated how to cut it finely. We sampled thin slivers that were flash fried or briefly blanched in miso broth. There was also an opportunity to sample sashimi. Many of us had not tried abalone and it was a treat to be able to sample a variety of textures and flavours.
Both Jonas and Tobin talked about the history of the Abalone business and the advances they are making as a company in packaging and the preserving freshness and flavour. They are hoping to expand more into the Australian market. Some of us bought either the canned or vacuum-packed abalone.
The Woolfords no longer live permanently on the island, but they still shear about 300 sheep and have a few cattle. This livestock will be reduced as part of a major project to restore the natural vegetation on the island. In a joint partnership with both State and Federal governments, they plan to rid the island of feral cats, rats and mice. Following this it is hoped that various plant communities will continue to recover and bolster the habitats for native plants and animals, including perhaps the introduction of some small mammal species currently threatened with extinction on the mainland.
The visit to Flinders Beach gave an opportunity to beachcomb on a beautiful untouched beach and to visit an offshore rock occupied by three Australian Sea Lions, one of which approached the Xplorer and demonstrated its fluid agility in the water.
All of us then boarded the Xplorer and waved goodbye to the Woolfords and made our way back to the Coral Adventurer for lunch.
After lunch Jeremy gave a talk on The Foundation of South Australia on Kangaroo Island, in which he revealed the convict-free state was proposed by a gaol-bird! The settlement at Kingscote had to be abandoned for Adelaide because of the shortage of water and because the livestock did not thrive due to mineral deficiencies in the soil.
Later in the after Iain gave an interesting talk on Understanding the birds and animals of Eucalypt Woodland, Mallee and Coastal Health. This teased apart the differences and similarities of these habitats and why they favour some birds and are unsuitable for other species.
To everyone’s delight we awoke to a morning of blazing sunshine and calm seas! We were anchored to the west of Cape Donington, named by Matthew Flinders after his hometown in Lincolnshire, England. We had excellent views of the Lincoln National Park, beautiful beaches and could see many work boats at the nearby tuna and kingfish pens, or pleasure boats out for some fishing and sailing. Boston Island was also in view sheltering Port Lincoln, which is the busiest fishing port in the southern hemisphere and home to many millionaires who have thrived in the booming fishing industry.
For our morning at Cape Donington we split into two groups. One group walked up the imposing Stamford Hill to the prominent Flinders Monument. Despite the heat there was a brisk ascent aided by the well-maintained track. After a brief pause at the white-marble monument to Matthew Flinders, the descent to Woodcutters was somewhat rugged underfoot making it a more cautious and leisurely affair, with fine views to the southern reaches of Boston Harbour.
Meanwhile, the other group walked with Emily along the Investigator Track through the low mallee to join the Stamford Hill group at Woodcutters Beach. This was a slow walk because Iain and Jeremy were looking and listening for birds and where possible attracting them in by the brief playback of their songs. This group was very successful because we obtained views of Blue-breasted Fairy-wrens that are a West Australian species that extends east to the Eyre peninsula and no further. Similarly, we had brief views and heard several Western Yellow Robins that are also at the eastern part of their range. We also attracted some Striated Pardalotes into the canopy above us and although this is a common bird, none of the guests had seen it and all were impressed by its handsome plumage. We also obtained views of other beautiful bush birds such as Golden and Rufous Whistlers. Finally, we managed to attract right to our feet a pair of seldom seen Southern Scrub-robins that were photographed by the lucky few who stuck with the birdwatching. At Woodcutters beach we boarded an Xplorer for a quick ride back to the ship for lunch.
After lunch we returned for a wet landing at Donington Beach in the hot sunshine. Here one group swam and kayaked, while the others joined Alana and Jeremy for a short walk to the Donington lighthouse and back. It was too hot for much wildlife, but we had superb views over a pristine coastline with a delightful beach and a crystal clear aquamarine sea.
Once everyone had cooled down in the sea and tried their hand at kayaking we reboarded an Xplorer to visit Donington Island to view the Australian Sea Lions. There were many sleeping on the rocks and we were delighted when lots of juveniles and a few adults plunged into the sea to come and see us and gambol around the Xplorer. They reminded us of excitable puppies as they skilfully swam around us, twisting and turning with ease. Some of us had earlier seen a pod of Bottle-nosed Dolphins and together with the birds we had seen it emphasised how privileged and lucky we are to live on such a wild continent with a relatively low human population.
Today we visited Reevsby Island part of the Sir Joseph Banks Group Conservation Park in the middle of the Spencer Gulf off Tumby Bay. Reevesby Island is actually three separate rock islands connected by sandy bars (tombolos). Both groups visited the southern beach where the parallel sand bar (a tombolo) joins the rock outcrops to form the single Reevesby Island. An Xplorer ride to a small offshore islet yielded incredible encounters with Australian Sealions. They were not only lazing around the rock shelves, but came out to the Xplorer to visit us, giving us very good close encounters.
One of the groups were lucky enough to watch a large squid approaching and changing colours while swimming under the Xplorer. We also had some birdwatching with Ruddy Turnstones, Sooty Oystercatchers and even a Grey-tailed Tattler which is migrant from distant Siberia.
The island is home to the adorable Greater Stick-nest Rat which looks like a combination of a small Padamelon and a guinea pig. We were lucky enough to encounter one on the walk to the old homestead. Farming on the island occurred between 1838 and 1974, with the existing homestead built in 1907. Although abandoned, the homestead still exists in a rundown, but intriguing condition with a simple museum that encouraged further great exploring. Even with so much to do, we all managed time to swim both in the morning and in the afternoon.
In the late afternoon Iain gave a talk on wildlife photography which started with a little theory, but quickly turned to examples of shots taken, what went wrong with them, how they could have been improved, and shots that worked. Following the talk we played with the settings of our cameras to show guests how to get the most out of their gear.
Being New Year’s Eve, we anchored off Port Lincoln at the perfect distance to take in not only the fireworks, but also have them framed by the lights of the city. As might be expected some guests were off to bed after the first set of fireworks at 2130, leaving stalwarts up for the midnight show.
The first day of 2022 began with a relaxing morning of taking in the view and listening to Jeremy’s talk about the sex lives of birds. Any talk about sex is bound to engender interest and the audience certainly seemed to appreciate it and asked many questions.
In the afternoon we visited the beach at the small town of Penneshaw on Kangaroo Island. As well as being the landing site for the Kangaroo Island ferry, the town also has a memorial to the meeting of Matthew Flinders and the French explorer Nicolas Baudin in Encounter Bay. The chance meeting of the two crews in 1802 seems remarkable, but Baudin was mapping southern Australia from the east while Flinders approached from the west. Although France and England were hostile at the time, the two exploring parties freely exchanged information and helped each other.
While one group enjoyed the beach, the others went for a walk appreciating sculptures such as the Contemplation Chair, a monument to the Aboriginal women who were forcibly married and brought to the island by the first settlers. The group then visited the Kangaroo Island Sculpture Walk which is a walk up a naturally vegetated gully with many iron sculptures by a variety of artists. Of many small cultural attractions in coastal towns, this seems very underrated because it was absolutely superb, and in addition to experiencing great art you can see Tammar Wallaby, Red Wattlebird and Silvereyes.
The final nights’ predinner drinks with Miles, our august Ship’s Captain, cemented new friendships and gave us a chance to reminisce and review our adventures and have our memories jogged by a photographic slide show compiled by the dedicated Expedition Team.
Today we finished the tour with a morning departure from the ship after an excellent final breakfast – the end of an enjoyable cruise with excellent company.