As I sat perched on the edge of my bed tears welled in my eyes, turning the sublime cliff-top view into a watery, Van Gogh-esque painting. I steadied myself, took a deep breath and tried to pinpoint the exact moment that triggered such a flood of emotion. Was it the jaw-dropping view of Hanson Bay when the doors to Southern Ocean Lodge opened? The glass of just-popped champagne that was promptly handed to me as I stood gazing upon the vast view as if I’d never witnessed such a phenomenon? Perhaps it was the immediate and intimate engagement by a staff member who called out, “Hi Leah, welcome!” Or (and I have a feeling it may have been this moment), was it when, upon entering my suite after a 6am flight from Melbourne, four-hour stopover in Adelaide, 25-minute nail-biter of a flight to Kangaroo Island in the tiniest plane I’ve ever been in, and a one-hour road trip, I spotted the freshly made lamingtons? I guessed it was that simple yet thoughtful touch, combined with the burning candle, soft background music and sweet welcome note that floored me. After all, this wasn’t just another luxury hotel. Southern Ocean Lodge is a completely eye-opening, transformative experience.
Words by Leah Glynn
Part of the Baillie Lodges group (it also includes the renowned Capella Lodge on Lord Howe Island and Longitude 131° at Uluru), Southern Ocean Lodge is consistently rated not only one of the country’s top lodges, but one of the world’s best. Pretty impressive considering it just celebrated its 10th anniversary. In that time it has hosted royalty and A-list celebs (a gentle probe of managers John Hird and Alison Heath revealed nothing of the identities of these high-profile visitors, such is the respect for their privacy) and welcomed visitors from all corners of the globe.
Situated precariously atop the sheer jagged cliffs of Hanson Bay on the western edge of the island, nothing but the Southern Ocean separates the lodge from Antarctica. It’s an extraordinary feat of architecture – and one that appears to blend seamlessly into its natural surroundings, while still accentuating the rugged beauty of the Kangaroo Island wilderness. In fact, the lodge is so well camouflaged you barely notice its presence until you arrive at the entranceway. The lodge is an eco-friendly structure, reliant on rainwater and other renewable energy sources. Sustainable materials have been used where possible – most obvious in the recycled timber features and sandblasted limestone flooring – and the lodge aims to have as little impact on the environment as possible.
When I arrived, assistant manager Lucky ran me through the general goings-on that take place, while I took it all in. Floor-to-ceiling windows, floating open fireplace and paved outdoor area with plunge pool, and beyond a line of 21 suites, all of which hug the curve of the cliffs. Each of the individual lodgings are named after a ship that came to grief along the coastline, and range from the ‘standard’ Flinders Suites (although to call these rooms standard seems highly offensive and grossly misleading) to the all-out, no-expense-spared opulence of the signature Osprey Pavilion, which is more of a small apartment, and comes complete with a walk-in robe, private pool and sunken lounge. My room, a Flinders Suite, boasts a king-size bed, enormous open bathroom and private terrace with daybed.
Food, drinks and the act of sharing meals play a vital role in the experience. Eating here isn’t just about choosing a meal from a menu of options whipped up en masse; it’s about showcasing the very best of the island’s produce, and crafting those ingredients into a carefully curated dining extravaganza. Happy hour is open to guests 24/7, and you’d be foolish not to do as I did and help yourself to a G&T using Kangaroo Island’s very own KIS gin, brewed by the island’s distillery. There’s no form of room service; instead guests are encouraged to take to the communal dining area where chef Asher Blackford whips up a feast that changes daily according to what’s in season. For lunch and dinner, expect anything from marron to pork belly, grain-fed beef to hand-made pasta, all perfectly matched with local wines. Dessert lovers won’t be disappointed either – a raspberry and chocolate soufflé with lavender ice-cream was just one of the heavenly creations in which I happily indulged.
Southern Ocean Lodge isn’t all about ridiculously lavish food and good wine (although there is that). As part of your stay, guests are provided with a personalised itinerary designed to showcase the island’s attractions.
Over a third of Kangaroo Island is protected by nature reserves and it’s home to diverse wildlife. Of course there are kangaroos bounding everywhere, but it’s also home to sea lions, koalas and penguin colonies. A trip to Seal Bay forms one excursion, where you can get up close to some of the inquisitive locals. There are no enclosures or cages and instead guides teach you about these endangered animals. This is the only place in the world where you can see Australian sea lions so closely. Another tour, aptly called Wonders of KI, hits up all of the island’s most famed sites, including the Remarkable Rocks, granite boulders formed over hundreds of years that are now part of the Flinders Chase National Park.
There are also tours to Admirals Arch (a distinctive rock bridge) and Cape du Couedic lighthouse, established in 1909. Be sure to spend an evening on the Kangas & Kanapés outing, where you’ll learn a little about the history of the island, all while knocking back a tasty treat and attempting to snap a selfie with a roo.
At the end of my weekend, I sat in the private lounge at Kangaroo Island Airport (oh yes, you bet the Southern Ocean Lodge has its own exclusive, fully stocked lounge) and felt that now all too familiar wave of emotion about to hit. Steadying myself, I now understand that that’s the beauty of Southern Ocean Lodge – its ability to leave such a powerful, lasting effect on you. It’s the way this remarkable property makes you feel. And isn’t that the mark of a great luxury establishment? I sure think so.
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