I will quietly admit that I came to some sort of enlightenment on a February trip to South Australia. Hailing from country New South Wales before moving to Sydney upon completion of school, I have on many occasions explored the vast eastern coastline of Australia before travelling north to Queensland. But following the horrific 2019-2020 bushfire season that tore through our dense flora and blackened our sunburnt country, only then did I understand the true magnitude and offering of what our country possesses. It would be easy to dwell on facts and figures of what the land and its people endured over the past nine months, drought, bushfires and a pandemic – a stark reminder of what thousands still battle with. But in true Australian spirit it seems we’re in a midst of celebration of local tourism. Endurance, fortitude and perseverance is what our people are known for, and upon meeting the residents of Kangaroo Island, I came to the realisation of what those words truly emulated. I was not only an onlooker on their literal rise from bushfire ashes, but part of the community during my travel down south.
From Sydney, Adelaide is a brisk two-hour flight and continuing for just another 30 mins by air (or 45 minutes by Ferry) is the famed Kangaroo Island. Sitting just off the mainland, east of the Great Australian Bite, the island is a quiet escape. And welcomed by great stretches of open paddocks, the only way to truly experience the offering of the region is via car. Perhaps my first epiphany since departure from the airport was how large the landmass is. Winding sealed roads meet with dirt paths and though reminiscent of inland grazing country, a left or right turn down a road reveals picturesque coastline. Pennington Bay sits on the southern end of the island and known for its monstrous swells and cascading cliff-faces; the beach draws in surfing enthusiasts. Also, on the south coast, Seal Bay treats visitors to interaction with its local sea life. Stokes Bay situated on the northern coast is one of Kangaroo Island’s most famous beaches with access found through hidden rock tunnel formations – an Instagram worthy spot.
While one third of the island features dense nature reserves, the region is also home to lush farming land, and for that, Kangaroo Island is home to some of the most prized produce in the country. It’s obvious how proud the locals are of it. For homegrown produce to take away, Flavours of Petite Provence on Prospect Hill supply organically grown fruit and vegetables as well as delectable condiments and olive oil. And whether you have breakfast in the rustic garden of the newly opened Millie Mae’s Pantry, lunch in the heart of Kingscote at Cactus or dinner on the deck at Sunset Food & Wine, each dining experience plays hero to the tastes of South Australia.
Upon inspection of most restaurants and cafés on Kangaroo Island, a line of beehives can be found sitting in the far corner. Unbeknown to many people, the island’s small coastal towns are also a producer of world-class honey. Dotted along the countryside are farms such as Peter Davis’ Island Beehive which house Ligurian bees. Exported from the Liguirian Alps in the Roman Empire, from the early 1800’s Kangaroo Island has been known as a sanctuary for the species and thanks to its remote location off the mainland of Australia, it has meant bees remain free from disease where no chemicals need to be used for their survival. They are also believed to be the last remaining pure stock in the world. The result is golden, sweet honey that unlike substitutes found in most supermarkets, bares distinct and fruity characteristics of native flora.
The flora in which the bees suckle include the Emu Bay Lavender Farm. Even during the off-season, fields of purple flowers line the paddocks and set a warm, sweet scent into the surrounding areas, while the café’s lavender scones are a must-try. But food is just a mere pairing to what has made the Island achieve global awards – that is, its breweries, wineries and distilleries.
I had the stretched one morning to 11am before I thought it appropriate to visit Kangaroo Island Brewery – the island’s first cellar door microbrewery. Playing hero to eight craft beers, you can expect a tangy and fresh alternative to the Bottle-O beer you may be familiar with. The successful business was created from the mind of builder and farmer, Mike in 2018 and has since become a go-to spot for residents and tourists alike. For the sweet tooth, Kangaroo Island Ciders has become a beloved local favourite from Graham and Mary Jones. In 2004, the couple planted an apple orchard. Since then, they have continued tending to over 30 different varieties of cider & dessert apples, with more than 600 trees to select from when making their range of hand-crafted Ciders & Sparkling Juices. Tastings are found at Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Distillery where along with a wide range of refreshing ciders, the business is also the only commercial producer of eucalyptus oil in South Australia. Gin on the other hand has become a famed export of not only Kangaroo Island, but the entire state and for an afternoon tipple I suggest a classic gin and tonic, expertly made among the wildflowers at Kangaroo Island Spirits.
My travels had me return to Adelaide via a short 20-minute flight, this time however, for just a one night stay. Although I will admit after exploring the stunning Adelaide Hills, I could have explored for days on-end. From the airport, world-renowned wineries are a mere 45-minute drive across the quaint capital city. The freeway allows for quick access to the Hills, however, with limited sense of direction, I missed the exit and found myself taking the winding and steep localised route to small towns surrounding Adelaide below.
Among the many wineries and vineyards that are staked across the rolling hills, Lot 100 in Hay Valley is best known for its collaborative food and forward-thinking approach to hospitality for all. On a standard Friday, you can see visitors and tourists casually lounging in and around the restaurant while Saturday’s attract families and large groups for lunch, wine and gin tastings. Wine from the entire state is an obvious hero for the cellar door, however, sharing borders with fellow vineyards sees collaborative and community-based business for some of the best wine in Australia. Likewise, Lot 100 also boasts a collective that includes Hills Cider Co, Mismatch Brewing Co, Vinteloper, Ashton Valley Fresh, and a personal favourite, Adelaide Hills Distillery where award-winning Gin is at the forefront of production. For avid enthusiasts, Lot 100 offers twice-daily tours where tastings invigorate the palate with classic and inventive plays on a variety of sprits and brews.
Similarly, as the inland region offers beauty only unique to the Adelaide Hills, its coastline of infinite sand and deep turquoise water rivals even that of the eastern coastline. It is true what they say, Sydney does flaunt some of the best beaches in Australia, if not, the world. Though after a visit to the city’s Henley Beach, followed by a visit to the southern Port Willunga Beach and Caves, I would almost beg to differ. Once described by Travel & Leisure Magazine as one of the top 20 worldwide destinations, the sandy shores are unlike many city beaches and is home to maritime ruins that date back to 1868. The surrounding area also reveals remains of the old Harbour Master’s cottage, built around 1880 and occupied until 1966. The shipwreck ‘Star of Greece’, can be seen at low tide. And near the old jetty, caves that were once used as a shed to house fisherman’s boats, adds an extra touch of history to the charming location.
Any Australian will tell you they’ve seen much of the globe. Be it a summer along the Mediterranean coastline, skiing down the powdery slopes of Japan or road trips across the vast stretches of America. But I suspect many will join me in admitting that for such a diverse and unique country such as Australia, we often overlook its extensive experiences. Surpass the 20-plus hours of international commuting for a short flight, where in discovering the exceptional food offerings and warm hospitality of its locals, we band together in supporting local communities and the greater economy as we rebuild from the bushfire ashes and stay strong amid a global health crisis.
Stay tuned for our go-to accommodation whilst exploring South Australia.
GRAZIA travelled to South Australia before the COVID-19 pandemic. The borders will reopen on July 20, but it is advised to stay up-to-date on government regulations during this time.
Pano image: Lifetime Private Retreats