The owners of Southern Ocean Lodge, Baillie Lodges’ James and Hayley Baillie, have vowed to resurrect their former flagship retreat within two years after it was gutted by bushfires that swept through the western end of Kangaroo Island just days into the new decade.
The devastation to befall Southern Ocean Lodge on 3 January 2020 came just weeks after Baillie Lodges’ reported one of its best years to date for its three-property stable which also includes the luxury retreats Capella Lodge on Norfolk Island and Longitude 131° at Uluru-Kata Tjuta. (Silky Oaks Lodge in the Daintree Rainforest will also join the collection following upgrades later this year).
“It’s been another busy year at Baillie Lodges with Capella Lodge, Southern Ocean Lodge and Longitude 131° seeming even more popular than ever! Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island was voted #21 in the world in Travel + Leisure magazine’s prestigious Top 100 Hotels List and best resort in Australia in Condé Nast Traveler’s 32nd annual Readers’ Choice Awards,” the Baillies said in an update the week before Christmas.
Commenting on the Condé Nast accolade, Baillie Lodges’ Founder and Executive Chairman, James Baillie said, “We consider the awards a reflection of the outstanding guest experience consistently delivered at Southern Ocean Lodge since it opened in 2008, and of the ongoing hard work and passion on the part of the team”.
Southern Ocean Lodge had also only recently launched a brand-new website that features “a confident yet quietly luxurious look and feel which speaks of the privilege of the Baillie Lodges experience,” the December newsletter said.
But inside a week of the devastation bestowed on Southern Ocean Lodge, and after a global outpouring of sorrow at the resort’s loss, the business and life partners reiterated their intent to rebuild in an open letter.
“We are immediately committed to rebuilding the lodge, and to taking a leading role in whatever ways we can to help rebuild the tourism industry on Kangaroo Island. We have already taken architect Max Pritchard to revisit the site, and happily the original plans for the lodge are still intact. While it’s currently too early to estimate a date for re-opening we’d like to reassure everyone that the recreation of Southern Ocean Lodge is our next focus.”
“We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and well wishes over the past few days which has made this difficult time more bearable for us all. We’ve also received many requests about ways to support Southern Ocean Lodge. Whilst this is a terrible time in our history, we also consider ourselves very fortunate that we are able to provide assistance and support for our wonderful team, together with our partners at KSL Capital,” the duo said.
However their immediate priority has been to relocate the lodge team across the Baillie Lodges’ portfolio and that of the Luxury Lodge of Australia collection, of which the portfolio are members.
“We’ve also had a number of other tourism businesses approach us to offer our staff jobs, a real marker of the generosity of the Australian hospitality industry,” the Baillies commented.
The couple also expressed their concerns for the Kangaroo Island community and small businesses.
“There are many small businesses on KI which depend on tourism for their livelihood, and island residents who have lost their homes. To immediately assist the community we have matched a personal contribution with that of Southern Ocean Lodge to a number of organisations to a total of $100,000, including the KI Mayoral Relief and Recovery Bushfire Fund and the South Australian Country Fire Service.”
Further, they acknowledged the importance of tourism partnerships on the island.
“Our colleague and good friend Craig Wickham of Exceptional Kangaroo Island was instrumental in the lodge realisation and has shown many guests the very best of the island in the ensuing 12 years. It’s a real honour to be part of this tight-knit, resilient community,” they said.
But all has not been lost. The resort’s resident echidna, named Enchilada, was this week found wandering the pathways of the charred property, the Southern Ocean Lodge Facebook page reports.
“Echidnas are well-adapted to Australia’s bushfires, having developed the capability to curl into a (spiny) ball and burrow into the ground while the fire passes over them. We are so happy to see her plan worked!” the social media post said.
In order to kickstart the tourism revival following the Kangaroo Island fires, and those around the country, the Baillie Lodges’ owners are calling on people to continue to travel.
“Please join us in supporting Kangaroo Island as well as Australian tourism, and in our efforts to rebuild a remarkable destination that is resilient, exciting and offers even more unforgettable, genuine experiences for our guests in the future,” the Baillie’s said.
To read Baillie Lodges’ full letter on Southern Ocean Lodge and the Kangaroo Island bushfires, go HERE.