Spread over 120km of stunning coastline from Cape Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin, and inland over rivers, farms, forests, sun-drenched vineyards and tree-lined townships, ‘down south’ is heavenly.
Enjoying a Mediterranean climate, the Margaret River region is internationally renowned for its premium grape-growing, and is peppered with more than 215 wine producers and 120 cellar doors.
With this great wine comes great food. The region’s seasonal bounty is served in eateries from Busselton to Augusta – from homegrown and artisan delights at weekly farmers markets, to fine dining in gold-plate winery restaurants. Beer lovers can go to town at nine boutique breweries, most with gourmet pub grub. The Margaret River Gourmet Escape in November is a must-do for foodies, with celeb chefs and pop-ups galore.
Part of the southwest’s biodiversity hotspot, the region is ideal for nature lovers, and home to many endemic plant species found nowhere else on earth. Whale-watching, birdwatching and wildflowers are just some of Mother Nature’s offerings.
Explore on foot or mountain bike – choose from the diverse 135km coastal Cape-to-Cape Track or the Meelup Reserve Trail, or there are walks and rides through the Boranup Forest, and along the dual-use Rails to Trails network.
Along the coast, there are spectacular sights at every stop. Gorgeous views of giant granite rocks, rugged cliffs, and pretty sandy beaches fringed by peppermint-tree heath abound. You might spot frolicking dolphins or the occasional seal in the water.
If indulgence is your idea of a holiday, you’ll be spoilt for choice, with day spas and retreats sprouting from a strong wellness culture.
Lavish architecture and a flourishing art scene draw culture vultures in droves – literature, film and music festivals ensure there’s always something on. Margaret River’s nationally acclaimed painters, sculptors, furniture makers, metal and wood artisans, jewellery designers, and glass artists draw inspiration from their surroundings, and show at the many local galleries and studios.
Beyond its wine, produce, beauty and activities, the Margaret River region has an irresistible energy that radiates from the ocean and ancient landscape, captivating visitors time and time again. It’s something visceral, and simply must be experienced.
The Augusta-Margaret River shire has 998sqkm of state forest, with karri, jarrah, marri and tingle trees in abundance.
The region has 66 species of rare and endangered flora, and five rare animal species.
The huge variety of birdlife includes cockatoos, blue wrens, rock parrots, and willy wagtails.
Every year, from June to early December, more than 35,000 southern right, humpback, minke and blue whales pass through on their annual migration. Whale-watching tours are the most spectacular way to see these gentle giants. Tours depart Augusta (June-August) and Dunsborough (September-November).
WHEN TO GO
Summer is busiest, and it’s all about the beach. The surf is spectacular in early autumn, while winters are cool and great for cosy fires, red wine and whale spotting. Spring is perfect for bush walking, with the wildflowers in full bloom.
TIP Pack a jumper for cool nights.
THE WORLD'S BEST WAVES
Once a sleepy surf village, Margs has built a global reputation as a surfing Mecca. Hit the waves, or just be mesmerised by the any of the 75 breaks in the region, known to be the most consistent year-round, big-surf waves in the world. In July 2015, the ‘swell of the decade’ saw only a handful of very experienced brave surfers ride 70-foot waves. The coastline resembled a stadium, with locals flocking to watch in awe.
TIP Swim at Meelup Beach and retire to the shady grass with a book.
The pretty seaside town of Busselton is popular with families and couples alike, thanks to the beautiful, calm beaches of tranquil Geographe Bay and the surrounding resorts. Busselton is famous for its 1.8km heritage-listed jetty, with a bustling precinct of seaside cafes, restaurants and recreation spots at the shore end and an underwater observatory – with hundreds of tropical fish – at the other.
DUNSBOROUGH TO YALLINGUP
The north-facing beaches of Dunsborough are some of the prettiest you’ll ever see, with clear waters and white sand, surrounded by shady lawns and bushland. The tip of the peninsula between Dunsborough and Yallingup is Cape Naturaliste, starting point for the 135km Cape-to-Cape Track. Climb the lighthouse for spectacular views across Geographe Bay and Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park. Yallingup is a surfer’s dream, yet has a sheltered lagoon. The sweeping Smith’s Beach and unique Canal Rocks are gorgeous sights. Wineries are just minutes away, and art-gallery precincts are waiting for you to explore.
TIP Take a guided tour with Koomal Dreaming.
Taking a 4WD trip in the forest (photography margaretriver.com).
