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Master: Andrew Rourke, Expedition Leader: Dawn Singleton, Assistant Expedition Leader: Marysia Pawlikowska, Expedition Crew: Cara Cavanagh & Sally Richards
The following trip diary was written by Guest Lecturers: Quentin Chester & Dale Arnott
Watch the video journal HERE
Every Coral Expeditions departure day is exciting but this one was extra-special. After 10 months tied up in Cairns the Coral Adventurer was – at last – back doing what she does best. Not just that, but Coral Expeditions was venturing into South Australian waters for the first time on a voyage to the state’s wild islands and remote shores.
For passengers and crew alike, it was long-awaited return to expedition cruising. As we cast off from the wharf at Outer Harbour there was a buzz of anticipation on the ship – plus a feeling of relief that we’d successfully navigated all the arrangements and crucial checks needed to get us safely on board.
It was a perfect summer’s day to kick things off. As the pilot guided us to the Fairway Beacon, Adelaide’s famous beach shoreline, with the backdrop of the city skyline and Mt Lofty Ranges, was on show from the Explorer Bar. Here the passengers got to know one another and took the first of many trip photos.
We enjoyed smooth sailing for dinner service while a vivid sunset spread across Gulf St Vincent. On dusk various Yorke Peninsula landmarks hove into view – most conspicuously the mighty grain silos at Ardrossan. As darkness fell the lights of various beacons and coastal towns flickered on the horizon, including those alongside our anchorage for the night near the historic port town of Edithburgh.
Photography by: Harrison Crouch (Larger image), Expedition Team (bottom left), Isaac Forman (bottom middle) and Jessica Roelofs (Bottom right)
We awoke to a view of Yorke Peninsula’s low-slung shoreline. The windfarm south of Edithburgh was unmistakable as the sun rose to strike the huge blades. Meanwhile to the south the faint profile of Troubridge Island was just visible, and helpfully distinguished by the 24m high silhouette of the lighthouse.
The island was our destination for the morning’s adventure. Built in 1856, the historic Troubridge light was only the second lighthouse built in South Australia. It sits atop a sand island so modest in scale it has the character of a small coral cay. At low tide this shrubby rise of sand almost quadruples in size and we were looking forward to walking the perimeter among the birdlife fossicking for tasty morsels on the exposed sand flats.
Following a 7am breakfast we boarded the Xplorer for an easy 20-minute traverse to the eastern side of the island for our inaugural wet landing. With the tide still ebbing the landing was a knee-deep baptism in the waters of Spencer Gulf. We were met by Mark the caretaker, accompanied by his trusty red tractor and trailer. Louise partook of the offered ride across the 200m of sand. Meanwhile the rest of us walked to the base of the light and the Head Keeper’s house where we met Mark’s partner Lois.
Together, Mark and Lois maintain the lighthouse grounds, and manage the access to Troubridge Island, which is accessible by permit only. We were able to look through the Head Keepers house which is available for holiday rentals through Mark and Lois who also provide transfers for tenants in their boat to and from the mainland.
After we made our introductions, we split into two groups. One party did a shorter walk over the central ridge to the island’s eastern side, making their way among the vegetation including the barbed branches of Boxthorn. As well as a roosting flock of pied cormorants there was much evidence of the nesting that had taken place much earlier in the summer season, including burrows of Little Penguins, though none appeared to be occupied. This group then skirted the northern shore back to the keeper’s house.
Meanwhile the second party went with Dale to see what birds they could spot. The huge sand flats which are revealed at low tide provide a food source for hundreds of tiny waders, including Sand Pipers, Sanderlings and Red-capped Dotterels, which we could see scurrying along in the shallows, dodging the waves. Even on the approach from the landing we walked past vast numbers of Crested Terns and around the island the sound of the terns and Silver Gulls drowned out all sound. The other bird that was on the island in vast numbers were the Little Pied Cormorants. We also saw Caspian Terns, with their distinctive orange beaks, shepherding fluffy chicks out of our way to hide in the bushes. As a contrast to those birds in vast numbers we saw a lone swan and a lone Pelican. Little Penguins are common on the Island and Dale showed some penguin burrows, but no one was at home.
