Nature even better from a lodge

Southern Ocean Lodge Kangaroo Island, South Australia

It doesn't look like safari country. The Southern Ocean, that salty moat separating Kangaroo Island and Australia's south coast from the Antarctic, is flinging frothy waves on to the beach below my elegant cocoon at Southern Ocean Lodge.

A grey curtain of chilly rain blurs the rocky promontory nearby. But this island is an ark, and more than two-by-twos are here for the spotting. Wild things could be reason enough to come, but this lodge is one, too. Nearly 300m long, and just one suite wide along most of its length, the serpentine lodge crowns a clifftop above Hanson Bay on Kangaroo's south coast. Each of the 21 suites is ocean-facing, and vast blue panoramas of sea and sky fill the view of each.

With private terraces, heated limestone underfoot, fine linens on king-size beds, mini-fridges filled with soft drinks and Champagne for the taking, music on command and sitting areas with custom 'roo-themed accessories, these digs are tenaciously top shelf.

Kelly Hill Conservation Park and the sprawling wildness of Flinders Chase National Park snuggle up to South Ocean Lodge and put animals within reach of tours planned for guests.

Island-born nature guide Brenda Hilder is keeping an eye on the road and one on the roadside scrub as we roll on a half-day excursion into Flinders Chase. She slows to a stop, and I think I see why the Cape Barren goose is one of the world's rarest geese.

Two of the pale-grey creatures are casually strolling on the two-lane highway that carries much of the island's west-end traffic. The tubby birds with lime-green beaks, pink legs and black feet cast a sassy glance our way then pad reluctantly off the asphalt.

Just beyond, two kangaroos hunched over in roadside grazing straighten to inspect us. A species unique to the island, they're smaller and more furry than their mainland cousins.

At the aptly named Remarkable Rocks, granite boulders fantastically sculpted by wind and water, I scan the bushes for a fairy wren, and the blue and black sprite I've long wanted to see pops into view.

New Zealand fur seals snoozing at rocky Admiral's Arch and a lucky sighting of the shy tammar wallaby are appetisers for the bush picnic Hilder grills for us. Clearing our plates is tempting, but it's always prudent to save room for meals at the lodge.

The island 19km off the mainland is primarily agricultural, and chef Tim Bourke taps its bounty in his new-every-day menus.

His palette includes local sheep's-milk cheese and yoghurt, crayfish, meats, fruits, shellfish, grains and honey from prized Ligurian bees.

People who live and work on this 56km by 156km isle embrace it with affection. "Here you have the bush and the coast," says lodge guide Jess Skewes. "You get the best of both worlds."www.southernoceanlodge.com.au Tours or packages by Exceptional Kangaroo Island, www.exceptionalkangarooisland.com.

Arkaba Station Flinders Ranges, South Australia

Retired national-park ranger Nick Bailey nods towards the blue-green, snaggle-toothed mountains on the horizon. "All the story of life on the planet is shown in the stones of the Flinders Ranges," he says as his four-wheel-drive vehicle carries me to Arkaba Station, a sheep ranch at the south edge of the rocky chain north of Port Augusta, an hour's flight from Adelaide.

Fossils of the oldest-known life forms - ediacara, seabed dwellers Nick calls the "Mona Lisa of the planet" - were found in the Flinders in 1946, and geologists continue to study this ancient ocean bottom, now a plain of sparse grass ribbed with unfathomably old mountains and erosion-carved hills.

In this spectacular setting, Arkaba (ARE-kah-bah) is evidence of more recent history. The iron-roofed, wide-verandahed homestead built in 1851 is the heart of a 260sq km property formerly owned by the pioneer Rasheed family and now a luxury outback lodging.

Four comfortable rooms in the thick-walled house and a cottage across the lawn are open to the handful of guests for whom open spaces can't be too wide. "Some people find it eerie to be in this silence," says Dean Rasheed, who until two years ago ran 8000 sheep on Arkaba.

"I'm used to it." A communal dinner table is set with creative, savoury entrees, fresh breads and yummy desserts from the open kitchen.

In the covered conversation area outdoors, guests are free to choose among wine or water from the large refrigerator. A lounge cossets with a fireplace and library, and the small staff is caring without hovering. Activities such as hiking and mountain-biking are offered each morning and afternoon.

Dean occasionally joins Arkaba's full-time guides, driving guests along the narrow, rocky roads he and a helper cut through the station in a programme to eradicate destructive feral goats and rabbits. The 14-year effort won Arkaba three national awards for land management.

We stop at the barnlike woolshed, constructed in 1858. Beams from Oregon and corrugated-iron roofing from England weren't beyond the pocketbook during that boom time for woolgrowers.

"Smoko" (midmorning tea) gave shearers a break from the bleating of animals and click or whir of the shears.

Arkaba continues as a working sheep station, and each September, shearers harvest the merino wool.

Euros, a smaller relative of kangaroos, thrive on this land reclaimed from pests. They stand in our road, graze on scrub and give us a once-over before bounding away.

We jump from the SUV and look up when I spot a huge shadow heading towards us. A wedge-tailed eagle, Australia's largest raptor, sails overhead, close enough for us to see the tan epaulets on its chocolate-brown wings.

Birds and more birds, red gum trees wrinkled by centuries of life, high points that spread a wide vista at our feet, a hide-and-seek creek that's sometimes above ground, sometimes below - I'm enthralled. I want to look closely at everything.

"Next time you come," Dean says with understanding, "I'm going to set you up with a chair and smoko and just leave you." Yes, please.

www.arkabastation.com Rawnsley Park Station nearby at Wilpena Pound (www.rawnsleypark.com.au) also has lodgings.


Resources

Tourism Australia- www.australia.com
South Australia tourism - www.southaustralia.com
Northern Territory tourism - www.tourismnt.com.au