Southern Ocean Lodge Review, Kangaroo Island S.A.
Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island is a slice of paradise, seamlessly sculpted onto a spectacular cliff face overlooking a pristine vista of ocean and national parkland. This stunning eco-lodge sits in perfect harmony with its environment as well as with the community of Kangaroo Island. It is the ideal holiday if you are looking to immerse yourself in Australia's incredible fauna & flora, while at the same time indulging your senses with world-class food & wine. Below is an account of how my wife and I recently spent four incredible nights at Southern Ocean Lodge.
To get to Kangaroo Island, we took an early morning flight from Melbourne to Adelaide to catch the Qantas service to Kingscote (Kangaroo Island airport). There are only a couple of flights a day to Kangaroo Island, and as we were keen to get to the Lodge as close to check in as possible we opted for the 11 am Qantas QF2142 flight. Qantas uses a de Havilland Dash 8 Q300 to service the route, which is a 50 seat twin-engine turboprop, so space is limited and I strongly recommend booking well in advance as our flight was packed. The flight left on time and only took 30mins, giving us just enough time to try the complimentary pink cookies.
We were met at Kingscote airport by Shana with one of the Lodge's air-conditioned Mercedes buses. The bus holds a dozen people including the driver, and we had a full load of guests as well as the Lodge's new chef Patrick. Patrick used the trip to catch up on some shut-eye, which after our visit I can well appreciate as the kitchen pumps out amazing quantities of sumptuous food from sun up to sun down. The bus was comfortable, the air conditioning worked well, and as the luggage had all fit in the trailer, there was plenty of space to spread out.
During our stay, it became apparent that Southern Ocean Lodge's principal catchment area for guests is more international than domestic. The majority of the guests we met came from the States and to a lesser extent Europe & Asia. Southern Ocean Lodge prides itself on pretty much having every language covered; Andy in the restaurant alone speaks seven. We only met one other bunch of Aussies during our visit, a lovely couple from Geelong who were celebrating their wedding anniversary.
On the drive, Shanna gave us a brief history of the Lodge, telling us how it is James and Hayley Baillie's first lodge that they had designed and built from scratch. Their other two lodges, Longitude 131° in the Northern Territory and Capella Lodge on Lord Howe Island had been pre-existing resorts prior to their purchase. Apparently, the next big project is to build a Lodge on Tasmania; I will definitely keep an eye out for that as I have a soft spot for the Apple Isle. Shanna went on to explain the considerable obstacles which the Baillie's had to overcome in getting approval for the Lodge and how with close collaboration with a local architect they finally managed to convince the authorities to give them the go ahead.
The drive to the Lodge took roughly 1-hour, which helped us better appreciate the size of Kangaroo Island, Australia's third largest island. Southern Ocean Lodge is situated on a wildlife corridor between two National Parks – Kelly Hill Caves and Flinders Chase National Parks, which are in the very south-west corner of Kangaroo Island. The picture above shows the entrance to the Lodge and gives you a very good idea of just how amazingly well the Lodge blends into its surroundings.
The Great Room
We were warmly greeted by a contingent of staff who welcomed us into the Great Room. The Great Room is the heart of the Lodge and to be honest; the pictures below do not come close to doing justice to what an incredible space it is. The furnishings are comfortable yet have an understated elegance to them; the lighting is very well thought out with the use of well-located lamps, the shelves are well stocked with games and books and the central fireplace when lit is mesmerising. However, it is the outside views which constantly draw the eye, either out over the stunning blue seascape or inland over an unending canopy of mist-shrouded greenery. Having settled into some extremely comfortable cream armchairs, we just sat and soaked up the incredible views. Presently we were joined by Hannah who welcomed us to the Lodge and provided us with drinks and an extremely tasty salmon sandwich.
Hannah then took us through our personalised itinerary, describing the different activities and outlining the timings. There are four included experiences with a visit to Southern Ocean Lodge:
- The Cliff Top Walk, a guided scenic walk starting right on the Lodge's doorstep atop the limestone cliffs of Hanson Bay.
- The Champagne & Canapes (affectionately referred to by the staff as Roos & Booze), enjoy the evening surrounded by kangaroos and wallabies while enjoying bubbles and delicious morsels.
- The Kangaroo Island Experience, a half day tour in which you will see koalas, fur seals & sea lions, Admirals Arch & the monolithic majesty of Remarkable Rocks; and
- A visit to Seal Cove, a guided beach tour to see the sea lions at Seal Bay, home to Australia's third largest colony of Australian sea lions.
