Australia - Margaret River
Written by Carmen Jenner
Utter the words ‘down south‘ to any local and a dreamy look will cross their face. Just ask Carmen Jenner, a Perth born-and-bred travel writer; no matter how far she roams, she always returns to Margaret River.
Three hours south of Perth, Western Australia‘s capital city, the Margaret River region spans 100 kilometres from Busselton to Augusta and includes the area of Yallingup, which is an aboriginal word meaning ‘place of love’. Yallingup became a favourite tourist destination, thanks to its caves, after European settlers came upon it in 1899. With vineyards virtually rolling into the ocean, the range of outdoor activities is endless, although there are few activities around the river itself. Or forgo the walking shoes entirely and focus on sampling world-class wine and a local cuisine sure to ruin any diet.
Western Australia has a spectacular coastline, and one way of exploring its highlights such as Geographe Bay and the nearby majestic Eagle and Bunker Bays is by boat. Float along the craggy cliffs and coves, millions of years old, where smugglers once hid their treasures – now guarded by New Zealand fur seals who are usually detected by their aroma long before they’re seen sunbathing on the rocks.
Other residents include penguins, Wandering Albatross, and playful dolphins. Visit between September and December for sightings of humpbacks and the rare blue whale. Or cast your line and add dhufish, snapper, cod, and grouper to the menu with a deep-sea fishing trip. Eco Wilderness Tours provides all the necessary expertise and equipment, including wet weather gear, especially recommended when the guide feels the need for speed.
It’s time to don sensible footwear for a trek along the Cape to Cape Track spanning 135 kilometres between Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin. Winding along the coast, past cliffs and beaches and with jaunts into the forest, the track has a gentle gradient and can be completed in approximately eight days, or day-trekkers can join at any point. Join a guided tour with Cape to Cape Explorer Tours and be treated to entertaining and in-depth knowledge about the geology, ecology, and history of the area.
Deep below the Australian scrub and the limestone ridge of the Leeuwin-Naturaliste, a caving adventure awaits.
Stalactites, stalagmites, shawl formations, and fossils hide within the pristine caves of the wild Mammoth or Jewel Caves, or visit the pretty lake in Lake Cave and the Ngilgi Cave, rich in aboriginal legend.
The region is known for its surfing, and March plays host to the Margaret River Pro international surfing competition, held at Surfers Point. Grab your board for smaller waves at the Margaret River Mouth; the more experienced flock to Injidup or Yallingup beaches.
With so many famous wineries and so much fresh produce on the doorstep, the choices are enticing, but Harvest Tours takes the mystery out of deciding. This unique tour company caters for all tastes, ages, and abilities, visiting gourmet outlets, wineries, and galleries.
Independent travellers seeking fresh produce outlets could spend days sampling The Larder, The Fruity Cow, Margaret Riviera, and the Margaret River Providore. Don’t be perturbed that the Yallingup Woodfired Bakery is accessed via a dirt track in the middle of nowhere. Encased in a crusty exterior, the organic sourdough slowly bakes on hot stones in an oven made from volcanic rock.
Dessert can be found at The Berry Farm, Candy Cow, Simmo’s Ice-cream, Miller’s Ice-cream, Margaret River Chocolate Factory, and Gabriel Chocolate, which has a bean-to-bar philosophy. Collection complete, enjoy the spoils at a beach picnic on Gnarabup Beach or head to Yallingup Beach or Smiths Beach or Dunsborough’s stunning Bunker Bay or Meelup Beach, which are also great for swimming and snorkelling.
No doubt there will be leftovers for a movie under the stars at Cape Mentelle Winery during the warmer months.
As the traditional Noongar people once lived off the land by hunting and trapping a variety of game including kangaroo and emu, fishing for yabbies and sourcing the extensive range of edible wild plants, modern-day chefs are also drawn to the region. The gastronomy ranges from high-end options like Donnybrook marron tortellini and Dardanup beef at Cape Lodge (ranked in the top ten hotel restaurants in the world) to a lingering brunch of pancakes at the Sea Gardens beachside café in Prevelly.
Overlooking undulating vineyards is Cullen Wines, or savour vineyard views and lush forest at Clairault, with a menu that includes rabbit and black-pudding terrine. Leeuwin Estate is quintessential Margaret River with its stunning forest backdrop, art gallery, wine, and seasonal menu. Those venturing into the Margaret River township might succumb to the bistro-style menu at Must, where dry-aged beef and charcuterie plates never fail to impress. Naturally all these menus feature the region’s award-winning wines as proudly as their cuisine. There are many breweries catering well for families with impressive playgrounds and casual menus, including the German-inspired Duckstein Brewery. Hand-crafted brews and Margaret River venison, kangaroo, beef, and accompaniments are plucked straight from the garden at Eagle Bay Brewery.
Margaret River is famed for its community of artists, and Boranup Gallery specialises in fine art and handcrafted jarrah furniture alongside Jahroc Gallery’s leading-edge jarrah designs. The Studio Gallery and Bistro combines beautiful artworks and Australian cuisine in an outback setting. The aboriginal word gunyulup means ‘resting place near water‘ and, perched on a man-made lake, is Gunyulup Gallery, housing exquisite glass, sculptures, and fine art. Aboriginal artworks can be found at Turnbridge Gallery, and the hand-blown glassworks at the Melting Pot Glass Studio are shaped before you. Christian Fletcher’s photographic images of the region are renowned and he has galleries in both Margaret River and Dunsborough; one of his works ensures an everlasting memory of your visit.
Come and celebrate aboriginal culture on March 30–31 at Wardan Aboriginal Centre. Witness a corroboree and find out how the people of this ancient indigenous culture hunt and gather their food. The centre has a gallery, workshops, tours, and educational programmes.
Where to stay
Accommodation ranges from high-end luxury and spas at Injidup Spa Retreat, and Smiths Beach Resort, to family-friendly at Seashells Yallingup.
For somewhere really special however, it's hard to beat the gorgeous Pullman Resort Bunker Bay. Ideally located near the towns of Dunnsborough and Yallingup, it manages to combine the highest standards of service, excellent food, impressive spa, health and wellbeing facilities – including a 25m infinity pool – all with the relaxed vibe that is typical of the region. Just a stone’s throw from the celebrated and unspoilt beauty of Bunker Bay too, it’s great for couples and families, or anybody who wants to make the most of their time in Margaret River.
If you're looking for a more traditional Aussie outback experience, throw down your swag on the river bank at Alexandra Bridge, Boranup Forest, or along the spectacular coastline at Conto Field Camp.
By the numbers
The number of Western Australian sunshine hours per year – so don’t forget to SLIP on a shirt, SLAP on a hat, and SLOP on some sunscreen.
The distance (in kilometres) to Adelaide, making Perth one of the most isolated cities in the world.
The number of top-class surf breaks, and in early–mid 2013 Margaret River’s waves will roll onto the big screen with the retro surfing movie Drift.