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Margaret River: epicurean gateway to Western Australia’s Great South West
A small town three hours south of Perth, Margaret River is at the heart of Western Australia’s most famous wine region, which also offers a tempting array of specialty farms, fine restaurants, and artisanal shops. Margaret River’s streets are abuzz with a crowd of happy foodies most weekends, and its hotels are always packed full for the annual Gourmet Escape: the four-day event in November showcases some of the world’s best chefs and wine producers. However, no matter when you visit, do not plan to leave without a heavy bag from The Larder, the region’s premier gourmet food shop.
Wine and dine with the best of them…
The Margaret River region is home to over 120 wineries, and as many (or more!) ways to explore them; tours range from breezy, half-day packages for beginners to behind-the-scenes experiences focussed on a signature variety. There are wheels to suit just about every taste, too, from classic Rolls-Royce Saloons and limousines to a hop on hop off double decker bus and Clara, a 23-window split safari screen Kombi. Adventurous travellers can choose to combine their tastings with a day of mountain biking, surfing, or kayaking instead, or winery hop via helicopter. Several of the wineries also offer hotel-style accommodations or restaurants with top-notch seasonal menus, so spending an entire weekend in one place is also an attractive option. Thirsty folk who prefer pints to wine glasses (and those who are travelling with pint-sized companions) are also spoiled for choice: there are nine breweries in Margaret River and the surrounding area, all of which are family friendly.
Go from Cape to Cape…
Western Australia is famous for the Cape to Cape Track: over 80 miles in length, the trail winds along the coast and inland through the region’s famous Boranup Karri Forest. Experienced hikers can tackle the entire trail solo (a journey which takes 5-9 days) and camp out along the track, or opt for an all-inclusive luxury trail walk and spend the night in a swish hotel instead. Beginners will also find many sections well suited to a half-day’s walk at a leisurely pace. However, walking is only one of many ways to experience the region’s spectacular scenery. Travellers can also get a birds-eye view from the cockpit of an iconic Tiger Moth, or saddle up to see it on horseback: Margaret River offers equestrian facilities for accomplished riders, lessons for all ages, and pony rides for the wee ones. The region is also quickly becoming a mecca for mountain bikers; over 300 miles of new tracks are planned in addition to the existing network.
Discover the beauty beneath the surface…
Though the Margaret River region is known for its spectacular beaches and forests, geologists may argue that its prettiest sights are underground: here you will find 150 limestone caves, including the Jewel Cave, the biggest show cave in Western Australia, and Mammoth Cave, one of its most accessible. Independent travellers can explore many of the caves on their own, but a wide range of guided tours are also available, from easy strolls along boardwalk to ‘off piste’ and ‘abseil your way in’ adventures suited to the most intrepid. Lake Cave, about twenty minutes south of Margaret River, is well worth the scenic drive along Caves Road: described as a “mirrored wonderland,” the cave features an impressive “suspended table” crystal decoration that is reflected in the waters below, and is the most 'actively dripping' cave in the south west.
Have a whale of a time…
The Margaret River region is one of Australia’s best places for whale watching; from June to early December, about 35,000 of the majestic creatures migrate from Flinders Bay in Augusta to Geographe Bay near Busselton and Dunsborough. Luxurious charter vessels depart from all three locations at the appropriate times of year. And of course, there is plenty of fun to be had in the ocean as well, from snorkelling and surfing to stand-up paddle-boarding and kayaking. Experienced divers can swim with the fishes at the HMAS Swan Wreck, while those who want to experience a stunning artificial reef without getting wet can visit the Busselton Jetty: no equipment is necessary to see its incredible corals and marine life at the Underwater Observatory.