There is also a range of additional activities that you could sign up for, and you can read about them here: Bespoke Activities. These activities come with additional costs and fall under the headings of adventure, private guided hikes and half day special interest tours. Otherwise, for no extra charge, you can explore the surrounding national parks and beaches on foot using the well-marked walking trails, or you are welcome to borrow a complimentary mountain bike, these are outlined in Exploring at your Leisure.
The Personal Touch
Hannah's personal greeting was an overarching feature of the whole visit, as whenever you met a new member of staff, whether in the restaurant or out on one of the excursions, they always introduced themselves by name and would use ours from then on. I am the first to admit that I am terrible with names, but I have remembered so many from Southern Ocean Lodge. There was Rachel who looked after us at mealtimes and who introduced me to Bailles 9 Gin (best garnished with a slice of orange and some rosemary). There were Andrew and Andy, the life and soul of the dining room; Andrew's rendition of Happy Birthday is not to be missed.
There was Poppy from England, whose love of nature was infectious and whose knowledge of the natural world was awe-inspiring. Though she did insist on telling the American tourists that there were no such things as "Drop Bears" and that the koalas were not high on gum leaves, information that I thought should have been kept on a need to know basis, being as they are Australian state secrets. And finally, there was Damian from New Zealand who took us out for Roos & Booze and gave us an impromptu talk on the history of Kangaroo Island when the wheels came off his electronic presentation. This personal touch achieved with such apparent effortlessness by the wonderful staff is a testament to the management & culture of the Baillie group and which I cannot commend highly enough.
The Open Bar
Once we had looked over the itinerary and agreed that we were happy with the schedule, Hannah gave us the choice of either going to our room or straight into lunch. We opted for lunch, and why not, being as it was only my fourth meal for the day; the breakfast at the lounge in Melbourne, the omelette on the plane to Adelaide and the sandwiches I had just polished off. The quantity and frequency of meals were, in fact, a standing joke with the staff, as whenever they took us out, they pulled our leg about how they really must get us back to the Lodge in case we started to get hungry.
As Hannah was showing us through to the dining room, she pointed out the long bar running along the back of the Great Room and let us know to help ourselves to anything we liked whenever we liked. The self-serve bar not surprisingly was one of my favourite features of the stay, to just be able to get up and fix yourself a drink whenever took your fancy was brilliant, no standing at bars or trying to catch the eye of a passing waiter or waitress. At the end of the evenings, it was great to be able to take something back to the room to enjoy in front of the fire. The range and quality of the wines, beers and spirits on offer was exceptional; during our stay, we tended to gravitate towards the Shaw & Smith M3 Chardonnay at lunch and then to allow ourselves to be guided by Rachel as to which red would best go with dinner.
The red wine was stored in a separate cellar at the back of the Great Room, and you were very welcome to pull up a stool at the tasting table and sample (drink as much as you liked) the different wines. After dinner, it was then a toss-up for me between either the Laphroaig Scotch or the Penfolds Grandfather's Port. As I have said, the quality of the wine was excellent; however, if you were looking for something extra special, then there was a premium selection of wines, Dom Perignon, Cristal, Penfolds Grange …. which would be added to your final bill. Hannah also told us that we should dress; however, we felt comfortable as she wanted us to feel at home and to treat the Great Room as our living room. The general attire of the guests was smart casual in the evenings and clothing suitable for hiking during the day.
Before I get to wax lyrical about the fantastic food I thought I might jump ahead and tell you about the rooms. The lodge is made up of twenty-one suites all of which offer sweeping ocean views, and are designed to provide complete privacy.
There are five different room types to choose from; some have fireplaces, some outside plunge pools, some sleep more than others and some are massive (120 square meters), so there is a range of options catering to different budgets and group sizes. Here is a link through the Southern Ocean Lodge Fact Sheet which outlines the differences and provides a schematic of the room layouts. We opted for the Ocean Retreat for the reason that we were sold on the feature fireplace and the freestanding bathtub. Our room was called Osmanli; each room is named after a shipwreck off of the coast of Kangaroo Island.
From the moment you step into the room, there is a sense of space and tranquillity. Our room was beautifully appointed and a very good size at 75 square meters, and to put it simply the views were breathtaking. As you enter, you are met with the aroma of Southern Ocean Lodge's signature scent which is based on lemon myrtle. To help with the general sense of relaxation, soothing instrumental spa music emanates from the Bose sound system on the desk in the corner of the room.
