I WILL never forget driving across Kangaroo Island in a storm. White streaks of lightning flashed across the dark grey sky, the air was suddenly cool and breezy after the oppressive heat of the day.
And as it started to rain, little dark shapes began to appear as kangaroos hopped out of the bush to drink from puddles at the edge of the dirt track road.
They call Kangaroo Island an animal sanctuary without fences. Vast areas of this island, off the south coast of Australia, have been left as wild bushland, giving visitors the chance to come close to some iconic wildlife. I am being driven around the island in a jeep by Greg, a KI native who once worked on a potato farm in Orkney. Like most residents of the place, Greg has two jobs – he’s a cattle farmer with a 200-head herd, but he also takes visitors on wildlife tours.
Our first spot is a couple of koalas. Without warning, Greg swerves the jeep off the road and motions to me to creep towards the foot of a clump of tall eucalyptus trees. High up, sitting in the fork of two branches, are two fluffy balls of grey fur. They look down at us sleepily with their distinctive cute faces and tufty ears. One of them chews a sprig of eucalyptus languidly before yawning and going back to sleep.
Back on the road, Greg is scanning the base of the trees for another wildlife spot. He slows down. “There we go. Kangaroo,” he says.
I hop out of the car and creep into the trees towards a dark shape. The kangaroo turns to look at me. I walk closer. Just a few feet away from him, I lift my camera and suddenly he bounds off incredibly fast – boing, boing, boing – just like a real-life cartoon.
Kangaroo Island has a wild and beautiful coast, with white sand beaches where you can spend a day and see only a handful of people. The Aussie way is to drive the jeep off the road and on to the beach, where you’ll find government-sponsored gas barbecues.
While I’m swimming about in the cool sea at Middle River Bay, Greg commandeers a barbie and makes me a feast – steak, salad, home-made bread and Kangaroo Island wine, all served on a red and white gingham tablecloth. Don’t let anyone tell you the Aussies don’t do classy.
After lunch we visit the sanctuary at Seal Bay, where we walk on white sand among scores of drowsy sea lions, some nursing cubs. Out at sea the young animals are surfing – leaping in the blue-green waves, flipping in the air and being carried back to shore.
We visit Admiral’s Arch, a stunning natural sea arch inhabited by hundreds of seals, and Remarkable Rocks, a natural Stonehenge of giant rocks worn into extraordinary shapes by years of wind and rain and lit up by huge patches of bright orange lichen.
As well as all this wild beauty, Kangaroo Island is also – rather surprisingly – home to one of Australia’s most luxurious eco retreats. When I tell people I’ve been invited to visit Southern Ocean Lodge, it elicits gasps of envy. This is spoken of as the finest hotel in South Australia – possibly the finest in the whole country.
Designed by eco architect Max Pritchard, Southern Ocean Lodge is a small collection of luxury suites ranged along a cliff at the edge of a vast area of bush. The central area is a glass-sided circular room with breathtaking views of the shoreline, the sea and the sky.
The rooms are huge, with heated floors, walk-in closets, enormous beds and floor-to-ceiling windows that lead to a private terrace. It’s designed so you can’t see the rest of the hotel and is wonderfully relaxing – you really do feel like it is just you and the wilderness. My room also has the best bath in the world – a freestanding giant white tub where you can soak and gaze over the wild coastline and the soaring sky.
Before dinner, I go on a ‘kangaroos and canapes’ excursion where I drink champagne and nibble olives and cheese at a deserted homestead on a neighbouring estate. The other guests are a friendly lot. The food at Southern Ocean Lodge emphasises local, wild, seasonal and foraged ingredients – like everything here, it takes its inspiration from the natural world.
Kangaroo Island is a just a one-hour hop by plane from Adelaide, capital of South Australia – the festival state. I’m here during Mad March, when, like Edinburgh last month, this country town is taken over by a host of different festivals – everything from opera, to comedy, to theatre and world music.
WOMADelaide, in the botanical gardens in the centre of town, is a wonderfully relaxed affair; flags waving, people wandering around barefoot, delicious food and music from around the world. In fact, I keep bumping into people I know from Edinburgh, which causes much hilarity.
Adelaide is a very relaxed place where people eat in pavement cafés sheltered from the sun by carved wooden awnings. The food is great, with lots of Asian and fusion restaurants and amazing coffee. It’s worth going to the Central Market to browse the fruit and veg stores and at Lucia’s café, in the heart of the market hall, I have the best coffee and the best bacon I’ve tasted.
South Australia is also wine country, and you can drive up the hills to the vineyards and visit what they call cellar doors – tasting shops where you can try wines along with a plate of cheese, bread and Australian olives. Here the air is sweet and cool with the scent of eucalyptus trees. My guide, Carole Wilson, invites me to a restaurant in a vineyard called the Lane, where we eat fresh, beautifully cooked food and drink wine. We sit on a wooden platform overlooking the vineyards, surrounded by people wearing shorts and T-shirts and laughing their heads off.
Adelaide and South Australia sometimes seem to have an inferiority complex, but they shouldn’t – they do things really well. I am loving every minute. With fantastic food and amazing things to see coupled with open, friendly people who really know how to relax and have fun, this is, as the people here say, a lucky country.
• Accommodation starts at $190 (£125) per night at Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat, via Flinders Chase National Park (00 61 8 8559 7275, www.kiwr.com); Mercure Grosvenor Hotel, 125 North Terrace, Adelaide, SA 5000, from $150 Aus (£100) per room per night (www.mercuregrosvenorhotel.com.au); The Lane Vineyard and Bistro, Ravenswood lane, Hahndorf SA 5245 (00 61 8 8388 1250, www.thelane.com.au); Kangaroo Island Wilderness Tours, Parndana, Kangaroo Island (00 61 8 8559 5033, www.wildernesstours.com.au); Return economy fares from London Heathrow to Adelaide start from £1,030, including taxes, through Qantas (www.qantas.com)
• For more information, see www.australia.com
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Friday 24 May 2013
Temperature: 3 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 7 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West