Location: Margaret River, Western Australia
It’s no secret that I love the South West corner of Western Australia just as much as I love Siu On, and having spend so many weekends and holidays down in this small area you’d think I’d get sick of it! However, the more I go there, the more I love its relaxed atmoshphere, friendly locals and beautiful surrounds. The once small country surf town has grown into a world class tourism attraction full of gourmet food and drink choices and first class nature experiences, yet still manages to retain it’s original idyllic surf town charm.
Margaret River is a three hour drive south of Perth along the South West Highway, and is best accessed with your own car so that you can also drive yourself around while you’re there. Alternatively you can get a TransWA coach, which will take you five hours ($88 for a return journey) and then hop on a few tours that are easy to organize through the Information Centre.
Where to stay
As a very popular destination in WA it runs the whole gamut of accommodation options and prices. I’ve stayed at the Darby Park Serviced Apartments on a few occasions and found the location, facilities and price excellent value if you’re with a group of people and don’t want to rough it. There are also a few backpacker hostels that can also help you out with tours if you’re without a car, or you can hire out a private holiday home, or even camp. It really depends on you and your budget, but a good place to start is to check the official Margaret River Accommodation search engine.
If you’re budget doesn’t allow a luxurious $400 a night stay at Smith’s Beach Resort, or if you’d rather be closer to nature, then camping will be for you. There are a number of caravan parks which offer tent sites for under $30 a night, or you’re cheapest bet will be at the many camp grounds within the national parks, and in particular the beautiful Contos Campground which costs $10 per night, per person. Contos Campground is the main campground that climbers stay out (look for the vans and slack lines), and the site does provide drop toilets, a small camp kitchen area with gas BBQ as well fire pit rings. Be sure to pay attention to the fire warnings and the Ranger will come by to collect camp fees. There is also another campground at Boranup Forrest just further along Caves Road if Contos is full.
Margaret River town
The town hub runs a short length of the Bussel Highway, where you’ll find a large concentration of shops, bars, cafes, pubs and anything else you may need including banks and pharmacies. The Visitor Centre is also here and you should definitely stop in to book anything you may need or to grab a free map and brochures on the hundreds of things to see, do, eat and drink in the area.
If you’re here on a weekend then check out the local Farmer’s Market. With lots of local food and produce, as well as arts and crafts, it’s the place to be seen on a Saturday morning and is open between 8am to 12pm all year round. It’s also a great place to stock up on local produce for dinner or a picnic to take to the Cape Mentelle Winery for a night of movies under the stars. Just on the outskirts of town, the beautiful vineyards hosts a mini movie theater in the summer and you can bring your own blanket and picnic basket and even try out some of their wines while you’re there. And a visit to Margs isn’t complete without a beer at Settler’s Tavern for some live music and a hearty Aussie pub meal. Located on the main strip in town, you can’t miss it (it’s the one with the beer garden!).
Things to do and see
Surprise, surprise! Beaches feature at the top of this list as it does on pretty much all of my Western Australian articles, and like the rest of WA, the beaches here are amazing too. A few of the standout and easy to access beaches include Red Gate Beach, Gnarabup Beach and Surfers Point at Prevelly; with Gnarabup Beach conveniently located under the White Elephant Cafe, and Surfers Point the best place to watch the sunset over the Indian Ocean and surfers and windsurfers catching the last waves of the day.
A drive along Caves Road through the Boranup Forrest will take you under a canopy of Karri trees. Underneath all that forest you’ll also find an extensive underground network of limestone caves with the Jewel Cave, Mammoth Cave and Lake cave worth a visit. A visitor pass to all three is available from the Info Centre in town and is great value.
For the adventurous visitor Margaret River will be paradise for you! There is an abundance of water sport activities including surfing, windsurfing, and kayaking (seriously I cannot even begin to skim the surface with the sea going activities around Margs!). Hikers can tackle the local Cape to Cape Track which passes through national park and along the coast line, and Mountain Biking is pretty popular in the area with the Big Pines trail. And for those more interested in hitting the rock rather than handlebars, then a day out at Wilyabrup and Bob’s Hollow will definitely wear you out (and a new guide book is out for the area that’s definitely worth an investment).
Our favorite places
I’ve spent a lot of time over the years down at Marg’s, and Siu On and I actually got together down there on one of our many camping and climbing trips to the area (at Contos campground to be precise)! And for us, we have our handful of our hardcore favorite places that we return to as much as we can when we are down there. As we’re both climbers, a weekend for Siu On and I generally consists of a late Friday night drive down to set up camp at Contos. Before heading off to the crag, we’ll quickly stop into Rivermouth beach for a coffee from the Combi Coffee, then spend all day climbing at either Bob’s Hollow or Wilyabrap. If we’re feeling a little spendy we’ll have dinner at The Berry Farm or go for a beer at The Cheeky Monkey Brewery and Cidery if we’ve been to Wilyabrup. If we’re on a budget then we’ll fit in a dip at the beach and watch the sunset at Surfer’s Point, or at the top of Wilyabrup cliffs, with a beer in hand and good company.
I am really fussy when it comes to wine because I don’t drink white wine (I’m allergic) and good reds are expensive! I once lived in the area for three months and I kid you not, I tried every single winery in Margaret River with Clairault at the top of my list. Once a year I’d buy a case of Clairault’s reds to last me the whole year as many of these wines are only available at the cellar door.
Now this is a very, very, very brief guide to Margaret River. I don’t think I could detail the amount of things to do without making this article scroll to infinity; so take this as a taste to the region. If you have longer than two days down here then you can easily fit in a wine tour of the area, and eat at some of the amazing restaurants offering gourmet food. You could also explore further north of Margaret River to Gracetown, Yallingup and Dunsborough; as well as south to Hammelin Bay and Augusta. You can also time your visit to coincide with some high profile events including the Gourmet Escape or the Drug Aware Margaret River Surf Pro. Honestly, the choices here are endless and you’ll definitely find something that fits within your interests and your budget. Ahhhh I miss Margaret River already!
All photographs by Jelena Stipanicev except last image by Auyeung Photography.