RUNNER-UP: ABOVE AND BEYOND – SMITH HOTEL AWARDS 2015
Kangaroo Island boutique hotel Southern Ocean Lodge is an airily designed aerie perched on scrub-covered dunes high above the sea. Here you’ll embrace the outdoors, whether you’re outside with the kangaroos and seals in Australia’s answer to the Galapagos or protected from the elements inside the hotel’s calming interiors with spectacular coastal views.
10.30am, but flexible subject to availability. Check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from $1371.65 (AU$2,000), excluding tax at 10 per cent.
Rates include all meals, open bar with premium wine and spirits, in-suite bar, selected Kangaroo Island experiences and island airport transfers.
Backed by an impressive limestone wall and with imported Roman floor tiles, the multi-faceted lobby area has something for everyone. The bar and restaurant occupy a large part of it, but there’s also a walk-in wine cellar in-the-round, a shop selling local produce, arts and crafts, a sunken lounge area with a too-cool French fireplace suspended from the ceiling, racks of quirky books and hip magazines, and an outdoor extension with a plunge pool.
At the hotel
Destination spa, wine cellar, library lounge with board games and DVDs, mountain bikes. In rooms: free WiFi, sound system with MP3 input, minibar, Li’Tya toiletries and outdoor terrace with day-bed. Selected suites have flatscreen TVs, DVD players and EcoSmart fires.
Our favourite rooms
There are five grades of rooms here and unsurprisingly, top dog, the super-private Osprey Suite, is the pick of the bunch. Jaw-dropping views, separate sunken lounge, freestanding oval handmade stone bath and terrace spa, plus state-of-the-art audiovisual gadgets (including a laptop). On a more affordable tip, we also love the 11 Flinders Suites (which have dreamy day-beds for terrace chilling), and five Ocean Retreats (with fabulous freestanding tubs and fireplaces).
No full-size pool, but there’s an infinity-edge plunge pool outside on the terrace by the restaurant, plus hot tubs in the Remarkable Suites and Osprey Pavilion. A short walk away, Hanson Bay has consistent surf for a rough-and-tumble swim.
Leave your ego at home. Sure, you’re paying for the privilege of being here (and it is a privilege), but management takes a first-name-basis approach, and the vibe is casual and unfussed. Don’t expect to hear any obsequious ‘sirs’ or ‘ma’ms’.
There’s a minimum two-night stay. Multi-night packages are available, incorporating day-spa treatments, room upgrades and private island charter tours.
Only kids over 10 years old are allowed; extra beds can be provided for AU$600 a person (with a minimum of two guests in each room).
Southern Ocean Lodge is an eco-attuned operator. It’s rainwater reliant, with breezeway ventilation, and an advanced greywater/compost recycling system. A solar power system is also planned and the lodge runs local environmental projects.
Any of the six window-side seats lets you soak up that incredible unfettered view. On a warm night, try the sea-air-kissed terrace.
Organic linen separates in soothing neutrals will blend well with the photoshoot-fit lodge backdropped by nature.
Head chef Asher Blackford champions local produce, using grain-fed beef from south Australia and free-range lamb and chicken from Kangaroo Island in the five-course tasting menu or four-course à la carte – washed down with carefully chosen local wines. Dishes change with the season, but former highlights include king crab-dressed salad, house-made gnocchi with foraged samphire and a fine local cheese plate with sheep's milk manchego. Dine inside in the soothing restaurant or outdoors on the viewtastic deck. Anglers, if you manage to snare something yourself from Hanson Bay, they will also gladly fillet and cook your catch.
The open-plan bar in the Great Room is a curved wonder next to the restaurant. There’s not just a spectacular view to drink up for free – there’s also wine, beer and cocktails at your disposal. Aside from the premium list (which includes Penfolds’ Grange, Bollinger and Henschke’s Hill of Grace), alcohol is included in rates.
Breakfast anytime from 7.30am to 10am; lunch from 12.30pm to 2.30pm; dinner from 7pm to 9pm, with pre-dinner cocktails and canapés at the bar.
Light snacks are available on request and minibars come well stocked.
Southern Ocean Lodge is located on Kangaroo Island’s south-west coast at Hanson Bay. Kangaroo Island is 15km off the mainland of South Australia.
