Separated from the Australian mainland by a 45-minute ferry ride with SeaLink, Kangaroo Island remains one of the last areas of this vast country to retain its totally indigenous nature. And it's prompted the tourism folks to 'sell' the destination with high expectations akin to the Galapagos. Bad move!
In any event, although Kangaroo Island doesn't have the giant iguanas and tortoises of the Galapagos, it does offer wildlife encounters with kangaroos, koalas, and echidnas, spectacular scenery, outback country, forests of bushland and extraordinary coastlines.
And unlike the Galapagos wilderness, Kangaroo Island also has enough development to support a growing tourism industry. In fact, there's quite a built up community which at first blush, is rather off putting to the bill of sale. However, there's still enough of the Aussie outback to make a trip worthwhile, and exploring it in 4 x 4 land cruisers or in 20-passenger busses built to navigate the largely unpaved, gravelly roads, is a lot of fun. To date, accommodation has been limited to B&Bs and the Aurora Ozone hotel in Kingscote, so the arrival of the Great Ocean Lodge, a luxurious, boutique retreat lodge has been a careful, and sometimes controversial, journey.
Surrounded by Wilderness
Built into a ridge on the southeastern tip of ruggedly scenic cliffs, looking out over the Southern Ocean, and nestled amid almost 1,000 acres of preserved bushland, it is completely surrounded by wildenerness. Wall windows dominate the low-level architecture and boardwalks lead through the scrubby land to cliffside walks, star-watching platforms, and a small spa pavilion where the glass walls feel as if you're undressing outdoors, and lying on the massage table is like being cosseted on a cloud hovering above the low-lying green canopy.
Although prices - which are on the hefty side starting at $990 for a standard room per night - are all inclusive of fabulous accommodation, terrific meals and a help yourself wine cellar (featuring only regional wines,) spa treatments are extra. Service costs are on par with BIG-city fees (eg: AU$190 for a 75-minute facial; AU$230 for a massage) but these are Aussie dollars and as with the rest of Australia, tipping is not expected. Jet lag had me opt for a straight forward body massage. It was as good as any I've had before though the surroundings scooped it up a couple of bonus points. And I really enjoyed trying out the Litya products, the spa's signature organic line which is derived from indigenous products such as Lillypilly, Wild Rosella, Lemon Myrtle, Wattleseed and Kakadu Plum.
WildLife Close Encounters
You come here for the wildlife. Mobs of kangaroos graze freely on grassy meadows, often in their hundreds. Blue bellied fairy penguins are a treat to watch, especially when parents return from a day at sea to waddle up from the beach to find their hungry youngsters in nests crowded among the rocky shoreline. Koalas sleep in the crooks of gum trees with infants clinging to their bellies. Then there are the echidnas, the wedgetail eagle, and most especially, the australian sea lions lolling on vast expanses of beach - exhausted after spending up to 60, non-stop hours at sea.
Island guides are informed, passionate and enthusiastic and I have come away knowing more about the life of a kangaroo than I ever thought possible. Kangaroos are, perhaps, one of nature's smartest animals; a mother is able to nurture three offspring simultaneously: one by her side, one in the pouch, and a fetus ready to go for up to a year with the ability to terminate the latter two in adverse conditions such as drought or famine!
MY LAST WORD
Southern Australia is a destination unto itself, so my advice is not to skimp on time. I stayed a week in the Adelaide area, including Kangaroo Island and the wine-country of Borassa Valley, before hopping on the India Pacific Train bound for Sydney. And every day was adventure-packed.