The neighbouring regions are making headway but the iconic Margaret River Region continues to go from strength to strength, with no sign of slowing down. The Margaret River Gourmet Escape, now in its third year, has cemented itself as an absolute ‘must-attend’ event, and welcomes the return of Heston Blumenthal to its line-up of culinary masterminds in 2014. There’s a new restaurant in Dunsborough, and Margaret River’s Japanese eatery is rapidly growing a legion of fans. The Great Southern Distillery will open up its second venue later in 2014, and the Margaret River Farmers Markets have found a new home at the Margaret River Education Campus, and are open every Saturday. And, once you’ve wrapped your head around the updates, there’s the 150 wineries, beaches, national parks and countless trails to consider...
Top things to do
Go surfing at a world-class break
Watch a sunset at Sugarloaf Rock
Sample the wines around Wilyabrup
Take a guided tour through a cave
Go mountain-biking at Secret Witcher
Walk along the Busselton Jetty
Take a 4WD to Wonnerup Beach
Watch the surfers from Yallingup Beach
Spot whales in Flinders Bay
Go for a picnic in the Boranup Forest
Dive the HMAS Swan wreck
Jump off the pontoon in Gnarabup
Hike the Cape to Cape Track
All of these and more at www.scoop.com.au/margaretriver
This holiday resort town offers loads for families, with plenty of attractions within easy reach of accommodation, and wineries that are just a stone’s throw away. There are plenty of places to stay, from beachside resorts and apartments to caravan parks and chalets. Sheltered Geographe Bay is popular for swimming and fishing, and also for snorkelling and diving. The jetty stretches out from the bay (it’s the longest timber-piled jetty in the Southern Hemisphere) and is a must visit; you can walk its length or ride a train and then delve beneath the ocean in the underwater observatory. The plethora of corals and fish makes for an excellent night dive (book with a local dive company). There’s plenty around for active folk, too – waterskiing and sailing are common pastimes in the Busselton precinct, and the energetic town hosts Ironman, swimming and triathlon competitions throughout the year. Not far away are a series of epic mountain-biking trails at Secret Witcher, or there’s the Ludlow Tuart Forest for visitors who are keen enjoy nature at a more chilled pace.
Dunsborough & Yallingup
The bulk of Margaret River looks angelic next to the twisted terrain along this stretch of coastline, but the dishevelled appearance makes it all the more spectacular. The bordering coast from Dunsborough to Yallingup is home to world-class surf breaks and pretty beaches (try Meelup Beach if you’re after a protected spot). Inland, you’ll find art galleries, wineries and breweries. Cape Naturaliste (at the very point) is the start of the renowned Cape to Cape Track and has a great lighthouse and a whale-watching platform. On the western side of the cape is the magnificent Sugarloaf Rock that can be reached from various trails, one of which is paved for easy access for prams and wheelchairs (the endangered red-tailed tropicbird can also be spotted here). Much of the accommodation in Yallingup (surf break central) has great ocean views; there are spa retreats and many hillside holiday houses available for rent. Dunsborough, on the east-facing side of the headland, is ideal for families – especially for those with young kids – and has an excellent bakery, a number of beachside resorts, and camping grounds. There’s lively nightlife, too, at the local pubs and restaurants, and down the road at the iconic Caves House Hotel.
The beach at Yallingup (photography Digital Love Photography).
Margaret River Central
If you want to be in the thick of the best brekkie spots, nightlife, boutique stores and art galleries, base yourself in the hub of Margaret River. Some of the world’s most acclaimed surf breaks are just a short drive from town at Prevelly, Redgate and Contos, and you can watch surfers tackle the huge waves from the lookout at Surfers Point. For a more family-friendly stretch of coast, head to Gnarabup Beach where you can swim in protected waters. Wilyabrup is the busiest section of Caves Road, with a high number of wineries clustered within a 20-minute radius. There is also a variety of art galleries, including the outdoor sculpture garden at Vasse Felix, and excellent fine dining. Cowaramup’s shops are good for supplies, while the tiny enclave of Gracetown is a laid-back holiday spot with great surfing, fishing and swimming in the protected bay.
Margaret River South
The further south you go, the more laid-back things become (and the south is notably quieter in peak season). The waters around Augusta are frequented by whales and those chasing exceptional conditions for wind- and kite-surfing (it gets a little blowy down here!). If you’re in search of the migrating whales, Flinders Bay is your best bet to spot them, specifically between June and August. Avoiding the breeze is tough at the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse so be sure to visit in the morning before the wind picks up. TIP Buy a lighthouse pass that includes admission to the caves as well. The much-photographed Hamelin Bay is famous for its resident stingrays and also offers beachside camping and a boat ramp. Pretty Boranup Forest is a must-visit spot for a picnic and a walk, but if you’ve got a 4WD you’ll be able to access harder-to-reach beaches that are great for fishing.
Boranup Forest (photography AMRTA).
PLACES OF INTEREST
Canebrake Pool (08) 9752 5555
Point Road (08) 9752 5555
Boranup Forest (08) 9752 5555
Warner Glen (08) 9752 5555
Sues Bridge (08) 9752 5555
Conto Field (08) 9752 5555
Wharncliffe Mill (08) 9758 8227
CYCLING & MOUNTAIN BIKE TRACKS
For locations and more information refer to For Lovers of Cycling on pages 82-84.
Margaret River Pines
Type Mountain bike
Time taken to ride 1-3 hours
Busselton Dunsborough Pathway
Type Any bike
Time taken to ride 1.5-2 hours
Busselton Secret Witcher
Type Mountain bike
Experience Mountain-biking proficiency suggested
Time taken to ride 1.5-2 hours
Margaret River Farmers Market
Open every Saturday from 8am to noon. Located at the Margaret River Education Campus. 272 Bussell Highway, Margaret River.
