Exploring Kangaroo Island, Off the Southern Coast of Australia
Travel + Leisure's Editor in Chief Nathan Lump ventures to South Australia's remote Kangaroo Island.
On a recent trip to South Australia, I hopped on a plane in Adelaide and flew to Kangaroo Island, which has become something of a hotspot for international travelers thanks to Southern Ocean Lodge, the fourth highest-ranked hotel in the world in Travel + Leisure’s 2016 World’s Best Awards. I wanted to check out the Lodge, and also get a feel for a place that has been an important environmental success story in Australia.
Kangaroo Island is about the size of New York’s Long Island, but has a population of only around 4,000 people. It sits off the southern edge of Australia, so when you stand on the island’s southern shore, there’s nothing between you and Antarctica except the waters of the Southern Ocean. (As you might expect, the breezes are bracing.)
Immediately on arrival, I met up with Craig Wickham of the touring company Exceptional Kangaroo Island. Craig is an expert on all things K.I. (as everyone calls it), with an encyclopedic knowledge that does not prevent him from also being a highly entertaining guide.
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As we drove into the interior from the airport, Craig explained to me that, after the Second World War, the Australian government gave land grants on the island to returning soldiers, who came here to raise sheep for wool. Although it took them a while to figure out how to get sheep to thrive on the island, eventually they succeeded, and sheep farming became the dominant industry. There’s a byzantine but fascinating story about how the government ultimately mismanaged the wool trade, leading the market to collapse, which in turn caused many people to lose their farms. It was an economic tragedy, but, as Craig told me, it led to diversification of agriculture on the island and a more sensitive approach to land management.
Today K.I. is known throughout Australia for its produce: delicate, floral honey from the famed Ligurian bees; sustainably raised chicken, lamb, beef; sheep’s milk cheeses; wine.
You can visit island farmers and producers with Craig but I decided to concentrate on the natural wonders of the place and its wildlife. We went to see a large colony of sea lions on a broad stretch of beach called Seal Bay. Drove out to Admiral’s Arch to spot the fur seals on the rocks. Stopped whenever we spotted wildlife: the echidna, which resembles a porcupine and is one of only two egg-laying mammals in the world; monitor lizards; the highly venomous tiger snake; and of course koalas and kangaroos and wallabies.
The island’s biggest natural attraction is the Remarkable Rocks, which really are remarkable—an oddity of geological formation, a collection of massive, phantasmagoric boulders perched on a cliff’s edge above the sea. It’s the ultimate Instagram spot, and if you time your visit well, you can have the spectacular place all to yourself.
Craig deposited me at Southern Ocean Lodge, and I can say that it does not disappoint. Structurally it’s one long, low-slung building strung along a ridge overlooking the water, which means that from every corner of it you have spectacular views through floor-to-ceiling walls of glass. Its centerpiece is a dramatic living room done in a neutral palette with plush banquettes and oversized armchairs and a mod wood-burning fireplace. There’s a terrace and a pool outside, but it’s always quiet, in part because the guest rooms are so plush and cozy—with their own terraces looking out to the sea—that many people hole up there when they’re not out and about.
The Lodge offers its own excursions, led by young and enthusiastic staffers: cliffside walks, visits to local artists and artisans, a fun sundowner cocktail in an open field populated with kangaroos. But it’s quite hard to leave property, what with a beautiful spa (try the Aboriginal-inspired massage) and great modern Australian food that draws heavily on super-fresh local ingredients (think K.I. kingfish with Savoy cabbage, smoked almond, and pancetta dressing). Mealtime bonus: you can pop into the wine room and help yourself to any bottle that catches your fancy; it’s all included in the rate.
At night the stars are spectacular, and down at the edge of the planet there’s no light pollution to sully your view of the sky. No noise pollution, either—only the sound of Southern Ocean waves rolling into shore.
I spent my birthday at the Lodge, not doing much of anything, just soaking in the beauty of the place, enjoying the peace and quiet of it, and contemplating my good fortune.