Bringing the Island Back Onshore
For years, Kangaroo Island has had a reputation for growing some of the best produce on earth.
And for years, most of that product has been shipped off the island – exported to mainland destinations, or internationally into markets like Japan and China where labels listing organic and non-GMO origin can attract a premium price.
For chefs on the island, there was little leftover. They were, ironically, forced to work with mainland imports that lost freshness as they made their way across the Backstairs Passage.
Now, that has changed.
“There’s a lot of new places trying to bring all the local producers back to the island,” says Yen Leow, co-owner of Kingscote café Cactus.
“It’s expensive to bring it back to the island, but with a group of us all working together we can start making that happen.”
Yen and his business partner Louis Lark are serving a menu that is heavily-laden with delicious KI-produce – including local eggs, honey, and lamb. And that’s not the only way Cactus is a pioneer in the local food and beverage scene.
“Before we opened, we had a chat and said, on the island there’s not really a café to go to,” says Yen, “there’s not that place where you can have a nice casual time, a nice place to sit and relax and eat something really good when you’re not working.”
The pair launched Cactus in late 2017, drawing on their collective experience that spans front of house and kitchen work in some of SA’s best restaurants including Magill Estate and the Southern Ocean Lodge.
Their menu of strictly no deep-fried, always fresh, simple food like house-smoked fish on toast and chicken and mushroom dumplings has proven a hit – and they’ve built a reputation for serving unique, must-try breakfasts and lunches that give mainland South Australians a taste of the island’s natural abundance. Modestly, though, Yen says he and Louis couldn’t have achieved what they have without the people who came before.
“The food scene is definitely getting more and more exciting,” he says. “One of the earlier ones was Sunset Food and Wine, we knew them for a very long time, we used to work down at the Lodge together as well – and they were one of the first ones who came back to the island and did fine dining.”
Another established force in this crusade is Kangaroo Island Fresh Seafoods – a fishmonger that buys direct from local fisherman and runs a fish and chippery serving up dishes that are so fresh they must be tasted to be believed. Yen also namechecks Mini DeLights at Emu Bay – a food truck leading KI’s emerging pop-up venue scene – as a comrade in the fight to bring the unmissable, distinctive flavours of the island back to the people standing on it.
Mini DeLights owner Emily Woskett told InDaily that her focus on local produce provides her with an endless amount of new ideas for her ever-changing menu and cocktail list.
“I focus on as local as I can because everything is on your doorstep here,” she says. “I source a lot of product from the bakery, all my milk and cheese is local and I’ve got a lovely family down the road that do the pork and lamb.”
But, the groundswell isn’t confined to eateries. Just a little out of Kingscote, Kangaroo Island Brewery and the forerunner of all KI imbibing institutions – Kangaroo Island Spirits (KIS) – are also busy making liquid delights that incorporate little bits of distinctive island flavour.
At the brewery, owners Nina Maurovic and Mike Holden add charred sheoak wood into the fermenters while their Sheoak Stout is fermenting, lending it a smoky flavour. KIS’ Sarah and Jon Lark are meanwhile using ingredients like wild fennel and foraged ‘native juniper’ to bring depth and balance to their multi award-winning gins.
In bringing the flavours of the island back to its shores, these operators acknowledge the true definition of that grossly over-used word – terroir. They know that to really taste the special flavours of Kangaroo Island, you have to first meet the people, feel the sun on your skin, and get a sense of the soil and the sky.
Caper from Coast to Coast
Just as the food and beverage scene has been growing into its potential, so too has Kangaroo Island’s formerly unnavigable rugged terrain been transforming into awesome, accessible adventures.
The beauty and rawness of the region is unrivalled, but in the past it has sometimes felt difficult to sink into. Additions like the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail strike a careful balance between allowing you to step into the wild, while also offering enough guiding moments so you can feel confident about coming out again.
Spanning from Flinders Chase National Park to Kelly Hill Caves, the five-day walk takes in country that includes everything from dense eucalypt woodland, to mallee spotted with wildflowers, rugged coastal cliffs, white beaches, sweeping riverbanks, and geological wonders including The Remarkable Rocks and the almost alien stalactites and stalagmites of the caves.
As the trail unfolds, the secrets of the scenery reveal themselves around you – an unmissable, intimate experience of a landscape that will surprise even well-travelled South Australians who feel they’ve seen all the variety the state has to offer.
There’s plenty of ways to experience KI at a faster pace too. Vivonne Bay’s Kangaroo Island Outdoor Action has made an art of adventure with their sandboarding, quad bike tours and kayaking – all of which are perfect for those who need an adrenalin kick to help them soak in the astounding sights of the island.
