The tiny white lamb barrelling up the paddock towards me goes by the name of Leroy. He’s quite the vocal little ruminant and has clearly established himself as Supreme Leader of a posse of miniature goats. They’re trailing him up the hill, ears flapping as they trot.
At this juncture, however, Leroy has no interest in goat governance. His bottle of milk is top of mind and I have it, warmed and ready in my hand. He gulps it down over the course of a vigorous 40-second tug-of-war – lamb versus journalist – his slippery nose and top lip lapping against my fingers as I struggle to keep a grip on my end of the bottle.
Leroy and his entourage are only the first of the day’s encounters with tiny critters. Further down the hill past the chickens and the guinea fowls, a four-day-old miniature donkey, still unsteady on his miniature legs, permits me to crouch down and rest my forehead against his while I scratch his neck. His miniature mother and equally diminutive Aunt Betty stand nearby. Their next door neighbour is a miniature horse nicknamed Kylie, the consequence of a disturbing resemblance – it’s mostly in the mane/hair – to Kylie Minogue circa 1988. There are still more miniature breeds, including a tiny doe-eyed Nadudana cow, in an old shearing shed at the bottom of the hill.
I’m in the middle of a three-day sojourn to Mistere Kangaroo Island (Mistere KI) and trying to suppress a particular traveller’s issue: the melancholy that can start to seep in when you realise you’ve only got one day left in a beautiful place you don’t want to leave.
The property’s beguiling collection of farm and miniature-breed animals isn’t the only thing to have won my heart. There are the mesmerising views north to the sea, across rolling paddocks of ripening oats and wild grass. There’s the therapeutic peace and quiet of the environment, a blissful contrast to the flight-path blighted Sydney suburb in which I live. There’s the deserted beach at the front of the property and the many pleasures of Kangaroo Island at large, from its rare wildlife and remarkable geology to its boutique gin distillery.
Mistere KI is the fourth and most recent property to emerge from Regal Retreats, a boutique Australian brand that aims to provide its guests with a sense of seclusion, and to connect them with both nature and art. For the moment, Mistere KI is comprised of just one delightful lodge – more on this shortly – on 350 acres of undulating farmland. All going to plan, it will gradually evolve into a resort with about 32 accommodation sites, plus a restaurant, sculpture garden, communal pavilion and spa facilities. Some of the fields, such as the oats, will stay, so the whole enterprise will be a novel fusion of farm, miniature petting zoo, gallery and beachside resort.
The next stage of the development involves installing seven shiny silver Airstream caravans. Each one will have its own curved, covered and decidedly 21st-century deck, and some will have a plunge pool. The rest of the sites will host either a double-storey villa or an “eco stay”, which will be a cross between a tent and a cabin.
Kalen Tweden, a tour guide who has lived on Kangaroo Island for a mere 20 years and is therefore still considered a blow-in, tells me the majority of visitors to Kangaroo Island come for just one day, on a quick highlights trip via ferry from the mainland. To me, that’s akin to being shown an open box of chocolates and then having them whisked away before you can eat any of them. Having spent three days on the island, I think a satisfying stay demands at least seven days.
You need time to gaze at the island’s star natural attractions, such as Remarkable Rocks and Admirals Arch, and perhaps to visit them more than once, to see them in different light. You need time to visit the island’s boutique producers and cute cafes, and to try out an adventure or two, such as snorkelling with sea lions or caving. And, most importantly, particularly if you’re staying somewhere as relaxing and comfortable as Mistere KI, you need some time to sit back and do nothing but enjoy the fresh air, the facilities and the view.
The lodge at Mistere KI is pretty much a stylish three-bedroom family home with some nifty additional kit, including a heated infinity-edge swimming pool and a separate gym with views almost good enough to cancel out the suffering of a workout. There’s a telescope and set of high-powered binoculars on tripods in the lounge and, in the garage, a six-seater electric buggy, a set of wide-tyred off-road electric scooters, mountain bikes, paddleboards and a set of transparent kayaks. Andrew MacDonald, the Macquarie banker turned Marina Bay Sands Casino executive, owns Regal Retreats and likes to bring his own young family here, which perhaps explains the treasure trove of high-end playthings.
The lodge’s open-plan lounge, dining and kitchen area looks out over the deck and pool to beautiful Nepean Bay and the town of Kingscote on the far shore. You could spend a lot of time here just staring into the distance. And, to stay here now, while there’s just the one lodge, is to have the glorious expanse, plus the miniature creatures, all to yourself.
The kitchen is well equipped, with plenty of labour-saving gadgetry and every type of drinking glass you can think of, plus a mighty stone benchtop roughly long enough to function as a runway. A small kitchen garden and greenhouse sit just behind the house so guests can harvest their own ingredients, such as herbs, strawberries and silverbeet, when they’re in season.
There’s a big TV above the fireplace, with Netflix and Foxtel, and the Wi-Fi in this remote island location is better than my urban NBN connection. I barely use either, however, choosing to relish every second of precious silence and solitude.
I quickly grow particularly attached to the lodge’s handsome gas log fire. Its natural-looking flames please my inner cavewoman while its one-click electronic ignition delights my not-so-inner 21st-century urbanite. I also prioritise as much time as possible in the big main bedroom, which shares the gorgeous northerly vista. It houses a king bed with magic sleep-inducing powers and, like everything else I encounter on Kangaroo Island, it is really hard to leave.
Lissa Christopher travelled as a guest of Mistere Kangaroo Island and the South Australian Tourism Commission.
Mistere Kangaroo Island, 900 Min-Oil Road, Nepean Bay. The house sleeps six and rates start at $450 per night with a two-night minimum stay. Breakfast and dinner packs can be organised on request. See regalretreats.com
FIVE MORE KI TREATS
EMU BAY LAVENDER FARM AND CAFÉ
Mother and daughter team Sophie and Eliza Sheridan have recently taken over this appealing enterprise. You can learn about lavender, shop for local products and enjoy house-made meals and cakes, including giant lavender scones, and good coffee. Quite a few of Kangaroo Island’s more successful establishments style their premises in a distinctive rustic-chic way that’s easy to love, and this is one of them. See emubaylavender.com.au
KANGAROO ISLAND BREWERY
Order a tasting paddle and settle in at this superbly situated off-grid brewery established by Mike Holden and his wife, Nina. Mike built the space (more of that KI rustic chic), including the naturally climate-controlled, stone walled brewing room. Allow for a bit of down time in one of the hammocks on the far boundary of the front paddock. See kangarooislandbrewery.com.au
KANGAROO ISLAND CHARTERS & TOURING
A private one- or two-day tour of Kangaroo Island with Kalen Tweden at the start of a sojourn will help you get your bearings, learn some of the island’s secrets, raise your chances of seeing local wildlife and teach you about the island’s history, flora and fauna. A one-day tour costs $350 per adult, $275 per child; two person minimum. See kangarooislandcharters.com.au
KANGAROO ISLAND SPIRITS
Draw straws, designate a driver and get tasting: wild gin, mulberry gin, whiskey barrel gin … KI Spirits won Australian gin of the year in 2016 and 2017. Cocktails are served in pretty vintage glasses and there’s coffee, too. The premises are another example of the aforementioned Kangaroo Island rustic chic. See kispirits.com.au
KELLY HILL CAVES
The crystals, stalagmites, stalactites, and whacky helicitites in this magical cave system are nothing less than astounding. Don’t miss the one that looks like a ballerina’s calf, en pointe. See parks.sa.gov.au