If there were ever such a thing as a national aroma, Australia would most certainly be represented by the refreshing, earthy, and crisp scent of eucalyptus oil. One of the best places to purchase and learn more about capturing and bottling the very essence of Australia is Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Oil Distillery on Kangaroo Island.
It is not much to look at from the outside, but the tantalising fragrance of eucalyptus lingers in the air. It is an invitation the olfactories cannot deny, so in we delve, nose first, to discover a truly authentic South Australian made product and a thriving, yet somewhat eccentric, bush-based initiative.
Eucalyptus oil is considered Australia's first true export and was once Kangaroo Island's primary industry. Times have changed, however, and Australia's eucalyptus oil industry has struggled to compete with cheaper diluted versions produced overseas. Emu Ridge is South Australia's only remaining commercial eucalyptus distillery and one of just a handful left in the country. It creates a pure oil distilled from the narrow-leaf mallee, a type of eucalypt native to Kangaroo Island.
It was the Australian Aboriginals who first recognised the healing power of the humble eucalyptus and used it medicinally to treat pain, illness, and infection. Today the oil distilled from eucalypts is still used for these very purposes and many more. As well as possessing anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-viral properties, eucalyptus oil is also an effective household cleaning agent and acts as a natural insect repellent. Plus, it smells great.
Not surprisingly, the large barn-like shop stocks an assortment of eucalyptus based products (such as oil, soap, and lollies) and Kangaroo Island souvenirs, produce, and crafts. Those with an interest in all things antiquated will enjoy poking around the treasure trove of rustic relics and agricultural artefacts that decorate the premises and highlight the heritage of Kangaroo Island.
Even though the shop is frequented by busload upon busload of tourists each and every day, Larry, the man behind Kangaroo Island's eucalyptus oil revival, is on deck to greet guests, answer questions, and encourage us to watch a short film about Emu Ridge.
The screening room is consumed by a beautiful vintage carriage. At first, we stood awkwardly around it trying to find the best vantage point from which to view the film without disrupting the old fashioned mode of transport, only to be told to climb aboard and watch from there - what a treat.
After the screening, visitors can choose to participate in a tour of the property to gain further insight into the farm's history, the importance of eucalyptus oil, and the distilling process. At Emu Ridge the century old practice has hardly changed and some of the very same machinery is still in use today, it's worth a look.
Guided tours are available every half an hour during peak seasons at a cost of $7 for adults and $4.50 for children (bookings are required). With the assistance of a map and information booklet, a self-guided tour can be undertaken at any time. It is an easy walk that does not take very long and costs $4.50 for adults and $2.50 for children.
The shop extends to host Rookery Wines and Colony Cove Ciders in an area that resembles a saloon. The Kangaroo Island wines and ciders are available for tasting and even if you are not in the mood for wine, do at least try the non-alcoholic Apple Sparkler. It's sweet, refreshing, and delicious. The bar also stocks beer and soft drink and serves cakes, toasted sandwiches, ice creams, and cheese platters.
Souvenir shop, oil distillery, cellar door, café, tourist trap, museum, and art and craft gallery; Emu Ridge is many things to many people and it makes an interesting excursion on your trip to Kangaroo Island. It is hard to resist making at least a few purchases and, at no extra charge, you will also leave clear-headed and stimulated after an hour or so inhaling the potent eucalyptus fumes.
It is open every day from 9 am until 2 pm on Willsons Road at MacGillivray, about a 25 minute drive from Kingscote. For more information and to purchase products, please visit the Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Oil Distillery website.