Australia’s newest luxury lodge has a surprising location
Is this the ultimate away-from-it-all island escape?
Words by Ute Junker
When Aaron Suine and Nick Stead opened Australia’s newest luxury lodge back in October 2019, they were prepared to take things slowly. They had no doubt that Kittawa Lodge – set on 40 hectares of rolling King Island waterfront, with bathtubs perfectly positioned so that guests can soak while watching the sun sink into the ocean – was exactly the sort of break that stressed-out mainlanders needed. But they figured that getting out the word on a lodge tucked on an island off the Tasmanian coast might be a slow process.
They were wrong. “We had far more bookings and enquiries than we expected,” says Suine. “We were so busy with our guests that we had no time to start our marketing.”
Then came the COVID crash. While it was a huge blow for the fledgling business, Suine can see an upside: that in a post-COVID world, King Island’s mix of isolation, immersion and community spirit may be just what travellers need. The fact that it’s just 30 minutes flight from Melbourne is an added bonus.
Floating in Bass Strait between the mainland and Tasmania, King Island – with a population of just 1500 scattered across its 1000 square kilometres – has until now been mainly known for its cheese, beef and crayfish. However, the island has plenty to lure travellers, not least its natural beauty.
The ever-changing landscape ranges from lush pastures to melaleuca forests and wetlands where birdwatchers can spot rare species such as the orange-bellied parrot. The rugged coastline, where more than 100 ships have been wrecked, alternates between sheltered white-sand beaches and wilder, wave-tossed boulder-strewn shores. You can walk for miles without ever encountering another person, gazing out onto an apparently endless sea. Yet the overarching feeling is a sense of tranquillity – something Suine noticed straight away.
“We had a feeling of genuine calm and connection when we first came to King Island,” he recalls. “We fell in love with the island and the people. We bought this property less than a month after we first visited the island.”
Kittawa Lodge’s two villas blend seamlessly into the environment, with charred cypress exteriors, elegant but understated interiors in bush tones, and floor to ceiling windows. This may be the only place in Australia where wallabies watch with fascination as you cook yourself breakfast – possibly drawn by the rich aroma of the King Island bacon, smoked by the local butcher, that I’m frying up.
A sense of place is woven through every aspect of the lodge, from the aromatherapy bath products made locally with native botanicals to the striking prints and paintings on the walls. Not only is the art for sale; your hosts can arrange for you to meet the artists. Like every other local on King Island, they are incredibly hospitable.
“We tailor itineraries to each guest’s interests,” Suine says. “We want to create an incredible experience for every single guest, to have them walk away reconnected and rejuvenated.”
What that involves will vary from guest to guest. “Some people want to play golf, some people want private yoga or guided meditation sessions.”
If all you want to do is hide away from the world, Kittawa Lodge is the place to do it, with grassy dunes sealing each villa off from view. “The fact that we can give our guests complete privacy is part of what sold us on this piece of land,” Suine says.
If you prefer to spend your days exploring, there is much to discover, from the pheasants and peacocks that roam free – they throng the dirt roads after rain, fossicking for insects – to the benches in the township of Currie, built in the shape of two turkeys. Just outside town are the kelp racks, imposing structures where huge strands of kelp are hung to dry by locals who gather it from the beaches where it is washed up. It is a surprisingly lucrative side hustle: kelp is a source of alginates, an essential ingredient for food, shampoo and pharmaceuticals. (It also provides a mineral-rich supplement for the island’s cows.)
Surprisingly, this small island also has a thriving arts scene. One of my favourite local attractions is the Boat Shed, otherwise known as the Restaurant with No Food, on the waterfront at Currie. Its cheery yellow walls are hard to miss; step inside and it is even more vibrant, a cascade of crayon-bright colours on the walls and floors, the tables and the chairs. The tables are already set, classical music playing. All you have to do is bring the food – an easy task, given the wealth of excellent local produce.