South Australia’s green scene
South Australia is arguably the most eco friendly destination down under says writer and well-known British environmentalist, Tony Juniper
From the Remarkable Rocks I see gannets, gulls and terns diving into the ocean. A feeding frenzy intensifies. The spectacle is not confined to the ocean. Behind me stretches the unbroken green expanse of Flinders Chase National Park, and the 450 sqkm of protected forest that lies within it. A New Holland honeyeater, a gorgeous black, white and yellow bird with a long, curved bill, is taking nectar from a flowering tree. There are kangaroos – the local race of the western grey – and rare tammar wallabies. Down the road koalas clamber among the branches of blue gums. It’s a wildlife rock concert.
I am on Kangaroo Island, a nature haven in South Australia, a couple of hours by road and ferry from the state capital of Adelaide. Australia’s third largest island, but one of its least known, it’s an ecological time capsule: a place where observant travellers can see wild nature more like it was before European colonisation than almost anywhere else on this vast continent.
There are plenty of ways to experience this great place: from volunteering on a science project to unadulterated luxury. Whichever way you do it, Kangaroo Island (KI to locals) is hard to see without wheels.
KI is way south, facing the fierce Southern Ocean with nothing but water for 4,500 km. Heading north, the opposite is true. The state of South Australia encompasses a vast area, with its seemingly endless interior located in the centre of the continent. From KI an ancient geological formation runs for hundreds of kilometres to the north, through the undulating Fleurieu Peninsula and Adelaide Hills and up to the striking Flinders Ranges, the state’s largest mountain range.
Beyond Adelaide’s suburban sprawl and into the Clare Valley, past the famous wine growing region and onwards toward the Outback, the views become huge, and the landscapes humbling. In this arid zone the climate is harsh and the land fragile, but the fauna and flora are nonetheless diverse. Giant river red gums line the creeks that channel the infrequent, but sometimes intense rains. Many of these trees are hundreds of years old, and they look it, with their shining white bark skeletal in some lights. There are several kinds of parrots (gorgeous), kangaroos (bouncy) and emus (primeval). On the broken rocky slopes, along some of the gorges, are rare yellow-footed rock wallabies. They seem to float across hillsides, as they hop from boulder to boulder.
The night sky confirms the Outback to be a remote place. Far from light pollution, the view of the stars here touches a deep place. There are very few ‘towns’, and they are all small. But while human occupation has always been sparse, history lies all around. At Arkaba Station, an old sheep ranch that is now set up for nature tourism, I saw stone artefacts left by the Aboriginal people who have lived here for so many thousands of years. The history of more recent colonists is also evident, in old homesteads, pastures and surveying points.
Amid this richness is the gem of Flinders Ranges National Park, covering some 950 square kilometres and embracing the vast geological amphitheatre of Wilpena Pound. Carefully managed with excellent trails and camp sites, the park is a focal point for South Australia’s Wildlife and National Parks programme to improve the fortunes of rare native animals. To the north are rugged rock-strewn gorges where the oldest known animal fossils have been found.
A trip to Adelaide complements the wilderness. The city centre retains echoes of its 19th century origins, although town planners have left their mark at the expense of history. Some of the more recent modernisation is positive, evidenced by solar panels (hidden from view) on the historic South Australian Parliament building and a super-green new headquarters for South Australian Water. The near absence of litter speaks of a local culture that leans green. This is in part the result of strong recycling (the best in Australia), a ban on free plastic bags and a deposit scheme on many bottles, cans and cartons. Adelaide has good public transport, with trams and buses free in the centre, and has the world’s first solar-powered bus, recharged from panels on the bus station roof. South Australia has more renewable power than any other state in Australia, with the contribution from both wind and solar growing.
Adelaide has also become the vibrant hub of Australia’s culinary revolution: greengrocers, wine merchants and butchers source locally and the best are found in the city’s indoor Central Market. The seafood is superb too, especially the creamy Port Lincoln oysters (generally acknowledged as Australia’s finest), and the King George whiting (mostly line caught).
One thing that is not very green is the long haul flight to Australia from the UK. I offer three points on this. First, if you decide to do a trip that involves planes, then offset your flight emissions with a reliable scheme that will actually do something about overall pollution levels. Offsetting is controversial, but once you have avoided as many flights as you can, those you do take will lead to emissions. Second, use air transport sparingly and make such a trip a really memorable journey. Go for as long as you can and experience all you can. Finally, bring back inspiration from being in such raw nature, to be more ecologically connected in all you do. It makes a difference.
For more on South Australia, see www.southaustralia.com
WHERE TO STAY
Southern Ocean Lodge (www.southernoceanlodge.com.au), Kangaroo Island, an acclaimed five-star eco-wilderness lodge.
Exceptional Kangaroo Island (www.exceptionalkangarooisland.com) has top wildlife tours, some in association with Southern Ocean Lodge
Rawnsley Park Station (www.rawnsleypark.com.au), adjacent to Wilpena Pound, has a caravan park, luxury straw bale eco-lodges and excellent restaurant
Arkaba Station (www.arkabastation.com) offers wildlife experiences, plus a historic homestead (only five rooms) in one of Australia’s oldest outback sheep stations