At 11.15 we all met back at the verandah of the Head Keepers House where Mark and Lois had put on tea and bickies. This get together was an opportunity to meet Chris Johnson, the now retired caretaker who had been associated with Troubridge Island for over 40 years. Chris is an original and regaled us with many stories, both serious and hilarious. It was wonderful to spend time with Chris who has written a book called “Forty-six years in the Shadow of the Light”.
Our time with Chris came to an end all too soon and we made the trek across the sand – longer than the approach as the tide had receded! – to meet the Xplorer. Another lovely trip over calm water and we were back on-board in good time for Lunch.
After lunch a few of us had fun on engine-room or bridge tours before Quentin gave an interesting talk on the land forms and geology that gave us the Islands of South Australia.
By the time we gathered for Captain Andrew’s welcome drinks the ship was sidling along the spectacular cliffs the flank Deep Creek National Park. The afternoon’s cool change had ushered in cloud and a few sprinkles of rain – all of which added to the haunting sight of the steeply-raked geology. Just ahead of Yatala Shoal Coral Adventurer turned south to cross Backstairs Passage and tuck into our night’s anchorage at Antechamber Bay on Kangaroo Island.
Photography by: Quentin Chester
After breakfast we boarded Xplorer and made our way to the northern end of Antechamber Bay to make our first footsteps on Australia’s third largest island. A very smooth beach landing was followed by a dune-top stroll beside the estuary waters of Chapman River – which only discharges through the beach after strong winter rains. This elevation gave views back across the bay to Cape St Albans and Coral Adventurer sitting snug at anchor. By the time we reached the BBQ area at Chapman River our buses had arrived and managed to park amid the construction work for the new pedestrian swing-bridge across the river. A short drive along Cape Willoughby Road (flanked by the island’s distinctive narrow-leaf mallee) brought us to the evocative view of the cape’s lighthouse standing proud at the end of the road.
Here, one group took to the lighthouse precinct for a tour of the tower and its history, while the other ventured over the fence for a loop walk following the granite cliff-tops to Windmill Bay. By now the sun had broken through the morning cloud and the granite faces, festooned in orange and yellow lichens, looked especially vivid.
One of our party enquired about the likelihood of seeing local kangaroos. Right on cue three young females – one with pouch-young – appeared – the first of many roos who emerged from among the tussocky slopes. A brisk sou’westerly was racing across the bay to keep us cool as we descended the slopes for views of the granite terraces and buttresses that dominate the southern headland. From the head of the bay it was a short climb back up to the road and then to the lighthouse
For both Dale and Quentin the chance to share the story of this pioneering lighthouse was especially rewarding. Both have guided ‘in the tower’ for many years and always enjoy honouring its long history.
Though it’s possible the cape is named after a locality in Lincolnshire, the more likely origin is Nesbit Josiah Willoughby. Court martialled four times, he rates as one of the most roguish figures in British Naval History. 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.”
After lunch Quentin gave a presentation on Kangaroo Island, identifying some of the factors that make it such an important refuge for wildlife. And soon after we returned to shore – this time at the southern end of Antechamber, known locally as Red House Bay. Local farmer Andy Gilfillan, whose house is perched overlooking the bay, was waiting on the sand to meet the Xplorer. In brilliant sunshine we gathered to hear a little of Andy’s family story farming the bay’s hinterland. He also shared the location’s remarkable tale of early settlement by an English sealer Nat Thomas and his Tasmanian Aboriginal wife Betty. The life they created together is something many island locals often talk about. Both were remarkable characters and it is now accepted that Betty and the other Aboriginal women who came to the island had both the bush skills and strength of character that were crucial to the success of these early settlers.
A short walk to the end of the beach included a visit to the small creek where the Aboriginal women would often camp, as well as to a fragment of the keel of the Kona – the last vestige of this four-masted schooner wrecked on the nearby Scraper Shoal in 1917. With a walk in the warm sun as inspiration some of the shore party took to the bay for a swim before the arrival of the Xplorer called a halt to proceedings.
