PLACES TO GO
Beachside Busselton – ‘Busso’ to the locals – is the largest town in the Margaret River Wine Region. It’s a popular holiday spot for families, thanks to its location at the southern end of sheltered Geographe Bay and its wealth of easy-to-reach, family-friendly attractions; you won’t need to travel long distances around here. The jetty is the biggest drawcard and not just because of its size (it’s 1.8km long); it also has great opportunities for fishing, snorkelling and diving, and a small train that takes visitors to and from the fishbowl-like Underwater Observatory at the end of the jetty. It’s best to pre-book your train tickets (online or from the Interpretive Centre) otherwise you might be waiting a few hours for the next available ride. If you find yourself with some time up your sleeve you can climb the tower at the visitor centre for great views over the bay, or have lunch at one of the cafes on the foreshore. There are free barbecues under the pine trees on the esplanade, as well as a great kids’ playground with drinking fountains nearby. The calm bay has a swimming area that’s bordered by a small jetty, giving the illusion of an outdoor pool (handy for keeping an eye on the kids) but you’ll need to watch out for stingers; wear a rashie to avoid getting stung. The local businesses are leading the charge when it comes to Busso’s increasing practicality so there’s a number of places to rent bikes (you can even get them delivered) and most of the trendy bars and restaurants are open late-night, especially on the weekends (you’ll need to check opening times at the smaller joints if you’re planning on visiting early in the week). When it comes to accommodation, there are plenty of options, from beachfront resorts to chalets. During the school holidays Busselton is bustling (the population increases dramatically) so you’ll need to book your digs well in advance and take into account peak-period prices. If you aren’t a fan of queues and wait-times, then self-contained accommodation (with the option to eat in) is your best bet. To make your life easy, almost all bookings for activities, tours and accommodation can be done straight from the excellent Geographe Bay tourist website, www.geographebay.com.
Why walk Busselton Jetty when you can take the train? (photography Busselton Jetty).
Built over the waters of Geographe Bay, the 1.8km jetty is the longest timber-piled jetty in the Southern Hemisphere. There’s a little red tourist train to the end if you aren’t up for the walk; the carriage compartments can store prams and some strollers. If you don’t mind the long-ish walk you can take in the views at your own leisure and read about the jetty’s history on signs spaced along its length. Rug up if you’re visiting on a chilly day – you’re exposed out on the end of the jetty – but if it’s sunnier, take advantage of the warmth and jump in; there’s good snorkelling and diving off the jetty, and there are ladders to help you get back up. With its beautiful sheltered artificial reef, the jetty has developed into a natural aquarium – home to hundreds of species of fish, crabs, squid, and brightly coloured tropical corals that grow so far south because of the warm Leeuwin Current. If you enjoy a spot of fishing, you’re in luck – the jetty is great for anglers. Smaller varieties are closer to shore, but if you’re after something bigger, brave the chilly nor-west winds at the jetty’s deep end for pink snapper and mulloway. Bait up here with squid, whitebait, or sardines. During the day, explore the Underwater Observatory at the jetty’s end, which allows visitors to descend the 8m to the ocean floor without getting wet. From inside a giant glass bowl you’ll see an estimated 300 species of fish, and the colourful coral that has built up over 150 years. Guides explain what you’re seeing as you go lower and lower, but while the talks are informative they can be quite complex (they aren’t really aimed at youngsters). A ride on the train is a much better option for kids – be sure to ask the train driver to tell the story about the subantarctic fur seal pup who swam over for a quick visit a couple of years ago.
