Imagine – a destination with a Mediterranean climate, stunning beaches, majestic forests, ancient caves and glorious sunsets as well as world class food and wine? With a dramatic coastline and breath-taking scenery all the way from Busselton to Albany, the South West of Western Australia offers all this and much, much more.
Located an easy three and a half hours south of the state capital, Perth, this pocket of WA has rapidly grown a global reputation for its wines, especially Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay though many other varieties are also grown. It now attracts visitors from many countries who are keen to see firsthand what makes the area so special. Accessible by coach and charter plane too, there is something for everyone from campers to more deluxe travellers. Geographically the Margaret River wine region is one of the biggest in Australia, stretching 120km from north to south and 30km west to east. There are also boutique beers and ciders and it is easy to devise your own gourmet road trip.
There is a reason the world’s best chefs and winemakers, along with keen foodies and locals, flock to the Margaret River Gourmet Escape each November – the region is biologically diverse, grows over 20% of Australia’s premium wines and sought after fresh produce such as marron and native flora. The festival has grown out of the gastronomic wealth which thrives year round in the whole Margaret River region. It’s also a serious destination for lovers of fine food and wine year round, allowing visitors to relax and connect with nature in a truly unique way.
First stop, try the The Margaret River Farmers’ market held every Saturday from 8-12am (or 7.30am – 11.30am December to March). As well as the usual seasonal fresh produce, fruit, vegetables, pastries, organic eggs, grass-fed beef, organic pork, goat meat, nougat, olive oil, whole foods, condiments and preserves you can see the most outstanding display of WA wildflowers. The range of food at the markets is a self-caterers delight. To try, buy and then eat at leisure. Yallingup Woodfired Bread is a must to eat on its own or to accompany cheese or smallgoods.
It’s also a great place to meet the producers to find out if you can visit their farms and cellar doors or which restaurants champion their products. Sip on some mead, a glass of wine or cup of coffee as you chat. People like David Hohnen, who made his name as a winemaker, founding Cloudy Bay in NZ and then running Cape Mentelle, one of the early Margaret river wineries. He will explain to you the glories of free-range farming of Big Red pigs and sheep at The Farm House and why he sells only to the local community. Or Josh Bahen of Bahen & Co Chocolate, a winemaker for 10 years, but now chocolatier par excellence. He honourably sources cocoa beans direct from farmers in poor communities, teaching them along the way and then working them in small batches in rare vintage machines. Compare Koonac goats milk cheese with Cambray sheeps milk cheese or drive farther afield, 12km out of Nannup to visit the Cambray farm shop to watch the milking and cheese being made. You can even stay there!
While there are so many wineries to visit, be sure your road trip takes you to Cullen Wines – one of Australia’s very best. Dr. Kevin and Diana Cullen first planted grapes here back in the swinging sixties and were significant for the region’s success which ensued. The business is now run by their daughter, Vanya Cullen who has directed the winery towards being biodynamic, building on an already outstanding reputation to win even more accolades. She has a biodynamic garden on site and you can also eat this glorious produce in the on-site restaurant.
It is rare to find vineyards so close to the ocean – but this also means wonderful water-based fun. Yet there’s not only wild-fishing for swordfish, dhufish, snapper, tuna, whiting, bream and blue manna crabs, you can be guaranteed of catching your own marron (fresh water crayfish) or trout at an aquaculture farm. Or stop by one of the orchards where you can pick your own fruit.
The Margaret River is an area rich with opportunity to go foraging for native foods. Local indigenous guide Josh “Koomal” Whiteland is charming and engaging, a storehouse of information. His guided tour will open your eyes to the abundance of native ingredients found in the area.
It’s always possible to discover something new with such a diverse range of experiences for any traveller. The region is also dotted with caves, stunning crystal wonderlands and unusual places to a soak in some of the natural beauty. Ngilgi Cave, beneath the limestone ridge which forms Cape Naturaliste, at Yallingup, offers a range of different tours, including a Koomal Dreaming Cultural tour. Cape Naturaliste is also famous for its surfing and long white beaches on the exposed western coastline. Or try dolphin or whale watching from Dunsborough from September to December.
At Prevelly Beach where the Margaret River meets the Indian Ocean you can view a glorious sunset or paddle along the river itself. The Margaret River Discovery company organises tours “for those who don’t do tours” and you can enjoy a lunch with regional wines at the prestigious Fraser Gallop Winery, go on a 4WD adventure, taste some of the finest Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay in the region and canoe on the river all in one day.
Whatever your age, whatever your mode of transport, a road trip in the Margaret River region will reward like no other!