What an incredible long weekend it’s been.

Among other things I’ve learnt how to make olive oil, found out how to brew up the finest craft beer, and discovered how silk is made. It seems the only thing I failed to do was milk a cow, which is ironic really as this post is all about things to do around Cowaramup, a town 12 kilometers north of Margaret River famous for its cows.

It’s a really quaint country town with a particularly distinguishing feature – you’ll find about 42 life-sized fibreglass Friesian cows and calves displayed around the streets, parks and shops. The statues are testament to the town’s name and there’s a bit of whimsy in the fact that they are dressed up at times like Christmas.

There’s even a golden ‘roast on a post’, or ‘rump on a stump’ in the town park which locals chuckle about and say is an artist’s humorous take on the “Chick on a Stick” or Free as a Bird statue flying majestically over the lake at Laurance Wines on Caves Road.

Cowaramup holds the Guinness World Record for, you guessed it... the most people dressed as cows.

But let’s get to the basics first:

How do you pronounce Cowaramup?

Cowaramup centreCowaramup free as a cow from CowParade Margaret River AustraliaEvery time I visit I seem to manage to say the name differently. It rolls off the tongue in so many udderly different ways.

Cowra-mup

Cow-a-ram-up

Cow-Arrr-ra-mup

Well, the locals just call it “Cowtown”. But it’s actually pronounced “Kuh-wara-mup” – and just when I’ve got all this déjà-moo stuff into my head, I learn from Claire at the Cowaramup Brewing Company that actually the town takes its name from a bird not a cow, and means “place of the Cowara bird” in Aboriginal language.

Anyway, however you pronounce it Cowaramup was once a stop on the Busselton to Augusta railway. The last train chugged along the track in 1957 but the track has now become part of the “Rails to Trails” one of my favourite bike trails, a picturesque 13km walk or cycle pathway all the way from Cowaramup into Margaret River.

Cowaramup’s Claim to Fame

I used to think that this little country town is sleepy and just, you know, delightfully rural. But oh no, it has a big claim to fame because the Deja-Moo country fair held in Cowaramup in 2014 saw the “largest gathering of people dressed as cows” and claimed the Guinness World Record for, you guessed it … the most people dressed as cows. Yep, believe it or not, at that fair there were 1352 bovine beauties wandering the streets – who’d have thought?

10 Things to do around Cowaramup

My trip to Cowaramup came at a perfect time because autumn was working its magic on the trees and the recent rain had turned the surrounding pastures an emerald green. The colours were fitting for an artist’s palette, not to mention a snap happy blogger’s camera.

There are so many things to do around Cowaramup in any season though, and honestly you could probably spend a week here, keep within a fairly confined radius and still not see everything.

But if you’ve only got a weekend, then here are 10 things that I really enjoyed and would be happy to repeat.

Around Cowaramup

Merribrook 31. Stay – try Merribrook Retreat (pictured)
2. Discover – the olive oil making process and some fabulous products at Olio Bello
3. Eat – at the Cowaramup Brewery
4. Pamper – have a massage or facial at Beautique Love
5. Buy – Australian made silk products at The Silk Road and find out about how silk is made (ever seen a silkworm?)
6. Get active – cycle the 13km Rail Trail to Margaret River.

In Cowaramup

1. Visit MuKau Giftware and Gallery for some handpicked treasures to take home.
2. Wander around the sweetly smelling Moon Haven and buy gorgeous hand-made soaps
3. Go to Margaret Riviera Gourmet Delights and stock up on gourmet produce and team it with a fine bottle of wine from the Margaret River Regional Wine Centre.
4. Take the kids (and big kids) to the Candy Cow where you’ll be tempted by fudge, nougat and an assortment of sweet treats.

We were greeted at the entrance by a friendly Kookaburra, who set the scene for a truly Australian, nature abundant, 24 hours.

Merribrook Retreat

Pool, Chalet, driveway_Merribrook 2

I was so lucky to stay at a magical place called Merribrook Retreat. You’ll find it on the tourist map on Armstrong Road, west of Cowaramup.

We were greeted at the entrance by a friendly Kookaburra sitting on the sign at the entrance. He guided us in along the winding driveway, flying from Marri tree to Jarrah tree, stopping and watching us when we stopped to take photos. It was an encounter which set the scene for a truly Australian, nature abundant, 24 hours.

“Please Stop!” I said to Dave, as we rounded a corner and came face to face with a lake, surrounded by rolling green lawns and deciduous trees. It was just gorgeous. There was a Swamp Cypress that glowed golden on the water’s edge looking for all the world as if it was lit from within by fire.

As we took photos a cacophany of bird song surrounded us, but there was no other sound.

No white noise from a road.

No industry.