One of the main roads in the region, leafy Caves Road goes straight from Yallingup, through Margaret River to Augusta, with breweries, galleries, a profusion of excellent wineries and some amazing views along the way. Explore the many stunning drives though the forests and bushland that run off Caves Road – take your time, and watch out for kangaroos at dawn and dusk.
MARGARET RIVER CENTRAL
The heart of the region, with beautiful country vistas of vineyards ribboning across the valleys, and tall stands of jarrah and karri trees among the cow paddocks. There is a plethora of wineries, farm gates, spas, galleries, breweries, caves, trails and attractions dotted through the countryside. The main street offers boutique shopping, cafes, restaurants, pubs and supermarkets. Next to the
mouth of Margaret River, the seaside town of Prevelly is where the famous surf can be found, and to the north, in the tiny town of Cowaramup, you’ll see fiberglass cow sculptures as you drive through.
TIP Visit the Saturday farmers markets and see where the chefs and locals shop.
MARGARET RIVER SOUTH
Augusta is the most south-westerly point of Australia, and on a clear day can look out from Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse to where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean. Hold on to your hat, it’s windy at the top. Flinders Bay in Augusta is the best vantage point in the southwest to spot southern right and humpback whales from June to August. Hamelin Bay is a gorgeous sheltered spot, and the tall-timber Boranup Forest is stunningly beautiful – be sure to look up! Jewel Cave will also dwarf those who enter its lofty chambers.
Lake Cave (photography margaretriver.com).
The Margaret River Region is home to more than 100 stunning caves, nestled in the spine of the Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge. These caves were formed over the last million years by the constant movement of water through limestone. They are simply amazing, and a great way to escape the sun or rain. Experiences range from easy walks and guided tours along boardwalks, to hard-hat adventure caving. Visit Mammoth, Lake and Jewel caves, and experience Aboriginal customs and stories at Ngilgi Cave in Yallingup, where you’ll learn about the history of the Wardandi Noongar people, the first inhabitants of the southwest.
Already popular with surfers and visitors to the caves, Margaret River was identified as a potential wine region in the 1960s by Dr John Gladstone,
a viticultural scientist with the Western Australian Department of Agriculture. Sure enough, the first commercial vines were planted at Vasse Felix in 1967, closely followed by plantings at Moss Wood, Cape Mentelle, Cullen Wines and Sandalford Wines. The rest is history, with more than 215 wine producers contributing only a small amount of Australia’s wine grapes (three per cent) yet an impressive 20 per cent of the nation’s premium wine market, and five per cent of the premium wine exported from Australia. The region is best known for chardonnays and cabernets, although new grapes are showing potential in the still-young appellation.
You can rest assured that you’ll drink great wine when cellar-door hopping – the James Halliday Australian Wine Companion has rated nearly 60 Margaret River Region wineries with five stars, which means they have two or more wines that have rated over 94 points – an outstanding score. See our feature on page 46 for details.
TIP Mix it up, and explore the wineries by bike or horse-drawn carriage.
Visit scooptraveller.com.au and explore Margaret River wineries by cellar-door open days, wine styles, vine age, dinner options and more!
KID FRIENDLY WINERIES
Around 50 wineries cater for children, with awesome playgrounds, treehouses, outdoor games, drawing materials and great kids’ menus. Some even allow pooches. Here is a small selection, but ask at the visitor centre for the full list.
3 Oceans Wine Company
The Berry Farm
Bush Shack Brewery
Cheeky Monkey Brewery & Cidery and Killerby Wines
Cowaramup Brewing Co.
Eagle Bay Brewing Co.
Howling Wolves Wines
Swings & Roundabouts
Watershed Premium Wines
Woody Nook Wines
Explore the caves, pet baby animals, climb the lighthouses, build a sandcastle, splash and snorkel, take a surf class, boogieboard, bush bash, pony ride, sample ice-creams and fudge, listen to Dreamtime stories, get lost in a maze, play mini golf, try the fun-park rides, and gaze at the stars.
Victoria Johnson, Public Relations Officer, Margaret River Busselton Tourism Association
Go 4WDing along Boranup Beach. The track to get there is pretty gnarly but worth it for the kilometres of blinding white sand and blue water.
Do a section of the Cape to Cape – I would strongly recommend going with a guide from a local walk-tour company. I did the whole track guided over a week, and it was awesome!
Pack some local craft beers and go for a fish at sunset – that’s generally when they bite. Riflebutts, Boodjidup and Boranup are favourite spots.
DON'T LEAVE THE REGION WITHOUT... taking the time to enjoy the simple things in life. The sunsets in the Margaret River region are capable of moving you to tears with their extraordinary beauty. All you have to do is find a spot, sit back
and soak it all in.