Australia's Top Tourism Treasures - Kangaroo Island & The High Country

North of the Rocky River, where patient observers may catch a glimpse of the elusive platypus, eucalypt woodlands shroud a rugged plateau. To the south, the land is thick with stands of stunted mallee, a low-growing eucalypt, which blend into heathland near the limestone cliffs of the coast. Most of the park's trails are short walks through coastal heath and scrub. One exception is the challenging Ravine des Casoars wilderness hike. It leads southwest from a parking lot off the Playford Highway into the eucalypt forests of the Wilderness Protection Area before looping west past coastal caves.

The island's most impressive coastal scenery is found at Cape du Couedic at the southern tip of Flinders Chase, where millions of years of crashing waves have created curious structures, such as the aptly named Remarkable Rocks. Here, giant boulders, colored orange by lichens and leached iron and sculpted by wind and sea, balance on top of a massive granite dome.

Nearby, the hollowed-out limestone promontory called Admirals Arch is the eroded remains of a giant sea cave. Standing beneath the arch amid the skeletal remains of stalactites, you can observe some of the island's 4,000-strong colony of New Zealand fur seals frolicking in the rock pools below.

No island tour is complete without a visit to the fairy penguin rookeries near the settlements of Penneshaw and Kingscote. Also known as the little penguin, this is the smallest of the 18 species of penguin. Weighing only 2.2 pounds and standing just 13 inches high, it has short, black, flipperlike wings, a snow-white front, and pale, webbed feet with long black toenails. The best time to observe these birds is at dusk, when they return to land after a hard day's fishing.

The High Country, Victoria

The Australian Alps, Australia's highest mountains, run parallel to the southeastern coast of the continent. The mountains are diminutive by world standards, the tallest peaks barely rise above 6,500 feet, but loom large in a country characterized by flat terrain.

The highest parts of the range are much cooler and wetter than the rest of Australia, and they remain under snow for about four months of the year. Such conditions, combined with the mountains' geographical isolation, present major challenges to plant and animal life and have resulted in a high degree of specialization, a significant number of the Alps' plants and animals occur nowhere else.

The lower slopes and sheltered valleys encompass diverse habitats, including dense forests and open, grassy woodlands. The wide variety of vegetation across the range, along with changing weather conditions, give rise to correspondingly varied plant and animal life. In all, the Australian Alps support more than 40 species of native mammals, about 200 species of birds, 30 types of reptiles, 15 species of frogs, 14 kinds of native fish, and countless insects.

Alpine National Park encompasses 2,490 square miles of Victoria's share of the range. Walking trails crisscross much of the park, taking visitors from the lowlands to the highest plains. Most paths were formed by settlers who first moved into the area in the 1830s. By the 1880s, the springtime cattle drive up the mountains had become a well-established practice, and stockmen had built numerous huts, many of which still dot the area.

Continued in: Australia's Top Tourism Treasures - The High Country

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