Sunday 8 September 2013

Winding down in Western Australia

Margaret River vineyard Margaret River vineyard (Tourism Australia)
What do wine buffs, surfers and the discerning Perth weekend crowd have in common? Largely their love of their own pristine backyard, the south- west region of Western Australia, stretching through wine country and tall forests all the way to Albany, with magical things to see and do along the way.

But now the rest of the world is waking up to the area, curious to see what all the fuss is about. For a start it makes sense to fly into Perth from Europe and Asia as the flight times from London, Frankfurt and Amsterdam are under 18 hours and just under 5 hours from Singapore. From here you can explore Perth and travel south to explore the fabulous coastline, the Margaret River Wine Region and beyond.

Perth is the world’s most isolated capital city, but don’t let that worry you as both it and Fremantle offer superb food and wine, arts and cultural activities to soak up before heading south.

Leave the traffic lights behind
Driving in the area is a pleasure and it is no wonder that car companies often use the area as a launch and test-drive location. It’s a three-hour drive to the famous Margaret River Wine Region and you can take it easy stopping at places along the way. White beaches, sweeping bays, cliffs and oceans that vary from stunning blue to deep green – you’ll be amazed at the scenery and sheer freshness of it all.

Your journey need not be direct and you’ll love turning off to explore as you wish. Drop in to Bunbury, the City of Three Waters, with the surf of the Indian Ocean, the Leschenault Inlet and Koombanna Bay on three sides. More than 100 bottlenose dolphins live in Koombanna Bay and you can swim with them and cruise alongside them from the Dolphin Discovery Centre.

Busselton is in a fantastic setting on shores of Geographe Bay – the water is usually a fabulous blue and more than 30 kilometres of dazzling, white sandy beaches stretch off into the distance towards Cape Naturaliste. You can snorkel, dive, fish and sail, cycle the foreshore or just sit in a cafe or bar and watch the world go by.

If you’d like to see the underwater world without getting wet, the Busselton Jetty’s Underwater Observatory is 12 metres below the surface on the ocean floor with 11 viewing windows through which to see the vivid corals and marine life of the jetty’s own reef.

Just before Cape Naturalise, Dunsborough is a place where the vineyards meet the sea. Discover Bunker Bay and Meelup Beach, photograph Sugarloaf Rock and dive the 113-metre Swan Dive Wreck.

Around Margaret River and Yallingup catch (or maybe just watch) the waves at Surfer’s Point where the Margaret River Pro is held or Smiths Beach for fishing, swimming and surfing. The Yallingup Surfilm Festival is held every two years and the next is in January 2012, featuring surf films, surf book authors and all sorts of surf legends and culture.

Surfing’s not the only thrill – the area is famous for its caves and Outdoor Discoveries run caving programs from large caverns to, as they put it, tight squeezes! They will also take you abseiling and rock-climbing at the Willyabrup sea cliffs, one of the South West’s premier sites.

Don’t forget to drop in to the Kodja Place Visitor and Interpretive Centre in Kojonup, and the Wardan Aboriginal Cultural Centre in Yallingup to discover more about Indigenous history and culture.

Wine country
In Margaret River wine country there’s fabulous food and local produce to complement the wine trail. The region is responsible for over 15 per cent of the country’s premium wine and the cellar doors and restaurants echo the quality.

The Margaret River region sits on an ancient granite peninsula between Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin along a coastal ridge enjoying fine soil and a maritime climate that produces fine Cabernet Sauvignon, powerful Shiraz and intense Chardonnay among its different varietals.

Labels such as Cape Mentelle, Vasse Felix, Cullen, Fermoy Estate, Xanadu, Howard Park and Madfish are just a handful of examples of the wine labels of the area. Madfish is part of Howard Park a family owned company with a cellar door in Margaret River and also at Denmark in the Great Southern wine region around the coastline near Albany.

Great Southern is a lesser known but much larger region, 100 kilometres by 150 kilometres and with five sub-regions, Denmark, Albany, Mount Barker, Frankland River and Porongurups each with its own variation in climate, making this a fascinating wine region to tour.

Howard Park has grown into Western Australia’s largest family-owned wine company under the guiding hands of Jeff and Amy Burch their multi-award winning Howard Park Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon testament to the diverse growing conditions of the area.

“This is just such a special part of the world,” says Amy Burch. “ We spend time in France with our business and I love it but oh, the traffic in those narrow streets, even in the villages. I come here and drive to Margaret River and we have the whole gourmet experience but without the traffic lights, and that is very precious indeed.”

All the way to Albany
South east of Margaret River, Pemberton continues the foodie theme with specialities such as black truffles grown at Manjimup. Visit the Wine & Truffle Co and join a ‘truffle hunt’ to locate the wonderful black truffles beginning in April each year.

Alongside vineyards and pastures, Pemberton is surrounded by spectacular karri forests of the Gloucester National Park. The Gloucester Tree is WA’s most famous karri at 61 metres tall and you can visit cafes and vineyards and bushwalk along the Bibbulmun Track through the forest. If you don’t want to walk you can also see the forest by tram or steam train.

You’ll also see karris between Manjimup and Denmark and in spring the forest floors are covered with wildflowers. The Tuart Forest National Park along the Swan Coastal Plain between Busselton and Jurien Bay protects one of the most precious and rare ecosystems on earth with tall grey-barked tuart trees and endangered wildlife such as Carnaby’s black cockatoo.

Further south, Denmark on the Denmark River has turquoise Ocean, spectacular beaches, whale watching, cellar doors and enticing berry farms and toffee and cheese factories. The area is also known for wildflowers and walks – the Tree Top Walk in the Valley of the Giants is a walk through the canopy of a forest of gigantic tingle trees nearly 40 metres up in the air in the Walpole-Nornalup National Park. The buttressed red tingles can reach 75 metres in height and 26 metres at the base, the largest of any eucalypt.

Stay, ride, take a walk
Margaret River’s Cape Lodge is WA’s best known boutique hotel and check out the Injidup Spa Retreat, Smiths Beach Resort south of Yallingup and Pembertons’ Stone Barn to name just a few of the places to stay.

Also note that bike riders can cycle the Cape to Cape track and the Munda Biddi Trail and, from March 2011, Auswalk is launching a self-guided nine-day, inn-to-inn Cape to Cape walk.

Written by Alison Plummer on behalf of Tourism Australia.

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