By the time we gathered for drinks at the Explorer bay the sun was strong but the cool south-westerly was gusting with vigour. Nevertheless, many passengers braved the elements, perhaps inspired the cocktail of the day – ‘Dark & Stormy’
Photography by: Isaac Forman (larger image) and Quentin Chester (smaller images)
As Coral Adventurer covered the last few miles to our anchorage there was no mistaking the Southern Ocean swell rolling through Investigator Strait. Thankfully the north-western side of Kangaroo Island is sheltered from southerly winds. In the predawn light low cloud and misty showers drifted across the imposing headlands of the cove. Just to the west in ‘Hamish’s Harbour’ Gavin Solly was preparing his boat for another day’s fishing charter in the strait.
After a hearty breakfast the shore party landed on the bay’s beautiful crescent beach. Even 14 months after the fires of 2019/20 the beach was still streaked with lines of ash and fine charcoal. The estuary of Western River brought us to Albo’s Bridge, a substantial structure funded by Minister Albanese during his time as infrastructure supremo) that spans the river giving beach access for campers and visitors. Past the campground the oasis that is Western River Homestead came into view.
This historic property nestled at the base of the valley has been owned by Bill and Caroline Taylor for around 30 years. They have made many modifications to the main house and greatly expanded the homestead’s garden and surrounds. During the bushfire that raged through the valley on 20 December 2019 Caroline was alone at the time and she endured a dramatic night as a maelstrom of fire descended to the valley. Along with some young travellers camped nearby, she was eventually rescued by local CFS Captain Michael Swayne, who made a brave journey from Parndana in the fire truck.
While many of the group explored the homestead the walking party ventured upstream following a narrow track beside the river, spotting a few Crimson Rosellas on the way. The impacts of the fires was very much in evidence; so too the signs of recovery on many of the eucalypts with their flourishing epicormic growth. Dale continued a little way upstream for more bird watching, while the remaining walkers ascended the grassy spur leading up to a stand of mighty sugar gums and groves of yaccas (grass trees). Though long past flowering, their prodigious flower stalks were still standing, some nearly three metres tall – a powerful symbol of how adapted the Australia bush is to fire events.
At our high point the views across the valley and down past the homestead to the bay – were stunning. The Coral Adventurer at anchor seem dwarfed by the landscape and the muscular terrain that flanks both sides of the river. Our path home was plain to see and we descended the spur and regrouped at the homestead. Back on the beach a few of the party took to the waters for a dip before our Xplorer run back to the Coral Adventurer.
As the afternoon progressed the clouds cleared and the sun lit up the soaring cliffs that dominate the imposing north-western shores of the island. One by one the small coves and headlands revealed themselves: Snug Cove, Kangaroo Beach, Cape Forbin and mighty Cape Torrens – home to the tallest sea cliffs in SA. As this cavalcade was unfolding Dale gave a lively talk about her beloved Australian Sea Lions and Long-nosed Fur Seals. The coda to our Kangaroo Island visit was slipping past Cape Borda lighthouse, one of the few square-towered lights in Australia, perched high amid the scrub.
Beyond lay the open sea and our passage across the entrance to Spencer Gulf. Short-tailed Shearwaters swooped and sailed over the ridges of the ocean swell. Before too long the low shoreline of South Neptune Island, with its automated light-beacon and old keeper’s cottages, came into view. Huge granite slabs, deeply fractured and intruded by dark dolerite seams sprawled across the seaward face of the island, a stark reminder of the ferocious ocean swells that sweep in from thousands of kilometres away. By contrast, to the north the lofty limestone faces of Wedge and Thistle islands glowed orange in the late afternoon light.
As dinner was served we watched the islands of Thorny Passage slip by – their names an eternal reminder of the lives lost here in a terrible boating accident during the Investigator Expedition of 1802. By the time Coral Adventurer dropped anchor at the entrance to famous Memory Cove the densely vegetated hills enclosing the inlet were deep in shadow. This only added to the mystique of the moment – as well as the anticipation of what adventures awaited us in this remote wilderness setting.
