After Devastating Wildfires, One of Australia’s Most Iconic Lodges Has Been Reborn

After having been decimated by wildfires in 2020, Southern Ocean Lodge in Australia is back—and it’s better than ever. Here’s a firsthand look at the reimagined retreat.

Aerial view of Southern Ocean Lodge on the coast of Kangaroo Island, 70 miles south of Adelaide

Southern Ocean Lodge is on the coast of remote Kangaroo Island, 70 miles south of Adelaide.

Courtesy of Southen Ocean Lodge


The vibe: Glamorous beach house at the end of the world

Location: Hanson Bay Road, Kingscote, South Australia | View on Google Maps

Book now



The AFAR take

Australians call sunbathing being “flat out like a lizard.” That’s a good description of me as I lounge poolside at Southern Ocean Lodge’s new spa, contemplating a stark landscape of sand dunes covered in hillocks of fresh green coastal vegetation and spiked by thousands of pale sticks reaching to the sky. Those “sticks” are skeleton branches of trees ignited when a wildfire swept through Kangaroo Island in January 2020 and turned much of Australia’s third-largest island to ash, including the much-lauded luxury lodge.

It’s eerily, poignantly beautiful. I’m told this stone terrace is built on the exact spot where the fire started, ignited by lightning strikes, which went on to engulf the lodge, creating a 300-foot-high wall of flame that raced through the island, annihilating much of its wildlife, including thousands of koalas and kangaroos in their native habitat.

Known as “Australia’s Galápagos,” the remote and windswept island, seven times the size of Singapore, lies 70 miles south of Adelaide across a wild strait of ocean that rolls in from as far away as Antarctica. It has always been a draw for its animals and rugged cliffs, deserted coves and untamed surf, but it wasn’t until eco-lodge visionaries James and Hayley Baillie opened Southern Ocean Lodge in 2010 that the island had stylish accommodation to match its singular beauty.

I visited Southern Ocean Lodge a few months before the fire and now, four years later, I’m back, as is the lodge, completely rebuilt in the style of the much-loved original with some considered improvements, such as the reimagined spa and suites angled toward the ocean side to take in better views of the thundering surf and jagged coastline.

The Great Room at Southern Ocean Lodge, with seating around a hanging firepit and curved wall of windows overlooking ocean

The Great Room at Southern Ocean Lodge features its original sweeping views of the lodge’s namesake ocean.

Courtesy of Southern Ocean Lodge

The Australian landscape is designed to regenerate after fire and it’s extraordinary to see young eucalyptus and other small trees sprouting bright green leaves. Southern Ocean Lodge’s horticulturists propagated 45,000 new plants from cuttings of existing plants on the property, many of which are growing furiously. The island’s wildlife has returned, including platypuses, echidnas, maritime birds, seals, sea lions, and the world’s only genetically pure colony of Ligurian bees. Although I didn’t spot him, there’s a surviving kangaroo with one burnt ear who hops around the lodge, looking for company. The staff call him “Sol,” which also happens to be the lodge’s nickname.

Who’s it for?

Southern Ocean Lodge is perfect for couples, friends, and multi-generational families in search of a trip where luxury meets the great outdoors. The property’s new Baillie Pavilion lodge is especially suited for traveling groups: It was created to feel like a single residence and has four king bedrooms, a central lounge with a fireplace, and outdoor terraces equipped with plunge pools.

The location

The lodge runs along the spine of limestone cliffs overlooking Hanson Bay, lying roughly between the island’s two major attractions—the Remarkable Rocks (remarkable for their Henry Moore–like sculptural shapes) and the large sea lion colony at Seal Bay. It’s the only property on a 220-acre nature reserve. Guests arrive at the Great Room, which serves as lounge, lobby, and restaurant, and it’s as breathtaking an entry as anyone could wish, with a panoramic view of the coast that is undisturbed through 180 degrees of floor-to-ceiling glass. Boardwalks connect the lodge to the cliffs and beaches. Although the surf can be dangerous, the sandy cove at Penguin Bay is accessible and the shallows are swimmable with care. Be warned—those swells from the Antarctic means the water temperature is bracing, year-round.

