“Eh, don’t worry. He didn’t feel anything,” said my driver after a few thunk-thunks in the road turned out to be my first ever road-kill experience. I had just spent an ungodly number of hours on an airplane, making this round-the-globe trek to Kangaroo Island, off the southern coast of Australia. To make matters worse, we had hit a wallabee. A (formerly) very cute wallabee! I was freaked out. Our driver, however, remained unfazed, because, as I was to find out during my three-day stay on this 1,700- square-mile island, the real traffic here is animal traffic, not human or automotive.
Forty-five minutes after the aforementioned incident, and thankfully without further incident, I arrived at my destination: Southern Ocean Lodge. It had opened its doors just a week before, and was billed as the first luxury wilderness resort on the island. Its location couldn’t be more dramatic—a cliff on the southwest coast of the island, hovering above the Southern Ocean—and each of the 21 rooms (all named for shipwrecks that occurred around the island) had ocean views. Even from the bathrooms.
None of this was evident when I arrived in the dark of night. What I did see was a huge circular lobby area—a truly “great room”—furnished with stylishly simple pieces upholstered in zen tones of white and off-white, that appealed to my design editor sensibility. There was plenty of room to spread out and read a book or a magazine, perhaps around the groovy modern fireplace, or at the long bar.
I walked down a long wood-planked breezeway to my room, named “Mars.” The manager pointed out the details—from the lack of room keys (they’re available if you want to use them, but nobody does), the king-sized bed covered in Italian cotton sheets, the very “Rhoda” step-down lounging area with curved sofa and glass coffee table, the heated floor and the closet thoughtfully appointed with not just the usual robe, but slippers, aluminum water flasks, and backpacks. Every single detail reinforced the ecologically conscious modernist theme—from the recycled timber floors to the local limestone used in floors and walls, to the super-cool Eva Solo containers for the local lavender hand wash.
There’s a big eco story here, although that, like so much on this island, isn’t immediately obvious. The Lodge, which took 14 months to build, sits on a 254-acre site. Yet only one hectare was cleared to build it; the remaining 102 were put in a Heritage Agreement to protect against future development. The lodge site was chosen because it had the least amount of vegetation to clear, since coastal erosion had already created some bald spots, and the vegetation that was cleared was minimized by using existing fire trails or tracks.
The building itself is the work of Australian architect Max Pritchard and was designed to take advantage of the weather patterns here, including flow-through ventilation (a.k.a.: fresh air galore) and glazing to capture sunlight and store natural heat. A “Bioltix Filter System” converts organic waste, wastewater, and sewage to clean irrigation water, which is then used on the native plantings that surround the lodge. Water is collected from all roof surfaces and stored in tanks that have a total capacity of over 396,000 gallons.
Morning brought the stunning views I had heard about. The sky was a gorgeous shade of orange-pink. The Southern Ocean rippled, a bit choppy. Thus began day one of my “three-day-experience” program, tailored to suit the interests of each guest. It should be noted that while the lodge offers a variety of outings from honey tastings to seal watching, guests are just as welcome to do absolutely nothing. The cost of accommodation is all inclusive of meals.
I, however, didn’t come this far to do nothing. And this island, which boasts 21 national and conservation parks, 267 species of birds, and 891 types of native plants has much more to offer than you’d expect. My three days were packed with various expeditions arranged by a tour operator called Exceptional Kangaroo Island. On my list: check out the 500-million-year-old Remarkable Rocks (they are indeed remarkable); taste local honey made by Ligurian bees (found nowhere else on the planet); discover some local olive oils; fish on a secluded beach (and catch nothing but enjoy the views); enjoy a delicious lunch in the bush; sip local wines at sunset while watching kangaroos frolic; spot the ever-evasive Echidna; and get up close (well, as close as we were allowed to get) and personal with wild seals. I even saw a koala or two and can confirm that they’re even cuter live than in pictures.
It was gorgeous, informative, and so exhausting (in a good way) that I fell asleep during my fabulously aromatic spa treatment: the Ligurian Honey and Almond Polish. The Southern Spa is housed in a separate, round structure, just a short fragrant walk from the Lodge, and its menu features several treatments using local ingredients (other treatments are done with Lit’ya products). My treatment started with the Bay of Shoals Mineral Salt exfoliation, followed by a scrub made of that famous Ligurian honey, ground almonds, and warm water. I had to wake up to shower off while watching waves crash along the craggy shoreline, then return to the table for a massage using local lavender essential oil. The room smelled delicious afterwards, and my skin felt divine.
At this point in my story, you just might be wondering if there were any downsides to the experience. Just a couple. The wireless internet at the lodge was spotty at best. The food was fabulous, using all locally grown ingredients, and the dinner menu changed daily. There were drawbacks to that, since the menu was small and very specific, and there were times when I would have liked more options or even an always-available basic, like a burger. But that’s it.
This Land of Oz, unlike its fictional sister, was no fantasy land. While it might have seemed like a dream at times, it was gorgeously real (and sometimes a bit surreal). I can’t wait to go back. www.southernoceanlodge.com.au
Rates start at $900 Australian per night (about $836 USD at the time of this writing) with a minimum two-night stay. Rates include breakfast, lunch, and four-course dinner, select alcoholic and all non-alcoholic beverages, airport transfers, and guided adventures and experiences.