Kangaroo Island Bounces Back

When devastating bushfires consumed large swathes of Australia in 2019 and 2020, one of the hardest hit areas was Kangaroo Island, a wildlife-rich tourist haven some 8.6 mi (14 km) off the coast of South Australia. Over nearly three weeks, more than 810 sq mi (2,100 sq km) were scorched, and the Southern Ocean Lodge, an iconic clifftop hotel considered the pioneer of experiential luxury on the continent, burned to the ground. The latter’s destruction was a particularly ominous blow to a tourism industry also about to endure the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the intervening years, however, Kangaroo Island has bounced back remarkably. At the end of 2023, the Southern Ocean Lodge reopened, heralding the latest milestone in the island’s ongoing recovery. In addition to augmenting its reconstructed guest suites and main building with new solar power technology and fire-retardant landscaping, the resort introduced a new ultra-premium suite, the 6,888 sq ft (640 sq m) Ocean Pavilion, which offers panoramic views of the Southern Ocean from a super-private new perch.

SOL 2.0, as the restored lodge playfully calls itself, is located on the southeastern edge of Flinders Chase National Park, home of the Remarkable Rocks and other geological wonders. It, too, is once again open to visitors, complete with brand–new infrastructure designed to optimize their connection to the island’s diverse wildlife, from the abundance of kangaroos, koalas, and wallabies to its resilient native plants. Fans of marine life, for instance, can take in the still-thriving colony of long–nosed fur seals at Remarkable Rocks via a new boardwalk, while a modified version of the world–famous Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail, a trek of up to five days, is accessible to walkers who book through licensed tour companies such as Goway. Shorter trails are also in place at Ravine des Casoars Wilderness Protection Area and at Cape du Couedic.

Kangaroo Island kangaroos are nocturnal herbivores, grazing in the early morning and afternoon.

On the opposite end of the island, at its easternmost tip, Sea Dragon Kangaroo Island, which bills itself as the only full-service boutique property on the island, is the place to be for indulging in flora, fauna, sea views, and beach life. At least 30 of the island’s 260 or so bird species, for example, can be found on its secluded coastal grounds, making it a birdwatcher’s paradise. The eco–sensitive lodge has also been involved in the development of the new Dudley Peninsula and Cape Willoughby walking trail, a “fantastic addition” to Kangaroo Island’s already extensive network.

In the language of the Indigenous Kaurna people, Kangaroo Island is known as Karta Pintingga, which translates literally as Island of the Dead. Four years ago, that moniker was an apt one, but the destination has since experienced rebirths on multiple fronts. While the island’s hotel properties have been subtly repositioning their suites or modifying their landscapes to take greater advantage of location and views, South Australia’s Parks and Wildlife Service is also grasping this “unique opportunity…to reimagine visitor experiences,” whether it’s enhancing engagement with plant and animal life or making more effective use of citizen scientists.

What won’t change, of course, is the rugged beauty and universal value of this island sanctuary, known quite rightly as the Galapagos of Australia. The time to visit is now.

This article was originally published in No. 33 of Globetrotting Magazine.

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Danny Sinopoli
Danny Sinopoli

Travel Writer - Toronto-based Danny Sinopoli is the former Style editor of The Globe and Mail and former editor-in-chief of Azure. He currently writes about travel, food, architecture, and design for publications such as Condé Nast Traveler. In 2023 he launched the biweekly travel and lifestyle newsletter Worldly Goodness.

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