KI Outdoor Action owner Brenton Davis says he loves using the lure of adventure to take travellers to special parts of the Island where they can learn about its natural marvels.
“Our aim is to make everyone’s trip to Kangaroo Island the holiday of a lifetime,” he says, by “combining the opportunity to learn about the environment and observe kangaroos and other wildlife in their native surroundings with the ability to explore otherwise inaccessible parts of Kangaroo Island.”
As a place girt by sea, KI also has a host of wonders to be discovered in the deep blue. On the island’s southern coast, there is the famed Seal Bay – a colony of about 1,000 wild sea lions. Here, experienced guides from National Parks SA provide tours that offer rare insight into and proximity to the lives of these endangered, awe-inspiring, and often adorable animals.
Out on the water itself, Kangaroo Island Ocean Safari, which departs from Christmas Cove near Penneshaw, takes you into the kingdom of these animals.
Owners Tony and Sandy Coppins are passionate guides – along with their team, they share historic tales as the island’s coastline slips by. The crew has an uncanny instinct for finding the dolphins, New Zealand fur seals, sea lions, humpback whales, Southern Right Whales, and White Bellied Sea Eagles who call these waters home at different times throughout the year, and with snorkelling, boat, or swimming tours they give guests a once-in-a-lifetime, magical chance to be part of this diverse marine universe.
Keeping KI Special
Every islander knows that their home’s singular nature is what makes it special – and that’s why many of them are striving to keep Kangaroo Island pristine even while encouraging more and more people to come and explore its wonder.
Experiences like visiting Flinders Chase National Park where the astounding geological formation of Admirals Arch rests amid native bushland and wildlife is one way to create a direct link between yourself and the region’s wilderness.
The same chance to lose yourself in nature can be found when staying at places like the super-premium Southern Ocean Lodge, the heritage Cape du Couedic Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottages, or Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary and Cabins – all of which are immersed in wild parts of the Island’s landscape.
All of these accommodation options are operated eco-consciously, so you can be secure in the knowledge that your tourism dollar is contributing to something greater than your own good memories.
“It’s often been a labour of love, but I guess for every dollar we spend on conservation we see that as being a really good investment,” says Hanson Bay co-owner Jim Geddes.
Jim and his business partner Todd Robinson bought the land on which the Sanctuary now sits back in 1997. Conservation wasn’t always their plan, but on visiting their new investment, they knew immediately that there was something unique here worth protecting.
“There were ten kangaroos for every sheep on the property,” says Jim. “So, we said, the sheep have got to go and let’s see if we can create an eco-tourism proposition.”
Since then, they’ve invested plenty more – keeping the existing cabins on the property updated, adding a café, introducing guided tours – including the enormously popular nocturnal tour, and – first of all and most importantly, building a feral-proof fence around 250 acres of the property to create a safe haven free of introduced predators like cats.
The feral-proof fence will soon be superseded by new predator reduction measures. All of the ongoing development is designed to simultaneously safeguard what is special about this place, while sharing it with people who are yet to experience it.
“I’m amazed at how many friends of mine have never been to Kangaroo Island. They say Kangaroo Island is like a mini Australia, and you can see it all in one go,” says Jim.
“There are plenty of places around the world destroyed by their popularity. This doesn’t need to be like Barcelona or Venice.”
For those who have already discovered Hanson Bay and Kangaroo Island more broadly, the allure is clear.
“Our cabins, they have been in existence now for 34 years, and I’ve met a number of people who have stayed there more than 20 times – South Australian families who just keep coming back,” says Jim.
And for those in mainland SA who don’t know the secret yet, now is the time to uncover it – Kangaroo Island is ready to be explored, a treasure in our own backyard that, for now, we can still unearth before the rest of the world does.
3-Day Itinerary Example
Make a start with this three-day itinerary, but remember that there’s so much more to see.
COFFEE: Cactus Kangaroo Island
ACTIVITIES: Kangaroo Island Ocean Safari
LUNCH: Oyster Farm Shop
DRINK: Dudley Cellar Door
DINNER: Sunset Food and Wine
COFFEE: Mini DeLights
ACTIVITIES: Kangaroo Island Marine Adventures / Seal Bay
LUNCH: Kangaroo Island Brewery
DRINK: Kangaroo Island Spirits
DINNER: Kangaroo Island Fresh Fish Place
COFFEE: Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary café
ACTIVITIES: Explore Flinders Chase National Park / Hike a section of the KI Wilderness Trail
LUNCH: Emu Bay Lavender Farm
DINNER & Drink: Table 88
Solstice Media has partnered with the South Australian Tourism Commission to tell South Australian’s the reason why they need to take their next holiday in their own state.
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