Kangaroo Island I


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The Kangaroo Island is the third largest island in Australia (after Tasmania and Melville Island), covering 4,405 sq. km (1,701 sq. miles), about seven times as big as Singapore. The island was separated from the Australia mainland some 9,000 years ago due to rise sea level. Since then, the wildlife in the island has evolved into a distinct ecosystem. The island was named by British explorer Matthew Flinders, who first set foot on the island in 1802. Presumably he bumped into a large number of kangaroos here, which we certainly did. They even cost us a bumper -- will tell the story later.

To access the island, you can either fly or take a ferry boat (Sealink) if you have a car.

Even from a distance, we can see the island is lush with woods. Over half of the island is covered with vegetation year-round. Separated from the mainland, the island has been exempted from those careless and hazardous artificial introductions of alien species such as rabbits and European red foxes. To maintain the integrity of the ecosystem, today even domestic cats are required to be registered and microchipped, every single one of them.

On the island we found luxurious bushland, peaceful lagoon, and some of the most gorgeous white beaches we've seen in Australia.

Such crystal clear shallow water and white sand extend for miles and miles. The water is so shallow that it's getting quite warm under the sun, which is unlike any beach we've been to. It's incredibly comfortable wading in the water. Coming from the San Francisco Bay , where the water is chilly even in the hottest summer days (recall Mark Twain's remark "the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco"), we fell in love with Kangaroo Island instantly.

More on the splendid coastline.

One of the most popular beaches is the Seal Bay Conservation Park. The attraction is a large colony of Australian Sea Lions.

Murray Lagoon is the largest fresh water body on the island. It's known for its abundance of birdlife. Unfortunately the day we visited was quite gloomy, only a lonely Sea Eagle was gliding along the shore.

As the gloomy weather turned into pouring rain, we found ourselves a proper shelter underground. The Kelly Hill Cave, a dry limestone cave is the underworld of the Kangaroo Island. The underground cave is first discovered by a local stockman who accidentally dropped into it with his horse. The horse was named Kelly and hence the name. The stockman made it out of the hole, but we don't know what happened to the horse; some said it's rescued, but some said the horse wandered deep into the cave and its skeleton is lying in some dark corner, waiting to be discovered...

Anyway, we didn't see any skeleton, but found many other interesting features... Like helictite the grow upward and make a fish hook-like structure (2nd pic); or thin limestone slices that look like fungus (3rd pic); or slabs that are semi-transparent (4th pic)... One more thing about Kelly Hill Cave: it's a dry limestone cave, which means no more regeneration of the limestone by running water. Anything we damage will be gone forever.

When the weather finally cleared up, we stopped by this private zoo / farmhouse call Paul's Place. Here we had pretty close encounters with the native animals -- sometime maybe a little too close for our tastes. In particular you have to watch for the Wallabies (small Kangaroos), they've got really sharp front claws.

The best part of the zoo was petting the cutest marsupial in the world, the dozy little Koala. And when you are toying with the parrots, should always watch your fingers.

Paul's Place is not only a zoo but also a farm. Here this guy is showing off how he can hold down a strong sheep and shave its wool off in just a few minutes. The wool that came off is still kind of sticking together like a sheet, and you can even wear it on like a gown -- if you don't mind looking a bit ridiculous.

Maybe here is a good place to say something about the economy of the Kangaroo Island. Although tourism plays an important role, the island economy is dominated by agriculture, like sheep grazing here, which produces wool, meat, and diary products. In the 3rd pic is a truck load of live island sheep, waiting to be exported at the ferry station. They really stink, by the way, you'll know if you ever share a ferry boat with them. The island also got a pretty sizable fishing industry. In the 4th pic is the freshest fish and chip I've ever had in Australia, in a simple little cafe called Fish, right next to the ferry station in Penneshaw. In the last pic is a Marron, a kind of large freshwater crayfish farmed in the island. They taste much like lobster.

At last I have to mention the huge Bush Fire at the west end of the island, caused by Lighting strike on December 6th, 2007. The fire burnt for 10 days and swept over 90,000 hectares (20% of the island!) before it's contained in December 16th. We arrived at the island at December 19th, and all we see was the aftermath below. Flinder Chase National Park and Little Sahara were closed due to the danger of falling trees and reemerging small fires. Pity!


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