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Kangaroo Island is where the animals watch the people

July 19, 1987|SHARON DIRLAM | Times Staff Writer

KINGSCOTE, Australia — Kangaroo Island is probably the best place in the modern world to be a kangaroo. If you humans want to have a picnic around here, you will find that the picnic tables are inside a pen and the 'roos hop around outside, watching you.

Kangaroos and their smaller cousins, wallabies, aren't the only creatures who have it made on Kangaroo Island. Look up.

High in the eucalyptus trees you see little round balls of fur. Those are the koalas, sleeping the day away. You can stand around below with a telephoto lens and take their picture and they won't object, but they really prefer that you resist climbing the tree for a closer shot. If looks could kill. . . .

On one end of Kangaroo Island are some of the most spectacularly lonely and sweeping seascapes imaginable, and at the other end are sheltered coves for sailboats and towns for islanders and vacationers. In between are 4 million sheep, windblown fields of wild grassland, sand dunes, forests and wildflowers.

All of which makes Kangaroo Island sound serene, and it is, but it's a wild place too. There's a nice balance between people and animals, peace and adventure, raw nature and civilization. It's one of those rare places where you can get away from the cares of the world while not sacrificing the comforts of home.

And that takes you to the Ozone Hotel, or one of several other accommodations ranging from resorts and motels--the St. George Inn or the American River Resort--to rustic cabins, modest flats and basic beach shacks.

I wanted to check out the Ozone because its owner, George Murphy, has long held the unofficial title of "Mr. Kangaroo Island."

The young generation of islanders seem to consider George and his unofficial reign a bit out-of-date.

If you tell the tourist office of South Australia that you want to go to Kangaroo Island, after they recover from their shock they're much more likely to link you up with a fine young man named Tim Williams and his new four-wheel-drive tourist operation called Australian Odysseys.

And then you can spend 10 hours a day for up to a week rattling from one end of the island to another, over corrugated dirt roads and rocky ruts, seeing every cove and hideaway and vista point that is remotely accessible to the adventurous passenger.

Thirty-two years ago George Murphy and his bride, Ann, came to Kangaroo Island from mainland Australia for their honeymoon, and they just couldn't get the place out of their minds. Six years later they returned and bought the Ozone and over the years have put in $3 million in improvements and raised three children. Their son is the hotel manager and one daughter works in the restaurant after school.

George loves his island. "The scenery is spectacular, the climate mild, the wildlife plentiful and the inhabitants warmly welcoming," he says. "In a word--enchanting."

Guests at the Ozone can dine in the restaurant or on the glass-walled patio and gaze out at the bay right across the road. Or you can join the locals at a pub on the other side of the building. Rooms cost $42 a night and up. During the day George can arrange for you to go on an island tour or out on a sailboat, or you can hike around on your own or just curl up with a good book and forget the cares of the world.

But there is something to be said for the modern concept of adventure travel as well, and on Kangaroo Island that means Tim Williams' Australian Odysseys. He'll take you around to all of the natural wonders of the island in a few days.

Flinders Chase, 185,000 acres, is one of the largest national parks in Australia. Because of its distinctive island plant and animal life and the absence of introduced predators, it is considered one of the country's most important parks. It has 443 recorded species of native plants, 120 species of birds and a dozen native animals including island kangaroos, wallabies and possums. Koalas were introduced in 1923.

The island's south coast is a wild panorama of pounding surf, rugged cliffs towering over inaccessible beaches and wind-swept headlands. At Seal Bay is a breeding colony of rare Kangaroo Island sea lions.

A favorite place for tourists and especially photographers--films, fashions and magazine covers have been shot here--is the Remarkable Rocks, a group of massive and precariously balanced boulders atop a huge granite dome rising about 90 feet from the pounding surf.

In the national park, a small area has been developed for human visitors, with picnic tables, walking trails, restrooms and campsites. Here is where the kangaroos will come bounding up to check out the contents of your picnic basket and where you will be well advised to contain your culinary efforts within the confines of a picnic pen.

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