Nothing, save for the sound of our breathing and the raucous cackling of birds.

Merribrook 1

Inside the lodge we found a roaring log fire and colourful vases of flowers and pot plants everywhere you looked, along with big bowls of fresh mandarins and grapefruits.

And walking around the grounds we found that mandarins and grapefruits were not the only things growing in the garden. It’s a veritable garden of Eden and I had to pinch myself, hoping I’d not been magically cast back in time as a Biblical character and glad that I couldn’t see an apple in sight.

From my journal …
“I love this place. It’s so peaceful. Shall I sit on the day bed outside the lodge, or go and relax by the 20km (solar heated) swimming pool, or perhaps take a book and lie in the hot tub under the stars? Dave is drinking tea and taking in the view and has a pile of videos at his side. “What do you fancy tonight?” he asks showing me his selection. “Do you know there’s a sauna here too?” We find out it’s made from authentic Finnish wood fired and situated in a hidden spot by Lake Merribrook in front of the lodge.”

Next morning after a truly memorable breakfast we walked the 3km loop trail around the property – it’s lovely to do if you’ve got time. It takes about 45 minutes and is pretty flat. The property consists of 80 acres of pristine bush set aside for wildlife. You’ll see all sorts of birds, kangaroos and possibly possums and bandicoots too.

Richard and Lorraine Firth purchased Merribrook in 1984 Richard told me that they were “Drawn to its magical energy.” They are really heart-drawn to the property and during their 29 years here they’ve hand planted 10,000 trees, it’s an incredible story.

We loved being surrounded by fresh water lakes, native wildlife and natural bush not to menion the fact that within minutes we could have driven to Cowaramup, Gracetown and various stunning beaches, or we could have been out and about exploring caves and national parks if we’d wanted to.

If you want to find out the story about Skippy the Moet drinking bush Kangaroo, or hear the tale about the roar of rutting stags, or learn the serendipitous story of how the Merribrook garden came about then you’ll have to read the tales and jottings in your guest pamphlet in your chalet 😉

More about Merribrook Retreat

Liquid Gold

Olio Bello 1 and Lucinda in background, Lisa by olives

I’m not averse to the occasional bit of gold dangling prettily from my neck or ears, but drinking it? Now that’s a different story.
Arriving at Olio Bello, just down the road from Merribrook we met Lisa Garside and Lucinda Leotta who were just about to take a group of tourists on a behind the scenes tour of the olive groves for a first press experience.

“We’re celebrating harvest. Have you ever tasted liquid gold?” Lisa asked. “Why not come along?”

So we did, and what a fascinating experience it was. I’ll never forget the taste of that rich, grassy, oh-so-good-for-you-unfiltered extra virgin olive oil called ‘Olio Nuovo’ which was running straight off the press.

“What do you think?” Lisa asked. “Isn’t it fabulous? Olive oil has such great medicinal benefits, such magical healing powers.”
Olio Bello means ‘beautiful oil’ in Italian and the business occupies 320 very pretty acres. Lucinda Leotta, chief farm manager and olive oil maker, was married to a Sicilian and really knows her game. She told us that there are 10,000 olive trees on the property and that the first olive grove is now 22 years old. 14 different varieties of olive are grown.

Franky at Olio Bello 3

Once upon a time, so the story goes, about 30 years ago, an American couple searched the world for a fully sustainable property, so if the economic word went belly-up they would have somewhere to live and thrive. They planted a fully sustainable Noah’s Arc orchard planting 2 of every possible fruit trees and 10,000 olive trees, as well as macadamia trees, avocados, guavas, chestnuts, figs, you name it! It’s an amazing story, and only the beginning for this lovely tourist attraction, for there are great plans afoot at Olio Bello – but you’ll have to visit to find out.

What else to expect

  • Lots of yummy tasties in a tasting room with more than 14 olive oil varieties including infused oils.
  • A café with a menu that’s designed to incorporate the olive oils with fresh farm produce.
  • Fabulous gourmet deli products for sale, along with an organic body care range featuring Olio Bello’s oils.
More about Olio Bello

Cowaramup Brewing Company

cowaramup brewing company cowaramup brewing company 2Although liquid gold is very nice, I was looking forward to tasting some beer and having some lunch and so we headed to the nearby Cowaramup Brewing Company where we met up with Claire, co-owner of the business.

It’s really all about the beer at the brewing company, and as you walk into the rammed earth, solar-passive building you quickly realize it’s a working brewery because there are huge vats visible directly on your right, and there are hops growing at the entrance.

“We offer behind the scenes tours – would you like to do one?” Claire asked us and of course we said, “Yes!” We were propelled into the brewery and inducted into the brewing process behind the fine craft of beer-making.

