Kangaroo Island is a delight to the senses
KANGAROO Island - a brisk ferry ride or a short plane hop from Adelaide - is a place of nature's gifts.
It is a wildlife sanctuary without fences, an atoll of sea-pounded cliffs and artistic rock formations, an adventure park of towering sand dunes, shimmering lagoons and dense forest.
But we were there to eat.
When you have celebrity chef George Calombaris preparing abalone for 150 people in a pop-up marquee at Kingscote Wharf on a balmy moonlit night and Maggie Beer setting up to present a Roman Feast, nature's gifts can wait awhile.
It was the weekend of the Kangaroo Island Feastival and a bounty of island produce and wines had to be addressed. Locally distilled gin too. More about that in a minute.
Kangaroo Island Feastival is a celebration of the island's fast-growing reputation as a food and wine destination.
It kicked off with a grand dinner. Visitors packed the marquee to meet local producers and winemakers and to eat roast goose and marron and yabbies from a menu prepared by George Calombaris. Indulgent. But there was learning, too.
The next day at Clifford's Honey Farm the Ligurian bees, brought to Kangaroo Island from Italy, were going about their high-yield work to help owners expand their range of honey products. Kangaroo Island, or KI as it is called by the 4600 locals, is the only place in the world with a wild population of bees.
Licking cones of honey ice-cream kept us quiet for a while. So too did the tasting of premium wines at Islander Estate Vineyard, part owned by Frenchman Jacques Lurton.
After the wine, sheep called for our attention. You might think (as we shamefully did) that watching sheep being milked at the Island Pure Sheep Dairy and Cheese factory is a bit too country.
But these KI sheep are groomed and pampered, happy to follow each other into a milking room fully on display to visitors, where they eat while their prized milk is drawn.
The quality of the cheeses and yogurts produced from their milk leaves you in no doubt why these sheep are so mollycoddled.
Gin came after the sheep. This is an island of pleasing diversity.
That night over a gin-inspired dinner at Kangaroo Island Spirits, South Australia's first boutique distillery, we learnt the history of gin (you might be surprised to know distilling goes back to the first century AD) from Jon and Sarah Lark who hand-make high-quality liqueurs and spirits on their property.
A blind gin tasting proved we were no gin experts but willing pupils and a gin-inspired five-course dinner showed us anything is possible with a little imagination and a good drop.
Food and wine might be king and queen on KI during Feastival time, but the wildlife rules throughout the year. Fat sea lions pose for the camera between diving and dozing at Seal Bay - the same goes for the koalas, and a kangaroo seems to be waiting for you around every corner.
Then there is the jaw-dropping splendour of the KI coastline with surf-pounded cliffs, tranquil coves and vast stretches of sand. Accommodation options are as many as they are varied. We loved the space and comfort of the Aurora Ozone Hotel at Kingscote.
KI will have its way with you whether you are there for the food, the wine, the scenery or the wildlife.
The writer was a guest of South Australia Tourism Commission.
KANGAROO ISLAND FEASTIVAL
The Islander estate Vineyard
Island Pure Sheep Dairy and Cheese Factory
Kangaroo Island Spirits
Aurora Ozone Hotel
Aurora Ozone Hotel