Crystal-clear water that lures thousands of whales as well as surfers and beach bums along its rugged coastline each year; a patchwork quilt of leafy vineyards stretching across the land, providing a very decent tipple to complement your travels; wildflower blooms and tall tree forests bowing over wild walking tracks and country roads; Margaret River in Western Australia has the wow factor, no question about it. Read on to find out how best to enjoy all that this beautiful part of the world has to offer.
There’s cause for celebration when you glimpse a playful humpback breaching in a froth of white water just off the Margaret River coastline. The humpbacks are the most visible, but southern right whales, minke and blue whales also migrate through the region’s waters each year. Hop aboard a whale watching tour from the cetacean flirting zones around Augusta (June to August) or the nursing sanctuary off Dunsborough and Busselton (September to December) and get snap happy. Make sure to choose a responsible tour operator and research how to whale watch ethically before you go.
Where the walking trails are
Tall tree forests carpet the Margaret River region, stretching some 90m towards the sky. Numerous walking trails provide a window into the marvellous Australian bush. Some of the easiest hikes depart from or near the camp and cabin ground of Wharncliffe Mill Bush Retreat. You can also hire bikes here ($20 half day, $30 full day) and explore dedicated mountain biking trails, including the popular ‘Rails to Trails’ stretch, which follows an old railway line.
The epic ‘Cape to Cape’ track is another option. The 135km walking route largely clutches the coast and takes you up boulder-strewn hills, along beaches, through wildflower dotted scrub and by cliffs. Most people pick a section to do in a day trip. One of the most spectacular sections is through Boranup Forest, where the white-trunk trees look like a mass of toothpicks.
Margaret River’s soft, sandy beaches are interspersed with granite outcrops and limestone ridges and you can often find one with barely a footprint on it. Starting closest to Perth, Meelup beach is a total stunner. With the Aussie bush stretching down to kiss the white sand and translucent waters, sister beach Castle Rock is a more secluded option.
Yallingup beach is like the poster child for the beach world, with nearby Smiths beach a close second. Further south, a 10 minute drive from Margaret River town, Prevelly beach is often deserted, while neighbouring Gnarabup (pronounced, ‘naar-a-bup’) is busier thanks to the White Elephant Café that peers over it.
Former surfing champ and Margaret River local Taj Burrow tips his home swell at Yallingup main break as a good spot for recreational surfers, describing the waves as ‘user friendly’. He’s also a fan of the meatier waves at Margaret River main break, locally known as Surfers Point. It can get hairy – there’s power in those waves – so use a bigger board if you’re not quite a pro yet.
Another local favourite is The Box, which froths over shallow reef and edges rocks. This one is definitely best left to the pros, somewhere only very experienced riders should try, with friends. If you’re more at home on solid ground, these are all excellent places to watch how it’s done, maybe with a glass of the region’s wonderful wine in your hand.
Where to wine and dine
Margaret River has hundreds of cellar doors to pop into, as well as an abundance of polished restaurants with vineyard views. The best value is found at Rustico at Hay Shed Hill – treat yourself to the $65 tapas-style degustation menu and settle in for an afternoon of grapevine gazing.
Arimia Winery is another great find. Hidden down a dirt road and surrounded by native bush, this family owned business has an easy, welcoming vibe and good, honest food. For something more flash, duck in to Aravina Estate, where fast sports and luxury cars used by the winery owners are on display. Its seasonal menus are similarly high end.
There are a few other things you have to do while in the region, one of which is the Saturday Margaret River Farmers Market (8:00am-11:30am). Locally grown garlic, potatoes and avocados nudge Italian pastries, handmade cheeses, and excellent coffee brewed in a van. Hit it up after a rummage through the extraordinary bric-a-brac at the local Lions Club Garage Sales. They’re generally on every second and fourth Saturday of each month and get swamped with bargain hunters.
For lunch, stop in at the Margaret River Bakery (closed Sundays) which feels like a granny’s sitting room. Coffee is served on vintage saucers with collector’s spoons, as you lounge on old velvet couches. If it’s too packed, keep walking to Brewhouse, a microbrewery on town’s edge with shady picnic tables and, most importantly, pints.
Lastly, go to the effort of tracking down Yallingup Woodfired Bread, and its sister outlet, Margaret River Woodfired Bread. There, you’ll find loaves still warm from the oven and marigold-orange pastured eggs sold by the carton (the chooks have a mobile roost that moves about the cow paddock). Bring cash, that’s all they accept.