Luxury break on Kangaroo Island

STEPHANIE HOLMES
Last updated 05:00 22/12/2013
Kangaroo Island

CREATURE COMFORTS: Abundant and unusual wildlife, from Ligurian bees to Australian sea lions, calls Kangaroo Island home.

Kangaroo Island
TOURIST DESTINATION: Remarkable Rocks, South Australia.

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By all accounts, Lucy Edwards was a formidable woman. Famous in local folklore, the Australian of Eastern European descent moved to Kangaroo Island after marrying island resident Clem.

In the 1940s, Clem bought 800 hectares of remote "farmland" for £500. There was one big drawback - he had to clear the dense scrub himself.

After two years of solitary living and hard graft, he went back to Adelaide to find himself a wife. Lucy was keen, but only if Clem built her a cottage on the land. He did, they moved back together and lived alone on the isolated farmland until 1951 when their son Robert was born.

Just three years later, Clem died. But rather than moving straight back to the mainland, Lucy stubbornly stayed, living alone in the cottage with her young son.

Their two-room abode had no electricity, no running water, a dirt floor and, on their land at the western end of this rugged island, only the local wildlife for company.

Each day Robert would walk an hour up the driveway, then travel for an hour on the bus to get to school. Repeating the journey to come home, he would then spend his evenings helping Lucy with the farm.

Turning 18, Robert told his mother he'd met a girl he wanted to marry and would be moving out. Lucy refused, demanding her son stay with her.

But Robert left anyway, leaving his mother livid - apparently if anyone ever mentioned Robert's name, Lucy would spit on the floor... whether she was inside or out.

The pair didn't speak again until the 1980s when Lucy asked Robert if he would like to buy the property from her.

He declined so Lucy donated it to the Kangaroo Island National Parks and Wildlife trust, which is how I come to be standing on the porch of her cottage, with a glass of South Australian red wine in my hand.

The visit is part of the "Kangaroos and Kanapes" tour, offered by luxury island resort Southern Ocean Lodge.

At twilight, we've left the comforts of the lodge behind and headed down the bumpy dirt track to get a glimpse of the island's multiple marsupials as they venture out into the open at dusk.

While the kangaroos munch on grass, we nibble on chips, cheese and crackers and drink some top-quality drops from the lodge's wine collection, while Bronwyn, one of SOL's resident guides, recounts the Edwards' story.

Like Lucy's Grassdale property, Southern Ocean Lodge is completely isolated on the rugged coastline of this beautiful island escape. But, where Lucy had nothing, SOL has everything you could hope for and so much more.

The five-star luxury retreat is owned by James and Hayley Baillie, who are world-renowned for their portfolio of paradise properties.

The Baillie collection also features Capella Lodge on Lord Howe Island, and this year they added Longitude 131 - the luxury tents favoured by Oprah and her entourage when they visited Uluru in 2010. Altogether the properties have collectively won more than 20 awards.

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Sitting high on the cliff top overlooking Hanson Bay, the lodge was designed to effortlessly fit into its natural surrounds. Entering through security gates and travelling up the winding driveway, you'd have no idea of the view ready to meet you at the top.

Walk through the heavy wooden doors and superlatives will flow thick and fast. Stepping into the circular reception and down to the Great Room, it's a vision of perfection.

"Welcome, come and take a seat in front of our wide-screen TV," says Ashley, one of the lodge's consummately professional staff. He's of course referring to the jaw-dropping 240-degree panoramic view of Hanson Bay and the Southern Ocean, relentlessly rolling in and out, below.

There are inviting seating options aplenty - window seats, banquettes, and a favoured spot in front of the ceiling-hanging, revolving fireplace. The open bar has every variety of wine, beer, spirit, liqueur and soft drink you could think of and guests are encouraged - expected, even - to help themselves, day or night. Best of all? It's all included in the nightly tariff.