The remote and windswept island lies 70 miles south of Adelaide across a wild strait of ocean that rolls in from as far away as Antarctica.

The rooms

The lodge has really leaned into the kangaroo theme, in a stylish way. When I enter my suite, “Ekalta” (they’re all named after historic shipwrecks in the treacherous waters), I’m greeted by printed kangaroos bounding across the curvaceous banquette lounge, on coasters on the bar, on the safety glass of the windows, and shaped into chocolates, my welcome gift. There are floor-to-ceiling ocean-facing glass walls in the suites but only curious sea birds and the occasional passing wallaby invade my privacy. I don’t feel the need to close the blinds—lying in bed at night and watching the rash of southern stars twinkle in the velvet blackness is an unmissable experience. The 21 suites all have bars and well-stocked fridges, fireplaces, chic knitted bath robes, fireplaces, and a deep, soaking bath with a view. There are no TVs or phone reception, so I connect to the world by Wi-Fi.

The Remarkable Suite at Southern Ocean Lodge has a circular shape and white stone fireplace, with large windows overlooking ocean

The Remarkable Suite at Southern Ocean Lodge

Courtesy of Southern Ocean Lodge

The food and drink

It’s proudly parochial. What can’t be sourced locally comes from South Australia and only occasionally farther afield. Chef Tom Saliba and his team work with local small-scale artisans and producers, sourcing sustainable produce from the island, including barramundi, pheasant, partridge, and such native fruits as quandong. Ever-changing menus might include kingfish tataki with lemon myrtle, octopus with finger lime, and a cornflake ice-cream sandwich with honeycomb. The local KI honey has a place on the breakfast table as well as in the spa, where there’s an almost-edible 90-minute Ligurian Honey and Almond Wrap treatment. Around the sociable long table in the Great Room, guests gather 24/7 to discover wines from local vineyards Springs Road and False Cape as well as taste Kangaroo Island Spirits and beer from KI Brewery.

Staff and service

The Baillies helped define laid-back luxury in Australia, so don’t expect obsequious butlers; a youthful, international staff effortlessly make guests feel like they’re at home—albeit a deluxe one. With ratios of 66 staff to 58 guests, it’s all about personal relationships. Some excursion guides double as wait staff in the restaurant or will appear with trays of scones, jam, and cream at wilderness pit-stops. There’s a feeling of camaraderie in every interaction.

Large deck with sofas around firepit at dusk, with a few lounge chairs near pool in background

Southern Ocean Lodge’s pool comes with ocean views.

Courtesy of Southern Ocean Lodge


Accommodations include the wheelchair-accessible Flinders Suite, which is situated near the main lodge and has level floors and a modified bathroom. The lodge’s touring vehicles offer generous seating but don’t have ramps or lifts, so guests will need to be able to step up into the vehicles, while wheelchairs and other aids will need to be folded and stored in the back of the car.

Eco credentials

From the drawing board, the ambition was to create a retreat that is a world leader in sustainable, nature-based tourism, a true sanctuary. The new build has given the Baillies the opportunity to improve on the original SOL by interrogating every aspect of the business to make it truly sustainable, from rainwater harvesting and waste reduction to maintaining high ethics throughout the supply chain. The lodge runs off a hybrid solar and battery system that has reduced energy consumption by another 25 percent. The highly efficient LEED-certified building has a design that maximizes the benefits of the natural weather patterns, with louvres in the breezeways almost eliminating the need for air conditioning in summer and hydronic floor heating powered by a heat pump, coupled with double-glazed windows to capture sunlight and provide warmth in winter. As for the risk of another fire, new, state-of-the-art sprinklers, coupled with elevated bushfire safety systems and a wide wilderness buffer landscaped around the property, mean that the reimagined SOL is, as James Baillie says, “better, smarter, and ready for the future.” From $2,273, all inclusive

Lee Tulloch is an Australian novelist, columnist, editor and award winning travel writer. She has published five novels, including Fabulous Nobodies (Harper Collins US), and was the founding editor of Harper’s Bazaar Australia.
From Our Partners
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
More From AFAR