Hannah showed us around the room pointing out the main features that we might not be familiar with; there were the controls for the electric blinds next to the bed, which I particularly liked as it meant there was no need to get up in the morning to start enjoying the ocean views. Then there were the controls for the underfloor heating in the bathroom, which kept our feet toasty warm. Hannah then explained how to light the EcoSmart fireplace, it would burn for roughly three hours, and the fuel was replaced every morning. The minibar fridge was also replenished daily and was full of sparkling wine, sparkling water and an assortment of healthy non-alcoholic drinks such as kombucha and coconut water. A particularly charming inclusion was a plate of freshly baked lamingtons.
The one striking omission from the room was the ubiquitous flat screen tv, so if you thought you were coming to Southern Ocean Lodge to binge on Netflix, it is not going to happen. And if your fall back position is to stream to a personal device that is also not an option, as while there is wi-fi fast enough to read a newspaper or send the odd email, hi-definition video content it does not handle. Which reminds me, the other thing that the Lodge does not have is a gym, so if you are seeking exercise then it is very much of the outdoors kind: you can walk, jog up the driveway or cycle.
Once you return from your outdoor activities, there is nothing more rewarding than standing under the rain head shower or floating in the bath, plenty of room for two. The bathroom is enormous, so there is no getting in each other's way, and it is generously stocked with all the Lodge's fantastic spa products: the quandong camellia shampoo, the quandong ylang ylang conditioner and the south coast soap made from Kangaroo Island ligurian honey. And once you have finished, you get to wrap up in the incredibly comfortable bathrobe and slippers.
If you take a liking to the bathrobe or slippers then you are welcome to take them with you, and they will simply be added to your bill. Or you might like the salt and pepper grinders in the dining room; there is pretty much nothing (including the bed) that you cannot buy as a memento of your stay. I was particularly annoyed to find out you could buy the bed as my wife and I had just bought a new bed, and the Baillie bed was so much better, it was supportive in all the right places yet felt like it was hugging you. At the end of our visit, we opted for some cushion covers, the ones with kangaroos on, a Southern Ocean Lodge backpack, some essential oils and a t-shirt for our daughter, who "unfortunately" could not come as she is 3 and children need to be at least 10. Our daughter spent an excellent week being spoilt by her Granny and Grandad as we bravely endured her absence, consoling ourselves as best we could with all the incredible food, wine and "us" time.
What else can I tell you about the room? Well, there was ample room for hanging clothes and storing bags, so much so that my wife and I did not have our usual tussle over who got how many coat hangers. The nightly turndown service was impeccable, as you would come back from dinner to find the bed turned down, the blinds drawn, the lights set just so, music playing and little kangaroo chocolates nestled on the bed. The room was very well air-conditioned, whether we wanted to heat or cool the room. I usually would not mention aircon as a feature, but at Southern Ocean Lodge this is very impressive as the Lodge is off grid and generates all its electricity using ingenious solar panels which track the sun. Other environmentally friendly technologies in use at the Lodge are heat pumps for the hot water system, a Building Management System to shut down unused parts of the building and water tanks in excess of 1.5 million litres, the aim being to be rainwater self-sufficient nine out of ten years.
The rainwater tanks remind me of another extraordinary design feature that the Lodge has; this is in relation to bushfires. The Lodge basically sits in the middle of the bush, and I have to say that the thought of a bush fire enveloping the resort is not a comfortable one. However, this eventuality has been well planned for. The perimeter of the Lodge has been cleared to provide a fire break, and within this area is a comprehensive sprinkler system. The water for fire fighting is kept in separate 2 million litre water tanks and is solely held for this purpose, no dipping into them for any reason.
But without a doubt my favourite safety measure is the hardened fireproof bunker. This is a room located underneath the Baudin Lounge, and is large enough to hold all the guests and staff. The Baudin Lounge is a comfortable media room filled with large sofas, a big movie screen, a reference library, beautiful artwork and fascinating local natural artifacts. My favourite comment from our stay came from Poppy who requested that, in the event that we had to head down to the shelter, if we could please pass by the open bar and grab a bottle of something to take down with us to share with the staff it would be very much appreciated. It was also suggested that the bunker would be the perfect place to ride out a zombie apocalypse.
The Dining Room
The dining room is a beautiful room, with its dark wooden floors, high ceiling, floor-to-ceiling windows and a curved limestone wall. The limestone wall is the work of the only stone mason on the island who, as it happens, also produces the marron that the Lodge uses in its kitchens. This close-knit relationship between the Kangaroo Island locals and the lodge is a strong theme, one of the best examples of which is that the local school supplies the kitchen with Barramundi that they grow in their re-circulating aquaculture system.
