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Exploring Australia’s Margaret River by bicycle and car

When the chance to get away from Singapore for a week came up, we put a great deal of research into finding a suitable location for our holiday. As with many things in my life, somehow when something is meant to happen, the stars just seem to align. And so Margaret River in Western Australia appeared unexpectedly our horizon. When we mentioned it as a possibility to others, they all said without fail, “Oh, you’ll love it. You won’t want to leave. You’ll want to retire there!”

First night
So off we went, with accommodation booked at Bussells, a rammed-earth cottage on a 20-hectare bush block, and a hire car waiting for us at Perth airport.

After a flight of only four hours, we found our vehicle and scooted down the motorway at 100km an hour for a further three hours, with drivers on the road in front and behind all behaving as they should. What a change – what bliss!

Even finding our accommodation in the dark was surprisingly easy. The final stretch was down a 500-metre tree-lined “driveway” lit only by our headlights, making the trees seem endlessly tall: awesome, but a bit spooky. We were soon put at ease by the casual but friendly Aussie welcome at reception, along with a complimentary bottle of wine and some recommendations on where to eat.

Dropping our bags into our spacious two-bedroom cottage and heading into “town” for a meal gave us our first look at Margaret River; it was a case of “blink (slowly) and you miss it”. But for us it was perfect. The air was clear, the stars were out en masse, and the temperature was divine – neither too hot nor too cold.

New day
There is always something appealing about arriving in a new destination at night then rising to see a totally new environment the following day. Being surrounded by bush and woken by foreign birdcalls was a complete change from the revving of motorbikes and the thwack of newspapers hitting driveways that we’re used to in Singapore. And to step outside to a slight nip in the air also reinforced the fact that we were somewhere else.

Basics for our first breakfast had been thoughtfully provided, along with seed for feeding the birds. Each day started with a wonderful routine, having breafast at a table under the extended roof overhang while watching the pigeons and parrots come down for theirs.

Although each cottage is equipped with a barbecue, we elected to enjoy local cheese, bread and wine most nights, purchased from the local supermarket. A must-try is the locally made sourdough bread from Dunsborough; it sells out fast each day. We made an attempt to find the bakery but failed miserably. That was when we discovered how loosely names are used in the area. “Margaret River” applies not only to the town of Margaret River itself but to anywhere on this 100km stretch of peninsula between Cape Leeuwin and Cape Naturaliste. The Dunsborough bakery? Not, in fact, in Dunsborough.

Getting back on the bike

For our first full day, we were booked on a Dirty DeTours bike ride. I’d fibbed in my online registration about being capable bike riders – many years of non-riding had passed since I won the award for “the most improved rider” at the George Mountain Bike Club in South Africa.

So I had selected what sounded like the gentlest ride: Three C’s (Cafe, Cycle, Cruise). It’s a flat ride, suitable for all ages and levels, and it’s fabulous. It was just the two of us and Rob, our guide and owner of Dirty DeTours. Imagine doing this for a living: getting on your bike and taking a leisurely ride through some gorgeous bush along an old railway line converted to a wide cycling and walking path, in a Mediterranean-style climate, chatting all the way, stopping for coffee and cake, before returning to the starting point some 30km and three hours later. And spotting kookaburras on the way. What a life!

This to me was what a holiday should be about: the great outdoors, clean air, fabulous scenery, some exercise, and not much sweat! And space – wow, did we enjoy that sense of space that Singapore in no way is able to provide.

Rob also made several recommendations for lunch spots, and so we found ourselves, after a 15-minute drive, sitting on a verandah on a hillside under the shade of some massive trees at the Sea Gardens at Prevelly and enjoying the ocean view. After lunch, a stroll along the white sandy beach and wetting our feet in the surf of Prevelly was in order: clear blue water (admittedly freezing!), rolling waves, and beaches as far as the eye could see in either direction.

A car is definitely required here. Even though distances are not great, there isn’t much infrastructure; yet hopping from beach to beach (and there are many) takes less than 10 minutes in a car. It’s entirely possible to be enjoying some serious surfing – either boarding or windsurfing – within sight of a safe swimming beach. Everyone’s capabilities are catered to, including a lookout platform for those who, like me, just want to sit and watch.

Gluttons for punishment
Having survived the first sortie into the bush with Dirty DeTours with minimal aches and pains, we booked for the Boranup Forest off-road technical ride two days later. I’d forgotten how much fun off-road riding can be. Together with five other riders, we enjoyed a four-hour journey through some fabulous stands of karri trees in an area that is designated as part of the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park.

Rob, with his easy-going nature, great humour and endless patience, managed to juggle the six of us and our various capabilities, making the track seem as easy or difficult as each of us wanted. I totally recommend this ride and Rob as a guide.

In between the rides we did manage to explore some other aspects of Margaret River: namely, wine, wine and more wine. Over 200 vineyards are spread down the length of the peninsula. And much is geared around the wine estates. With so many wineries within such close proximity, there are some novel ways of enticing potential customers into cellars. Cape Mentelle Winery for example, hosts Movies in the Vineyard each day from Wednesday to Saturday. And so we watched Aron Ralston get trapped in an isolated Utah canyon in the film 127 Hours, all while reclining on an immaculate lawn (take your own blankets) with a million stars twinkling above, complete with our own picnic of Margaret River triple cream brie and freshly baked bread, washed down with a bottle of Cape Mentelle white.

 

Long decadent lunches (with wine) were spent at the likes of Leeuwen Estate and Voyager Estate. Short excursions for tastings (of wine) were made into many, many others such as Laurance, Knee Deep, Evans & Tate and Cape Grace. We enjoyed live jazz, with wine (of course), at a sundowner event on the lawn of Driftwood Estate on another evening. Another night we took in a sunset over the ocean in a carpark overlooking a vast stretch of the Australian west coast.

Another highlight was our tour of Margaret River (the river itself) with Sean of Margaret River Discovery Tours. This including visiting some off-road locations, including a few historic aboriginal haunts which I’m sure many local Aussies haven’t yet explored, complete with interesting background information from Sean that made the locations come alive. Canoeing on Margaret River itself, spotting a stump-tailed lizard, as well as walking along a very brief section of the 135km coastal Cape to Cape Track all added variety to what Sean offered on this tour. And it was rounded off with our own private picnic lunch (with wine) under the weeping willows at Fraser Gallop Estate (not open to the public), making for a totally magic finish to our time.

 

So, our thoughts on Margaret River? Yes, we loved it. No, we didn’t want to leave. And yes, we do want to retire there!

Recommendations

Planning: www.margaretriver.com
Flying: Jetstar is cheaper but the arrival and departure times with Qantas are better
Car hire: Thrifty, Perth Airport
Accommodation: Bussells Bushland Cottages, www.bushlandcottages.com.au (booked through the Margaret River website)
Dirty DeTours (Rob and Tamara Oostdam): www.dirtydetours.com
Margaret River Discovery Tours (Sean Blocksidge): www.margaretriverdiscovery.com.au

Wine & Dine

Sea Gardens: www.seagardens.com.au
Leeuwin Estate: www.leeuwinestate.com.au
Voyager Estate: www.voyagerestate.com.au
Blue Ginger Fine Food: www.bluegingerfinefoods.com
The Spaghetti Bowl, Main Road, Margaret River

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