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  • Ute Junker

Cliff Hanger

Four years after it burned to the ground amid the 2020 bushfires, a new Southern Ocean Lodge has risen from the ashes. By Ute Junker.

Redesigned by the original architect, Kangaroo Island-born Max Pritchard, the lodge sits lightly within the environment. Photography by George Apostolidis.

The two ospreys are back, wheeling in lazy circles on the coastal air currents. Once a familiar sight in the skies above Kangaroo Island’s southern edge, the endangered raptors went missing after the January 2020 bushfires that razed one of Australia’s most renowned lodges.

“When we came back on site, all the birds were gone. It was such a strange feeling,” says Alison Heath, long-time lodge co-manager with her partner, John Hird. “It’s been wonderful to watch them all come back.”

Birds aren’t the only ones flocking back to Kangaroo Island. Since Southern Ocean Lodge reopened in December, it has been booked solid, with former guests eager to show their love. Original owners Hayley and James Baillie tasked the building’s original architect, Max Pritchard, along with his design partner Andrew Gunner, with delivering an experience almost indistinguishable from the original, and they hit the target. Walk through those soaring rusted front doors into the Great Room, with its jaw-dropping views along the surf-swept coast, and it feels as if nothing has changed.

the Ocean Pavilion West lounge offers spectacular views. Photography by George Apostolidis.

In fact, there have been a few tweaks along the way. While the lodge has stayed within its original footprint, the orientation of the guest suites is slightly different, meaning you can now admire the ever-changing oceanscape from the comfort of your bed, watching pink-hued sunrises or misty, moody mornings give way to the glittering cobalt blues of a sunny day.

The private dining room in the cellar is perfect for groups. Photography by George Apostolidis.

Other additions include the relocated, renamed Southern Spa, which now has a sauna with hot and cold plunge pools and a gym. There is also a new private retreat, the four-bedroom Ocean Pavilion, which can also be configured as a pair of two-bedroom villas.

Some of the most significant changes happened behind the scenes, including state-of-the-art fire safety systems and improved sustainability measures covering everything from rainwater harvesting to solar power. Currently, 65 per cent of the lodge’s energy needs are met by solar, a number that’s set to rise as operations are perfected. 

Much work has also been done to revegetate the surrounding area, which looks surprisingly verdant. Although ribbons of ghostly grey wind through the greenery, where scorched plants are still waiting to sprout fresh shoots, the land around the lodge has been propagated with 45,000 cuttings from native species such as creeping boobialla and saltbush.

A cluster of precariously balanced granite boulders form the Remarkable Rocks. Photography by George Apostolidis.

What remains utterly unchanged is Southern Ocean Lodge’s dedication to celebrating Kangaroo Island, its landscapes and its producers. The free excursions that let you explore the island’s highlights are popular — don’t miss the visit to the sea lion colony at Seal Bay — but so too is spending a morning or afternoon unwinding in the Great Room, gazing out to sea while sipping a choice drop from the expansive collection of South Australian wines. 

And then there are the memorable meals, with chef Tom Saliba and his team weaving together local specialties — oysters and marron, King George whiting and mulloway — in flavour-packed menus.

Communing with the wild beauty of the deep south doesn’t stop at nightfall. Many sleep with their glass doors open, allowing the sound of the sea to lull them to sleep. If that’s not your style, consider leaving the blinds up. In the untroubled skies above the Southern Ocean, stars cut through the darkness like torchlight, a dazzling display to drift off to. 

All-inclusive rates from $3,400 per suite per night, twin-share.

This is an extract from an article that appears in print in our eleventh edition, Page 134 of Winning Magazine with the headline: “Cliff Hanger”. Subscribe to Winning Magazine today.  


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