Every meal is an experience, and there is a strong emphasis on showcasing the best that Kangaroo Island and, more broadly, South Australia has to offer. The lodge is extremely proud of the fact that they source over 75% of their fresh produce (the seafood, chicken, eggs, meat, cheese, fruit, vegetables) from small-scale island producers with the remainder coming from South Australia. This focus on local fare culminates in some mouthwatering dishes bursting with flavour.
The first decision of the day is whether to have a fresh orange juice or the special juice of the day, sometimes beetroot red and sometimes forest green (apple, cucumber, mint, carrot). The second decision is coffee or tea, and if so, what type of coffee. The coffee at the Lodge deserves a special mention, as typically hotel coffee is pretty good but never quite as good as if you were to go to a coffee shop. However, Southern Ocean Lodge makes excellent coffee as good as any I have had anywhere.
With breakfast, there are an array of choices. There is a special of the day which, during our stay, included smashed avocado with feta, french toast with freeze-dried and fresh berries coated in King Island honey and halloumi and avocado fritters. If the special does not take your fancy, then the kitchen also makes a French omelette of the day, and for traditionalists, there is a choice of eggs on toast, muesli and pancakes. One of my heroes of the visit were the poached eggs; they were as close to perfect as I have ever had and their consistency was incredible. Apart from the cooked breakfast, there is a buffet of meats, cheeses, fruit and pastries set out along the back wall.
Each morning we made a point of heading out for a brisk 10km hike, the reason being twofold. Of course, we wanted to get out and take in the stunning scenery and wildlife surrounding the Lodge, but it was also just as much to walk off breakfast. As we knew that in only a few hours time we would be sitting down to a three-course lunch, we wanted to work up enough of an appetite to give it the attention it deserved. I always find food tastes better if you are hungry!
The lunch menu consists of a starter, a main and a dessert. For the main, there was always a choice of either seafood, meat or vegetarian. There was also the option at both lunch and dinner to choose from a standard menu which offered what I would call comfort food, such as soups and burgers. I have to say that the set menus were so appealing that at no stage were we tempted to forgo them in favour of the à la carte offerings. However, it is good to know that there are options which youngsters would enjoy or if you found yourself hankering for something quick or light.
Lunchtime was an excellent opportunity to sit out on the sun-drenched verandah and take in the sweeping ocean views. As far as our lunchtime choices went, we tended to gravitate towards the beautiful local seafood and a glass of wine, followed by one of the delicious desserts and a cup of coffee.
The veranda is split level: on the upper tier there is seating for dining, and on the lower, there are deckchairs to stretch out on, and if you get too hot, then there is the plunge pool to float in. We would often see groups of guests sitting out enjoying a drink at the end of the day before coming in for dinner.
After lunch, we would then get ready to take part in one of the daily excursions if one was scheduled. Otherwise, an afternoon siesta or visit to the spa was also on the cards, as it was safe to say that after lunch our enthusiasm for hiking or bike riding had substantially diminished.
As the sun sets on Kangaroo Island, it is time to head back into the Great Room to enjoy pre-dinner drinks and canapes served nightly from 6:30 to 7:30. Dusk is an extraordinary time of the day at the Lodge as you take in the last rays of light as they fall on the stunning vista only to be immersed in complete darkness.
Having enjoyed some pre-dinner refreshment, we were warmly greeted by Rachel, who asked after our day and showed us to our table. The dining room had been set for dinner with dark grey table cloths and flickering red candle holders. Dinner is four courses, starting with an amuse, then followed by a starter, main and dessert. All the courses are beautifully plated, and the freshness of the ingredients is palpable in every bite. You can see how much care and attention was given to the presentation of the oysters.
The night I took these pictures also happened to be the weekly dinner when the restaurant serves either locally sourced partridge or pheasant, below is a picture of the partridge. As you can see, the portions are a good size; however, if you were still hungry, you are very welcome to order sides such as chips, vegetables and salads from off the à la carte menu.
Service at dinner is beautifully paced, at no time do you feel as if you are being rushed through your courses, and conversely there was no point during our stay when I was left wondering when the next course would be appearing or when my glass would be topped up. The restaurant has a warm, friendly feel, on most nights it was half full so there was a comfortable sense of bustle and conversation without it being crowded or noisy. After dinner, we had the choice of either relaxing in the Great Room in front of the open fireplace or heading back to our room, not forgetting to pick up a nightcap on the way.
The walking trails surrounding the Lodge are a mix of the Lodge's private tracks and the public Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail. On our first morning, we talked to reception about where we should start our exploration and were provided with a map and a wealth of advice. We were also offered a packed lunch, water and even a satellite phone in case we got into trouble.
