Elaine Kim: My Adventure On Kangaroo Island
Elaine Kim heads down under and is blown away by the beauty of the Southern Ocean.
“Where is the most beautiful place you have been to?” I often get asked. The answer has always been Patagonia, with the turquoise Lake Pehoé set against the snow-capped peaks of Torres del Paine.
So when I stood on the clifftop overlooking the Southern Ocean, staring over endless hills and the ocean crashing against a curved coast far below, and my husband John whispered, “I think this might be more beautiful than Patagonia”—I knew we had arrived somewhere quite special.
We were on Kangaroo Island in South Australia. It’s the country’s third largest island but had been uninhabited when it was formed some 10,000 years ago when melted glacial waters rose, cutting it off from the continent, taking the aboriginal settlers with it. Its capital Kingscote was the region’s first settlement in the 1800s, and the early colonists (whalers and sealers who kidnapped local aboriginal women from the mainland and made them slave wives) contemplated making it the capital of South Australia, but another settlement, Adelaide, won instead. This is where we fly into for our South Australian sojourn.
Adelaide is a sleepy city next to Sydney and Melbourne, but it is getting progressively more cosmopolitan and vibrant, especially in March when the annual Adelaide Festival brings the city to life. I was a performer in this arts festival years ago and still remember vividly the energy exuded by the performers in this tented wonderland.
First stop: Barossa Valley
This time, we skipped the city and headed straight into the rolling hills of Barossa Valley, just an hour away. The wines of this region, in particular the big reds typically made from shiraz (Barossa’s flagship grape) and grenache, have put Australia solidly on the world’s wine map, with vintages from the best vineyards taking their place next to the best wines in the world. It is home to big names such as Penfolds, Wolf Blass, Henschke, Peter Lehmann and Jacob’s Creek, as well as a constellation of boutique producers.
Naturally, a burgeoning gourmet town has risen to complement these fine wines: a vibrant farmer’s market, trails for hand-made cheese and smoked meats, restaurants helmed by some of the country’s best chefs—all make Barossa Valley a perfect destination for a travelling gourmand.
Our base in Barossa Valley was The Louise, a luxury boutique retreat set amid the rolling hills, with 15 suites set around a central courtyard, their terraces overlooking acres upon acres of vineyards. There is the Appellation restaurant, the award-winning dining destination that is central to The Louise’s identity. In fact, the staff considers The Louise “a restaurant with a hotel, rather than a hotel with a restaurant”.
We headed to the vineyards, of course, making our way from cellar door to cellar door sipping rieslings and shirazs from big-named wineries such as Penfolds to the Artisans of Barossa tasting room, which is home to little-known local boutique producers. We visited Seppeltsfield, famous for its 100-year-old tawny and other fortified wines and ports. The historic estate is right next to The Louise, and the hotel can arrange private tasting tours in the cellar with an opportunity to taste wines of your birth year straight from the barrel.
A visit to Barossa Valley would be incomplete without popping into Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop. There’s no beer at the Farm Shop. I didn’t know it before the trip, but Maggie Beer is a very famous chef, author and TV personality, and businesswoman with a line of gourmet foods that include jams, pates and ice cream. I stepped into the shop for a quick look, but ended up leaving hours later with an assortment of desserts, pates, dukkah, olive oil and verjuice. The quaint little farm store was like a treat shop, where I found myself won over by the delectable samples laid out for us to taste, and by the picnic fare of freshly wood-oven-baked bread with pate and caramelised onion taken on a terrace by the lake. I sat in for a delightful workshop in the studio kitchen where they film her cooking show, learning how to cook with verjuice.
My estimation of the gourmet scene in Barossa Valley was further increased after a meal at Hentley Farm, where the old stables have been converted into a beautiful, light-filled dining room. Here, head chef Lachlan Colwill serves degustation meals inventively created with the farm’s produce, paired with wines from the Hentley Farm’s portfolio. We managed to secure an elusive reservation for lunch, and the exquisite meal lived up to expectations and beyond—one of the best we’ve had in Australia, with memorable dishes such as rosemary-infused chicken broth oysters served in a bed of river pebbles and dry ice, and a light, airy pumpkin and ginger foam dessert topped with poppy seeds.
