Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Travel: Departures 'Way Down Under'

Departures, September 2008

South Australia's Kangaroo Island - home to some of the continent's most intriguing wildlife - has long been popular with day-tripping and camping crowds. It never had any luxury accommodation until this spring, however, when James and Haylie Baillie, owners of the chic Capella Lodge on Oz's Lord Howe Island, opened their new property, Southern Ocean Lodge.

Set between two national parks on the island's isolated southwest coast and just a a 25-minute flight from Adelaide, the property is nestled in the bush and has expansive views of the turquoise sea below. Of the lodge's 21 minimalist rooms, the best is the Osprey pavilion, with its hand-sculpted, egg-shaped Japanese bathtub and private-terrace. From its alfresco daybeds and plnge spa, guests have a prime view of passing kangaroos and whales out at sea.

But those who come to K.I almost always want to get much closer to wildlife. And so the Baillies partnerned with local outfitter Exceptional Kangaroo Island to take visitors out into the area's singular landscape. The animal spotting is so good and so easy hear that it's really a shame the lodge doesn't allow children younger than six. Our stellar and slightly whacky guide, Anthony, aka Ants, who has lived on the island for 18 years, led our small group on a half-day journey, pointing out plump koalas perched on impossibly thin branches, kangaroo mothers hopping about with their in-pouch babes and even the elusive glossy black cockatoo - or at least evidence thereof, in the form of some nibbled seeds. On a separate hike, a trip to see Australian fur seals preceded a light lunch served rather glamorously under a white shade tent and accompanied by a local Chardonnay.

Later a stylish New Yorker who has just arrived at the lodge from Sydney was wondering aloud when she might see a kangaroo. She didn't have to wait long, though. During a twilight tour with lodge staff, glass of Champagne in hand, she was suddenly surrounded by dozens of curious 'roos and wallabies. "I didn't really expect to see wildlife like this," she said, laughing. But at Southern Ocean Lodge that's just the kind of Champagne wishes and kangaroo dreams experience guests are in for.