Pilgrimage to a Land of Plenty

Kangaroo Island is home to a range of glorious produce, writes Maeve O'Meara.

There's something intensely romantic about the wind in your hair when you travel to an island by sea. As you stand on the deck of the car ferry that takes you to Kangaroo Island, the white sandy beaches and rocky headlands become clearer and you feel that explorer's thrill of voyaging to new lands.

And this land, off the coast of South Australia has it all - great wildlife, amazing scenery, plus it's one of the best places to make a food pilgrimage in Australia.

Because it's such a pristine environment, you find the legendary Kangaroo Island free-range chickens and some of the best eggs you'll ever eat, honey that actually tastes of the blossoms the bees have been feeding on, luscious cheeses, some good olive oil, wines and delicious sweet little marrons grown in the dams on the island.

The cold, clear waters of the Southern Ocean produce exceptional lobsters and fish, and when that water is pumped through a series of ponds on the northern part of the island it's the ideal environment for abalone, prized in the markets of Sydney and Melbourne and further afield in Asia.

Surprisingly for a place that has such good food, there's not a restaurant culture on the island. The main towns of Kingscote and Penneshaw have a few cafes, takeaways and a restaurant or two - but the best bet is to settle into one of the beautiful beach houses set on any of the white sandy beaches of the island and go foraging during the day, collecting a feast.

As well as lounging on the big wide decks on many of the beach houses, there are some extraordinary places for an alfresco lunch. With a cooler and a good-sized picnic blanket, you can seek out the farm gates and assemble something close to heaven.

You buy lobster pretty much direct from the boats that dock at the pier at Kingscote - or stroll up the hill where you can buy from the deep tanks of cooked lobsters ready to go at Ferguson Australia's Boatshed.

Collect Kangaroo Island Farmhouse brie or camembert from almost anywhere on the island, and don't forget that food presents are the best you can get people back home.
At Island Pure there's sheep milking every afternoon, the rich milk producing some delicious yoghurts and soft curd cheeses.
You can visit Clifford's Honey Farm and see how the bees create their magic ... it's a little school-excursion but very interesting, plus there's Jenny Clifford's divine honey ice cream.

At Kangaroo Island Organic Honey, owner Peter Davis's big shed smells of honey and beeswax. This is where his organic honey, collected from the flowering trees around the island, is scraped and bottled.

The thick beeswax isn't wasted either, making furniture polish and lovely squat candles that burn with the faintest smell of honey.

The wine industry on Kangaroo Island is just 10 years old, but the wineries and cellar doors couldn't be in more beautiful places. Dudley Partners, for instance, is in the shadow of the huge whitewashed lighthouse at Cape Willoughby. There you can sip chardonnay and merlot with the rugged coastline stretching out in front of you and, at the right time of year, spot whales in the distance.

The Sunset Winery has a deck overlooking yet another perfect beach where dolphin pods play and is the ideal place for late-afternoon drinks as the sun sinks. The wines are just beginning to make their names on the mainland.

Another spectacular spot to explore is the Remarkable Rocks - the name is almost an understatement. These are smooth, wind-honed rocks with intriguingly weathered boulders balanced on top. The place is full of photo opportunities.

And this is near the mesmerising New Zealand fur seals at Admirals Arch (there are also sea lions further up the road at Seal Bay).

Then there's a hidden wonder called Little Sahara - you feel like you are actually in North Africa in the rolling dunes, and I defy anyone not to return to childhood - to climb up a sandhill, take a running jump into space and land in a whoosh of golden sand.

There's something about the adventures you have on Kangaroo Island that is sheer exuberant delight - like seeing penguins, kangaroos, pelicans, seals, sea lions and penguins in the wild. It's all very good for the soul.

The beaches are that powdery white sand that makes the water look pale aqua and inviting.

One of the best is hidden. Stop at the Stokes Bay car park and you see a beach of pebbles, but walk around to the right and you pass through a series of secret passages and caverns among the rocks to emerge into the sunshine of a beach with a large natural rockpool perfect for kids, and gentle waves for everyone else.

Snellings Beach is somewhere I could stay for a long time (there's a dream B&B called Cliff House, snuggled at one end of the beach that would be magic to stay in).

It's the absence of things, too, that make this place special. I did a very silly-girl thing while driving around the island and put the wrong sort of petrol in my car.

But without a wait at the top of a hill for the road-service man, I would never have experienced the wonderful silence of the place - something we rarely get to revel in.

And if food trails sound all too hard and you want to flop, an enterprising chef who escaped a five-star restaurant in London has set up a catering company that provides dinners and hampers featuring the best of the Kangaroo Island produce.

Getting back on the ferry is the hardest bit - but you can continue the Kangaroo Island experience with a full portable cooler and cases of wine, to keep you in never-never land for just a little longer.

Maeve O'Meara's food adventure company, Gourmet Safaris, has "behind the secret door" tours of Kangaroo Island in February 2008 catering for no more than 20 people and featuring a series of exclusive lunches and dinners in beautiful places and visits to the top food and wine producers on the island. Phone (02) 9960 5675 or see www.gourmetsafaris.com.au.

Trip notes
Tourism Kangaroo Island: www.tourkangarooisland.com.au

Best time to visit Any time, but spring is special.

Catering 2 Birds and a Squid offers local produce. Either cook dinner yourself or the company can supply a chef. Everything can be ordered from the website before arrival. Dinners about $55 per head and with a chef add $200. See www.2birds1squid.com.

The holiday house
The Kona at Antechamber Bay is nestled in a farm location overlooking the beach and Backstairs Passage, with private beach access. It's an ultra-modern property with spa that sleeps eight and has a wonderful view. Phone (08) 8553 1444, see www.kicc.com.au/thekona

The Cliff House is a luxury B&B run by LifeTime Private Retreats. Phone (08) 8559 2248, see www.life-time.com.au.