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Southern Ocean Lodge: the rebirth of an Australian icon

Southern Ocean Lodge re-emerges from the ashes of the 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires in a spectacular testament to Australian tenacity, writes Cathy Wagstaff.

Humour and mateship might be the core of the Australian spirit, but resilience, resourcefulness and endurance define our cultural identity. Four years ago, South Australia’s Kangaroo Island was decimated by fire and the loss of wildlife and natural beauty was devastating. But today, life is returning to this pristine corner of the country, and with it, a new iteration of the iconic Southern Ocean Lodge.

Rebuilding Southern Ocean Lodge

Razed by flames and reduced to little more than rubble, the rebuild of this award-winning nature lodge has been four years in the planning, with an estimated $55 million price tag. The original architect, Kangaroo Island-born Max Pritchard, returned in collaboration with Andrew Gunner to reimagine the lodge through a future-proof ecological lens. Guided by principles of safety and sustainability, the new Southern Ocean Lodge has solar panels, rainwater collection, reverse-osmosis drinking water purification technology, and $2 million worth of fire prevention infrastructure that goes above and beyond South Australia’s stringent standards. More than 45,000 fire- retardant native plants were propagated on-site during construction, enriching local ecology and creating a welcoming habitat for wildlife.

Southern Ocean Lodge
Southern Ocean Lodge sits in harmony with its wild surrounds

Return to Southern Ocean Lodge

Returning to Southern Ocean Lodge in its first months of reopening, the familiar flames of Australia’s most iconic fireplace flickering once more puts a lump in our throats and a glisten in our eyes. During our three-night stay, these touches of the old intermingling with the reimagined forge anew the beauty of this place.

A palette of gentle greys with accents of blue, and natural textures such as limestone, timber and woven materials blend sky, sea and suites seamlessly. Everywhere, floor-to-ceiling windows invite the outside in, creating framed vistas of Kangaroo Island’s wild landscape. The lodge occupies the same footprint as its predecessor, but a slight repositioning of the suites gives us a barrel view straight down to the sea. I don’t need to leave my sumptuous Flinders Suite to soak up the coastline and the regenerating bushland. But I do because the lodge is undeniably beautiful and its access to Kangaroo Island’s unique local ecology is second to none.

Southern Ocean Lodge
The Flinders Suite with striking sea views
Bathtub at Southern Ocean Lodge
All suites come with tubs and those incredible ocean vistas

Exploring Kangaroo Island

One afternoon, we strike out with the lodge’s resident naturalist for a respectful stroll along the sand dunes of the Seal Bay Conservation Park. Around 1,000 endangered seals call this spot home, and as a small group, we watch pups and their mums lap up the sunshine. Back on dry land, the Coastal Clifftop Walk lets us zoom out for a bird’s-eye view down towards Hanson Bay’s wild shores. A third signature experience included in our stay is the Wonders of Kangaroo Island. The half-day tour rounds out our education with history lessons at the iconic Cape du Couedic Lighthouse.

Facilities at Southern Ocean Lodge

Returning to the Lodge, some of us break off to soak up the view from tubs – now in every suite – while others test out the plunge pools, spa and small gym, all new additions in the rebuild. We gravitate towards the fireplace. The Great Room may be grand but it’s also designed to feel like home. A well-stocked home. Southern Ocean Lodge is all-inclusive and the self-serve bar is open for guests to make cocktails or pour a lovely South Australian wine. Sundowners work seamlessly into the end of a day in the bracing Southern Ocean breeze.

Southern Ocean Lodge
Southern Ocean Lodge

Dining at Southern Ocean Lodge

Even better are four-course dinners by executive chef Tom Saliba and his team. The focus is on local food from the island and South Australian favourites. Local King George whiting is a must-have when it appears on the menu, served with green beans, egg yolk and capers, and the wild-caught marron raises the bar on lobster. Dessert can veer sweet, but the selection of cheeses from the Adelaide Hills is hard to resist.

Evenings wind down with a nightcap, whether inside by the fire or rugged up under the stars. Dark skies, endless ocean and slowly but surely regenerating bushland are the only neighbours, so sleep is swift and soothing. In the context of a rapidly changing climate, the new Southern Ocean Lodge operates sensitively – and in harmony – with its natural environment, charting a sustainable path towards the future.

Southern Ocean Lodge
Cosying up around the fire becomes a favoutite pastime

Kangaroo Island artist Janine Mackintosh

There’s a quiet acknowledgement of the tragedy underpinning the new interior design concept, too. It sits alongside a strong connection to Country, both brought to life through the visceral work of Kangaroo Island artist Janine Mackintosh. Known for her eucalyptus leaf mandalas, Mackintosh was first commissioned to create five pieces for the original lodge restaurant. Today, newly pressed leaf mandalas adorn the restaurant’s limestone walls.

In the Southern Spa, Mackintosh has curated an artwork of found objects from the burn site. Glass, metal and ceramic remnants salvaged from the debris were transformed into 129 plaques representing positive memories of the first lodge. In the Great Room, the lodge’s iconic suspended cast iron fireplace from France has been restored to its former glory after being uncovered in the ruins and reinstated in pride of place.

This article originally appeared in volume 47 of Signature Luxury Travel & Style magazine. Subscribe to the latest issue today.

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