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Trip 35 -- Kangaroo Island and Singapore Walks

Kangaroo Island day 2: Penneshaw to American River
Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Today: 48790 steps/41.17 km/25.58 mi/6h 52m
Total: 49275 steps/41.58 km/25.84 mi/6h 56m

Other visitors to Frenchman's Rock yesterday promised me a glorious sunrise today, with little wind. My body must have listened, because I woke naturally in good time to be out the door at 6:50, a few minutes before science began to paint the sky its first subtle strokes of orange.

I turned left at the Penneshaw Hotel -- Australians have a habit of calling pubs hotels even when they don't offer any lodging -- and went downhill out of town before climbing again. This climb was steady and surprisingly tiring at the beginning of the day, and the birds seemed to be scolding me, more buzzing than chirping, like the menacing horn that plays when people's spins of the wheel on "The Price Is Right" exceed a dollar.

At the top, I turned back to see the sun poking out over Penneshaw. Perhaps now contently welcomed into the new day, the birds started singing more cheerfully -- even a green parrot flew by -- and the road descended and leveled out. I passed the promontory known as Kangaroo Head; nearby is where the British explorer Matthew Flinders landed in 1802.

For a couple of hours, broken clouds kept the air from being too hot, and the walking was easy. Traffic was light, a vehicle every few minutes, though the noise was abrupt and severe if that vehicle happened to be a giant truck. From time to time I found along the road the decaying remains of a kangaroo that had suffered an unfortunate meeting with a vehicle; sometimes the residue consisted merely of a skeleton, laid out as accurately as in a natural-history museum.

I usually eyed the water, but I gave some attention to the landward side: scruffy, pale-green and yellowish hills that reminded me more of Iceland. I contemplated them for a moment and only then noticed that they were occupied by hundreds of gray sheep.

A long, smooth slab of land appeared ahead of me. That must be the way to American River, across Nepean Bay, where I was headed this afternoon. It certainly looked long enough in the distance. It wasn't until I was closer that I realized it was the peninsula that included Island Beach and Sapphiretown.

This was a parcel of land significant enough to be included in the walk, about 45 minutes to its extremity and slightly longer back along Mitchell Drive, which would deposit me some distance down Hog Bay Road. Hog Bay, back up near Penneshaw, was called Freshwater Bay by Flinders; according to Father Kelly's account: "Early whalers or sealers had let loose a few pigs in this area, and it was the presence of their descendants" -- I am not sure whether he meant the pigs or the men, or both -- "that occasioned this later and less happy name-change."

Back near Penneshaw I'd seen a sign advertising a Kangaroo Island radio station. I tried to tune in, but the only station that came in was from Adelaide. It happened to be playing "Wake Me Up," and the first lyrics I heard were "Hope I get the chance to travel the world / But I don't have any plans / Wish that I could stay forever this young." Sometimes chance hits it right on the nose. "Life's a game made for everyone / And love is a prize" ... "All this time I was finding myself, and I didn't know I was lost." And then the static overwhelmed the song, and I turned it off.

Sapphiretown was named after a gunboat carrying Governor Robinson, Father Kelly clarified; it was never a home to gems. It was a hot, dusty walk to its end, with the occasional kangaroo crossing the road and wallabies rustling through the brush. Somewhere near here, Father Kelly noted, a man named George fed grain to the wallabies in the afternoons, banging a tin to summon them. I wondered whether anyone carried on the tradition.

The land fizzled out at Strawbridge Point, almost 13 miles since I'd departed Penneshaw. Across the bay, barely a quarter-mile away, was American River, my destination for the day. But to get there, I'd have to walk another 13 miles around Pelican Lagoon.

By now it was hot, and I applied sunscreen. I was pleased with my pace: I'd gone 13 miles already and it was only 10:30. I turned around and followed Mitchell Drive until it reconnected with the main road. Traffic was heavier now, but still light. A trail diverged from the road and kept me closer to the shore for a while; then it merged back in, and maybe a half-hour later I reached the turn-off toward American River and an austere white monument to Matthew Flinders, on which a plaque mentioned his arrival on the island and the seabirds that inspired Pelican Lagoon as the name of this area.

Muston Road brought me up to the tiny settlement of Muston. Somewhere behind the houses and trees was a small airport; perhaps I heard the humming of a plane. Muston ended at the main American River road. A walking trail meandered along the coast; sometimes I followed it and sometimes I kept to the road, when the meandering seemed to get in the way of progress. Did Father Kelly walk this road or this trail? He didn't have to bushwhack here to follow the coastline rigidly; the road was "so close to the water that you can walk it without cheating."

Finally I came to American River, named for American sealers who spent a few months there in 1803, the year following Flinders's arrival. The little strait -- the one I now looked back across to Strawbridge Point -- was thought to be a river long ago. These Americans, led by Captain Isaac Pendleton from Connecticut, built the first ship in what would become South Australia, the Independence. It disappeared on the way to New Zealand two years later and was never found, but a group has been reconstructing it for the past few years.

I was proud of my pace today, averaging exactly my target rate of ten minutes per kilometer. To walk almost a marathon's distance and get in by 2:30 p.m. meant that I could rest for the remainder of the day, but it was still late enough to make finding lunch challenging. The Oyster Farm Shop advertised a 3 p.m. closing time, but of course the kitchen was shut at 2:30, leaving only packaged takeout available. Oysters were out of season anyway.

Across the street, attached to the building that houses the new Independence, The Deck had so many conflicting signs referring to its opening hours -- plus an equally confusing easel just inside -- that I decided the unlocked door was invitation enough to stride in and up to the counter. I was relieved to be asked what I wanted, and to be able to try the endemic King George whiting, grilled and with a substantial salad and fries.

I checked out the general store and relaxed at my Airbnb house, the Shanty, whose most noteworthy furnishing was an ancient green oven, the kind that sends smoke up through the house and now might be exhibited in a museum. There was also a modern oven, but I didn't end up having to cook: A 15-minute walk -- more of a waddle after today's long journey -- brought me to the Mercure Kangaroo Island Lodge, which fed me oysters Kilpatrick-style (broiled with bacon and barbecue sauce) and lamb and peas two ways (fillets and a chop and whole and pureed, respectively). And then I waddled back, startling a wallaby, who climbed a short distance up a tree for safety and inspected me as I passed. As long as it's not unfenced-in angry dogs coming at me, I'm happy.

Go on to Kangaroo Island day 3