From the freshest of seafood to the purest of honey, Australia’s third-largest island is a foodie’s paradise.
With regional food and fresh produce becoming an increasingly important part of the travel experience, Kangaroo Island is no new kid on the block. Given that only 4500 people live on the Island, the range and diversity of local produce is astonishing. But this should come as no surprise. From the very early days of settlement, the production of wheat and wool has had its ups and downs, so farmers needed to diversify to make a quid. This included timber harvesting and the distillation of eucalyptus oil, an industry that still exists on a small scale today.
This tradition of resourcefulness has continued through to the modern age. In the 1980s when the wool price tumbled, Dave and Jenny Clifford turned their beekeeping hobby into something a little more substantial. Now they have over 400 hives scattered about the island, producing a range of delicious honeys, and possibly the finest honey ice-cream you’re ever likely to taste. And all thanks to a productive and even-tempered species of Italian bee that was brought to KI in the 1880s. Ligurian bees are the only honey bees on the island, and they’re so important to the quality of the local product that KI was declared a bee sanctuary in 1885, to prevent the importation of lesser bees and their ailments. And, in the spirit of diversification, small batches of Honey Wheat Ale, from Drunken Drone Brewery, are now available at Clifford’s.
Jon Lark has always enjoyed good gin so he took the next step and established Kangaroo Island Spirits distillery, not far from Kingscote. His award-winning Wild Gin is blended using a native version of juniper berries. A range of other spirits and liqueurs, including vodka, limoncello and nocino, are also distilled on-site and are available for tasting.
Amanda and Ken Rowe were lured from the mainland by KI’s charms and, in a case of extreme sea change, they traded IT for oysters. They now operate The Oyster Farm Shop at American River. The oysters are harvested in the early morning and by lunchtime they’ve been shucked and are available for sale. That’s fresh! The shop sits beside the sheltered waters of Eastern Cove, and there are a number of seaside picnic spots where you can enjoy the view while you devour your platter.
Marron, a type of freshwater crayfish, was brought to KI from their native WA about 40 years ago, and they’ve since set up camp in the island’s waterways. They eventually ended up on farms like John Melbourne’s, Andermel Marron, located in the central-west of the island. The property also includes a vineyard, John being one of 15 grape growers that have developed KI into a significant player in the SA wine scene. Wines from his Two Wheeler Creek label can be sampled in what’s surely the only tasting room containing marron holding tanks. To confirm that freshness is king, head into the café and find out which of their wines complements dishes like Chilli-lime Marron.
While you’re sampling KI’s fruit of the vine, be sure to drop in to Dudley Wines, if only for the view…and the gourmet pizza…and the wine. From its clifftop perch, the cellar door looks out across the blue waters of Backstairs Passage towards the mainland – a spectacular setting for an afternoon of gluttony.
If you’re a sheep farmer, you might expect your product to find its way to the end of knitting needles, or to be accompanying vegetables on a dinner plate. But Justin Harman and Sally George of Island Pure Sheep Dairy, aren’t concerned about the fleece or the meat, they just want good milkers. If you’ve been reared on the juice of the cow, then there’s something mildly unsettling about seeing a line of sheep hooked up to a milking machine, but after a taste of the grilled haloumi, the world seems right again.
If you happen to be in Penneshaw on the first Sunday of the month, you can treat yourself to a wide variety of local KI goodies, and meet the producers. Like Libby Barrios from Rancho Relaxo Olive Oil, who uses ‘wild olives’ from trees planted by the early settlers, together with orchard olives, in her range of products. And Kate Sumner, from Kangaroo Island Source, who turns out a scrumptious selection of sauces and spice mixes, growing many of the ingredients in her own garden.
So before heading back to the realities of mainland life, pick up a few tasty treats and add some KI flavour to your pantry.