Photography: Quentin Chester
We awoke to the now-familiar sky of grey morning cloud. Pacific Gulls and Pied Cormorants passed by on their morning errands as the Xplorer slinked along the inlet to the white-sand beach. A luxury motor cruiser sat on anchor nearby while on land, the tents and 4WD’s of campers were visible through the leafy scrim of vegetation.
Though overcast the cool breeze and mild conditions suited our walking plans. From the back of the beach the track skirted the coast on the south side of the bay. Superb Blue Wrens and Thornbills flitted among thickets of coastal tea tree, correas and hopbush. As well as this tight weave of mallee scrub the track gave views down to the water’s edge for glimpses of the ubiquitous Pacific Gulls and the cove’s resident Pelican.
The walk’s end is high rocky bluff of granite domes and tors. This is a fine vantage point for views up and down Thorny Passage with islands like Hopkins, Smith and Lewis sitting mid-stream. During our scrambling among the rocks a young ‘juvie male’ Sea Lion surfaced open-mouthed just below us – it was hard to say whether he or us on the rocks was more startled to see the other. The first of many meetings with these endearing ‘Aussie Lions’. From here it was back to the beach where we met with a pair of Hooded Plovers scuttling for food amid the lapping waves.
The Xplorer party that had been cruising the shores to Shag Cove then returned to do their walk. Though not quite as picturesque as Memory, Shag is another fine anchorage. The coastline here is vivid mix of granite and limestone in eroded forms and includes some rocky outcrops, one of which has an Osprey nest. On both visits to the cove our boat groups were treated to Dolphin visits, Cormorant shenanigans and spectacular sightings of Ospreys. Close to the back of the cove we also spied a beautiful White-bellied Sea Eagle striking a stately pose, perched and perfectly framed in the arching limbs of coastal mallee.
After lunch we hopped back aboard the trusty Xplorer for an impromptu visit to the northern coves on nearby Hopkins Island. Here, everyone was thrilled to see a characteristic congregation of Australia Sea Lions (ASLs) disporting themselves on the beach at Pup Cove and its adjacent rocks. By now the cloud had shunted away and the small bay was bathed in bright sunlight – a boon to everyone with their cameras and binos. All ages of ASLs were in residence: from small pups feeding from their mums, to juveniles frolicking in the water and hefty, white-headed bulls doing their best to look imperious. It was a fun interlude. Returning to the ship was passed north of Lewis Island and the swirling tidal waters there were a tangible reminder of the perils that claimed the cutter from HMS Investigator.
Back onboard the Coral Adventurer upped anchor and turned south through the bottom of Thorny Passage. Waves crashed over Cape Catastrophe as we slipped by just north of Williams Island. Then it was the open sweep of dunes and surf beach spanning Sleaford Bay. As Quentin presented his talkoutlining the legendary voyages of exploration by Baudin and Flinders, the coast kept unfolding. In blazing afternoon sunlight, the colossal limestone bluffs and pinnacles along Whalers Way were particularly eye-catching. Blessed with favourable sea conditions, the Coral Adventurer continued her long steam threading among the isles off Eyre Peninsula to our next anchorage – the sheltered expanses of Coffin Bay.
Photography: Quentin Chester
Light breezes and our first clear-sky sunrise were harbingers of an improving spell of warmer weather. An early breakfast was needed to allow time for the 45-minute Xplorer run past Longnose Point to our rendezvous with oysters and champagne at the Coffin Bay township. It was a glorious morning to don waders, sample some oysters – plus other goodies – and take a sip or three of some local bubbly. Many took the opportunity to join Dale on an exploration of the town’s Oyster Trail walk. Then it was back to the Xplorer for the long run ‘home’.
During lunch Coral Adventurer relocated closer to Point Sir Issac. While Dale took a group to the end of Seasick Bay for a coastal explore – startling a female Sea Lion along the way, the rest of the shore party joined Quentin for a chance to stretch the legs on the coastline around this far-flung tip of Coffin Bay Peninsula.