Ludlow Tuart Forest
The Ludlow Tuart Forest is the largest remaining tuart forest in the world, and is the only one with tall tuarts. The narrow belt of the rare forest stretches from Capel
to Busselton and is a great alternative (and scenic) route for the drive down from Perth. You can access it via the 15km long Ludlow Tuart Forest Tourist Drive; the
forest detour adds just five minutes to your trip (exit west from Bussell Highway just south of Capel). The roads are all sealed and the forest’s tight width means you’ll see a lot of it from the car, but if you have the time it’s worth stopping – you’ll see the tall grey tuarts and lush peppermint trees, and yellow and purple wildflowers bloom in spring. The trees grow up to 40m high and 10m in diameter, and are a sight in themselves, but for the more adventurous, the forest also provides ample opportunities for exploration. Try the Possum Night Spotlighting Trail, where (as its name suggests) you can spot possums after dark; the Malbup Creek Bird Hide, a local birdlife lookout; go for a bushwalk; or stop for a picnic lunch (there are barbecues and public toilet facilities available as well). Wonnerup House – a perfectly preserved, furnished historical house with beautifully maintained gardens – is open on the weekends but closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. If you want to stay longer, there’s a B&B within the forest, which runs winery tours to Margaret River that include pick-ups and drop-offs from the forest.
Ludlow Tuart Forest.
THINGS TO DO
There are many fishing opportunities in the Busselton and Vasse region, with the largest variety of fish waiting to be caught off the Busselton Jetty. Set yourself up under a jetty light or look for the ink marks along the jetty (a good indicator for squid). Mulloway, tailor, gardies, King George whiting and samson fish can be hooked halfway down the jetty after the gazebo, while pink snapper, bonito and big sharks are a chance in the deeper water towards the end of the jetty, just before the sanctuary, which sits off the very end. The fishing is best early, before first light, but night owls can also catch squid when it gets dark in the evening. East from Busselton along Layman Road is Wonnerup Beach, the only 4WD accessible beach in the region. Head here for tailor, whiting and herring. Also along Layman Road are the Vasse Floodgates where you can catch yourself a black bream, big yellow fin whiting or, on occasion, tailor. Once you’ve experienced the beach and jetty and are keen to catch some bigger fish, you can always head out with a local fishing charter company for a chance to catch groper and dhufish. To stock up on bait, hit the local IGA supermarket or Prestige Tackle, (08) 9754 4889.
Adventuring and riding are both huge attractions in the southwest of the state, and there are mountain-bike trails near Busselton to suit both the casual rider and serious enthusiast. Secret Witcher sits about 8km out of Busselton off Sabina Road in Yoganup, and is the go-to location for your two-wheel cravings with a fantastic network of trails to keep you busy for hours. The Burns Track is a tight and twisty loop with some amazing structures, and is a solid intro into ways of riding over fallen wood. The longest track in the area is The Loop to Nowhere, which can get a little raw towards the end but you won’t be thinking about that when you’re riding over the body of a car at the start of your run! Straun’s Trail is one of the smaller runs but is a heart-pounding thrill as you hit high-speed corners with rock drops – you’ll end up in the valley. Sweet flowing trails mark the start of the Coca-Cola Track but as you head further along it gets into some downhill styled berms. It’s a seriously fast single track with plenty of fun to be had. If you’re in need of a bike or repairs, Fat Duck Cycles, (08) 9754 2000, is the nearest shop (it also has decent coffee).
Bulls Eye fish at the Busselton Jetty.
Snorkelling and Diving
With several hundred different marine species on show, the artificial reef off Busselton Jetty is a dive not to be missed. The clear waters play host to large amounts of coral and sponges, schools of yellow fin, teeny porcupine fish, extraordinary pineapple fish, rays, octopi and cuttlefish. A couple of local dive operators take group tours to the area and offer night dives where you can see the coral polyps filter feed – an awesome spectacle. Charters also run out to Four Mile Reef and Bull Eye (a secret section of Four Mile Reef). Here you’ll find a limestone reef that supports rare corals and schools of fish including tuna and samson. Located 20 minutes from the Port Geographe Marina, it’s one of the most popular dive sites and is perfect for novices. Just 30 minutes out from the Port, the Coral Gardens has the largest plate corals in the southwest, giving divers and photographers a unique experience to explore an ancient and colourful display. Geographe Bay offers 20km of snorkel-friendly beaches, but be aware stingers tend to congregate in the shallows from time to time.
