This Kangaroo Island retreat offers a genuine taste of its productive surroundings, writes Kate Gibbs.
After a day sourcing periwinkles and native spinach or tetragonia, Nick Hannaford leads guests under the branches of a 150-year-old fig tree to eat and drink.
The tree canopy is the venue for drinks and canapes on the property of Lifetime Private Retreats, a three-house property that showcases Kangaroo Island produce. It is owned by Hannaford. The fruit-bearing tree has intricate and gnarly passageways formed by massive branches, and white tablecloths deck the ground. Blinis topped with local marron and samphire folded through a vanilla mayonnaise are served with local sparkling wine.
Not wanting to go into farming, like so many others on the island, Hannaford and his sister, Rachel, turned their family property into a guest house and resort.
The three houses and their surroundings are a food-lover's mecca where local produce is, sometimes literally, handed to guests on a silver platter.
Hannaford vaunts the island's burgeoning status as a destination for food enthusiasts. The region is full of boutique food producers and niche farming: from abalone farming to bee keeping, an independent distillery down one red-dirt road and vineyards down another.
"If you have a car or the inclination, it is a fantastic destination to learn about what good-quality air, good farming techniques and small producers can achieve," Hannaford says.
There are many ways to enjoy the houses for rent at Lifetime Retreats. The Stone House is built of sandstone, corrugated iron and timber and sits in the shrubby dunes of Snellings Beach. A well-stocked kitchen, featuring Global knives, Microplane grater and espresso machine, is standard issue for each house.
The Cliff House feels like a Greek Islands getaway scene from a 1950s film, whitewashed and romantic, with views across the beach, an open fireplace and vast outdoor decking area.
The red-earth built Sky House sits up high, with views of the coastline and the island. This two-guest house includes a Villeroy and Boch bathtub, a working vintage record player and, as with all three houses, the smell of baked muffins. Hannaford pulls the muffins, packed with local mulberries, out of the oven moments before guests arrive. Homemade glazed figs, made using Hannaford's grandmother's secret recipe, sit on the kitchen island bench.
As well as a self-catering option using local produce to cook in-house, Hannaford does bespoke weekend-long feasts. Guests are handed picnic hampers and pointed to idyllic spots, cooked breakfasts in the houses and offered a find-it-and-eat-it tour of the northern tip of the island; visiting the local abalone farm, gathering samphire on the northern beaches, watching milking and picking up haloumi or fetta from Island Pure dairy sheep farm.
"We want to give people that real food experience, showing them where we source the food, how it's made and what the island is all about," he says.
A rustic old corrugated iron shearing shed is filled with lanterns, dressed with fabric and tribal rugs. It is here that Hannaford presents his piece de resistance: a three-course meal using local ingredients and wine. A poached whiting fillet is wrapped around Island Pure sheep's cheese, served with caramelised onion and fresh-picked nasturtium flowers. South Rock lamb shoulder, slow-roasted and pulled from the bone in tender shreds, is served with rounds of semolina gnocchi and pomodoro sugo.
Chef and television presenter Pete Evans has been brought into the Lifetime Private Retreats fold as a weekend chef for groups of more than 12 people. The all-inclusive three-day feast includes meals cooked by Evans, a signed copy of his cookbook and accommodation.
"People come to Kangaroo Island and want to be the hunter and the forager," Hannaford says. "And when they go home they feel like they've really experienced something, not just floated above it as travellers."
LIFETIME PRIVATE RETREATS
From $440 a house a night (accommodation only), or $1200 a person a night for the full-service package (includes meals, beverages, private chef and accommodation). Snellings Beach, North Coast Road, Kangaroo Island, phone (08) 8559 2248, see life-time.com.au.
The writer was a guest of the South Australian Tourism Commission.