Margaret River Town Square Market
Open every Sunday from 9am to 12.30pm until 28 December 2014. Located
at Margaret River Town Square, Bussell Highway, Margaret River.
Lions Market Dunsborough
Open on the fourth Saturday of each month, 8am to 1pm. Dunn Bay Road/Naturaliste Terrace, Seymour Boulevard.
Foreshore Markets Busselton
Sundays, 7am to 12pm (except second and fourth Sunday of month). Signal Park, Busselton (corner Queen Street and Marine Terrace).
Open on the second and fourth Sunday of each month from 7am to noon. Signal Park, Busselton (corner of Queen Street and Marine Terrace).
Vasse Market Vasse
Community Hall, Saturdays (first, second and fourth Saturday of the month excepted), 7.30am to noon.
Dunsborough Central Markets
Open on the second and fourth Saturday of the month from 7am to noon. Lions
Augusta Colour Patch, Ellis Street, Flinders Bay
Busselton Dolphin Road, Georgette Street, Newtown Beach, Scount Road, Port Geographe, Wonnerup
Yallingup Canal Rocks Road
Margaret River Central Cowaramup Bay, Prevelly Park
Dunsborough Finlayson Street, Elmore Street, Geographe Bay Road (Quindalup)
Margaret River South Hamelin Bay
There is a limit of 20 Roe’s abalone per person per day, and five each of greenlip and brownlip abalone. The size of Roe’s abalone needs to be a minimum of
60mm, while greenlip and brownlip must be 140mm. In the southwest, recreational abalone fishing is permitted from October 1 to May 15 with a licence. For measuring guides and the full list of regulations, head to www.fish.wa.gov.au.
Head to Hamelin Bay and try to bag yourself some crayfish (also known as rock lobster) from November 15 to June 30. Fishermen must have a licence – size and catch limits apply. Divers can only catch crayfish by hand; spears and nets are prohibited. Gnarabup, Canal Rocks, and Kilcarnup beaches are also good sites.
If you have a licence, you are allowed to fish for marron in the Margaret River using a pole snare (all other methods are illegal). Take care to note the exclusion zones however: the river and its tributaries upstream of the Ten Mile Brook junction are off limits, as are the waters within 300m upstream and 50m downstream of the Bussell Highway traffic bridge. The open season runs from January 8 until February 5.
A spyhopping humpback whale (photography Boat Legend Charters).
The landscape that was tarnished during the 2011 Margaret River bushfires is steadily regenerating, and the affected areas now dazzle during the wildflower season. October is the best month to see wildflowers bloom (more than 2500 species), including banksia plants, kangaroo paws and rare orchids. A few kilometres in from the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse there is an area of vegetation containing small trees that’s a good spot to hunt for orchids. Further along the headlands, red and heath leschenaultia can also be found. The Boranup Forest is also a wildflower hotspot including carpets of blue leschenaultia, purple hovea, red coral vine, native wisteria, wild clematis, karri hazel and wattle. The areas around Ellensbrook, Kilcarnup and Gnarabup hill are also hot tips for the coming years, and right alongside Caves Road are some of the most stunning displays of kangaroo paws.
Tuart Forest National Park (08) 9219 9000
Leeuwin Naturaliste National Park (08) 9752 5555
Yelverton National Park (08) 9752 5800
Bramley National Park (08) 9840 0400
Beedelup National Park (08) 9776 1207
Rapids Conservation Park (08) 9752 5555
Forest Grove National Park (08) 9752 5555
Boranup Karri Forrest (08) 9780 5911
Dunsborough Visitor Centre (08) 9752 5800
Margaret River Visitor Centre (08) 9780 5911
Augusta Margaret River Tourism Association (08) 9758 0166
Busselton Visitor Centre (08) 9752 5800
Augusta Taxis 0417 914 694
Dunsborough Taxis (08) 9756 8688 or 0409 568 688
Margaret River Taxis (08) 9757 3444
Taz’s Taxi (Margaret River) (08) 9757 5178
South West Designated Drivers 0458 217 522
Ngilgi Cave (Dunsborough/Yallingup) Guided tours available
Jewel Cave (Margaret River South) The biggest show cave in WA
Lake Cave (Margaret River South) The only cave in the region with a permanent lake inside
Mammoth Cave (Margaret River South) Self-guided MP3 tours available, with
wheelchair access to the first chamber
Moondyne Cave (Margaret River South) Intimate ‘adventure’ experience tour available
Contos Beach, as seen from the Cape to Cape Track (photography www.margaretriver.com).
Getting There | The quickest route to Margaret River (via Busselton) is along the Kwinana Freeway and then Bussell Highway. The South Western Highway can also be taken from Perth; it’s slower but more scenic. Daily buses from Perth travel to most parts of the region; book your seat with South West Coach Lines or TransWA. For a speedy trip, fly to Busselton with Virgin Australia. The 50-minute flight travels from Perth twice weekly.
Leavers Week | When the year 12 students around the state officially finish school, the partying teenagers descend on Dunsborough and its surrounds, and it’s not always a pretty sight. Holidaying during this period is possible but probably not advisable (especially for families). Check specific ‘leavers’ dates at www.leaverswa.com.au.
Grocery Shopping | The supermarkets get packed in peak periods, not to mention the fact that prices are a bit steeper than in Perth. You’re better off carting your groceries from Perth, along with an esky of frozen goods, dairy and meat.