A walk on the wild(life) side - South Australia

By John Corbett

Kangaroo Island is just a 20-minute hop by air from Adelaide, but a world away. It’s also one of the most surprising and rewarding destinations in South Australia, says John Corbett.

Imagine a flock of sheep grazing peacefully in a field at dusk. Now transform them into kangaroos. That offers just a hint of the abundance of the wildlife on Kangaroo Island – and it has nothing to do with the fact that you might be drinking rather good Australian bubbly at the time and nibbling perfect canapés served from a Mercedes-Benz SUV belonging to the island’s six-star Southern Ocean Lodge.

Any thoughts that the kangaroo display is a one-off are dispelled by the return trip to the highway along a red dirt track, where scores of wallabies bound kamikaze-style towards the headlights, avoiding collision at the last second.

‘We call the ones by the side of the road “wazzabies”, the guide from the Lodge says laconically, and indeed, rental car companies do not insure drivers on Kangaroo Island between the hours of sunset and sunrise because the animal accident rate is so high. If you are into wildlife watching, Kangaroo Island is definitely for you.

Often referred to as Australia’s Galapagos, over half of its area is made up of native ‘old growth’ bushland and national parks which provide a home for a unique subspecies of the Western Grey Kangaroo and substantial populations of Tammar Wallabies, sea lions, fur seals, metre-long goannas, echidnas, koalas, native possums, bandicoots, bats, six species of frogs and a couple of snakes.

The island’s flora is equally spectacular, with almost 900 native and endemic plant species including more than 60 types of orchid. Tour company Exceptional Kangaroo Island, and others, provide a range of fascinating excursions for nature lovers which include visits to spectacular coastal landforms. If flora and fauna aren’t your thing, the island abounds in history.

Many of the island’s bays and headlands bear the names of its early French and English explorers – a site near the main town of Kingscote was briefly the first British settlement in South Australia – and the coastline is strewn with the wrecks of old sailing ships.

The island’s size continues the theme of surprises. At 155 kilometres long by 55 kilometres wide it’s no speck in the ocean, and is actually Australia’s third largest offshore island. Its long bulk protects the Gulf of St Vincent and Adelaide from the stormy Southern Ocean, and the forbidding sandstone cliffs on its southern coast are as impressive as those of Victoria’s Southern Ocean Walk.

On the northern side, the island sinks gently into shoals and shallows which provided a bountiful seafood larder for aboriginal people for thousands of years.

Although Kangaroo Island is now just a 20-minute hop southwest from Adelaide by Rex Aviation turboprop, it is still relatively remote. A 15-kilometre sea passage separates it from the Fleurieu Peninsula on the mainland to the east, but fierce winds and currents often present challenges for passenger ferries. The island’s seclusion has also bred a 5000-strong community of people who are friendly, hardy and self-sufficient. Like islanders everywhere, many have made a deliberate choice to live there.

That spirit of sturdy independence is now helping to drive the emergence of Kangaroo Island as an important food and wine region. Surrounded by rich seas and blessed with fertile, well watered soils, the island produces a wealth of gourmet foods which find ready markets throughout Australia and beyond.

Well-established tours take food lovers to local producers of seafood, sheep’s milk cheeses, marron, Ligurian bee honey, native currant jams, olive oils and even spirits and liqueurs.

One of the most exciting steps in Kangaroo Island’s gastronomic evolution was its declaration as an Australian wine region in 2001. There are now almost 30 home-grown labels producing premium cool-climate Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and other varieties. Several have cellar doors and export wine to markets around the world.

You can drink and eat the very best that Kangaroo Island and South Australia offer at Southern Ocean Lodge, the jewel in the crown of the island’s accommodation offerings. Perched on a remote cliff top overlooking the Southern Ocean, the 21-suite Lodge immerses its guests in six-star luxury, complete with a spa. As a base for exploring the natural, historical and gastronomic attractions of the island, Southern Ocean Lodge is unrivalled – although you need only step out of the cocoon-like comfort of your suite into the coastal landscape to appreciate how unique and rewarding a place the island is.

Lodge staff will take you surfcasting or on cliff top rambles through unique coastal flora to watch sea eagles (the island is also a paradise for bird-watching) or to look up at night at the constellations the aboriginal people wove dreamtime legends about. Standing here above the Southern Ocean, on the very edge of the world where Australia and civilisation itself runs out, is an experience that’s difficult to describe. It’s thrilling. The emotion sneaks up and surprises you – a bit like the island itself.

FACTS:?

Air New Zealand offers non-stop flights every week from Auckland to Adelaide, with connections available from all around New Zealand. w: airnewzealand.co.nz
Regional Express Aviation (rex), t: +61 2 6393 5550, w: rex.com.au?
Exceptional Kangaroo Island Tours, t: +61 8 8553 9119, w: exceptionalkangarooisland.com?
Andermel Marron, t+61 8 8559 4114, w: andermel.com?
Island Beehive, t: +61 8 8553 0080, w: island-beehive.com.au?
Island Pure Cheeses, t: +61 8 8553 9110, E: is_pure@bigpond.net.au?
Kangaroo Island Spirits, t: +61 8 8553 9211, w: kispirits.com.au?
Dudley Wines, t: +61 8 8553 1333, w: dudleywines.com.au
False Cape wines, t: +61 8 8553 8228, w: lakebreeze.com.au
Sunset Winery, t: +61 8 8553 1378, w: sunset-wines.com.au?
Woolybud Wines, t: +61 8 8559 6110, E: deanandjean@bigpond.com?
Southern Ocean Lodge, t: +61 2 9918 4355, w: southernoceanlodge.com.au
Holiday and travel information to Adelaide and South Australia, w: southaustralia.co.nz