There’s an art to the perfect driving holiday. Distances should be short. Scenery should be spectacular. There should be lots of opportunities to get out and stretch your legs and, of course, plenty of fine food and wine to enjoy.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Margaret River. With its lovely beaches and soaring karri forests, its underground caves and thriving food scene, Margaret River has plenty to keep you occupied, before we even touch on the world-class wineries. Best of all, this surprisingly-compact area can be explored in just three days. Here’s our guide to how to do it right.
Day 1: Easy does it
No need for an early start. Getting to Margaret River from Perth is easier than ever before, thanks to the new Forrest Highway. Take the Kwinana Freeway, which leads you direct to the Forrest Highway, and in just two and a half hours you will arrive in the seaside town of Busselton, where the Margaret River region officially starts.
Stretch your legs on Busselton’s heritage-listed timber jetty: almost two kms long, it is the longest in the Southern Hemisphere. Too much of a walk? There is also a train that will take you all the way to the end. Alternatively, go for a stroll along the sheltered beach, or treat yourself to a dip, if the weather is warm enough.
The smart choice for lunch is Laundry 43, a hip diner where popular dishes include crispy whiting with a cucumber salad, or a carpaccio made with local beef and served with truffle mayonnaise.
After lunch, it is a quick 40-minute drive to Cape Naturaliste lighthouse, the starting point for one of Australia’s great walks. The Cape to Cape Track stretches 135km along the coast, but even a short stroll along the clifftop will give you a sense of the spectacular views that can be enjoyed along the way.
By now, you are probably ready to taste some wine. Given Margaret River’s global reputation, it’s surprising to learn that the first vines were planted here less than 50 years ago. There are now over 100 different producers in the area, most famous for their chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, but also producing plenty of other varietals, including semillon and sauvignon blanc.
Start your exploration with one of the smaller wineries, such as Windance, a family company run by Drew and Rosemary Brent-White. The range includes a sauvignon blanc semillon with tropical flavours, and a rich shiraz with berry flavours, vanilla, mocha and spice.
Dinner tonight is in the town of Margaret River. Must Wine Bar and Bistro, the little sister of a Perth institution, has communal tables, floor-to ceiling wine racks and a dedication to doing as much as possible in-house, from dry ageing the beef to making pork confit. Anything from the grill is a good choice; alternatively, the angel hair pasta with crab, tomato and chilli is a longtime favourite.
Day 2: Caves and cravings
This morning, it’s time to head underground. Thanks to a subterranean ridge of limestone, Margaret River has some magnificent caves to explore. One of the most visited is the wheelchair-accessible Mammoth Cave, where you finish your visit on a winding trail lined with tall marri trees.
An alternative is the spectacular Lake Cave, where pretty limestone formations are reflected in an underground stream. You need to be steady on your feet for this one: you will need to walk down 300 stairs just to reach the cave.
From Lake Cave, head south and turn onto Boranup Drive, an 11km stretch of road that passes through a karri forest, where the trees soar up to 60 metres tall. The drive itself is impressive, but it is worth getting out of the car and walking amongst them to get the full impact of these giants. A number of trails can be accessed from the old picnic area, about halfway along the road.
At the end of the road, Boranup Drive meets up again with Caves Road. From here, it is an easy drive to Leeuwin Estate winery. Leeuwin Estate is known for its shiraz and chardonnay, particularly the Art Series, its distinctive labels designed by leading contemporary artists. Don’t leave without visiting the in-house gallery, displaying works by some of Australia’s best-known artists, including John Olsen, Sidney Nolan and Fred Williams.
If it is a nice day, head for the coast for lunch. The White Elephant Café has a gorgeous setting directly on the beach, and a tempting menu of treats such as slow braised lamb salad.
From here, it is a short drive to Cape Mentelle, one of the area’s pioneer wineries. Its cabernet, shiraz, sauvignon blanc semillon and zinfandel are all highly regarded. Visitors can also opt for a one hour behind-the-scenes tour, to learn more about the winemaking progress. If you are visiting in summer, keep an eye out for the outdoor cinema program.
Dinner tonight is at Miki’s Open Kitchen, known for its Japanese-influenced cuisine. The chef’s menu is recommended: the dishes will probably include some sashimi and some of Miki’s superb tempura, such as a panko-crumbed Esperance scallop.
Day 3: Grazing and galleries
Today it is time to explore Margaret River’s burgeoning food scene. If it’s a Saturday, start with a visit to the farmer’s market at Margaret River, where you can buy local produce including nougat, berries, marmalade, olive oil, and wood-fired bread. Even if the market is not on, there is no need to go hungry.
Start with a coffee at Yahava Koffeeworks, where they roast a mean brew. Your next stop depends on your favourite temptation. Cheese fans will want to head for the Margaret Valley Dairy Company, which offers free tastings of cheese and yoghurt. Specialities include silky camemberts and tangy cheddars, and they make a mean milkshake, too.
A different type of dairy treat is on offer at Millers Ice Cream, set in a 90-year-old cottage and offering tantalising flavours such as mascarpone and wild fig, ginger and coffee and strawberry and custard.
Other food-focused stores worth checking out include The Good Olive, which combines homewares and jewellery with a range of local goodies including jams, chutneys, coffee and olive oil. If you have a sweet tooth, make a quick stop at the Margaret River Chocolate Company – and yes, those barrels of chocolate buttons are there for you to sample.
It’s time to start heading for home, but that doesn’t mean the fun is over. On the way, you will pass Cullen Wines, one of the area’s most respected wineries. Cullen is known not just for its award-winning wine (the Diana Madeline Cabernet Merlot is outstanding) but for its commitment to biodynamic practices. The biodynamic approach extends to the restaurant, which sources 80 per cent of its fresh produce from the winery’s own garden.
Cullen is an excellent choice for lunch; however, if you are still full from your morning grazing, keep heading north until you reach Knee Deep wineries, where another acclaimed restaurant awaits.
After lunch, drive on to Yallingup, where you can take another break to admire some art. Margaret River has a thriving art scene and is home to a number of galleries; Gunyulgup Galleries is the pick of the bunch. Located next to a scenic lake, the gallery showcases the best of WA artists’ work across a range of mediums. It is a lovely last stop before the final stretch taking you back to Perth. •
Photography courtesy Ute Junker and Tourism Western Australia •
Photography by Ute Junker and Tourism Western Australia
Qantas operates 51 services a week from Melbourne to Perth, 48 services from Sydney, and 28 services from Brisbane, on a combination of A330 and B737-800 aircraft. qantas.com
Where to stay
The area’s grandest lodging is the magnificent Cape Lodge, surrounded by vineyards. In addition to the tranquil setting, guests get first dibs at bookings in the acclaimed restaurant. capelodge.com.au
Prefer to sleep by the sea? Pullman Bunker Bay Resort’s bungalows are within easy walking distance of the beach. pullmanbunkerbayresort.com.au
Motorhome rentals are affordable and allow you to set the pace and sleep off the beaten track. driveaway.com.au
Tourism Western Australia: westernaustralia.com