There are two main walking loops; the westerly one takes you out to Cape Younghusband, and the easterly takes you around Hanson Bay. The westerly loop offers excellent views out to Remarkable Rocks and is a 9km circuit. The 7 km easterly loop takes you down onto Hanson Bay Beach, a stunning sheltered public beach where you can swim. If you are looking at going further afield, you can arrange with the Lodge to be dropped off at either Remarkable Rocks or Kelly Hill; these are 13 and 12-kilometre walks which will take between 4 to 5 hours to complete.
The first walk we took was the eastern one down onto the Lodge's private beach and across to Hanson Bay beach. The terrain is a mixture of rocks and sand, and I recommend taking a good pair of walking shoes with you. The paths are easy to follow and clean of leaf litter and debris, so we felt confident that we were not going to step on any scaly friends. This was important, as one of Kangaroo Island's two native snakes is the Black Tiger Snake. In fact, on both our 10-kilometre walks we did not see any snakes but what we did come across was a magnificent wedge-tailed eagle perched practically above our heads, which was the highlight of self-guided adventures.
The Hanson Bay walk was particularly memorable as at one point we had to climb into a boat and pull ourselves across a small river, which was good fun. However, as we must have been walking in the opposite direction to the one that the powers that be who had planned the King Island Wilderness Walk had anticipated, it was only when we reached the opposite side of the river that we saw the mandatory health and safety sign. The sign was a litany of dos and don'ts for using the boat, and it is safe to say that I failed in all the dos and managed most of the don'ts, but we did not fall in or sink so no harm no foul.
It was on our walk out to Cape Younghusband that we encountered the most common reptile on the island, the goanna lizard. We had previously seen plenty of evidence of them on our first walk as the paths were peppered with the openings to their burrows and we had seen tracks from their tails on the sandy parts of the trail. Initially, we thought that these were snake tracks but we were very happy to learn from Poppy that they were not. Less comforting was Poppy's advice that if we did encounter a goanna then it was best that we move around a lot as otherwise they might mistake us for a tree and try to climb up us. It is safe to say that the last thing I wanted was one climbing up my leg.
We thoroughly enjoyed our hiking, and it was one of the highlights of the stay. To be able to get out and immerse ourselves in the beautiful fauna and flora of Kangaroo Island was both relaxing and exhilarating; we came away with a thorough appreciation for why Kangaroo Island is often referred to as the Galapagos of Australia.
The SOL day spa is situated in its own building just off of the resort, with views out over the west of the island. The spa offers a wide range of treatments incorporating their amazing oils and products.
My wife and I opted to have a couple's massage at the same time in the same treatment room but chose different massages; I went for a firmer deep tissue massage while my wife enjoyed a hot stones massage. We were warmly welcomed upon our arrival and invited to shower and undress using the private changing room. Once we were robed and ready, we were shown to the sauna room in which to unwind before our massage. The massages were amazing, and a blissful hour later my wife and I were left to sip herbal tea and contemplate the stunning view from our loungers in the post-treatment room.
I must say that leaving day came as quite a shock to the psyche as, after five days and four nights of having had every aspect of our existence impeccably taken care of by someone else, we had to readjust to doing things for ourselves. After enjoying our last breakfast, we whiled away a happy hour gift shopping in the Lodge's boutique shop. Having chosen our mementos and thankyou presents they were whisked away to be gift wrapped and delivered to our room. All the guests who were checking out gathered by the front entrance and Poppy drove us back to the airport to catch our flight back to Adelaide.
An extremely considerate feature that Southern Ocean Lodge provides at the airport is a private lounge for guests. It is chock full of all the drinks and snacks that we had enjoyed during our stay and can best be described as an airlock back to the real world.
Well, that pretty much sums up one of the most incredible holidays I have ever enjoyed. So whether you are an international traveller looking to experience Australia for the first time, or you are an Australian looking for a luxurious local getaway, I can honestly say that a visit to Southern Ocean Lodge will leave you feeling rejuvenated and inspired to see more of this incredible continent. If you would like to find out more, here are the Lodge's contact details. Otherwise, as always, you are very welcome to leave a question in the comments section below, and I will do my best to provide an intelligible answer.
RESERVATIONS & SALES
PO Box 596
Avalon NSW 2107 Australia
T (61) 02 9918 4355
F (61) 02 9918 4381
SOUTHERN OCEAN LODGE
Hanson Bay Road
Kingscote SA 5223 Australia
T (61) 08 8559 7347
F (61) 08 8559 7350
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