Australia's Top Tourism Treasures - The Flinders Ranges & Kangaroo Island

Pull on a good pair of boots to explore the well-marked walks that fan around the village. Birds abound: 168 species have been spotted in the region, including 14 birds of prey, eight honeyeaters, and the red-backed kingfisher, its nape the deep, clear green of Arkaroola's plentiful water holes. Yellow-footed rock-wallabies live on the largest of the Pinnacles, two once-molten lava plugs that formed 450 million years ago, and several species of dragon lizards sun themselves on rocks along the tracks. The red-barred dragon, found only in the northeastern Flinders, is most readily encountered in spectacular Bararranna Gorge. The crimson stripes on the dragon's abdomen mimic the bloody cuts slashed on the chests of young male Aborigines being initiated into manhood, a coincidence that links these magnificent ranges, its wild creatures, and its human inhabitants into a spiritual whole.

Kangaroo Island, South Australia

Isolated from the mainland for thousands of years, Kangaroo Island, Australia's third-largest island, has developed into a species-saving sanctuary for countless plants and animals. This landmass was never colonized by the dingo, Australia's native dog, believed to have been introduced from Asia some 4,000 years ago. Nor, despite the arrival of Europeans in the mid-19th century, has it been invaded by more recently introduced European species such as the red fox and the rabbit, which have devastated indigenous wildlife and habitats on the mainland. In addition, more than one-third of the island is now protected by 19 national and conservation parks and five wilderness protection areas, and authorities have worked closely with private landowners to create wildlife corridors that help maintain the animals' home ranges and hence their biological diversity. A haven for wildlife, Kangaroo Island is consequently a paradise for nature lovers.

Among the island's success stories are the Tammar wallaby, which is threatened with extinction on the mainland but thrives here, and the gray Kangaroo Island kangaroo, a subspecies of the eastern gray kangaroo and a stockier animal than its mainland cousin, with shorter limbs, darker fur, and slower movements. Rare Australian sea lions, New Zealand fur seals, pygmy possums, and the echidna, which is elusive on the mainland but seen here regularly, have also benefited from the island's isolation. Bird life includes abundant sea eagles, black swans, sacred ibises, pelicans, fairy penguins, galahs, and crimson rosellas, as well as rare residents such as the glossy black cockatoo, stone curlew, and endemic sooty dunnart. The island even provides a last refuge for a bee. The Ligurian bee, introduced from Italy in 1881, is now found nowhere else.

The greatest concentration of wildlife on Kangaroo Island is found at Flinders Chase National Park. Established in 1919, it encompasses the entire west coast and a total of 17 percent of the island's landmass. The park is home to 443 species of native plants, including acacias, banksias, tea trees, several kinds of eucalyptus, and more than 50 species of orchids, and some 130 species of birds. A number of reptiles also thrive here, including black tiger snakes and pygmy copperheads, as well as the heath goanna, a fearsome-looking monitor lizard that grows to around 5.5 feet in length. Many animals are so tame that fences have had to be set up around picnic grounds to give visitors some respite from their frequent approaches.

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

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