Southern Ocean Lodge, Kangaroo Island, South Australia, late April 2013.
There is perhaps no more effective cure for jetlag (nor a more fitting welcome home to Australia!) than a family of five large kangaroos bounding across the road in front of our 4WD. With horror filled thoughts of bounding Skippy turning into squished Skippy and vague recollections of signing a rental car animal damage waiver at the airport, we white-knuckled to a stop and watched as the kangaroos hopped casually off into the bush. Heart racing, the inner tour guide in me laughingly announced “Welcome to Kangaroo Island!”.
Situated 15km off the coast of South Australia, Kangaroo Island is Australia’s third largest island (after Tasmania and Melville Island*), and the location of our destination: the spectacular Southern Ocean Lodge. Our 90 minute drive from the ferry which connects the mainland to Kangaroo Island (flights also operate from Adelaide), was otherwise uneventful with no further roo encounters save for a few wallabies grazing by the side of the road. Feeling rather pleased with ourselves – no damage to car, person or wildlife, tick! – we arrived at Southern Ocean Lodge and began four days of utter bliss. Located on the remote south west coast of Kangaroo Island at Hanson’s Bay, the lodge is perched on limestone cliffs high above the pounding seas of the Southern Ocean surrounded by dense vegetation and native bush. Impossible to see from the private entry road, it wasn’t until we stepped inside the dramatic rusted steel doors of the lodge that the full impact of the brilliant design, and the incredible beauty of the surroundings, becomes apparent. An enormous central, circular room (the Great Room), with its floor to ceiling windows frames breathtaking panoramic views of the rugged coastline while the 21 guest suites snake down the cliff rather like an ancient serpent. Temporarily stunned by the vistas (and a pod of frolicking dolphins in the bay below!), only a thoughtful enquiry by a staff member “Have we eaten breakfast yet” breaks our reverie and diverts thoughts to our grumbling tummies.
And so began our culinary journey at the Southern Ocean Lodge led by brilliant young chef Tim Bourke. Passionate about sourcing produce locally, Tim works with local farmers on Kangaroo Island to supply much of the fresh produce used by the restaurant including marron, abalone, cheese, yogurt, honey, lamb, angus beef, chickens, eggs, olive oil, fresh fruit and vegetables. Herbs for the restaurant are grown in the lodge’s herb garden. With such close proximity to an abundance of superb produce, the food at Southern Ocean Lodge is, as you would imagine, outrageously good. Each day Tim and his team prepare innovative, refined menus (3 courses for lunch and 4 courses for dinner + a selection of cheeses) that are served with matching Australian wines in the relaxed, light-filled restaurant sitting off to one side of the Great Room. Sated by a delicious breakfast (freshly squeezed orange juice, poached mushrooms on sourdough toast with creamy local Island Pure sheep’s milk ricotta and rocket followed by strong flat whites made by our favourite waiter, Fabian) and warmed by the sun streaming through the windows, we were so relaxed our eyes were closing (jetlag: I blame you entirely). Nudged gently to consciousness by another offer of coffee from Fabian, we drifted lazily to the sunken lounge area where lodge manager Alison Heath talked us through a personalised itinerary for our stay. The beauty of Southern Ocean Lodge is that you can do as much or as little as you want: it is entirely up to you and your energy levels. There are beach and clifftop walks, an excursion to Seal Bay (home to Australia’s third largest colony of Australian sea lions), beach fishing, a half day tour of Kangaroo Island plus the very special Kangaroos & Kanapes excursion (more on these later).
Itinerary settled, Alison showed us down the gently curving, sloping breezeway (or belly of the Serpent as I liked to call it after a few glasses of wine!) to our suite. Each suite is named after a notable Kangaroo Island shipwreck, the rugged and dangerous coastline of the Island having claimed many vessels over the years. Ours, Vale, was named in tribute to a schooner that sunk off Cape Borda in 1900 (thankfully no lives were lost). Pushing open the door to Vale (with a silent Ahoy there me hearties from me**), we were met with creamy limestone floors, gorgeous Scandinavian-style furniture, a free-standing tub (yippee!), lavish king-sized bed and of course, uninterrupted views of the coastline and bay below. I almost turned to Alison and said “So about those activities, NOT doing any of them. Staying right here until I am forcibly evicted!”. Um, but I didn’t of course ☺
Exploring our suite further, a plate of tiny Lamingtons (a classic Australian treat) sits on the handsome blonde-wood coffee table waiting for
me us to devour them. Subtle Australiana accents mix harmoniously with the Nordic décor: Kangaroo print fabric covers books, pieces by local artists adorn the walls, chocolate koalas hide in the fridge door and two very sweet little wind up platypuses are tucked away in a drawer just waiting for some bath time action. Bathrooms are stocked with beautifully fragrant products from the Southern Ocean Lodge spa (including three pots of bath salts: Wild Lavender milk bath, Bay of Shoals mineral salts and Vanilla Honey bath crystals all of which I used liberally, and often, during our stay!). Each suite comes equipped with a generously stocked complimentary petite-bar with packets of Red Rock chips, Medlow sweets, sticky date and ginger cookies, nougat, Kangaroo Island cheese and crackers plus Croser sparkling wine, Vale Ale beers and other assorted drinks.
