My colleague Verne Maree recently warned in these pages about the dangers of getting lost on the drive down from Perth to Margaret River. A warning I didn’t heed!
It wasn’t that we got lost, per se. According to James, we had merely taken a “wrong turn”. About fifty of them. Advice for anyone wanting to make the journey: don’t listen when the car-hire representative tells you to jump on the Mitchell Highway and follow it all the way to Margaret River. This is a lie. The highway ends after about 30 minutes into the journey and then you need to employ your best map-reading skills.Despite taking nearly five hours to reach the hotel (90 minutes longer than the estimated journey time) we had great fun en route. Our Holden Astra convertible was a sporty little number, and the roads were a pleasure to drive on. The speed limit increased exponentially with the number of kilometres we got from the city, giving us the chance to open the throttle.
The flora covering Margaret River in spring is quite beautiful, and the scenery changed dramatically as we neared the wine region. The long highways soon gave way to sweeping fields of golden rapeseed, woods filled with wild lilies, and, of course, the vineyards.
A Good Wine
After our a long drive, we let someone else take the wheel the next day and booked ourselves on a tour. The six-hour excursion took us to six of the region’s most popular wineries, a chocolate factory, and a cheese factory. Plus, it included a gourmet lunch at the lovely Voyager Estate. At A$75 per person, it was excellent value for money.
Our driver, Kevin, really knew his stuff. We learned that the region has some 70 wineries and 500 growers, making up two percent of the entire Australian wine market. Our tour barely scratched the surface.
I had heard that some wine tastings were dreadfully frugal, and was concerned that we might be walking in a straight line by day’s end. However, after about 30 generous tasting samples, there was a satisfying abundance of swaying and a plentiful amount of slurring.
A relatively small boutique winery called Brookwood Estate was the tour group’s favourite. Whether this was a genuine appreciation for their growing techniques or because we had already consumed a substantial amount of vino, we’ll never know. But it tasted great.
Fonti Cheese Farm was a slight disappointment, as it was just a small shop separated from its production area by a glass window. In the kitchen, two men wearing white coats were elbow deep in curds, but the room was off limits to visitors. We were, however, free to munch our way through a variety of very nice local cheeses set out in small dishes on the counter.
Next stop: chocolate heaven. I was salivating at the thought of a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory type of experience, eagerly anticipating giant bars of chocolate and a river of brown goo. The Chocolate Company, however, turned out to be little more than a shop where they make their own candy. Fortunately, big bowls of the stuff were free for tasting, and we got stuck in.
I also purchased several bars as gifts. Somehow, they never made it into the hands of their intended recipients.
Free and Easy
After recovering from slight hangovers, we were ready to get back behind the wheel for our second day. We headed for Cape Naturaliste, a half hour drive from the hotel. Aside from the natural beauty of this rugged coastline, two sights worth seeing are the Lighthouse and the whales.
Between the months of September and December, the coastline is visited by some of the most magnificent creatures on earth: southern right and humpback whales. I had previously seen these gigantic creatures only on television, and was thrilled when, from a distance, I saw the enormous plumes of water shooting from the ocean. Unfortunately, the whales had vanished by the time we reached the end of the pathway. Even from afar, though, they were spectacular.
The lighthouse, first activated in 1904, is 20 metres high and affords fabulous 360-degree views of the cape. If you’re lucky, it’s also a prime spot for whale watching.
Driving around Margaret River is a pleasure, especially when it’s warm enough to put the roof down. With the wind whipping through our hair, we spent an hour meandering through the maze of country lanes, without any particular destination in mind.
When we happened on the Olio Bello Estate, we pulled over and I stepped out of the car with hair resembling that of Bridget Jones on a mini-break. The estate produces fourteen varieties of olive oil and, of course, they are all available for tasting. We stayed for lunch and, like most of the meals I’ve eaten in Australia, the tucker was excellent.
An Afternoon in Perth
After two days in wine country, we headed back to the city for our final night. The drive was considerably shorter than the journey down, and we were back in Perth just after lunch. With only a few hours left for sightseeing, we settled for an afternoon in the fishing port of Fremantle. The town is a 20-minute drive from the city centre and full of historical buildings, including the infamous prison, built by the convicts themselves in 1851 and closed in 1991. It’s now a heritage and tourist site.
However, we were looking for something more contemporary; in particular, Little Creatures Brewery. Set inside a massive converted boat shed, the brewery, which also houses a bar and restaurant, is popular with the young crowd and the atmosphere was buzzing.
There’s no better way to end a holiday than being surrounded by giant vats of beer, drinking their contents, and chewing on delicious snacks of dried kangaroo.
Cape Lodge Hotel
For excellent upscale accommodation and dining
Cape to Cape Tours
For wine-tasting, book through your hotel
Brookwood Estate, and Voyager Estate for lunch
A five-day car hire costs about A$300, and you pick up the car downtown or at the airport
Olive oil growers, for lunch and olive oil tasting
Little Creatures Brewery
For pale ale and snacks
For one or two-night stays
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