The famed Barossa Valley wine region of Australia is about an hour’s drive from the exotic and bustling city of Adelaide. As expected, I was captivated by the beauty of rolling hills covered in rows of green and yellowing grape leaves, telltale colors to signal the end of harvest season. But what I didn’t expect was to see a kangaroo hopping through the vineyard at St. Hugo winery. Wow.
Kangaroo-spotting was not on my itinerary for another three days, pending a half-hour flight over to Kangaroo Island. Yet, there one was, right before my eyes. That’s Australia. Now, on to Kangaroo Island.
In 1802, British explorer Matthew Flinders landed on this island 70 miles southwest of Adelaide and named it for its primary inhabitants, kangaroos. This third-largest island off the Australian coast attracted European seal hunters and whalers in the early 19th century. Back on land, these seamen were on a mission to prevent the extinction of an Australian icon, the koala. They introduced 18 koalas to the island and planted 100 species of eucalyptus trees to provide the animals’ food supply.
Today, the koala population is a robust 30,000, and the fuzzy creatures choose to dine on only five types of eucalyptus. I became so obsessed with koala-spotting that I almost forgot about seeing kangaroos, but that would soon change.
On this island, kangaroos far outnumber the human population of 4,500. This place is almost a zoo without cages. In fact, just outside of Kingscote, the island’s largest city, you’d wonder why folks appear to have abandoned microwave ovens and refrigerators on their properties. No, not waiting for recycling — they serve as kangaroo-proof mailboxes!
I soon arrived at the remote and ultra-luxurious Southern Ocean Lodge, 21 modern rooms located “in the bush” and on the water’s edge where the South Pacific and Indian oceans meet, with views (and amenities) to die for. I enjoyed a lunch of crisped local garfish with a caper and dill emulsion, accompanied by fried potatoes, while sipping a crisp Coriole Chenin Blanc from the McLaren Vale wine region.
As a post-lunch workout, I signed up for the hotel’s afternoon exploration of the cliffs overlooking the beach. Spectacular crashing waves illustrate why the island has a long history of shipwrecks on this spot. I also got a lesson on bush plants surrounding and leading to the hotel’s curved, panoramic lobby. I was fascinated with samphire, or sea bean, which grows as beaded shoots in shades of green, purple and red. This salty succulent is prized by southern Australian chefs, who add it as a topping to many dishes.
Charlene Peters is a passionate explorer of indigenous dishes throughout the world. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• 2/3 cup samphire (order online if you can’t find in a local specialty store)
• 2 cups spaghetti
• Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
• Olive oil
• A few knobs of butter
• 2 salmon fillets
• ½ red pepper, finely chopped (more or less, to taste)
• 1-2 cloves garlic (to taste), crushed
• 1 lemon, juice and zest
Plunge your spaghetti into a pot of boiling water. Add a good pinch of salt and a splash of olive oil. Cook for 12 minutes or until al dente.
While it cooks, get a frying pan hot. Season your fish. Add a knob of butter. Lower heat to medium. Cook skin side down until you can see the fish starting to cook through a little, about 5 minutes. Flip. Cook for another 3-5 minutes. The flesh will easily flake away from the skin when it’s done.
Toss the red pepper and the garlic in the pan to cook a little in the residual heat.
Add the samphire to the pasta water right before draining it. Toss drained pasta and samphire with a knob of butter. Flake the salmon away from the skin and toss the flesh and the garlic and red pepper in with the pasta.
Add a good hit of fresh pepper and the juice and zest of the lemon. Taste. Adjust seasoning as needed. Serve warm.
Photo caption: Gourmet Traveller awarded Orana in Adelaide as the 2018 best restaurant in Australia. Chef Jock Zonfrillo utilizes Australia beach succulents and seafood on his tasting menu.
Image: The stunning stretch of rugged coastline hugging Southern Ocean Lodge, one of the world’s top hotels.
Image: The sea bean ‘samphire’ grows from a rock by the sea.