While a huge chunk of the region seems bright and shiny there’s still a smattering of heritage attractions to be found. An excellent way to take in Busselton’s history is by following the Busselton Heritage Park and Trail. The trail features a range of sculptures that aim to link the past and present, along with the interpretive Waljin Aboriginal Gardens that have been designed by a local Nyoongar artist. The first steam locomotive built in WA, the Ballarat Steam Engine, is on display along the trail, as is St Mary’s Anglican Church. Still a place of worship today, St Mary’s played an important role in the development of the town, and this beautiful building with its bell tower is the oldest stone church in the state. The adjoining Pioneer Cemetery is the resting place for many of the district’s early settlers with thousands of headstones and the original scripture still intact. A free map of the trail is available from the Busselton visitor centre. Located on Layman Road, Wonnerup House is owned and managed by the National Trust. A collection of 19th century farm and school buildings surrounded by tuart forest, and wetlands, the buildings are well maintained and furnished with artefacts that show how the pioneering Layman family lived. The house sits on several acres of farmland with lawns and colourful gardens surrounding the main buildings that are perfect for a picnic. The grounds are open from Thursday to Monday with admission costing $5 per adult and $3 per concession/child. In recent years, the original heritage-listed Old Courthouse and Agricultural buildings were transformed into art and community spaces. The walls of the buildings (some of which were formerly prison cells) now display locally made art and craft for sale. The complex also hosts plenty of events throughout the year. Be sure to visit the Old Post Office Tearooms for a house-made treat before you leave. Head to the website for a full run down on the spaces, www.nationaltrust.org.au/wa/wonnerup.
St Marys Church.
With flat footpaths that line the foreshore, this stretch of Geographe Bay along the coast is popular with cyclists, so grab your bike and explore the beaches, shops and cafes. There’s the new Busselton to Dunsborough pathway, 17 years in the making, that’s been finished two years early. Stretching from Port Geographe to Point Dalling, the 31km shared path is mostly flat so it’s great for bikes, prams and wheelchairs and best of all, it takes in the awesome coastline views. A highlight for the kids is riding across the 45m bridge spanning the Toby Inlet.
It’s no surprise that humpback whales love to visit Geographe Bay from September to November. Don’t we all? The bay is widely regarded as one of the best places for whale watching and experiencing the feeding of calves and the whale song for which humpbacks are famous. Secure your spot on one of the many charter boats that operate from Port Geographe Marina in Busselton. If you’re lucky, you may even get a glimpse of the rare blue whale.
Humpback Whale (photography Legend Charters).
TOP PICNIC SPOTS
The park is on the corner of Marine Terrace and Scout Road and boasts
a climbing tower, curly slide and plenty of space to kick a football or fly a kite. There’s a kids playground, toilets, gazebos, picnic tables and electric barbecues. Youngsters can also enjoy the skate/BMX park that’s located across the road.
Rotary Park is off Causeway Road on the banks of the Vasse River. It has plenty of open space for ball sports or frisbees and displays of interactive art pieces, plaques with historic information and a wooden jetty for viewing the river’s birdlife. The park has everything you’ll need for a family outing, including a playground, toilets, picnic tables and electric barbecues. Walk and cycle along the track from Rotary Park, along the river as it winds through town to the ocean.
Busselton Beach and Foreshore
This is perhaps the perfect place to picnic while enjoying the best parts of Busselton. Facilities include toilets, showers and change rooms with barbecue areas, water taps, bike racks, ample parking and easy access to restaurants, cafes and the jetty. Bike paths also meander along the length of the Geographe Bay foreshore.
Tuart Forest National Park
The National Park sits 15km north east of Busselton on Tuart Drive – look for Tuart Forest scenic drive signs. There is an abundance of wildlife to see including possums, kangaroos, native birds and southern brown bandicoots. Spend the day in one of the many picnic areas, take in a scenic drive or bushwalk amongst the wildflowers. Facilities include toilets and barbecues.
