The map you are handed at King Island airport seems, at first glance, an unremarkable document. “Follow the road south to get to Kittawa Lodge,” the cheerful assistant at the car hire desk tells us as she moves her pen down the map. “The Lodge is just before the sign to the Cataraqui wreck. It’s a 15-minute drive – or 45 minutes, depending on how you feel about dirt roads.”
We spend a moment poring over the island’s teardrop-like topography and the two red lines showing the roads in and out of Currie, the town in which our Rex twin prop has landed, shakily, in the blustering winds that howl across Bass Strait like ghosts.
“The Cataraqui wreck?”
“King Island is the shipwreck capital of Australia,” our assistant replies cheerfully. We’re glad to have discovered this information now we are on solid ground. A few minutes ago, from the air, it might have had a different complexion.
The road trip to Kittawa, then, seems like a breeze, even though, as we look out to the dazzling stretch of sea that separates this Tasmanian island from Victoria, we’re tempted to yell out warnings to the little pleasure cruisers doing battle with the bluster. Be careful, we want to plead, for a close inspection of the map reveals 17 shipwrecks littered across the page (and in fact further research shows there have been more than 140 wrecks in the island’s chequered 200-year history).
Not that anyone would hear our warnings, for snatches of conversation blow away in the breeze. Even the car is battered by gusts, and it’s a relief to pull into Kittawa, after about 25 minutes, to enter the sanctuary of this extraordinary property.
Nestled into the headland, Kittawa Lodge is the creation of seachangers Aaron Suine and Nick Stead, who relocated from Sydney to construct this rather quixotic property on land previously occupied by cattle.
Having taken three years to construct – it’s hard to imagine the difficulty Suine and Stead must have encountered getting the high-end fixtures and furnishings to this remote location – Kittawa faced a baptism of fire upon its late-2019 launch. Three months after, the world was rocked by the global tsunami of Covid-19. It wasn’t an ideal start but Stead and Suine persevered, closing the lodge for six months to ride out the storm. Worse things have happened on King Island, that’s for sure. These days, with those bleak months but a memory, Kittawa has been developing a reputation as the island’s premium destination accommodation, a remote hideaway that offers a picturesque space to unplug, unwind and escape the pressures of modern life.
The property contains three villas, one occupied by Suine and Stead, the other two completely self-contained for guests and cleverly positioned around the estate’s undulating hills so that you can be assured of never seeing another person. All you might see are the rooftops of the other villas, but only if you actively try.
The accommodation comprises a living and dining room – including an oversized dining table, fireplace, fully appointed kitchen and comfortable lounge suites – plus a roomy bedroom with a king bed and exquisite linens, a reading chair and mood lighting, and a bathroom with arguably the most gorgeously located bathtub in Australia. You may wish to visit simply for the opportunity to sink into this handmade polished concrete tub with a glass of Tasmanian wine and a view to infinity (or at least to the Victorian coastline over beautiful Fitzmaurice Bay). Each villa faces the sea, the huge windows protected by full-length blinds operated by remote control; shut out the view if you like, but you probably won’t.
Suine and Stead have fussed over every detail: find Dyson hairdryers in the bathrooms, wellingtons, jackets and Akubras in the entryways, local art (for purchase) on the walls, linen robes in the closets and in the lounge room, a cocktail cabinet plentifully stocked not only with liquor but with boardgames and puzzles for those here on longer stays. The fridge is filled with Tasmanian wines, (delicious) King Island Dairy cheeses and local orchard fruit. A Nespresso machine provides a touch of modernity, or there’s a stovetop kettle and teapot with loose leaf teas for an old-world touch. A just-baked loaf of sourdough, a thick wedge of butter and fresh tomatoes are on hand on arrival for those feeling peckish, and breakfast of fresh eggs and bacon, fruit and local muesli, milk, juice and poached local apples is loaded into the fridge before your arrival.
Suine and Stead, who are often on hand with deliveries and conversation, have found that guests have high culinary expectations and provide three meals a day to the lodges. Some guests choose a package with a four-course dining option – with meals provided by a private chef. For most guests, though, dining here means a full fridge of gourmet provisions delivered with easy cooking instructions. But what provisions. One night, dinner involves throwing a freshly caught King Island lobster, daubed with garlic butter, into the oven for 10 minutes, resulting in a spectacular seafood feast.
There’s much to do on King Island, from visiting historic spots like the Cape Wickham lighthouse to golfing at the Cape Wickham Links, one of the world’s top golf courses, or spending days on the spectacular and completely empty white-sand beaches (try Disappointment Bay or British Admiral Beach, both amazing).
But once you’ve arrived at Kittawa Lodge, it’s difficult to leave. While there’s no television, a deliberate decision, the simple act of staring out the huge windows at the ever-changing sea is viewing enough. Life slows, and the act of relaxing becomes its own reward. Over a glass of wine or freshly brewed tea you might just pick up the book that has been nagging you to finish it. Sleep long and late, there’s no one here to disturb you.
Even the breezes that buffer the property, making the hardwood that wraps around the villas groan and creak, feels welcome. Inside these plush lodges you are afforded the opportunity to enjoy the island without suffering its harsher edges. Let the wind knock like Heathcliff at the windows; it can’t get in.
Suine tells us that if we walk to the Kittawa fence line we can cross to the neighbouring property where a stone memorial commemorates the Cataraqui disaster. One evening, surrounded by a mob of soft-faced Bennett’s wallabies that come out to feast on at sunset, we venture along the meandering ridges of the property to the waterfront.
It turns out the sinking of the Cataraqui was Australia’s worst peacetime maritime catastrophe. With 409 passengers aboard, the vessel smashed onto rocks just before dawn on the freezing morning of August 4, 1845. Only nine souls made it ashore. King Island, it seems, is an island of pleasure and pain.
Kittawa Lodge was named for the parish of Kittawa in which it stands, the parish itself having been titled after the Kittawa, a Kiwi steamer that more successfully navigated these waters around the turn of the 19th century. (It eventually sank in Hong Kong.)
No matter where you turn here the sense of maritime history is strong, seeped into the rocks and waters, the earth and the sky. As we return to the villa from the memorial, shutting the door on the outside and sinking into the luxury surrounds, we feel the presence of those who have passed though this passage in far more dangerous times. There are few places quite like Kittawa Lodge; it’s beautiful and wild, historic and forward-looking, luxurious yet sensitive to its surrounds. Memorable in so many ways.
Kittawa Lodge checklist
Perfect for: Escapees from modern life; maritime enthusiasts; honeymooners looking for privacy.
Must do: Wander the property with its adorable mob of wallabies – apparently there are between 500,000 and 1 million wallabies on the island – who bob and weave through the tall grasses around the lodges. If you are really adventurous you can drive down to the township of Grassy at dusk to visit the Little Penguin rookery at Grassy Harbour.
Getting there: Rex flies to King Island from Melbourne and destinations in Tasmania. We stayed a night in Melbourne en route, overnighting at Ovolo South Yarra for a sophisticated city break before heading to the island.