Sitting outside on our private terrace with my legs curled under me, a glass of The Islander red in one hand and a book (on shipwrecks!) in the other, with the sound of waves crashing powerfully against the rocks below, it was hard to imagine anywhere more wonderful. And then a tiny wallaby popped out of the brush….Oh yes, perfection, indeed.
For those worried about an extra kilo or two (and I am not talking about luggage!) going home with them, there are plenty of activities to counter the indulgence in excellent food and wine. Elevated boardwalks to the beach or clifftop cut through the dense vegetation and facilitate bracing walks along deserted beaches and coves, or along the precipitous cliffs. A guided amble along the coastal clifftop was included in our stay but unfortunately my fear of heights prevented me from going on this outing. Instead we packed a backpack (supplied by the lodge along with dinky Safari-style water flasks) with wine, cheese and crackers and sat on the beach watching the waves, Hooded Plovers dart in and out of the water, and dolphins riding the ocean swell gracefully. Bikes are also provided for guest use and there are guided or self-guided hikes to do as well.
Also included in our stay was a half day “Wonders of KI” excursion, a trip to Seal Bay to see the sea lions on the beach and the wonderful Kangaroos & Kanapes: a dusk visit to see kangaroos grazing, followed by drinks and canapés on the veranda of a historic cottage. The Wonders of KI excursion was particularly memorable. Run by an external company, Exceptional Kangaroo Island, our knowledgeable local guide had us enthralled with stories about the Island’s history, flora and fauna (including his lucky escape from the bushfires which decimated Flinders Chase National Park in 2007, and a close encounter with a Great White Shark!). We were lucky enough to see kangaroos, wallabies, a fur sea colony, koalas (my photos are rubbish – one clearly needs a zoom lens for photographing wildlife!), as well as the Remarkable Rocks, Admirals Arch and Cape du Couedic lighthouse.
By the end of our stay I had seen:
1 echidna (waddling across the road as we drove to Seal Bay).
1 black tiger snake (slithering across the road as we drove to Seal Bay).
1 pygmy copperhead snake (at Seal Bay). I really do not like snakes but feel fortunate to have seen, from a safe distance, the only two species of snake on Kangaroo Island.
1 possum built like a linebacker! Each night at dinner he would wander past the window (the giggles and oohs and aahs from the other diners would signal his arrival), ensure that everything was right with the world and then lumber off again. I almost expected him to tap, tap, tap on the window demanding some of my dinner!
2 platypuses (of the toy wind-up variety only unfortunately)
Numerous seals, sea lions (including one little baby suckling on its mama), kangaroos, wallabies, cockatoos, dolphins plus many varieties of birds.
Eat and Drink:
The tariff at Southern Ocean Lodge is all-inclusive so lodge guests are able to help themselves to drinks in the always-open long bar in the Great Room and impressive walk-in cellar. At 6:30pm each night, guests gather in the Great Room for canapés and cocktails before dinner. The atmosphere is convivial and a wonderful opportunity to meet other guests and discuss the days activities. During our visit we met a fascinating raconteur from Melbourne, a couple from Germany who were on a glamorous world tour, 2 lovely couples each celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary, a young couple from Spain celebrating their wedding anniversary and a family from New York.
Particularly memorable dishes prepared by chef Tim Bourke during our stay included pan roasted local snapper in a native thyme, lemongrass and herb broth, slow cooked limestone coast wagyu beef with smoked bone marrow, shallot and fresh horseradish and a stunning apple crumble. If you are hiking or taking a day trip, the restaurant will also prepare a picnic of rolls, fresh fruit salad and a treat or two.
*I am ashamed to admit that I had never heard of Melville Island until chatting to one of the guides from Southern Ocean Lodge. For anyone curious, it is a remote island off the coast of the Northern Territory.
**Jetlag: Definitely, definitely your fault.
We stayed as guests of the Southern Ocean Lodge
Thank you also to the South Australian Tourism Commission for assisting with travel arrangements.