Southern Ocean Lodge, Kangaroo Island: Owners plan to rebuild after bushfire's destruction

Just over one year after Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island was destroyed by bushfires, its owners have revealed plans for the iconic property's rebuild.

James Baillie of Baillie Lodges said he hopes construction will begin later this year, with an aim to reopening in the lodge in late 2022 or early 2023.

Southern Ocean Lodge quickly became an icon of Australian tourism after it opened in 2008. It was repeatedly named among the world's best hotels in respected international travel publications Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure.

While Mr Baillie and his wife Hayley were devastated by the loss of the property, he said they began thinking about rebuilding almost immediately.

"We had to look at what was salvageable and what we might bring back," he said. "The planning of the demolition itself felt like partially rebuilding - looking at what would be removed and what would be retained."

The main building's concrete slab survived and could be retained, but all 21 guest suites were levelled, he said.

The lodge's original architect, Max Pritchard, has been engaged to review and design Southern Ocean Lodge 2.0 and though Mr Baillie said the property will be rebuilt based on the original design, there will be some changes.

"While the overall design was timeless, we're taking the opportunity to review and tweak," he said. "We'll update some of the materials and give the place a freshen up and a facelift internally."

The biggest change, at this stage, will be shifting the outlook of the guest suites.

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"In hindsight, we felt we could have orientated the guest suites to make more of the incredible views down the coast," Mr Baillie said. "We'd originally oriented them all to face out (to the ocean) when we designed it. So this time around we're angling the suites in a new design within the floorplate to make much more of the view, which will mean every suite will focus more on the beach, the cliffs and the incredible crashing waves."

One element of the original lodge that will remain is the sculpture "Sunshine", a kangaroo made from tractor parts created by artist Indiana James, that greeted guests upon arrival. It was one of the only things to survive the fire.

The fire last summer burnt 50 per cent of the island and killed two local firefighters, destroying 56 buildings including the lodge. But 12 months later the natural landscape is recovering well, Mr Baillie said.

"Fire is part of Australia and part of the landscape and while it was apocalyptic what happened, it's incredibly uplifting to see the regrowth and see the wildlife coming back."

Mr Baillie hopes that, by the time the lodge is ready to reopen, the decline in travel caused by COVID-19 will be over and tourism to the region will have fully recovered. The process of rebuilding is being recorded for a film project, which will also be released when the lodge reopens.

"Without being the owner of a crystal ball, it's probably good timing given COVID and given our reliance on international travellers," he said. "Sixty per cent of Southern Ocean's market was international. It will allow time for international travel to recover and time for the island to recover as well."

See also: After the bushfires, struggling koalas get a new home

See also: 52 Weekends Away: South Australia's best weekend getaways for 2020

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