In Western Australia’s southwest corner lies Margaret River, the heart of the region. Three and a half hours south from Perth awaits this destination for friends of nature, food and drinks. The resort is small but is a good starting point for discovering the area’s vineyards. Margaret River has in a short time flourished to an exclusive wine region. After an agronomist compiled a report that pointed to similarities between the area and Bordeaux, the first vines were planted in 1967 by cardiac specialist Tom Cullity. Later, the area would grow to become the winery Vasse Felix. The summers’ eternal sunshine is followed by abundant rainfall during the winter months. This, combined with a soil of sand and gravel that allows plenty of water to run through, proved to be beneficial to wine production. And today, over 50 years later, there are over 200 wine producers around Margaret River of which a significant proportion are small-scale producers. Mainly Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon is produced but also Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Margaret River accounts for a few percent of Australia’s total wine production but produces a large proportion of the most exclusive wines.
Western Australis’s varied landscapes become evident during a visit to Margaret River’s surroundings. The lush landscape is in great contrast to the inland’s scorching-hot dry desert. Instead of dry flat land there are tall trees, foaming waves and cool cave systems. Waves are loved by surfers in elite class and the beaches are shimmery white. Add rolling hills and wonderful food and drinks to this. Margaret River is a destination with good wines and beautiful surroundings to photograph. The area is not only suitable for viticulture, it cultivates many products which often are sold along the roadside or to one of the local restaurants. It is undoubtedly one of the country’s best places for swanky dinners with tasteful wines.
The area around Margaret River may have escaped foreigners for a long time, but the Australians the other hand, they are more than aware of Maggie’s many benefits. During summers and long weekends, the area’s population is quadrupled. All locations are filled up and bookings are made well in advance. A continuous stream of pleased visitors from Perth show up to relax for a weekend, so make early plans to avoid disappointment.
Unlike the rest of the state, the driving times required around Margaret River is a pleasant surprise. You do not have to travel very far between the different sights. No matter where you are based during a stay, you have most things at the tip of your fingers.
Sights and experiences
The town of Margaret River is relatively small but cosy to discover on foot. The town is located three and a half hours south of Perth. In the surrounding area are several resorts to visit. Northwards is Busselton, which is one of the larger towns. From there it is not far to Dunsborough and Yallingup. At the tip of the headland is Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse. Clear waters shifting in turquoise and emerald crashes onto the shore. No matter where you go, there is a sandy beach nearby. Gnarabup has a nice long beach where the water is suitable for bathing. Hamelin Bay is located south of the bay, not far from Augusta. Most likely you will get a glimpse of wild stingrays that often enters the shoreline looking for food here. If you want to surf, you have come to the right place. There are countless beaches suitable for this. A popular spot is Surfer’s Point at Prevelly where the wind blows in as good as always.
The coast partly consists of underlying limestone, a coastal plate that continues out at sea. The soils porous material lets the water through which over time has created cave systems below. Over 300 natural limestone caves have been found in the area of which a few of them are open to visitors. In Yallingup, Ngilgi Cave is a popular tourist destination (geographebay.com/great-outdoors/ngilgi-cave). Two other interesting caves are Lake Cave which is the only cave in the region with a lake inside (wotif.com/things-to-do/lake-cave-fully-guided-tour.a488160.activity-details) and Jewel Cave, located near Augusta. Jewel Cave is one of the largest caves in the region and has five-meter high stalactites (wotif.com/things-to-do/jewel-cave-fully-guided-tour.a488394.activity-details). There is a fee for visiting the caves. To reach the caves, you need to get up and down some steep steps. They are therefore less suitable for those who can only do limited walking.
