March 17, 2009

The ultimate Aussie: a Kangaroo Island insider

We recently caught up with one of our preferred guides on Kangaroo Island, Australia. The island is featured in several of our luxury Australia tours–we consider it to be one of Australia’s most worthwhile destinations and a must for anyone interested in wildlife, incredible scenery, and an opportunity to experience the best of Australian hospitality. Our guides connect our travelers with the local people, culture, and most unique places and activities on Kangaroo Island.

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Q: Did you grow up on Kangaroo Island? If so, what was it like growing up there?

A: I guess if I have ever grown up then it happened on Kangaroo Island–there are those who think I am a guide just so I can stay a big kid! Spending my time having picnics out in the bush, looking for animals and generally having a good time–hardly a “real” job is it? Growing up on Kangaroo Island gave me an amazing sense of freedom and independence–I lived on the coast with a beautiful beach out the front door and a massive sheep and cattle farm out the back. I had a childhood most people on earth cannot begin to imagine – riding horses, rounding up cattle, catching fresh fish from the ocean, a good education and a loving family who gave me the freedom to be who I wanted to be. If we had a really wet winter the roads would flood and I could not get to school as the bus could not get through the floodwaters so I got to stay home and explore the farm or the beach!

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Q: How did you decide to become a guide?

A: Not sure if I had a choice! How could you avoid sharing the best of a place where the natural order of things still presides over most decisions–and the creativity of your neighbours means you have free range eggs, amazing seafood, creamy yogurts and cheeses, extraordinary honey, wine and olive oils. Koalas in the front yard, kangaroos out the back–and sealions lazing on the beach! My family got involved in tourism when I was quite young and I then trained professionally as a wildlife ranger. Working as a guide really allows me to use all of my experiences to ensure our guests have the best possible time while they are here on Kangaroo Island.

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Q: What do travelers find most interesting and surprising about Kangaroo Island?

A: International guests have the expectation that they can get in authentic contact with Australian wildlife–a good range of species, all in the wild. However, once they arrive, the destination delivers many experiences they expect across Australia – red dirt roads, sheep and cattle farms, the animals, fresh local produce, a small yet friendly local population and superb coastal scenery. So often we hear the statement, “at last I feel like I am in Australia!”

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Q: What kind of special activities do you arrange for our travelers to make their stay on Kangaroo Island unique, authentic and interesting?

A: I often organize a day with the world expert on echidnas (a unique Australian mammal–one of only two egg laying mammals on earth), Dr. Peggy Rismiller, who does a “Day in the life of a wildlife researcher” session. I also arrange special celebration breakfasts on the beach, champagne with the kangaroos at dusk, and a wild dolphin swim at a remote stretch of coast.

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Q: Is there an activity that families particularly enjoy?

A: Children really enjoy the wildlife encounters–not only seeing the animals at close range but also the excitement of spotting “their own” koala, kangaroo or wallaby out in the bush. The vast white sand dunes of Little Sahara is another favorite–the freedom to race down the sand, or tumble over and over and fill your pockets up with the finest white sand. Stokes Bay with its hidden beach through a tunnel and the placid rock pool to wade in looking for crabs. Rare breeds farm which almost always has a range of baby animals (chickens, lambs, calves, piglets, ducklings) is also a big hit with children.

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Q: Do you have a favorite local restaurant on the island? What local dish or ingredient do you consider a “must try?”

A: Restaurant Bella in Kingscote is our family favorite. They always have local Haloumi cheese on the menu which is great, a good range of fresh seafood, and I always try to leave room for one of their decadent desserts.

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Q: Are there any local products that you consider a “must buy” on Kangaroo Island?

A: There are some great wines to try, the honey is exceptional, and some of the art produced here on the island is first rate if people are seeking a more tangible memory of their visit here.

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Q: What are you reading these days?

A: On a recent trip I picked up a copy of “Life: a natural history of the first 4 billion years of life on earth” by Richard Forley. It is a very funny and well written book and I would recommend it to people who really are not that into natural science. Forley is a great story-teller and educator. I was delighted to find he refers in some detail to the wonderful fossils both here on Kangaroo Island and up in the Flinders Ranges in the centre of South Australia.

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Q: Are there any certain local people you like to introduce to travelers to give them a real “insider’s” experience?

A: There are many people on the Island who we encounter on a regular basis when we are out exploring. People like Simon who runs a large sheep farm near where we have a private lunchsite–he is always keen for a chat and to explain what is happening on the farm. If the lobster fishermen are unloading their catch at the jetty at Point Ellen we will stop for a look and see what they have caught. If we stopped to talk to everyone who I know on the Island we would never get anywhere!

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Q: What do you like to do on your days off?

A: I have two great kids and they are into their sport and music so these activities are a prime focus. I play competitive squash and basketball so my interests and those of my children merge there. I am also a keen gardener and photographer so try to find time for these activities as well. We have many friends across the Island so often we try to catch up for a meal somewhere.

Q: Besides Kangaroo Island, what are some of your favorite areas of Australia? Why?

A: I love the diversity of Australia–and living on Kangaroo Island means that the coast and beach aspects are easy to access at home. The huge expanse of the Outback–both on the red earth plains and desert areas or the arid mountain ranges of the Flinders Ranges are wonderful places. We have friends with a station (Australian for “ranch”) where we stay called “Angorichina”–Ian is a pilot so we can explore some incredible remote places by air. Then there is the Top End with its massive wetlands and huge populations of birds. I am a bit partial to the wine country as well – Barossa for great shiraz, Adelaide Hills for Sauvignon Blanc, the Cabernets of the Coonawarra, lots of friends with great wine in Langhorne Creek. That’s just for starters!

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Q: If you could choose anywhere in the world, where would you like to go on your next vacation?

A: When I travel there are two considerations that often compete – wildlife and food! I love exploring new cuisines but equally the chance of experiencing an ecology completely different to that I am familiar with is also compelling. I have a long “wish list” which includes: the Galapagos, Costa Rica, Patagonia, Thailand, Tuscany and the west coast of India. If I wanted to experience great food and wildlife without jetlag or long lines at security in airports I guess a week at Southern Ocean Lodge would probably be the answer!

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Destinations:  Australia

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