I think of Kangaroo Island as a gigantic ‘farm stay’ style paradise, combining the laid-back pace of island life with that special breed of ingenuity and commitment distance brings.
Kangaroo Island’s producers and venues are an inspiring bunch and you’ll find more of them through Eat Local SA.
There are a few things you need to know about Kangaroo Island if you’ve never been there. First, this island is big. Very big. It’s actually Australia’s third largest island and it’s 90km from tip to tip. Some seasonal producers and venues reduce their hours or take a break in winter (check their websites before you go), but you’ll receive a warm welcome from the locals at any time of year.
And last but not least, good news for visitors with time constraints that simply don’t allow a personal perambulation to Kangaroo Island comes in the form of the newly opened Island Pure staff in the Adelaide Central Market. Even better, you‘ll likely find yourself being served by a member of a Kangaroo Island food family with lots of firsthand knowledge to share.
Here you can find all of the Island’s most famous products, plus more that are only otherwise available on Kangaroo Island, including The Figgery’s fig-infused vinegar and oil, Ashbri pickled grapes and tapenades, Penny’s Pantry’s ‘ridgy didge homemade choko pickle’ and Biscuits by Braeside (you can also eat these on the island ferry, by the way).
I invite you to ponder that thought while you sample the amazing range of produce here. There’s everything from hot sauce made with locally grown chillies to fresh-caught Southern Rock lobster on offer.
Most roads for visitors lead out from Kingscote’s airport or ferry port, so that’s where I’m going to start too. My first stop is Island Beehive, where the folks are passionate about all things bee. There are shelves upon shelves of organic honeys to taste and lots to learn about the health-giving properties of other bee products including bee pollen and wax cappings and a cuppa with a honey biscuit will set you up for the day’s exploring.
According to proprietor Peter Davis, ‘the new wealth is healthy living and natural products,’ and he’s always happy to share his extensive knowledge. You can also pick up produce from some other great Kangaroo Island brands here, including Kangaroo Island Source, along with honey-based skin care and gifts.
Kangaroo Island Shellfish
In American River, half an hour’s drive away, the Pacific Oyster season is April to February. A visit to Kangaroo Island Shellfish’s waterfront farm shop opposite their sheds on the wharf during the season will bring back memories of summer holidays, when you walked down to the local to grab the catch of the day for dinner. Kangaroo Island Shellfish operate the largest commercial oyster farm on the island and their farm shop showcases local aquaculture products such as marron, abalone/abalini and sustainable seafood including King George whiting and crayfish when in season.
Take your pick between cooking your own (recipe cards provided) and opting for a platter or takeaway. Either way, the free tasting of their Sheoak smoked oysters and smoked oyster dip is a must, and I’d take my lunch to the wharf to settle on the Old Salt’s Yarning Seat, a comfy spot sheltered from the breeze with a view to the horizon over the crystal clear water.
Just outside Kingscote, on the Cygnet River, is the Island Pure Sheep Dairy and Cheese Factory. Watching sheep milking in action is a treat. These woolly ladies have very definite ideas about the order of things and anyone stepping out of line on the way in to be milked is unlikely to get away with it. Sheep and lambs (and some impressive turkeys) will happily submit to passing paparazzi in the paddock outside and then it’s time to taste the produce: check out the du Coudic Kefalotiri, a semi-matured Greek style cheese with vanilla notes, the new semi-matured Cygnet Manchego, and the silver medalist of the 2013 SA Dairy Awards, the Ravine Des Casoars Haloumi. And I have to mention my personal favourite, the addictive, lightly lemony Sheep’s Milk Labneh.
There are great plans in store for Island Pure’s summer season, including expanded facilities to stay and eat, so this is one to watch.
Kangaroo Island Source
Penneshaw, on the north eastern tip of the Dudley Peninsula, is a bit of a foodie hot spot. On the way into town is the home of Kangaroo Island Source, producers of a range of gourmet goodies including sauces and chutneys made with island produce. I dare you to resist their bitey Beetroot Relish!
Kangaroo Island Source’s Kate Sumner also provides catering services and cooking classes and her most recent venture is a pop-up restaurant, running on the first Friday night of each month with a set menu and set price. The inspiration can be from anywhere, and so far has ranged from Tuscany to India. Each event is limited to 30 lucky diners who can enjoy their meal along the longest long table I’ve ever seen, facing a five star ocean view.
Kangaroo Island Source produces their spice pastes, rubs and relishes from this kitchen. A cooking class or pop-up reservation here means you will be enjoying vegetables, herbs, figs, and berries produced right outside on the farm, along with other great local produce including cheeses from Island Pure, South Rock Lamb and local wines.
And speaking of wines, let’s stop in at Sunset Winery, tucked away on a hillside near Penneshaw with a jaw-dropping view over the aquamarine blue of Eastern Cove. If you are lucky, like I was, you may be treated to a brief serenade by a pair of blue wrens on the balcony. They topped off a relaxing light lunch of a savoury platter featuring local produce, Island Pure feta and kefalotiri cheeses, homemade beetroot hummus dip made with Kangaroo Island Olive Oil Co and the local brand of chickpeas, sweet sticky fig and a locally baked baguette, accompanied by a tasting of Sunset’s own wines, tasting notes and a smile.
Away down the other end of the island is wilderness country. You can honestly experience the Australian bush here just as it was when Matthew Flinders and Nicolas Baudin passed through over 200 years ago, and it’s beautiful.
Which brings us to Flinders Chase and the Chase Café. Flinders Chase is a world-renowned national park and the Chase Café in the Visitor Centre offers sustenance and service to all comers. Sugar gums shade the dining area and there’s a fossil dig pit close to hand to keep the kids amused while parents take a coffee break.
Families are top of mind on this menu, with lashings of local produce, fresh seafood and many of the island’s jams, sauces and chutneys. There are options for everyone from the peckish to the starving. Here’s your chance to try Island Pure Haloumi in a salad of chicken dressed with local Latitude 36 Honey Mustard, or check the specials board for treats such as the bold gourmet steak sandwich topped with that Kangaroo Island Source Beetroot Relish I’ve been talking about.
Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat
When you visit Flinders Chase you are going to want to stay, and if you want to stay, Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat is the place. Sit back and let your day’s experience unwind into a relaxing evening in the natural bush courtyard, while you watch the local wildlife amble past.
The Retreat is committed to environmental protection and sustainability principles. Naturally that includes eating and drinking locally. The seasonally-inspired menu here reflects the Retreat’s support of a wide range of local producers and suppliers. Freshly shucked oysters from American River and olive ciabatta with local almond dukkah served with Kangaroo Island Olive Oil Co and balsamic glaze may be on the menu, or perhaps it will be asparagus grilled and served with Island Pure Haloumi, wild mushrooms and salsa verde. There are plenty of options, from barbecues to boutique dining in Nicolas Baudin’s Restaurant, after your day’s wilderness adventuring.