Lucy Jones hops over to Kangaroo Island and discovers a unique natural wonderland that’s a true feast for the senses
The Ramindjeri name for Kangaroo Island, Karta, translates to Island of the Dead, but with all due respect to its traditional owners, I’m thinking Gateway to Heaven might be a better description.
Australia’s third largest island after Tasmania and Melville, Kangaroo Island – or KI as it’s known locally – is lush and green, a natural wonderland fringed by tiny arcs of beach and icy blue ocean stretching to the horizon.
Just 4,500 people are lucky enough to live on this little slice of nirvana, although you hardly ever see them.
What you do see, however, is plenty of its namesake marsupials. The native kangaroos here are smaller and stockier than on the mainland, with chocolate brown fur and sooty black paws, and spend much of their time napping in the shade.
Kangaroo Island Odysseys is waiting for us at Kingscote Airport after our short Qantas flight from Adelaide. The company operates multi-day food and wine tours around the island, giving visitors an authentic taste of the produce that defines this wonderful destination.
Our home for the next few nights is LifeTime Private Retreats, a collection of five secluded houses on the north shore of the island, around an hour from the main town of Kingscote.
Each home is different in style, from a sleek contemporary four-bedroom to a Mediterranean-style villa and a magical one-bedroom artist’s retreat. I check in to the Settlers Homestead, a rustic-chic country farmhouse with three ensuite bedrooms and stunning views out over the valley.
This home is located just behind the picturesque Snellings Beach. The water is crystal clear, tropical almost – until I put my feet in. It’s bitingly cold, although I’m told it warms up over the summer a tad.
The property is run by Nick Hannaford, who grew up on the island and has an abiding passion for it. All of LifeTime Private Retreat’s homes have fully equipped kitchens or Hannaford can arrange for a caterer to make breakfast, lunch and dinner (and even clean up after) if you so choose.
Our first meal is suitably magical, served beneath vibrant green boughs of the Enchanted Fig Tree. The tree was planted by the island’s early colonial settlers and, over the years, has been shaped into a living dining room.
The food is as impressive as the setting, with a multi-course menu of local delights like scallop ceviche, squid flash-fried in polenta and smoked beef ribs. We also get our first taste of gin from Kangaroo Island Spirits, a special blend made just for LifeTime Private Retreats using a wild coastal daisy called olearia.
There are many more exceptional meals to come, served in different venues around the property. We eat a Greek-style feast in the Beach Taverna, once a family boatshed.
Fat prawns are grilled over an open flame, creamy taramasalata accompanies a bright quinoa salad, and lamb chops are cooked over a fire made only of newspaper – a Hannaford family signature dish. A simple roast chicken and crispy potatoes is the ideal dinner for the rustic Shearing Shed.
Though I would quite happily hide away at LifeTime, spending the day reading by the window or walking on the beach, there’s much more to see on KI.
There are a dozen wineries on the island with about 200 hectares under vines. At The Islander Estate Vineyards, a private lunch is set up for us in between its huge concrete wine vats.
Chef Sue Pearson from 2 Birds and a Squid catering company serves up fresh KI oysters, sheep haloumi, King George whiting and a lemon delicious pudding. While we eat, kelpie collies Jill and Brix nap contentedly on the concrete outside. They don’t look too active, but we’re told they are a most effective pest control system and will run down anything from a mouse to a wallaby.
There’s time for a stop at Kangaroo Island Spirits for more of their award-winning gin. The spirits are distilled with native juniper foraged on the island or local mulberries, and there’s a range of flavoured liqueurs to try as well. The tours also include visits to Island Pure Sheep Dairy and Island Beehive to sample some more of the KI’s acclaimed produce.
On our final morning, a spectacular Moroccan breakfast is served on the terrace of LifeTime Private Retreat’s Cliff House overlooking the beach. The home looks like it belongs in the hills above Los Angeles, with its all-white walls, circular bedroom and 1970s-vibe conversation pit.
Vibrantly yellow eggs, creamy fetta, crispy bacon and fresh herbs are served with an endless stream of sweet mint tea. The sun is shining, the sea is impossibly blue, and this ancient Island of the Dead is very much alive and thriving.