Monday, July 01, 2013

Wildlife Adventures on Kangaroo Island: To Grow in the Open Air

It’s safe to say that there have been very few moments in my life that I’ve been grateful for being prone to motion sickness.

In fact, the majority of my time spent travelling in vehicles has been with my head over a plastic bag and my eyes locked firmly to the horizon. It’s a condition that's largely limited to car rides where I’m a passenger—I’m totally fine on planes, and on boats there’s a solid chance that my natural seafaring ways will kick in. But when it comes to bus rides, I’m doomed. (Despite the number of times I’ve tried it, motion sickness medication does nothing for me. As a teenager, nausea persisted even after having liquid Gravol pumped directly into my veins.)

So when I saw the bus when we arrived on Kangaroo Island, I knew I was in for a long journey. The back was separated from the front and the huge wheels were indicative of a bumpy ride ahead.

“Do you mind if I sit up front with you?” I asked our driver, Ron. Given that the other option would be potentially listening to (and smelling) me vomit, I was fairly confident that he would say yes.

We’d arrived on Kangaroo Island after two whirlwind days of activities: visiting Cleland Wildlife Park, which is one of only six places in Australia where you can hold a koala (and where the Best Jobs finalists had to wrangle an olive python named Olivia); swimming with sea lions in Port Lincoln (although I was much more interested in discussing tuna aquaculture with Matt, the owner of Adventure Bay Charters); and drinking chocolate oatmeal stout at an Adelaide pub with Fat Cat, the Australian equivalent of Polkaroo. (The latter of which, just to clarify, was not an official Tourism Australia sanctioned activity on our itineraries. but is notable nonetheless.)

As we drove across the island to the Remarkable Rocks, I asked Ron about industry in the community (apart from tourism).

What followed was not a simple answer—for nearly 40 minutes straight, Ron explained the history of the island, patiently and accurately answering when I interjected with questions. But what sold me on Ron is that he took me seriously when I started enthusing about how beautiful the cape barren geese were.

(“What’s wrong with you?” Sam, one of the girls in our group, asked me. “You like tuna more than seal lions, you like pythons better than babies—and now you like geese more than wallabies? You’re such a weirdo.”)

After a helicopter ride (!!!) and lunch at the Hanson Bay Wildlife Centre, while the others sat around checking their various social media channels, I went for a run through the bush. (Like, quite literally a run. After being shuttled around for days, I was genuinely fearful that my legs muscles were going to atrophy. The day before, in desperation for physical activity, I had instigated a core muscles exercise session at the Port Lincoln regional airport. But as it turns out, doing reverse crunches on the floor of a departure lounge doesn’t come across as professional. Weird, right?)

The bush was full of galah cockatiels and crimson rosella parrots. At the edge, I came to a fenced field where a group of about seven wild kangaroos were sunning themselves. It was beautiful.

Back in the bus, Ron smiled at me as we drove to our next location, the Seal Bay Conservation Park. 

“I’m really glad to see you did that,” he said.

“Did what?” I asked, confused.

“Went to check out the nature reserve. I was surprised that nobody else took the opportunity. They don’t even know what was around them.”

It was the kind of compliment that would have made my mother—a woman who always insisted that we look out the window of the car rather than play our handheld video games—proud.

Later that night, after we watched the contestants give a brief tour of the Seal Bay Conservation Park (their only real competition), Ron drove us back to our hotel as dark settled around us. His wife, Mary Alice, who we had picked up at the conservation park, sat just behind me.

“I’m sorry that I stole your seat,” I told her, turning back. “It’s just that I’m learning so much from your husband.”

“He’s an encyclopedia,” she said, smiling. The pride in her voice wasn’t hidden.

Driving through the night, as Ron gently shifted gears to avoid hitting the wallabies and kangaroos that were skirting around the roadside, we quietly discussed the benefits, the challenges and the ultimate trade-off of what it means to live in relative isolation.

“Every day when I go to work feels like a holiday,” Ron said. He described to me how that morning, while he ate breakfast, he saw a pod of dolphins swimming in front his house. “You’ve got to pinch yourself, really.”

We spent the rest of the drive back to the hotel in comfortable silence—the kind that only comes from stillness and understanding.

The next morning when Ron picked us up, I hopped in the front again. This time, I didn’t need to ask permission.

Our first stop was Pelican Lagoon, a piece of property owned by Craig, who also runs the tour company Exceptional Kangaroo Island. While the Best Jobs finalists ran through the bushes looking for toy echidnas (their final challenge), I talked to Peggy, who has been studying echidnas for 25 years, about her work. (“It’s madness,” I told her, after she explained that it takes 300 hours to find and attach a transmitter to a single echidna. She laughed and agreed with me. “That’s why nobody else is doing this—it is madness.”)

After a bit, the conversation shifted to the property and I asked Craig about Pelican Lagoon, which apart from our crew, was empty.

“Why did you buy it?” I asked him about the 100-acre lot. There wasn’t a building in sight.

“Well, it’s beautiful,” he shrugged. I couldn’t disagree. “And,” he added with a laugh, gesturing behind him, “they don’t make it like that anymore.”

That afternoon, as Ron drove us to the airport, our conversation turned to environmental conservation and tourism—and to the particularly fine line that Kangaroo Island has to walk in terms of attracting tourists without destroying the very ecosystems that draw them there in the first place. I told Ron about a bit more about my work and about the inspiring speech Bruce Poon Tip gave at TBEX.

“You know, when I met you, I thought, ‘Here’s somebody young who can do something about it,’” said Ron. I was beyond flattered.

I don’t know if Ron’s right about that, but I do know that I was raised with a love of the land. As a rural Albertan, I was raised to understand that looking out the window is a far more important and valuable use of time than updating a Twitter status (today’s adult equivalent of a handheld video game) will ever be.

“Do you think,” I hypothesized, “that it’s because they are less young people growing up in rural areas?” Ron agreed that that might be the case.

“I think that somehow, the seed has to be planted,” he said.

Here's what I do know: as Ron and I said our final goodbyes at the airport, I couldn’t help but think that perhaps, maybe just this once, motion sickness had been a blessing rather than a curse.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...