The view on the seaward side of the point was a sharp contrast to the seclusion of the bay. Wave-cut granite platforms flanked the shore with powerful breakers piling in from the open sea. The bustling south-easterly wind threw plumes of spray skyward from the wave crests. Given the heat of the afternoon we were grateful for this breeze as we negotiated the rocky and at times sandy track. At our turnaround point we had an elevated vista of the ragged limestone cliffs extending all the way to Reef Point. It was then time to backtrack to the bay. Along the way we spotted Sooty Oyster-catchers, great throngs of Cormorants and a pair of Ospreys on high.
Seasick Bay is a renowned fisherman’s hideout, 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 relax on the sand and take to the water for a swim and a paddle.
Photography: By the Expedition Team
An absolute cracker of a sunrise greeted us at our anchorage at ‘Front Beach’. High cloud was aglow in the eastern sky over the massive bulk of T’Gallant Island. As a number of passengers mentioned, it was akin to seeing a red-hot sun silhouetting the monolithic form of Uluru.
One of SA’s largest offshore islands, Flinders Island was named after Samuel Flinders who was aboard the HMS Investigator with his brother Matthew. This island, and the entire Investigator Group of islands, was to be our western limit of exploration on this voyage. As such, making landfall was much-anticipated, especially as no one aboard our vessel – including the Guest Lecturers – had visited this major outlier.
The morning was extraordinarily calm with barely any breeze. As the Xplorer glided towards shore the water clarity allowed for exceptional visibility of the sea grass meadows and sand patches below. On Front Beach we were greeted by Tobin and Jonas Woolford. A family of farmers and Abalone divers, the Woolfords have owned Flinders Island for more than 40 years.
On our arrival there was a table laid out with abalone shells and the brothers gave us each a taste of green lip and black lip sashimi abalone as well as some which was pan-seared on a camping stove. This gave a variety of textures and flavours but most of us agreed that it was the best Abalone we had ever had. As an aside, there was a conversation about pronunciation where Jonas pronounced Abalon and others of us pronounced Abalon-ee.
Both Jonas and Tobin talked about the history of the Abalone business and the advances they as a company are making in packaging and the preserving of freshness and flavour. They are hoping to expand more into the Australian market. For those who wanted to take home some of the produce it was possible to by tins and vac packed produce.
After this wonderful beachfront introduction we walked a few hundred metres to the shearing shed, past some artistically mouldering tractors and farm vehicles. Inside the shed there was some historic photos and press clippings of the farming and abalone history of the family. It is still a working building and had that distinctive lanolin and sheep smell of a woolshed.
The Woolfords still shear about 300 sheep a year, but as the brothers explained that flock will be reduced as part of major project to restore the natural vigour of the island. In a joint partnership with both State and Federal governments, the family and wildlife scientists have an ambitious plan to rid the island of feral cats and rodents. Following this it hoped to revegetate various plant communities and bolster the habitats for native plants and animals, including perhaps the introduction of some small mammal species
On the way back to the beach some of us did a small detour to the gravesite of a child from the Slink family who died on the island in the early part of the last century. A poignant reflection on the trials of remote island life.
Following lunch we returned to the Xplorer and, after collecting the Woolford brothers from Front Beach, we explored down the coast. With expert local guides on hand, Sam manoeuvred the Xplorer in tight to spot seals on rocks rising from the breaking surf, and then to an isolated limestone sea stack. An Osprey nest graces the summit of this formation but, as the chicks have fledged, there was no-one home. This stack stood in the shadow of Bob’s Nose, a phenomenal high ridge of weather-ravaged limestone – named in honour of Bob, the Slink family horse who is said to have stood atop this rib to savour the sea air.
We then made our way to Briens Bay to see the wreck of the SS Kapara. In 1942 this coastal coal steamer ran aground on Flinders Island at a time when the island’s lighthouse was blacked out so the enemy would not know its whereabouts. Little remains of the wreck apart from a large section of a boiler, some smaller rusted fragments of the ship and scattered fist-sized lumps of coal.
