After the devastating bushfires in Australia, one hotel on the heavy-hit Kangaroo Island is hoping to rebuild and boost the island's tourism industry. 

The glass windows of a luxury lodge with greenery and water in the distance.
The famous hotel before the bushfires © Southern Ocean Lodge

On 20 December 2019, lightning strikes in Kangaroo Island’s west ignited a bushfire in the dry summer scrub. With temperatures nudging 40°C and 80km/h winds, the fire spread rapidly, eventually burning uncontrolled through bush and farmland – burning almost half of this massive island.

Two people were killed as they fled the flames, along with staggering numbers of livestock and native animals: 100,000 sheep, 25,000 koalas, 160 rare glossy black cockatoos, and countless lizards, snakes, possums, echidnas and native bees. An estimated 26,000 kangaroos – around 40% of the island’s namesake marsupials – also died.

Burned trees and bush following the Australian bushfires.
The devastation on Kangaroo Island following the bushfires © Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Known as ‘Australia’s Galapagos’, Kangaroo Island sits 13km offshore from Cape Jervis on the southern tip of the Fleurieu Peninsula—itself 107km south of Adelaide, the South Australian capital. The island’s wildlife, wilderness and relative proximity a major city have made it a tourism mecca, the industry bringing in 140,000 visitors and upwards of AUD$140 million each year. Now, in the wake of the bushfires and with international tourism impacted by the coronavirus – particularly tourism from China – the ‘KI’ economy is in tatters.

Hundreds of holiday houses were also destroyed in the fires, but perhaps the most notable and keenly felt loss was that of Southern Ocean Lodge. The shining star of the South Australian tourism galaxy, this sexy, low-profile clifftop lodge was razed to the ground.

A modernist hotel stands on a the edge of a cliff in Australia.
The lodge before the fires © Southern Ocean Lodge

Designed by famous SA architect Max Pritchard, the lodge opened in 2008 as Australia’s first truly luxury, world-class wilderness lodge. With an exclusive but still down-to-earth vibe, the lodge attracted everyone from 50th-wedding-anniversary couples to Hollywood A-listers (‘Hey, wasn’t that Teri Hatcher getting into that 4WD?’). Sunken lounges, opulent king-sized beds, glass-walled bathrooms, complimentary mini-bar, guided island tours, twice-daily housekeeping, day spa. 

Now, lodge owners Baillie Lodges have pledged to rebuild. In a media statement in the wake of the fires, the company said, "In the short to medium term we would like to take the lead in rebuilding the Kangaroo Island tourism industry. As much as possible we would like to contribute to the economic and social recovery of the broader Kangaroo Island community, which has really been such a genuine part of the lodge’s resonance for both our Australian and international guests."

The question of whether a rebuilt Southern Ocean Lodge would be able to gain insurance against future bushfires remains unanswered. Also under speculation is the future of the proposed Dauncey Hotel at Kingscote – a multistorey development in the middle of KI’s main town, slated to become the island’s first major international hotel.

Until such issues are resolved, it’s worth noting that the eastern half of Kangaroo Island is still open for business: wineries, beaches, campgrounds, cafes, restaurants… The South Australian state government’s ‘Book Them Out’ campaign (#BookThemOut) has been effective in encouraging locals to travel to the island and support the ailing economy.

Read more: 

Australia's bushfires: how travellers can help now

Australia’s Kangaroo Island is encouraging travellers to return following the bushfires

Why now is the time to plan a trip to Australia


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