Fly to Adelaide Airport then catch a quick 30-minute connection to Kangaroo Island Kingscote Airport, where the hotel even has its own sumptuous lounge. Arriving guests should note that there is a 15kg luggage limit a person on flights into Kangaroo Island, however excess baggage can be stored at Adelaide Airport for a small fee. Private charter flights are also available from the General Aviation Terminal at Adelaide Airport to Kingscote Airport or Snug Cove Airfield. From the airport on Kangeroo Island, it's a 30-minute drive to the Lodge. Our Smith24 of travel experts are on hand round the clock to book your flights.
Many mainland car hire companies have restrictions regarding their vehicles being driven on Kangaroo Island and/or boarding the ferry, so it’s best to hire a car when you arrive. There are rental desks at the airport and the ferry terminal. Our Smith24 can arrange a set of wheels for you to pick up at the airport.
SeaLink operates regular 45-minute ferry transfers between Cape Jervis on the mainland and Penneshaw on Kangaroo Island. Opting to take the ferry means guests can choose to take their own wheels. Cape Jervis is a scenic two hour drive from Adelaide and once you land at Penneshaw it’s a 90-minute drive to the Lodge.
Worth getting out of bed for
KI’s wildlife is world class, and if you’ve never seen a kangaroo, wallaby, echidna, possum, koala, goanna or New Zealand fur seal before, this is your chance. Flinders Chase and Kelly Hill National Parks offer a wealth of animal-watching activities. Try a trip to nearby Seal Bay to see its sea lion colony or opt for a Kangas & Kanapés sunset session and sip bubbly while you eyeball those bouncing critters. Go for a private, personally-guided wild walk, or a self-guided tour on the series of loop trails around the island; options range from a seven kilometre loop to a half-day trek. If you'd rather just chill out nearer to home, then head for the inhouse Southern Spa Retreat, perched on a secluded cliff separated from the main lodge by a long, wiggly boardwalk. A circular-plan building, its rooms peel off like orange segments, each with its own massage table, steam room, rainshower or relaxation area. Drawing on Australian heritage, the spa makes use of acclaimed Dreamtime-inspired Li'Tya spa treatment products and Aboriginal massage techniques. For a local flavour, island-produced natural beauty ingredients are a star attraction, too, including Bay of Shoals Mineral Salts, Australian pink clay, eucalyptus, lavender and Ligurian honey. Start in the steam room and wrap up with a rainshower to emerge refreshed and reinvigorated. If the super-fresh sea air hasn't already soothed away your stress!
Southern Ocean Lodge's restaurant is the island's top dining spot, and with all meals included you may not want to venture elsewhere. If you're en route to or from the hotel, though, it's worth checking out the local seafood. Marron are freshwater crayfish (technically Cherax cainii), a species from Western Australia that has been introduced to Kangaroo Island for commercial farming. The Marron Café(+61 (0)8 8559 4128) – pretty much in the geographic centre of the island – is the place to try some. Like crayfish and lobster it’s a delicate taste, enhanced by the array of preparations the kitchen here comes up with. There’s also a cellar door for Two Wheeler Creek Wines here. Open daily from 11am to 4.30pm at Harriet Road, off Playford Highway.
The casual, open-sided Rock Pool Café (+61 (0)8 8559 2277) might be open when you visit, or it might not – it runs on a bit of a whim, and is usually closed in winter, but when it is open you can bet the cheery chef will be cooking something local for lunch (seafood more often than not). The coffee’s not bad either. Find it at Foreshore, Stokes Bay, on the island's north shore.
Penneshaw Hotel (+61 (0)8 8553 1042) on the corner of North Terrace and Thomas Wilson Street is a rough-and-tumble fishermen’s boozer that’s had a makeover. It’s reliable for a pub lunch, a low-key dinner of King George whiting or kangaroo sausages, or a quick beer while you wait for the ferry to Cape Jervis.
The local at the airport car rental asked where we were heading. ‘Southern Ocean Lodge,’ I replied. ‘Lucky bastards,’ he said. Ten minutes later, driving through the rolling hills, our serenity was shattered by some crazy hoon tooting and flashing his headlights. Was it a demented yokel going all Deliverance on us? Nope, it was the car-rental guy, pulling alongside at 80km an hour and shouting out the window that we’d left the Kangaroo Island map on his counter. ‘You’ll need it,’ he yelled, flapping it out the window more dangerously than Paris Hilton’s eyelashes on Spring Break. Given that there’s only two main roads on the island this seemed unnecessary, but it came to reflect the unique, nothing’s-too-much trouble character of the place.
