From wineries to water sports, Lisa Perkovic dips her tastes buds into an emerging wine region you’ll want to put on the map.
You may not have heard of the Ferguson Valley, but that’s about to change.
One of Western Australia’s best kept secrets, the Ferguson Valley is just two hours drive south of Perth and feels poised to make a mark on Australians looking for fresh air, good food and top-notch wine. Here’s how to spend 48 hours in Ferguson Valley:
All roads lead through Bunbury, or that’s at least how it feels on any road trip down the south coast from Perth. Many travellers bypass the port city, but it’s the perfect stop to fuel up for a big day in Ferguson Valley.
Alongside the Forrest Highway is the famous Bunbury Farmers Market, a warehouse-style providore meets grocery store. It’s worth stopping to stock up on local cheeses, meats, bread, dips and snacks for the road.
If you have time, venture into Bunbury itself for a hearty brunch at The Townhouse Coffee Shop. With green juices and protein smoothies in mason jars and jumbo-sized breakfast burgers, it’s straight out of Sydney or Melbourne’s café scenes. Throw in smashed avocado toast drizzled in homemade dukkha and you’ll be firing on all cylinders.
Head inland and you’ll soon be driving past rolling hills and pine forests. The pastoral landscape gives way to forests of marri and karri eucalyptus trees as you enter Wellington National Park.
With 17,000 hectares to play with, the National Park is famous for walking, biking and water sports. The Collie River Valley is the playground for most of these activities. Here, you’ll find a network of trails, tracks and rapids for adventure lovers and sheltered pools and inlets for the slower-paced among us.
For a taster, try booking a day tour with TraaVerse. This family-owned tour company can fill your day with as many or as little adrenalin moments as you like.
We settle for the middle, heading out with a couple of kayaks from the picturesque Honeymoon Pool to paddle up an appetite. A grazing box of locally-sourced charcuterie is our reward, eaten along the banks of the river.
Wine and dine
Perched between Perth and the Margaret River Region, the Ferguson Valley is blessed with the same bountiful south-west soil that has earned Western Australia’s most famous wine region its reputation, only on a much smaller scale. But it’s about quality, not quantity, and the twenty or so wine producers pack a punch into their small-batch wines.
Willow Bridge Estate
With the port of Bunbury and the Indian Ocean visible in the distance, the vines at Willow Bridge Estate have some of the best views around. They also make the most of the prevailing sea breeze, yielding classic regional varieties of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay. The Gravel Pit Shiraz is certainly a crowd-pleaser, with juicy mulberry and blueberry notes and long staying tannins. It takes its name from the former gravel pit used for road construction in the region and now home to the shiraz vines.
Green Door Wines
Just five minutes down the road is Green Door Wines, where the cellar door seems to hang on the edge of the Darling Scarp hills. It looks more like a Melbourne eatery than a countryside tasting room.
Ash and Kath Keeffe began Green Door in 2006, injecting life into rundown vines and bringing a fair bit of style to the region. Think high ceilings, polished concrete floors, afghan rugs, and the namesake door all the way from Morocco. The statement piece acts as a clever divider between the tasting bar and an enclosed terrace.
Green Door’s grapes are hand-picked, and basket pressed on-site, with winemaking leaning more towards red. Put your palate to the test with Green Door’s Black Glass Sensory Wine Tasting, where you’ll sip from four black wine glasses. It sounds simple, yet its seriously challenging – a unique experience that will stand out among a day of tasting.
At Talisman Wines, the brand new cellar door is another taster of what’s to come for this region. We gravitate to the floor-to-ceiling windows that meet at the corner and point straight out over the dam. There’s a long tasting table made from a giant piece of Marri wood left to show itself off in all its glory, and then there’s the wine.
The space is sleek, chic and again sets the bar high for small-sized cellar doors. We run through a quick roll call of award-winning wines, each bold and beautiful. The Cabernet Malbec and straight Malbec are coming home with us, while the Chardonnay has been winning too many awards to count, nudging top producers from further south down the podium.
St Aidan Wines
What is great wine without great food? St Aidan Wines has both. Taking its name from the small historic church at the entranceway to the 10-hectare property, the winery and restaurant are considered a must-visit. We settle in for a three-course lunch and a large tasting paddle, choosing six from the extensive list of drops. The wine is paired with house-made focaccia, generous serves of local Dardanup rolled beef brisket and a Caesar salad elevated by cos lettuce straight from the kitchen garden. This is great produce that is allowed to shine, the kitchen striking that perfect balance between familiar and fancy. The team have also thoughtfully offered both a white and red suggested wine pairing – you cannot go wrong.
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Have someone take care of you
After a day on the road, is there anything better than coming home? That’s what it feels like when you arrive at Peppermint Lane Lodge, Ferguson Valley’s most pampered option. This isn’t the pampering of high-end resorts or five-star hotels. This is the pampering of homemade ginger snap cookies by the bed, afternoon glasses of ice-cold rosé in the garden, and freshly cut flowers everywhere.
Husband and wife Simon and Kim treat every guest at their B&B-come-country lodge as a family – if that’s what you’re needing. We are in need of it, and spend an evening in their dining room, delighting in a three-course meal worthy of a restaurant. The pair have plenty of stories to tell about the region that will complement your trip.
Hit the art trail
Along with the art of winemaking, Ferguson Valley is a haven for artisans of all shapes and sizes. It would be easy to spend a day or two touring small art studios tucked behind houses and properties. Indeed, you can do that on a tour with Hinterland Escapes, or pop into the Visitor Centre for a map and some pointers.
The 5th Element Glass Art Studio by Christine Elston and the Elliott and Smith studios are both treasure troves of fused glass. Then, soak up Jenni Doherty’s lush, layered works at her home studio, where the corridors showcase highly textured pieces. You’ll find Doherty’s work in galleries down south, and she hosts workshops for fledging artists or anyone wanting to practice their craft.
Find time to venture back into Wellington National Park, where the face of Wellington Dam wall has been turned into what has to be one of Australia’s biggest artworks. Australian artist Guido van Helten has spent months transforming concrete into canvas, creating a mega mural that is over 350 metres wide and 34 metres tall. It needs to be seen to be believed and the drive down to the lookout is worth the detour.
There is one more stop that needs to be made for any trip to Ferguson Valley: Gnomesville – a community-created cluster of more than 5,000 garden gnomes. What began as one small gnome placed in a roundabout has grown into a national tourist attraction.
These days, the gnomes are tucked into a small glen by the side of the road, sprawling along paths, around tree trunks and on rocks. There are big gnomes, little gnomes, gold gnomes, even astronaut gnomes. Community groups and individuals come from far and wide to add their gnomes. Bring your own gnome or simply peruse the residents at a one of a kind outdoor gallery.
Whether you’re looking to wind down, restock the cellar or get back to nature, Ferguson Valley will win you over.
Looking for more information? Check out Visit Bunbury Geographe.
Lisa was the guest of Australia’s South West.