Vivid red granite dominates this shoreline and the full force of the ocean swell was on show, underscoring the hazards for any ship that strays onto this coast. While some of our shore party retuned to the bay, the rest joined the Woolford brothers for a short amble south for more views of this formidable island. Cape Barren Geese were spotted, so too the location where water seeps from under the outer edge of the island’s limestone cap.
Back Briens Bay most people took the opportunity for a swim before eventually being given the hurry up by Captain Andrew, who wanted to get the Coral Adventurer underway to our next destination. We duly dropped Tobin and Jonas back on Front Beach and said our thanks and farewells. For all of us on board it had been a fascinating insight into a family’s passion for an island, both its past and a new future dedicated to conservation and tourism.
But the day’s adventures were not over. Back on the ship we took to the Vista Deck for our pre-dinner drinks just as the Pearson Group of islands loomed off the starboard bow. With beverages in hand we enjoyed the marvels of these imposing island peaks – home to an endemic rock wallaby species, plus significant reptile and bird fauna. The Baudin Expedition named the group Les Enfants perdus – the lost children. Even in silhouette against the setting sun, with gauzy ocean spray rising from their flanks, these islands were captivating. Studded with sculptural granite forms and thick casuarina woodland, it’s little wonder that they have attracted such keen scientific scrutiny.
And as evening meal was underway the day was bookended by another gaudy sky. Another sheet of cloud and every fiery hue possible straddled the western horizon, prompting many diners – including the Master – to abandon their meals for a photo. A fitting conclusion to a day that revealed a tale of two islands – one with a promising new future; the other a reminder of the sanctity that remoteness bestows.
Photography by Quentin Chester
In contrast to the craggy wilds of the far west, we woke to see the low shoreline of Lincoln National Park, along with signs of the busy maritime hub that is Port Lincoln. Several professional fishing boats and quite a few recreational craft were heading out of Boston Bay to try their luck.
We enjoyed the luxury of a ‘late’ 0715 breakfast against the backdrop of the bay and the distant skyline of Port Lincoln. As the Southern Hemisphere’s busiest fishing port, the town has a remarkable history, especially with Blue Fin Tuna, Spencer Gulf Prawns, Abalone and Southern Rock Lobster. From our anchorage at the entrance to Spalding Cove we could see many of the tuna pens into which wild-caught tuna are now grown-out, mostly for the export market. Nearby were mussel farms as well.
Our destination for the day was the Donington Peninsula on the doorstep to Boston Bay. Named by Mathew Flinders after birthplace in Lincolnshire, this finger of land has many popular walking trails and beaches. (Nicholas Baudin entered the same harbour in April 1802 and named it Port Champagny.) A low tide made our landing somewhat awkward, with a short rock-hopping exercise needed to access the start of the trails.
It was a warm, sunny morning and once ashore we split into two groups. Quentin took one party on the steep climb Stamford Hill. A well-made path, complete with secure steps, led to a lookout presenting an epic panorama of Boston Bay and beyond – with Coral Adventurer standing proud in the scene. On the way up Port Lincoln Parrots were briefly seen, as were several scrub wrens and wattle birds. A short distance further along the trail we were atop the summit with the grand obelisk of the Mathew Flinders Memorial. Incredibly a memorial was first erected here in the 1840s, though the current structure dates from around 30 years later. The descent that loops down to Woodcutters Bay was a different story to the upward path, with precarious gravelly sections, yet the walkers managed it without incident.
Meanwhile, Dale’s mob undertook what was, allegedly, a less challenging walk on the “Investigator Trail”. Though signposted as 2.5 km but was probably more like 5 km. Well done them. The walk took them through some lovely shady Melaleuca woodland with the occasional look-out over the dune tops to the bay. Birds were heard but not seen, with the ubiquitous Silver Eyes making their squeaky calls from the tea tree. They could also clearly hear wattle birds and currawongs with an unidentified parrot and honeyeater in the mix as well. Both groups arrived on Woodcutters Bay at the same time with the climbers needing a cooling dunk in Spalding Cove before it was back on the Xplorer and thus to lunch.