Rotary Park playground.
Skydive over Geographe Bay
Go fishing for squid off the jetty
Cycle from Busselton to Dunsborough
Cook a barbecue by the beach
Tackle the local mountain-bike trails
Check out the marine life in the Underwater Observatory
Catch a flick at the drive-in cinema
Climb the observation tower
Jump off the end of the jetty
Spot the tallest tree in the Ludlow Tuart Forest
Check out the art spaces in heritage buildings
Have a picnic at Yoganup Park
Cheer on the athletes at the Ironman competition
Go on a whale-watching tour
Take a 4WD trip to Wonnerup Beach
Ride the train along the jetty
Book a night dive with a local dive company
Ask a local about the subantarctic fur seal
All these more at www.scoop.com.au/thingstodo
The Cinefest Oz film festival showcases extraordinary Australian and French films over five days each year in Busselton, Margaret River and Bunbury. The southwest comes alive for a celebration of film, filmmakers, premieres and gala events. Combined with the best wines and music the region can offer, the festival has become a must-attend event for film lovers and those who appreciate the beauty of the southwest alike. Aug.
Busselton Spring Running Festival
Even if you’re not running, you’ll be completely immersed in all things to do with pounding the pavement during this weekend festival. There are events for kids and adults ranging from 2km to a marathon, plus seminars on nutrition, improving your running technique, and how to smash through any performance barriers. Oct.
SunSmart Ironman Western Australia
This triathlon attracts athletes from all over the world who descend on the scenic town to achieve their personal best; it’s also one of the flattest courses on the Ironman circuit. The competitors attract hordes of onlookers: luckily there are plenty of places to watch the action, but you’ll need to book your accommodation well in advance. If you’re competing, bear in mind that registrations sell out fast. Busselton, Dec.
WA’s only major music and camping festival offers a weekend of musical and local delights in Busselton. The environmentally friendly festival always brings A-grade talent from overseas, along with the most talented home-grown artists, and features music and comedy acts, food and market stalls, and a variety of other activities to keep you entertained the entire weekend. A great way to kickstart your year! Jan.
The Festival of Busselton
This two-week event is a highlight of the summer season, with plenty of free activities for all ages to enjoy. A deckchair cinema screening is the start to the festivities, with a fireworks display and concert wrapping things up. Jan.
Busselton AeroFest 2015
An exceptional event with a hundred-plus aircraft, together with displays of more than thirty rare planes, and vintage and classic cars. There are also restored military vehicles, aviation-related stalls and hangar displays, plus entertainment for the kids. Mar.
Sunsmart Ironman 70.3
The Sunsmart Ironman 70.3 is one of largest events of its type in Australia – spectators line the foreshore of Busselton to cheer the athletes through the triathlon, which sees them swim Geographe Bay, bike through the Tuart Forest, and run along the foreshore sands. Best of all, onlookers can enjoy Busselton’s famous attractions at the same time! May.
Busselton attracts the superfit for the Sunsmart Ironman 70.3 (photography Keith Hedgeland Photography).
You can drive from Perth to Busselton in two hours and forty minutes via the Forrest Highway. Be aware that the traffic can slow to a crawl during long weekends and other holiday periods when there’s a mass exodus ‘down south’ from Perth. If you’re travelling that way, a cruisy route to the town centre is via Tuart Drive just south of Capel. Once you’re on Tuart Drive, turn right onto Layman Road at the roundabout, which changes into Peel Terrace as you get closer to town. This detour is just as great for the scenery as it is to avoid traffic – it passes the Ludlow Tuart Forest, Wonnerup House, Malup River and Wonnerup Beach. If driving isn’t your thing, there are a number of daily bus services from Perth to Busselton, or take a short 50-minute flight with Virgin Australia (formerly Skywest), or a charter air service from Perth.