A recent trip to South Australia offered the opportunity to visit Kangaroo Island. It takes effort to get there, and some expense. It is not easy to get around: the island is larger than one might expect and there are only a couple of sealed roads, a few populated areas and amenities. The island demands a willingness from the modern traveller to remember and respect the reality of that remoteness – we can’t access its beauty, stillness and wilderness without also accepting the removal from the accustomed convenience and pace of urban life. We are called to let go of our race of doing, and ease into being. Sometimes, as I found, that’s not so easy to do.
The arrival on the ferry at Penneshaw on the island’s east coast is gentle with its shimmering bays and quiet fishing village holiday atmosphere. Travelling inland and to the north coast maintains this tranquillity of coastal and farming life. Though there is more happening than might appear in these protected pockets – from the making of the island’s famous Ligurian honey to sheep's milk cheese, gin and vodka, abundant seafood, wine, and long lunches underneath an enormous fig tree.
To the south and west, the wilderness quickly opens up. A stop at Pennington Bay elicits the first gasp at finding the wild beauty the journey had promised. The azure blues and greens of the water startle in their contrast to the white foam of the breaking waves streaking across it, and the sandy creams and greens of the windswept scrub on the dunes and headlands that encircle the bay. The place feels both vast as the waves and wind buffet the shore, yet so quiet and intimate in its seclusion.
Here, the constructs of what we know as civilisation fall away and nature rises up to claim the space. In this space, nature can be at peace to follow its ancient rhythms and, it seems, is happy enough to invite us in as witnesses.
A particularly special invitation was to join the sea lions down on the beach at Seal Bay. These creatures were content to allow us to observe them go about their flow of feeding, resting and playing, as they have done in this same spot for generations. It felt like a privileged glimpse into a rare world, which it is.
Strangely, the awe I felt also brought up conflict in me.
I wanted so much to run headlong into the magic of this place, to soak up everything it had to offer, to know it all, that I reverted at times to feeling the pressure I encounter in city life to do and see too much. I felt the scarcity of the time I had there clash against the vastness I wanted to experience. I got out of sync with the rhythm of the island and tried to take in as much as I could, as if I could stockpile it to draw on when I went back to my normal life, and in fear that this might be my only chance. It bothered me that I couldn’t seem to accept the time that I did have, to trust that the island could give me an experience that transcended my limitations. I have gladly surrendered to the slow rhythm of nature before, so why not now?
I reflected on this inner tussle as I stood on the cliffs of the west coast at Cape du Couedic and looked out over the Southern Ocean. I could see that the waves colliding with the coastline were like my own internal battle, and that somewhere there was refuge like the rock pools where the fur seals played below.
Up at the Remarkable Rocks, whose jagged granite faces have been shaped by the wind and the ocean, I resolved to return in the morning to spend sunrise there in solitude and see what I might discover. I resolved to be gently open and curious; to stop looking outside myself and on the surface of the island, and turn within. And from within, to see and to feel what the island had to offer.
It was a slow journey up there the next morning as wallabies, native ducks and other animals dotted the way on their morning feed. Otherwise, I was entirely alone. As I sat overlooking the ocean in the gentleness of dawn, the birds warbled their awakening and I felt embraced by a timeless moment in nature.
The rain rolled in quite quickly so I wasn't there long. But I didn’t need to be, it was enough. The island had found its way into me at last.
The morning’s rain seeped me deeper into this surrender. The weather forced us to let go of any adventurous plans and instead drive up to Antechamber Bay on the east coast to a farm that was to be our home for the night. As the rain cleared, we walked along the property's private coastline and through the paddocks, and looked out at water whose blues merged into the dense grey clouds sitting just above them. We didn't need to go anywhere else. It was enough to just be there and immerse ourselves in the peace of the place.
Kangaroo Island had worked its magic by teaching me that the transcendence it offered was not to be found in racing about to visit all its beautiful corners. It was to be revealed in the stillness of being there. When I let go and tuned into that, when I listened, the island reminded me, as David Whyte does, that everything is waiting for me.