By 1445 we were off again, this time to the tip of Cape Donington. While one group headed south to Engine Point, spotting an Emu feasting on wattle blossoms on the way, the others followed the road to Cape Donington Lighthouse – a much more contemporary structure than those seen earlier on the voyage. Then it was down to inspect the eastern shores of the cape before making for Donington Beach. Soon the Xplorer had returned with the Engine Point crew and, given the heat of the day, almost everyone took to the water for a quick dip.
Feeling revived, we made another of our impromptu detours, this time to circumnavigate Donington Island. Here there was sizable number of Little Pied Cormorants and Crested Terns, not to mention Sea Lions galore. Big bulls posing, mums feeding pups, juveniles playing in the water – all up it was another delightful window on their playful ways, artful posturing and odd sleeping habits. By day’s end and our customary pre-dinner get together there was a sense of accomplishment aboard. It was a perfect evening with great views across the peninsula and mild breezes bringing yachts to anchor in Spalding Cove.
Photography by Quentin Chester
Another balmy summer’s morning as the Coral Adventurer stood at anchor, stage centre in the wide arc of Tumby Bay. During sunrise, the township was aglow along the mainland shore. The silos at the back of town were prominent, and for those with binoculars, the sight of two boys jumping from the jetty emblazoned across the silo’s massive white cylinders was a foretaste of the morning’s street art tour.
Even before we left the ship it was clear the CA’s visit was big news in town. As we prepared to launch the Xplorer a flotilla of four sea-kayakers appeared at the stern to welcome us to Tumby. A more formal greeting was conducted once we’d made ashore where Rebecca Hayes, CEO of Tumby Bay Council, warmly welcomed us to the town and acknowledged the importance of tourism to the region.
Also among the welcoming committee were our guides for the street walk – Dion a local farmer, and Paul, an erstwhile London ‘East Ender’, jeweller and youth worker. Both were highly engaging characters, full of pride for their town and what they have achieved through their street art festivals in recent years.
We split into two groups and over the next hour or so mooched around town admiring a succession of spectacular street art murals. This bill-board sized images adorning the side walls of residences and commercial buildings were radically diverse and richly coloured. Our guides gave a great commentary at each stop, outlining the background and history of each artist’s work.
All up, it was a fascinating insight into street art and the power of a simple, well-executed idea to capture the imagination. 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 saw the shops and townsfolk going about their business. Both our groups were given many friendly hellos by the locals and every time we crossed the road our guides would step out, and hold back the tide of traffic like scruffy King Canutes.
After this walk those of us bound for a swim and a snorkel made our way to the jetty. Here dive master “Jook” (apparently the origins of the nickname are long-standing and convoluted) gave us the low down. Then it was into the briny beneath the jetty in search of the beautiful but elusive the Leafy Sea Dragon. True to form the Leafys evaded the prying gaze of our snorkellers, nevertheless they were treated to a darting array of brightly coloured fish and other marine life that flourishes around the jetty pylons.
After lunch our focus turned back offshore to one of South Australia’s largest, yet least visited archipelagos. Named in honour of the famous botanist on the Cook expedition – and a crucial advocate for the Investigator expedition – The Sir Joseph Banks Group comprises 21 islands. Many of them are low-lying and fringed by reefs and white-sand beaches. Our destination was Reevesby Island – the largest.
A brisk nor’easter was ripping across the gulf but our landing on the western side of the island was millpond smooth. From here it was a few hundred metres of beach walking to connect with the boardwalk – the start of our path to the isle’s hinterland. As well as many shore birds, we also spied a Brown Falcon and a large flock of Cape Barren Geese.
Like several of the state’s larger islands, Reevesby has an intriguing farming history. Our visit to the homestead prompted much discussion about the perseverance of the families who tried to make a go of it in such a wild, windswept locale. A Tumby Bay volunteer group, including local author Eric Kotz, has been working hard to secure the remaining farm buildings. Since farming here came to end in the 1970’s the island has been part of the Sir Joseph Banks Group Conservation Park.