It wouldn't be out of place if the lodge doors opened and a choir of angels began to sing to herald your arrival - it's as if all your needs and desires have been taken care of, without you even having to ask.

After a glass of bubbles - "Of course it's not too early!" Ashley proclaims when I express indecision - and a plate of delicate salmon and cucumber sandwiches - no crusts, naturally - I'm shown to my room.

The accommodation wing, comprising 21 suites, undulates with the topography of the clifftop so from a distance they almost blend in to the background.

The long corridor winds gently down the cliff, with each room named after one of the more than 80 shipwrecks that have occurred off the coast.

The suites all face out to sea with unobstructed views of the Southern Ocean - there's nothing but a vast expanse of water stretching from here to the Antarctic. Each room has a large open deck, where you can sit and watch the dramatically crashing surf and contemplate life, the universe, everything.

There's no TV in the room - you can request one but, for me, the view is entertainment enough. And everything has been taken care of to make you feel right at home - from the glossy magazines and books on the coffee table, to the mini-bar stocked with South Australian goodies that are all included in your room rate.

It's so cosy and compelling you'd be forgiven for choosing to spend your whole stay snuggled up in your room. But there's too much to do on the island to simply hibernate alone.

Excursions are included in the tariff, too, so there's no excuse not to get out and see the world outside the lodge's gates. As well as the Kangaroos and Kanapes tour, I head out with Gaynor of Exceptional Kangaroo Island Tours, whose knowledge of the area is exemplary.

She has been on the island for 37 years and says she loves its supportive community. One-third of the 150x90-kilometre island is national park and the wildlife is in abundance. We head to Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary and take a walk under towering eucalyptus trees home to snoozing koalas.

Eighteen koalas were introduced to Kangaroo Island in 1923, Gaynor tells us.

By 2000, their numbers had increased to 30,000. We spot kangaroos and galahs, wedge-tailed eagles and Tammar wallabies, before making our way further round the coast to Flinders Chase National Park where we delight in watching New Zealand fur seal pups frolicking in the choppy waters; then Remarkable Rocks - an intriguing collection of precariously balanced granite boulders covered in orange lichen.

On another tour later that afternoon, we get up close to the island's population of sea lions at Seal Bay. About 1000 Australian sea lions use this beach - the world's third largest colony of the mammals.

These are the rarest sea lions in the world, thanks to being hunted to near extinction in the 19th century, so there are of course strict regulations for viewing them. But even so, we get up closer than I ever imagined possible, while our informative and enthusiastic guide makes sure the animals aren't distressed by our presence.

Back at the lodge, there are also guided walks around the property or, if that sounds too much like hard work, you can just take it easy at the on-site Southern Spa. My massage takes place in a room looking out to the ocean and the rhythmic motion of the treatment reflects the hypnotic roll of the waves.

Aside from the view and the abundant wildlife, the star of Southern Ocean Lodge is the food. Executive chef Tim Bourke is passionate about the quality of the local produce and changes his three-course lunch and dinner menus daily, using whatever is in season and what he can source from nearby suppliers.

Local specialties include Ligurian honey - the world's only pure strain of Ligurian bees is endemic to Kangaroo Island - lamb, pork, and, of course, bountiful seafood.

Combine these delights with the lodge's wine room, where you can help yourself from floor-to-ceiling shelves of premium bottles of every variety to complement your meal, and SOL is a gourmet paradise.

After my final dinner of meltingly tender pork belly which has been cooked for eight hours and falls apart at one touch, I help myself to a tawny port from the open bar and settle in beside the fireplace, watching the darkness settle over the sea.

The real world seems very far away and I feel like I've been in my Kangaroo Island cocoon for weeks. In reality it has been two days. That's the beauty of an exclusive getaway, I suppose. All the tiny details have been taken care of, so all you need to do is sit back and relax.

Sadly, life can't be like this every day but my little slice of southern luxury will be forever etched on my memory. Now I can understand why Lucy Edwards was so reluctant to leave.

- Sunday Star Times

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