We arrived at Grassy Harbour Port late afternoon. After recovering from the excitement of the dolphin ballet, we were thrilled to arrive at King Island. We'd heard so much about it from folks who had visited that we hardly believed we were really here.
Grassy Harbour Port is located behind a man-made breakwater and we were fortunate to be able to pick up a local's mooring for use while we were here. Another Dutch-flagged cruising yacht was already at anchor in the little harbor and a small ship was at the dock, loading prime King Island cattle aboard. The breakwater, we later learned, was made of tailings and rubble from an open pit scheelite mine that was active until 1990 and now closed. The breakwater is also the best vantage point for watching a colony of fairy penguins return to their nests at dusk.
We got a lift to the little village of Grassy about 5 km away from the harbor. It's pleasant, but it's not much...a very small grocery, a couple of limited-hour restaurants, the Kelp Craft store (yes, kelp craft...more on that later), a laundromat. You know it's a small town when you see an ad on the bulletin board that offers “Number Cake Tins (0-9) for rent...$10 for 48 hours” and another offer to sell you “sticks for your stove – just call my mum for more info” with no name or phone number.
The “big smoke” on King Island is Currie on the west side of the island, some 30 km away. We were way under budget for expenses in January and thought we'd splurge on a car rental here ($$) for a couple of days in order to see the island. Part of the plan, right? Sail to places and then get off the boat and see what's there.
Back to the Kelp Craft, for a minute. When we envisioned “kelp craft”, or anything to do with kelp actually, we thought of the huge wads of thick, heavy brown weed that we pulled up on the chain and anchor in Patagonia. We had to use a machete to hack it off and it took forever. What “craft” could you fashion from these sea weeds? Well, Betty and Bevin have figured it out and the results are pretty outstanding. We were so impressed with their artwork that we bought a kelp seahorse. I mean when your art medium is kelp, you've got to be congratulated for your imaginative efforts, don't you think?
We walked back to Grassy Harbour along a gravel road that led past the scheelite mine and then to Sandblow Point. We saw wallabies, a rather large blue-tongued lizard crossing the road and lots of birds. We were especially warned about the venomous snakes here … tigers and copperheads … it's mating season and they're all a bit cranky. We didn't see any though (and I was just as glad). The walk back along the white sand beach was invigorating with the sand blowing (hmmm...Sandblow Point) and the waves licking our toes.
We picked up the car the next morning and decided to explore Currie first since we had to complete our rental paperwork there. It's not as small as Grassy, but it's not very big. Let's put it this way... there are no traffic lights on King Island and the only traffic circle (rotary) is in Currie. We saw the lighthouse (not impressive in our humble opinions), the museum was closed; visited the harbour (very impressive, especially the entrance with huge rollers impeding the entry...wow!) and the cemetery (lots of room for expansion). We picked up stuff for a picnic lunch at the Foodworks supermarket and then headed south.
First stop, the kelp processing factory. Now here's an interesting product to market (beyond the kelp craft previously described). How could we have ever known that durvillaea potatorum aka bull kelp could be of such importance to the biopolymer industry, but it is. We learned all about it, then found a beach where a fellow was harvesting kelp. Pretty interesting stuff. Toyota is even thinking of making a kelp car. Really!
We drove to Stokes Point at the southern tip of the island on a winding, narrow, gravel road. Not quite like four-wheeling, but close. The views were great; the lighthouse, not so much.
We noted lots of cows en route grazing on kelp … they must like the salt. There are lots and lots of cows on King Island. Not as many cows as wallabies though which they estimate to be 3X the human population of ~1700.
There were lots of walks to take, in fact we found a whole brochure describing King Island walks. We attempted to walk all of them, though gave up on a few when the flies drove us nearly mad. Now we know why Aussies wear those “swaggie hats” with the corks dangling off the brims.
The Calcified Forest was actually a surprise. Tree roots calcified over time and when the root died and rotted out, only hollow shells remained … a small forest of them.
The Cataraqui Memorial Walk was a sad reminder of the reason King Island's lighthouses were originally constructed. The entire coastline of King Island is dotted with shipwrecks, in fact more shipwrecks than any other part of Australia. There's a Shipwreck Trail to follow with memorials near the sites of the most disastrous ones. The Cataraqui which went down in 1845, is still the worst civil maritime disaster in Australia's history with a loss of 400 lives. A memorial marks the site of the mass grave.
We ended the day with a trip over to Naracoopa on the island's east coast and a look at Sea Elephant Bay. In the 1800's, elephant seals inhabited this island in great numbers, but after a “lawless frenzy” of sealing following the “discovery” of the island, they were hunted to local extinction. No more seals, but the name remains, a haunting legacy.
We were home just before dark, scampering down the rocks to recoup the dinghy which was moored a ways offshore to account for the sizable tides here (~2m /6'). We have the car another day and we plan to head north tomorrow. Want to join us?
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