Margaret River is located nine kilometres inland. Bussel Highway runs through the town of Margaret River as its main street, and along its side streets are restaurants, pubs and cafes. Don’t miss a visit to Miki’s Open Kitchen (facebook.com/mikisopenkitchen) at 131 Bussel Highway that composes wonderful dishes and matches these with local wines. Snacks, breakfast or light lunches are available at Margaret River Bakery (margaretriverbakery.com.au) at 89 Bussel Highway. If you can get beyond the city centre, the Cheeky Monkey Brewery at 4259 Caves Road is worth a visit. In addition to their own produced beer and cider there is a good selection of dishes. When you’ve had enough of food and want to enjoy some culture, Margaret River Gallery is close to Charles West Avenue (margaretrivergallery.com.au). The gallery exhibits local works in bright premises. If you feel like having something sweet, there is a local chocolate factory (chocolatefactory.com.au) where you can go on a free chocolate tasting and watch when the chocolate is produced. Of course, there is chocolate for sale if there is something you can’t resist.
The region’s vineyards have rapidly gained stardom, and a fifth of the country’s most exclusive wines are produced here. The vineyards are scattered out, but you don’t have to travel very far before you find an inviting wine cellar. Most places offer samples and guided tours of their grounds. Many of the wine varieties are produced on a small scale and are considered exclusive. Visit one of the information centres to help you put together an appropriate route. Below are a few examples of wineries to visit. Most vineyards have associated restaurants serving good lunches.
Two vineyards with fancy properties are Voyager Estate (voyagerestate.com.au) located in picturesque surroundings with a rose garden, and Leeuwin Estate (leeuwinestate.com.au), which has its own runway and organizes popular concerts. The service is impeccable and the wines likewise. For a more intimate experience perhaps the hidden Howling Wolves (howlingwolveswines.com/margaret-river) or Island Brooke (islandbrook.com.au) fits better.
Cape to Cape Track (capetocapetrack.com.au) is considered one of the country’s best long hikes. The track runs 135 km along the coast between Cape Naturaliste in the north and Cape Leeuwin in the south. The hike is estimated to take between five to eight days. Most of them go through national park areas (parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/park/leeuwin-naturaliste) and offers a varied coastal landscape. The hike is classified as light to medium in difficulty. Maps of the area and more information can be obtained from one of the tourist offices. Parts of the track have been adapted to suit wheelchairs and prams.
Joining a guided tour between the vineyards is a popular way to see Margaret River. There are many tour operators organizing group travel among vineyards and other attractions in the area (wotif.com/things-to-do/search?location=Margaret+River%2C+Western+Australia). Between September and November, you can go on whale watching from the city of Busselton. There is also the possibility to do this from Augusta, between the beginning of June until the end of August (legendcharters.net.au/whale-watching-tours).
Several festivals are held annually around Margaret River. One that stands out is Gourmet Escape (gourmetescape.com.au), which is a tribute to the good life. Local produce is transformed into magnificent dishes by famous chefs from all over the world. Everything is served with delicious wines from the region. Long tables are set up and music fills the air. This popular food- and wine festival is organized in November and is a treat for the body’s many senses.
Good to know
The area has a wonderful climate with warm, dry and sunny summers and cool, rainy winters. Margaret River is a very popular destination during long weekends. Book well in advance if you are planning a stay around Christmas or Easter when the demand for housing increases significantly. Festivals, competitions and other events also create a high demand on hotels, so in advance, check out if something is going on when you intend to visit the area.
Keep in mind that drink driving is a crime in Australia. If you want to try wine on the vineyards, it is better to book a group trip or to rent a private chauffeur who is sober. Many kangaroos live around Margaret River. During the night and early mornings, they are most active, so stay alert when driving.
You will find several helpful tourist offices in the area. In Margaret River lies an office at 100 Bussel Highway, in Dunsborough you will find an office at 31 Dunn Road, in Busselton at 17 Foreshore Parade and another ono on the corner of Ellis Street and Blackwood Avenue in Augusta.
Buses run between all the major cities in the region and public transport is operated by TransWA (transwa.wa.gov.au) but you can also travel with South West Coach Lines (southwestcoachlines.com.au). To easily get between smaller towns, a car is your best option. You can rent one from the company called Margaret River Rent A Car (margaretriverrentacar.com.au) as long as you are over 21 years old and have a valid driver’s license.
