There’s a barn owl sitting on my lap giving me a curious once-over. Swiftly realising I don’t have any dead mice on offer, he looks back to his handler and source of rodent treats. Casper is a star of the interactive Birds of Prey show at Raptor Domain on Kangaroo Island, one of the stops on SeaLink’s two-day Food, Wine and Natural Wonders tour.
Following Casper comes Kylie the aerobatic falcon, Slim the black breasted buzzard with a knack for knocking through emu eggs, and Jedda, a spectacular wedge-tailed eagle with a proud bearing and an unnerving gaze.
This is day two and it’s been a nature-filled, gastronomic and vinous adventure of unique proportions.
SeaLink’s fact-filled minibus driver Greg Harvie has chauffeured us from stop to delicious stop, starting on day one with Dudley Wines, just a short trip from the Penneshaw ferry terminal.
Jeff and Val Howard, the couple behind Dudley Wines, have a family farming history on the island dating back to the late 19th century. But like many locals, they had to change tack on the back of the wool industry’s decline in the early 90s, and wine was the new path they took.
Having made their first vintage in 1997 in an old shearing shed, today they offer 13 wines featuring Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Shiraz, Cabernet and Merlot. Perched on a clifftop, the cellar door has an expansive deck offering ocean views, a beautiful setting to taste the wine range accompanied by a spread of fresh bread and local olive oil with balsamic vinegar and dukkah.
With a warm glow and windswept locks, it’s back on the bus for a half hour trip round the coast to the town of Kingscote. This is a relatively short journey on Australia’s third biggest island, which stretches 155 kilometres from east to west with 509 kilometres of coastline. So enjoying it fully is not a simple matter of nipping over for a day out, you need at least two days to take in its sights.
At Kingscote it’s lunchtime and Zone Restaurant at Aurora Ozone Hotel is hosting. With the sapphire tones of Nepean Bay in the background, chef Lenny Numa talks through the menu, which proudly features local produce wherever possible.
Starting with plates of plump, lustrous oysters from American River, it’s onto a succulent main of Kangaroo Island lamb cutlets accompanied by local potatoes along with mustard cress salad, carrot and tahini purée and pomegranate dressing. Provincial produce even finds its way into the desserts with two of the tour’s next features – honey and gin – flavouring the ice-cream and gelato.
In Roald Dahl’s short story called ‘Royal Jelly’, the main character, a beekeeper, eats so much of the honey bee secretion that he starts to look like one. Island Beehive owner Peter Davis might not be sprouting wings, but he’s certainly industrious and reveals a sting in his wit as he invites us to ‘buzz in and see him!’
Kangaroo Island born and bred, Peter’s hive is one of Australia’s biggest organic honey producers with 100-150 tonnes of honey made each year. While Peter and his team do their fair share, it’s the bees who deserve the bulk of the credit and they’re quite the local stars.
The world’s last remaining genetically pure population of the Ligurian honey bee, these tiny dynamos were introduced to Kangaroo Island in the late 1800s and thanks to the isolation, lack of predators and abundant flora, they settled in nicely and have thrived ever since.
At least an hour has passed since we’ve had a drink, so thank goodness for the next stop at Jon and Sarah Lark’s Kangaroo Island Spirits. Aside from the beauty, the Larks were drawn to the island’s passionate locals, who showed an innovative flair in their efforts to craft artisan products.
Jon and Sarah followed suit, infusing their spirits and liqueurs with local botanicals. Highlights include the O’Gin with its subtle infusion of Kangaroo Island coastal daisy and the Samphire vodka offering ‘hints of the sea’ thanks to local samphire.
Remarkable is not an adjective to be used with abandon, but whoever attached it to Kangaroo Island’s famous rocks knew its depictive strength. Five million years in the making, these wind, rain and wave formed boulders in Flinders Chase National Park attest to the talent of nature as artist.
While tomorrow will see us up close in awe at their beauty and snapping comical selfies under their protrusions, for this evening, Remarkable Rocks make a stunning backdrop to a Champagne sunset. Although it’s a bit blustery, an arctic reminder of the continent to the south, we sip Dudley Bubbly – a fitting bookend to the day – nibble creamy cheeses and take in the splendour of the dusk-painted hues.
Then it’s time to satisfy our last iota of appetite with a two-course dinner at Nicolas Baudin Restaurant. On-site at our accommodation venue – Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat – this rustic eatery is another proud champion of local produce, right down to its wine, beer, cider and spirits. It also provides the day’s first kangaroo spotting – served with red wine jus on a bed of mashed potato.
The next day kicks off with a relaxing saunter down to Admirals Arch on the coastline of the National Park, stopping on the way to take in a bob of seal pups frolicking in the waves below.
Arriving at the Arch is like stepping onto a salty stage with ancient stalactites framing the view out to the ocean that applauds with a crash of foam against the jagged rocks. But stealing the show is a colony of New Zealand fur seals, flopping along with all the grace of a post-show thespian who’s two sheets to the wind.
The stalactite theme continues as we head down into Kelly Hill Caves in the conservation park to the east of Flinders Chase, where nature puts on another impressive exhibition. As the guide plunges us into complete darkness, you have to admire the original 1920s explorers, who navigated the twists and turns with but a flickering candle.
Having enjoyed the antics of Casper and co, there’s one more stop. Sunset Food & Wine is Kangaroo Island’s first hatted restaurant and when you find out Jack Ingram of Vue de monde fame is at the helm, it’s no surprise.
Jack’s tasting menu includes highlights like Parisienne gnocchi with Jerusalem artichoke, shiitake and hazelnut, and Port Lincoln kingfish sashimi with smoked yoghurt, kohlrabi and kimchi salad. Combined with the promised sunset presenting a finale of picture-perfect proportions, we’re left with a phone full of memories and a belly full of flavours.
Travel direct from Newcastle to Adelaide with FlyPelican. Book at flypelican.com.au
+ SeaLink’s two-day Food, Wine & Natural Wonders tour
Book at sealink.com.au or call 13 13 01.
Open 7 days.
+ Stamford Hotels
Pre- and post-tour, stay at Adelaide’s Stamford Hotels. Book at stamford.com.au
+ Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat
Set amongst pristine wilderness, this Retreat is a SeaLink customer favourite – check it out at kiwr.com