Now with map, we continued through a spookily sexy forest and were suddenly upon the lodge. Bounding down the walkway came manager Ben, who gave Mrs Smith and I the sort of heartfelt welcome we’d expect at a mate’s place. His mesmerisingly sweet wife Louise helped with the bags. Marcus parked the car. Ree offered cold towels, and the chef waved from the kitchen. We’d been there two minutes and already we knew everyone.
The lodge doors opened to the limestone-wrapped Great Room and its IMAX-sized view. Before us were craggy cliffs dropping to beaches as white as Brad Pitt’s smile (and just as shallow) and lapped by the porn-star-eye-shadow-blue waters of the Southern Ocean. A glass of champagne and a salmon finger sandwich later, we trailed down the long corridor (we later dubbed it Dead Man Walking for its length and the nightly journey to an abundance of food), past rooms named after different local shipwrecks until we reached ours, Vale. ‘Went down twice in one night,’ Ben said reverentially. ‘If only,’ I thought.
Our room, an Ocean Retreat, was like a luxe beach shack, open-plan with endless windows. The timber bed rested on a cosy carpeted floor, which segued into heated limestone then a huge bathroom and Pavarottisized rain shower. Down a few steps was a generous lounge room complete with books, music, home-made lamingtons and an eco-fire. This was a room designed by someone who not only has great style, but also lives like a normal person.
Even at the fanciest-schmanciest hotels, the food can be blah, but that night at dinner Mrs Smith and I thought we’d discovered the world’s greatest unsung chef. Matthew Upson’s food was simple and honest, impeccably cooked with an inspired imagination. And no request was too great. Mrs Smith didn’t feel like steak so they did her a fish. I didn’t feel like a souffle so they did me a Sixties-style Milo and ice-cream – and then asked me if I’d like them to mush it up! Even worse, I let them.
We were also surprised to fi nd just how much of the menu came from the island: honey from the local Ligurian bees, lamb from a farm up the road, greens from the market garden over the hill. When I said I wanted the barramundi I assumed it would be an import, but our waiter explained that the local high school had established a barramundi farm. The under-rated benefits of living somewhere where there’s not much for kids to do...
Up early the next day, I drew a bath in the two-person tub, pouring in a cocktail of all the local salts on offer. In a lavender-honey-vanilla daze, I read the in-room book about our shipwreck, and gazed out the window at two eagles nesting in our midst. I’m not really a wildlife junkie, so when I wound up the platypus bath toy I thought that was probably as close to nature as I’d get. At that moment, in the waves right outside, I saw two pods of frolicking dolphins. I immediately woke Mrs Smith who sprang out of bed and onto the terrace. ‘Where,’ she cried. ‘Near that whale?’ And she wasn’t joking.
Like the lodge itself, Kangaroo Island is all about the environment, so we’d organised a morning tour to see it all, including the Henry Moore-like Remarkable Rocks, a seal colony, a ‘rare breeds’ farm and a truly extraordinary native bush garden. Again, everyone was so unbelievably friendly and happy to see us. It was like The Stepford Wives, but with more dirt. After lunch on the deck it was time to rub the city out of my neck. The spa, on a nearby cliff, delivered a serene massage using local eucalyptus oils that began with an indigenous Dreamtime technique and a welcoming cleansing of smouldering gum leaves in a bowl. I was initially sceptical, but it was performed with such soul I was completely converted.
Over sunset drinks in the lounge, the staff’s real pride in the place shone through. One knew the guy who carved the sculpture, another knew the names of all the wildfl owers out the window. Lovable nerds, all of them, but real people and that was the secret for making everyone – the chic industrialists from Milan, the cheerily loud Californians, the super-stylish Poms and a diverse array of Aussies – feel so at ease. Back in the room we slipped into the alpaca slippers and snuggled up with chunky woven rugs. The whole place is just so frigging tactile. Then there are all the tiny details that make it perfect, even in the smallest room: the leather toilet-roll holder, mood lighting and timber shelves complete with glass sculpture and a 1974 copy of Dinkum Aussie Dunnies with the real inscription ‘happy birthday darling Kaye, love Nanna’. This is as special a place as I’ve stayed in Australia, a new benchmark in how a hotel should not only look, but also feel. The staff made it lovable, the rooms made it liveable and the island made it memorable. As we were leaving, I annoyingly triple-checked with Mrs Smith to see if we had everything. ‘No,’ she replied. ‘I’m going back to steal the hair dryer. Best hotel hair ever.’ She was joking …ish.
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