There are plenty of non-COVID reasons why Mark McGowan might staunchly defend Western Australia’s hard border with the rest of Australia. Stunning beaches, forests, fine food – oh yes, and some of Australia’s best wine. With its combination of spectacular natural surrounds and indulgent creature comforts, the Margaret River region – three hours south of Perth – is a unique escape to put on your post-pandemic bucket list.
Feature image: The 155-year-old, heritage-listed Busselton Jetty extends 1.8km over the protected waters of Geographe Bay.
If you have ever wanted to go behind the scenes at a winery, Voyager Estate has you covered with a tour that takes you through every step of the winemaking process. Fans of the winery’s signature styles, chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, will want to book in for the Origins Tasting, which includes tastings of museum vintages of both varieties.
It’s not just wine buffs who head to Leeuwin Estate; art lovers adore the Leeuwin Estate Gallery, where more than 100 paintings and sculptures by some of Australia’s most acclaimed artists, from Sidney Nolan to John Olsen, are on display. Among the pieces are the original artworks commissioned for the winery’s famous Art Series label.
Take a look at any list of Australia’s best wineries and Cullen Wines is sure to feature somewhere in there. It’s not just wine they do well; their restaurant is also one of the best in the area. Veggies are grown on site using the same biodynamic principles they apply to their wines. The picturesque setting makes it the perfect spot for a long lunch.
You probably wouldn’t expect to find Margaret River’s best restaurant at the back of a shopping plaza, but that’s exactly where Miki’s Open Kitchen is tucked away. This sleek little diner offers a range of degustation menus that showcase the best local produce. Miki’s Japanese background shapes the creative menu, which includes everything from mango tempura to beef ribs teamed with charred sweet corn and vanilla-cured shallot.
Follow your nose to Chow’s Table in Yallingup, where you can feast on share plates of mouth-watering Chinese-Malay fusion cuisine. The atmosphere may be relaxed but, thanks to chef Malcolm Chow’s time in prestige kitchens such as Vue de Monde and Tetsuya’s, the food is perfectly executed. Wash down your smoky five spice chicken ribs and Spanish mackerel curry with something from the extensive selection of Asian beers.
Margaret River is known for its sunny weather, so make plans to enjoy at least one meal in the great outdoors. Pack a picnic basket and fill it up at the Margaret River Farmers Market held on Saturdays at Margaret River township. A broad range of artisanal producers offer up their wares (try the superb cheeses from Cambray Sheep Cheese); you can also snap up some organic fruit straight from the tree.
Let’s face it: there is a limit to how much wine you can drink in one day. If you want to mix it up with some more active experiences, Margaret River has you covered. Swimmers and surfers alike will find plenty of alluring options along the area’s 135km coastline. Yallingup Main Break is the hot spot for surfers; for calmer waters, try the sheltered Gnarabrup Beach or Hamelin Bay at Karridale where the water is so clear, you can spy eagle rays darting past.
Feel like stretching your legs? Then you will be delighted to hear that one of Australia’s most scenic walking tracks, the Cape to Cape Track, runs right through the district. Cape to Cape Explorer Tours offers half- and full-day hikes that take in some of the most scenic spots. Bring your swimmers – there will be time for a dip along the way.
Here is something you may not have realised: among Margaret River’s most underrated attractions is, er, the Margaret River. Grab a paddle and experience the tranquil waterway one a canoe tour with the Margaret River Discovery Company. As you paddle, keep one eye on the riverbank where kangaroos often graze.
What’s your poison: gin, vodka, brandy? No matter; at the Margaret River Distilling Co, you can sample all three. We lean towards the gins, flavoured with botanicals such as boronia and lemon myrtle; if none is precisely to your taste, sign up for the blend-your-own experience.
Craft beer fans are spoiled for choice in Margaret River, with plenty of boutique brewers competing for clientele. Joining long-time stalwarts such as Eagle Bay Brewing are Wild Hop Brewing Company at Yallingup, Cheeky Monkey Brewing Co in Margaret River and the Beer Farm, housed in an old cow shed in Metricup.
The team at The Grove distillery in Wilyabrup will try their hand at almost anything. Rum, absinthe, limoncello, even single malt whisky – they have it all. Not sure where to start? Try their award-winning spiced rum.
Fire orchids, pink everlastings, kangaroo bells: WA is known for its extraordinary array of wildflowers – more than 2500 species including 150 species of orchid – many of which have enchanting names. They are in full bloom between now and November; for those who want to find the areas where they are in full bloom, the area between Ellensbrook and Prevelly is a safe bet.
Delve into 50,000 years of Wadandi and Bibbulman history on one of Koomal Dreaming’s fascinating tours. Wadandi custodian Josh Whiteland offers a number of different itineraries combining storytelling, bush lore and sightseeing. Try the Ngilgi Cave tour, which culminates in a didgeridoo performance in the eye-catching Ngilgi Cave.
Like so many other events, this year’s Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival was cancelled, but work is already underway on the next iteration, scheduled for May 2021. The festival’s diverse line-up includes events such as poetry slams and workshops as well as guests of the calibre of Michael Palin and Joan London.
Seclusion is the name of the game at Empire Retreat & Spa, an adults-only retreat outside Dunsborough. Ten idyllic suites are arrayed around the central farmhouse, a welcoming space dominated by organic materials and sink-into sofas and armchairs. Book ahead to enjoy some pampering treatments in the Asian-inspired spa.
There’s no mistaking Cape Lodge, known not just for its distinctive Cape Dutch architecture but also its stellar service. Set amid 16 hectares of grounds, this luxury lodge lures food fans with its cooking school and its acclaimed restaurant, which also has an impressive 14,000 bottles in its temperature-controlled cellar. Some of the area’s best wineries and beaches are just a short drive away.