The entire region is full of accommodation options to suit all styles and budgets. There are luxury resorts with sea views and picturesque small accommodations on vineyards. Of course, there are also hostels in the larger towns and some campsites to choose from. Plan and book well in advance if you would like to visit during peak season (hotelscombined.com/Place/Margaret_River_Wine_Region.htm).
For travellers who are willing to stay simple but at the same time close to the beach, try the Dunsborough Beach Lodge (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Dunsborough_Beach_Lodge.htm). A simple hostel where surfboards, bicycles and wetsuits are available for rent if you want to take a trip to the beach. The Dunsborough Inn (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Dunsborough_Inn_Backpackers.htm) is a hostel that has more single and double rooms in comparison to Dunsborough Beach Lodge. If you are looking for an exclusive accommodation, Pullman Bunker Bay is located along the coast, a 15-minutes’ drive outside Dunsborough (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Pullman_Bunker_Bay_Resort_Margaret_River.htm).
Margaret River is the main city and heart of the region. Here you will find lots of accommodation options in different price ranges. Basildene Manor offers proximity to both golf course and beach. The view from the building, built in 1912, faces the scenic gardens. Here are good opportunities to rest and gain new energy (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Grand_Mercure_Basildene_Manor.htm) but this is not the place for those on a slim budget. If you want to be located right in the city there is Margaret River Hotel (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Margaret_River_Hotel.htm). The hotel bar is a natural meeting place which means that there can be a lot of people and a bit noisy. For backpackers who want to enjoy the city but don’t want to spend too much money, try Margaret River Lodge (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Margaret_River_Lodge.htm) which is close to the tourist office in the city. If you are looking for a job, you can look at the bulletin board where jobs often are advertised. For camping around Margaret River there is, for example, Wharncliffe Mill Bush Retreat (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Wharncliffe_Mill_Bush_Retreat_Margaret_River.htm) or Margaret River Tourist Park (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Margaret_River_Tourist_Park.htm) to choose from.
A luxurious long weekend around Margaret River
Start driving south from Perth and two and a half hours later you stop at Busselton which is the gateway to the Margaret River region. Book a night’s accommodation at Dunsborough Beach Lodge for their proximity to both the beach and the city’s shops. Spend the afternoon on the wide beach and enjoy the pleasant climate. Look at the pelicans who move around in the waters, keeping an eye on the visitors. Stroll along the nearly two-kilometre-long breakwater. Then dine at nearby The Goose, which overlooks Geographe Bay (thegoose.com.au).
Aim for an early rise and a relaxing breakfast, then book in for a whale watching tour if it’s the right season (whalewatchingcharters.com.au). After an exciting couple of hours at sea, get back behind the wheel. Turn west towards Cape Naturaliste and its lighthouse. There you can go for a guided tour up the lighthouse or just enjoy the surroundings. Continue south towards Ngilgi Cave between Dunsborough and Yallingup. Have the camera ready for the visit of the cool limestone cave. Then it’s time to continue driving towards Margaret River.
Check in on a centrally located accommodation so you can explore the city on foot. If you are a bit short on money, choose a hostel. Spend the afternoon discovering what the town of Margaret River has to offer. Take a well-deserved coffee at Sidekick Café at 116 Bussel Highway and visit the art gallery at Charles West Avenue (margaretrivergallery.com.au).
Saturday is here and it is time to discover the vineyards. Make it easy and join in on a group trip or get yourself a sober driver. Swing past the tourist office to ask for tips to set up an appropriate route in the area. Maybe it will be the quaint Stella Bella Winery (stellabella.com.au) at Rosa Brook Road and later Watershed Winery (watershedwines.com.au) or make a trip to Vasse Felix (vassefelix.com.au), where the region’s first vineyard was planted during the 1960s. When the hunger comes upon you, order a tasty lunch at one of the vineyards.
After a long day in the southwest, head back to Margaret River’s central parts. Dinner is enjoyed at Miki’s Open Kitchen at 131 Bussel Highway. Choose their appreciated tasting menu if you have room left in your stomach. If you despite a day of wine tasting still hunger for more, you can bring a bottle to the restaurant which has a relaxed BYO policy.