From one great meal to another, we ended our gastronomic visit to Barossa with dinner at the Appellation. Our four-course degustation was a delightful experience featuring local, seasonal dishes such as citrus-cured Port Lincoln Hiramasa kingfish accompanied by avocado, wild lime and puffed black rice, and a main course of Hutton Vale lamb with white eggplant puree and pickled summer vegetables, dusted in Moroccan spice.
The next morning, we caught a Regional Express turboprop propeller for a 30min flight to Kangaroo Island. At 4,500sqkm, Kangaroo Island is seven times the size of Singapore, and in our 40min traverse through the rugged terrain from the Kingscote Airport, there was not a car or person in sight. It is
this remoteness that brings travellers here; this remoteness that has left an array of natural wildlife flourishing—colonies of seals and sea lions, free-roaming kangaroos and koalas, and an array of wildlife, thriving in a wild, dramatic setting of windswept moors and rugged cliffs.
And in the midst of this impossibly beautiful remoteness, the Southern Ocean Lodge appears—an incongruous line of glass atop a bluff, perched high above the crashing white waves of the island’s southern coastline. Somehow, inconceivably, hoteliers James and Hayley Baillie managed to create one of the most magnificent luxury retreats in the world, in this middle of nowhere.
There are 21 luxurious glass-walled suites, each with a sunken lounge, heated limestone floors, breathtaking views of the ocean, and an outdoor terrace where we would sit with champagne and canapes, listening to the waves crashing onto the coast below.
A line of hotel staff welcomed us at the entrance, and we stepped out of the gusty outdoors into the aptly-named Great Room, a sprawling, circular oasis of calm, contemporary chic. Log fires burn in modern fireplaces, and the gorgeous space is encircled by glass, where the most spectacular ocean views await with our every turn.
We sat down with a glass of wine from the open bar (“open” as in anytime you like, anything you want from the curated selection of hundred of spirits and wines, especially the South Australian cellar favourites—all included in your room and board) and John, the lodge manager, helped us plan our itinerary choosing from the menu of experiences, most of which are included in the tariff.
For our first sunset, we chose the Kangaroos and Kanapes experience. Just a short drive from the lodge, wild kangaroos gather to graze in a wide open plain. Literally hundreds of kangaroos stood around us, absolutely unperturbed by our presence, and as the sky turned amber with the setting sun, we sipped champagne and nibbled on canapes in this slightly surreal setting. The next day, we headed out to Seal Bay, where we strolled along a beach where hundreds of sea lions frolicked on the shoreline.
Amid the luxurious comforts of Southern Ocean Lodge, we found ourselves inclined to savour our time on the property. I could not resist indulging in a spa treatment in the clifftop spa. In a spa suite that cantilevered over the ocean, I drifted in and out of a relaxing sleep, lulled by the soothing strokes of the aboriginal-inspired Kodo massage.
We took walks along the coastal trails that cut through swathes of wild, unspoiled landscape that stretch beyond line of sight. One winding path curving across the clifftop took us to a rocky outcrop that seemed to float above the pounding surf. Here we could sit at a table perched on the ledge, to admire the gorgeous, rugged coastline, and marvel at the fact that nothing but ocean lies between this spot and Antarctica.
Three times a day, we adjourned to the dining room (on one occasion meeting a kangaroo on the way as we walked into the corridor outside our suite) for truly exceptional meals. There are literally no other restaurants for miles around, so it isn’t like there’s any competition to keep up with, and yet, day after day, we were presented with impeccable gourmet meals from a world-class kitchen. The menu changed daily, with three or four courses each meal, and not one item our entire stay disappointed. Chef Alastair Waddell and his team draw upon the flavours of fresh organic ingredients and local artisanal produce to present us with delights like river oysters with a red wine vinegar granite, Wagyu with beetroot and smoked bone marrow, or delightful mini cones with home‑made ice cream, in flavours like olive oil and honeycomb.
Southern Ocean Lodge is a truly remarkable place—the most awe-inspiring setting for a superlative experience. It was hard to leave.
As we were travelling back to Kingscote to catch our flight out of Kangaroo Island, the car made an abrupt stop—there, in the middle of the road sat a koala and her cub. She turned to look directly at us for a few moments before slowly getting up and sauntering into the bush. It was like a sweet parting bid, Australia sending its best envoy to say, “Farewell mate, see ya soon!”