Given its popularity as a tourist destination, it's something of a surprise to find out Kangaroo Island – off the coast of Adelaide – has a permanent population of just 5000. A single paved highway loops around the island, from the bucolic landscape of rolling farmland that surrounds the township of Penneshaw to the wild and rugged national parks at the island's remote western end.
Goannas are more common than cars on the dirt roads that criss-cross the island, and this isolation has created a self-sufficient culture among locals. Now, a network of excellent dining options is springing up to take advantage of the fresh produce and unspoilt natural environments that define the island.
Enchanted Fig Tree
From the outside there's not much to differentiate this 150-year-old fig tree from the surrounding foliage, but between December and April it hides one of South Australia’s most unusual dining experiences. Light beams stream through a roof of fig leaves onto tables shielded from each other by the rich canopy. A tasting menu utilises fresh local ingredients and changes regularly to incorporate seasonal produce, accompanied by local wines and a special release gin from Kangaroo Island Spirits.
5997 North Coast Road, Middle River
(08) 8559 2236
Cactus Kangaroo Island
This recently opened cafe fills a much-needed slot on the island by offering breakfast and casual lunch fare. Co-owners Louis Lark and Yen Aun Leow met while working at the Southern Ocean Lodge and still work with many of the same suppliers for their small but eclectic menu. Quentin Chester's stunning photos of the island grace the walls inside the renovated home, while a shady deck out front is the perfect spot to relax with a coffee or fresh juice.
59 Dauncey Street, Kingscote
0419 400 107
Kangaroo Island Fresh Seafoods
Look past the unlikely location in a Caltex service station and you'll find some of the freshest seafood around. Tina Kleeven buys the catch direct from local fisherman and supplies most of the fine-dining establishments on the island. She also runs a busy fish and chip shop where the selection usually includes mulloway, flake, whiting and tommy ruff, or you can bring your own catch in to be filleted and cooked.
26 Telegraph Road, Kingscote
(08) 8553 0177
This “dairy door” has tastings and sales of cheese, yoghurt, gelato and smallgoods made from the sheep raised on site. Inside, the shelves are also stocked with olives, honey, figs and cosmetics from other island producers and a food truck on site serves up a range of lamb-based lunches and salads. With a brewery opening in March, this is a one-stop shop for local produce.
127 Gum Creek Road, Cygnet River
(08) 8553 9110
Kangaroo Island Spirits
Jon and Sarah Lark kickstarted the craft gin boom when they launched K.I. Spirits more than a decade ago, and they're still at the top of their game – their Old Tom was awarded best gin at the Australian Distilled Spirits Awards in 2016. As well as tastings of gins, vodkas and liqueurs, the distillery door offers coffee and several cocktails. There's no food, but allow time to wander round the herb garden that supplies some of the botanicals used in their products.
856 Playford Highway, Cygnet River
(08) 8553 9211
Kangaroo Island Brewery
Turn onto North Coast Road a few kilometres out of Kingscote and you'll find this off-grid brewery housed in a shed made from salvaged materials from across the island. The focus is on easy drinking beers but the 10 brews include an IPA that uses local sticky hop bush and a stout made with charred local sheoak.
61 North Coast Road, Kingscote
0409 264 817
Kangaroo Island Outdoor Action
In the shadow of the giant sand dunes of Little Sahara, Brenton Davis offers bike tours that loop through the surrounding bushland. The ex-adventure camp is criss-crossed with trails that are easily negotiated with fat tire bikes, and electric bikes make the task even easier. Koala sightings are all but guaranteed in the eucalypt forest and native edibles like samphire and muntries make for a perfect snack.
Jetty Road, Vivonne Bay
(08) 8559 4296
Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail
The Western third of Kangaroo Island is a national park rich in wildlife, and the best way to ensure an up-close encounter is on foot. The 61-kilometre Wilderness Trail traverses a range of ecosystems across five days; modern, well-designed shelters and campgrounds help to ensure that it's a comfortable experience.
(08) 8553 4410
Cape du Coeudic Lighthouse Keeper's Cottages
With thick limestone walls, polished pine floors and multiple bedrooms, these restored heritage accommodations are hardly cottages. Located at the island’s remote southwest corner, there’s no wi-fi or mobile reception. Instead, Admiral’s Arch is within walking distance and Remarkable Rocks is a few minutes drive away. Just remember to bring plenty of supplies, as the nearest shops are a lot further away.
Cape du Couedic Road, Flinders Chase
(08) 8553 4410
Lifetime Private Retreats
Near the Enchanted Fig Tree on the less-visited north coast, these holiday houses are spread out in the hills overlooking Snelling Beach. The five properties vary in size, from a rammed-earth retreat for two to a clifftop villa with an outdoor spa.
Snelling Beach, North Coast Road, Middle River
(08) 8559 2248
Southern Ocean Lodge
The island's most opulent accommodation option, this luxury hotel is regularly ranked among the best in the world. Surrounded by native scrub in a stunning clifftop location, the cantilevered suites have floor to ceiling windows to maximise the views over waves that roll in uninterrupted from Antarctica. The rates include all food, drinks and activities, but you’ll still need to save up for this one.
Hanson Bay Road, Kingscote
(08) 8559 7347