Well known as a breeding habitat for White-faced Storm Petrels, the island is also infamous for its resident populations of Black Tiger Snakes and Death Adders. Our shore party was extra-vigilant as we walked Reevesby’s interior, but fortunately – or unfortunately depending on your perspective – no snakes were sighted. The island’s other famous creature is the Greater 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 one location, the Franklin Islands in the Nuyts Archipelago. Since then, captive breed Stickies have been introduced on a number of islands and mainland sanctuaries to help secure their survival. Reevesby now has a healthy resident population of Stickies. Guest lecturer Dale and a few of our party were lucky enough to get a fleeting glimpse of one individual, while the rest of us spotted many of their tracks.
After crossing the island, we tracked along the eastern beach. A blustery wind kept us cool for this stretch before we crossed the narrow isthmus back to our Xplorer pick-up point. Many once again took to the clear, shimmering water for a reviving swim.
During pre-dinner drinks Dale gave an entertaining run-down of her stint on a research trip to the island – including the hair-raising business of checking Shearwater nests and catching snakes for DNA sampling.
Photography by Quentin Chester, and Jamie Coote (Right Hand Side)
As Coral Adventurer steamed south in Spencer Gulf, first light revealed a moody sky swirling with cloud. There was another gaudy sunrise, though today’s was also accented by slivers of rainbow – a sure sign of a weather change afoot.
First up this morning, Dale and Quentin gave a joint presentation on the principles of island biogeography and, in turn, how that related to our many island experiences, as well as the recent fire events on Kangaroo Island.
As the talk was underway, Coral Adventurer edged towards the big sandy beach that spans the northern shore of Wedge Island. With its hallmark profile, this chunky limestone isle looms large at the crossroads to SA’s gulf waters. For sailors and fishing boats it’s a time-honoured landmark.
Like Reevesby, Wedge has a fascinating history of farming, including as site for breeding remount ponies for the British Indian Army. During WW2 it served as a RAAF radar station and a small lighthouse still stands atop it’s 200m high cliffs on the south-eastern coast.
In more recent years Wedge has had a tourism focus. Owner Norm Growden brought a range of animals, including kangaroos, wombats and emus, to the island to boost its attractions. Only the wombats survive, though latterly National Parks in SA have used the island as another refuge for captive bred Black-footed Rock Wallabies and Brush-tailed Bettongs as well.
Our visit here had been negotiated with the local resident’s association who kindly allowed us to make landfall. By the time we’d had lunch the wind had swung to south and was whipping across the island to our anchorage. This and the swell surging onto the beach made our landing somewhat challenging but everyone made it without incident. Local resident Frank Buttigieg scampered down the hill to greet the shore party and he generously gave us a talk about the island’s history and then escorted us to the walking track behind the foredune.
Even in the shelter of the dunes the wind was still boisterous but we enjoyed sunny breaks and great views of the island. Along the track there was plenty of signs of wombat excavations. Before too long we also began to see rock wallabies perched among the bushes and tumbled limestone blocks near Picnic Point. Over the next few minutes many more appeared, hunched in typical rock wallaby poses or scooting from rock to rock with great ease. These captivating macropods are descended from the Pearson Island population and proved to be a real highlight of our time on Wedgy.
Retracing our steps back along the coast, many chose to return via the firm track we’d used as our approach. But a few beach-lovers elected to make for the water’s edge. Here the soft sand gave us all a workout, though by braving the wash of the waves there was firmer footing that came with regular dousing from the saltwater surges.
Reunited near our pick-up point, most stayed on dry land. Nevertheless, our habitual bathers did go for a quick splash as Sam nosed the Xplorer to shore for our final pick up of the trip. As always the Expedition Crew did a fine job of shepherding everyone safely aboard for the quick commute back to CA.
Our final hours at anchor included the opportunity to share the photos of the trip in the comfort of the Bridge Deck Lounge. The images were both a chance to revisit all that we had achieved over the past 10 days, plus a reminder of how much the weather gods had shined on this inaugural Coral Expeditions voyage in SA waters.
The conviviality continued as the bubbly flowed for the Captain’s farewell drinks. It was a time to acknowledge all the work done by the CE team – and just as importantly a moment to thank all the passengers for their support, enthusiasm and understanding in making the trip such a success.