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Rollin' down the Margaret River

Just a short three-hour drive south of Perth, the Margaret River region offers drive enthusiasts a holiday with the lot, despite its recent bushfires. JESSICA ZOITI hit the road and discovered a tourism industry that’s alive and kicking.

The Margaret River area has it all. It’s the only wine region in Australia where you can lounge on stunning beaches, trek through tall timber forests, enjoy incredible surfing and explore beautiful caves all in one spot. Better still, it’s all on Perth’s doorstep. A short, smooth two and a half-hour drive will have you right in the heart of this naturally rich region.


Back in December, the southern end of the area was ravaged by bushfires, however residents are proving it takes more than a few flames to douse the local spirit. The majority of the region is as picturesque as ever. Businesses haven’t skipped a beat and the world famous organic food and wine is as mouth watering as ever. 


Two and a half years ago, the Kwinana Freeway, which makes a beeline south from the Perth CBD, was extended and connected to the new Forrest Highway. Created to allow southbound travellers to bypass the City of Mandurah, the dual-carriage highway has cut the drive time to the Margaret River region considerably.


The city of Bunbury sits at the north of the region and is an increasingly cosmopolitan hub boasting a new waterfront boardwalk precinct with wine bars, cafes and restaurants. However follow well sign-posted highways to Busselton and you’ll start to discover the true heart of the region – wineries, and a tonne of them.


From Busselton, travellers can take the inland route of Bussell Highway directly south to the Margaret River township or turn right at the Busselton Bypass to Caves Road.


Bussell Highway dissects the charming town of Cowaramup. Well worth a pit stop, “Cow Town” is home to an irresistible lolly shop, gourmet food outlets, wine stores and sellers of country-style handmade crafts.


Just beyond Cowaramup is the turn-off to Gracetown, one of the South West’s best surfing spots and a favourite holiday getaways for lovers of the laid-back West Australian beach lifestyle.


The region’s famous Caves Road leads to the beachy towns of Dunsborough and Yallingup, and is home to many of Western Australia, and even Australia’s, most famous wineries. Moss Brothers, Cullen Wines, Vasse Felix, Evans & Tate and Pierro are the tip of the cabernet-tinted iceberg. Just off Caves Road in Margaret River you’ll also find household names like Leeuwin and Voyager Estates. In fact, there are around 100 wineries to discover on a wine-touring weekend “down south”. Many of these are tucked away on winding roads that weave through the countryside, linking Caves Road to Bussell Highway.


Beer drinkers are equally well looked after. On Caves Road is the Duckstein Brewery, just out of Dunsborough is the new Eagle Bay Brewery, off Bussell Highway in Margaret River is the family friendly Cowaramup Brewery and in the centre of it all is long-time favourite, Bootleg Brewery.


A bounty of gourmet food producers are equally satisfying finds. From the Margaret River Providore, which sells its own wine, bread, spices, jams, relishes and delicious lunches, through the Margaret River Dairy Co, the Margaret River Chocolate Factory, and olive oil producer, Olio Bello, there’s a taste sensation to suit every palate.


Art lovers will encounter world-class galleries supporting the work of local artisans. Along Caves Road you’ll encounter three off the best – Gunyulgup Gallery (located next door to Lamonts Winery), Yallingup Galleries and Purist Gallery.


If all the fine food and wine leave you hankering for a dose of fresh air the Margaret River region is overflowing with outdoorsy pursuits.


The Cape to Cape Track is a sign posted nature walk that runs from the top of the region right down to the bottom along the coast. Highlights include Sugarloaf Rock, the Cape Naturalist Lighthouse, the Margaret River mouth and the massive Willyabrup Cliffs. Operators including Cape to Cape Explorer Tours, Auswalk Walking Holidays and Inspiration Tours offer guided tours along the track. Cycling tours, canoe adventures, surfing schools, horseriding, skydiving and bushwalking adventures can also be booked. Alternatively, strap on your hiking shoes and set off on a self-guided exploration of well-worn forest tracks. Wildflower season, from September through to December, is an especially satisfying time of year to get among the trees.


While not technically outdoors, the region’s spectacular caves are a must-see for adventurous travellers. Along the Leeuwin Naturaliste Ridge, which runs down the region’s coast, are more than 150 limestone caves. Three of these, Lake, Mammoth and Jewel, are open to the public daily (except Christmas Day) and each has its own story and boasts unique formations. Caveworks operates daily tours.


And of course, at the end of a jam-packed day, there are endless accommodation operators to choose from. Luxury lovers are spoilt for choice. Cape Lodge is a traditional favourite and has been repeatedly singled out by Conde Nast Traveler for its luxury “cred”. With unbeatable, uninterrupted ocean views, the secluded Indijup Spa Retreat is one of the newest luxury properties. Chandeliers on Abbey has become the property of choice among discerning honeymooners while Bunker Bay Resort and Empire Retreat are just two of the many others that are well suited to top-end travellers.


From eco retreats to family resorts, farm stays, self-contained chalets and villas, hotels, motels and shady caravan parks there’s accommodation to suit every style and budget. Detailed tourist maps of the region can be collected for free from operators throughout the region, or from the tourist information centres in Busselton, Dunsborough and Margaret River.


Written by: Jessica Zoiti
Published: 29 August 2012

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