First up we tasted the malted barley which tastes strangely like maltesers – but not as smooth, and among a host of other beer making facts we learnt that different levels of roasting the barley affects the flavor and colour of the beer being produced. More heavily roasted barley gives the beer a more bitter flavor which I had no idea about.

How did it all start?

Jeremy had been in the IT business for years but was passionate about home brewing, and Claire had previously worked at a brewery pub in Singapore as assistant operations manager. They decided to open a micro brewery in 2006, after their wedding.

They’ve had lots of challenges, but with true entrepreneurial spirit they’ve built a popular empire based on ancient brewing laws because they brew according to the Bavarian Beer purity law, the oldest food law in the world dating back to 1516 using only malted barley or wheat, hops, water and yeast.

I came away thinking that owner Jeremy, the head brewer, was distantly related perhaps to a Greek God of brewing. Claire spoke about his purism and attention to detail, and how they like to be at the forefront of education when it comes to the production of beer.

The restaurant is spacious with big floor length windows and bi-fold doors which force you to look out at the wonderful rural view and we spent a lovely hour eating and drinking.

We really enjoyed the taste plate which accompanied the beer ‘paddle’.

It consisted of gourmet delights matched to either complement or contrast with the 6 (+1) different beers. In particular I was amazed how the Beef Rendang perfectly matched the slightly spicy taste of the India Pale Ale.

My favourite beer? Hefeweizen, served with a seared scallop plus aioli, which complimented the light fruitiness of the hefe. Divine!

Fast Facts

  • There are 6 different beer styles available for tasting or purchase.
  • There’s a playground for children with a bouncy castle in summer. Kids are also given ‘goodie bags’ on arrival.
  • Cowaramup Brewing Company won the Lager Award at the Australian Beer Awards in Melbourne beating 1042 breweries from 42 different countries.
  • Pilsener is the most popular tipple.
More about Cowaramup Brewing Company

Health and Wellness

beautique love cowaramup

So often our trips to the Margaret River region are all about the wine. Which is great in itself, but there’s also another up and coming industry to delight visitors : Health and Wellness.

Who doesn’t love a massage? I for one love the healing benefits that a bit of pampering can do for you and when Caitlin from Beautique Love invited me for a deluxe organic facial lasting 60 minutes I jumped at the chance.

“I like to make sure that my facials incorporate a fair bit of massage too,” Caitlin told me, “Because it is so good for our overall wellbeing.”

I floated off that treatment bed, drank my peppermint tea and wanted to kiss Caitlin for such a lovely facial. You have to try one.

Caitlin offers all sorts of pampering – from manicures, pedicures, waxing, spray tanning, to massages and facials (she also does wedding make-up) in a home salon decorated in a soft, soothing mint green. She also offers a mobile service if required.

The overall ambiance in the salon was both hushed and peaceful. Caitlin uses the Cactus skincare products which smell awesome. It’s a range formulated with organic and natural ingredients and no animal testing is done which many people will find important.

I can thoroughly recommend a little de-luxe pampering with Beautique Love in between adventures.

More about Beautique Love

Travelling the Silk Road

Silk Road 1silk road_Red Dog“What a great logo!” I exclaimed to Dave as we were driving home along Harmans Mill Road and saw the Margaret River Silk Road sign. “Let’s just stop here and see what it’s all about.”

The name smacked of mystery and history and we felt as if there were stories to be discovered, which there were, but you’ll have to visit and find out for yourself how Amanda and her husband came to start the business.

Amanda, the owner is really friendly, so too is Red Dog who seemed to think he was office manager and insisted on jumping up on the computer stool and laying his head near the computer keyboard. Mind you he didn’t look too lively a worker 😉

I’m sure like us, you’ll love him as he’s a real character.

If he could talk Red Dog would surely tell you that the Margaret River Silk Road is an operating silk farm where mulberry trees are grown for their leaves, to feed silkworms and produce an Australian silk cocoon. It’s the first and only Australian silk producer in Australia.

“There’s no silk industry in this country,” Amanda told us, “We send our silk cocoons to Cambodia, where the silk is hand-reeled and woven, then made into our silk products which we sell here in our showroom. Our producers are not industrial factories, but groups of disadvantaged people, working mostly in their homes, or in training workshops which means we give back to their economy.”

The showroom is filled with exquisite fine silk products, there was a silk painting workshop in progress whilst we were visiting, and we enjoyed tasting some Mulberry tea made from the leaves and bark of the trees. You can also buy mulberry jams, chutneys and syrups to take home and there’s a cafe about to open on site too.

More about Margaret River Silk Road

Farewell but not goodbye

From beer, to wine, to food, to liquid gold, pampering and silk worms! What a diverse and amazing weekend it was.

Cowaramup we love you – and we’ll certainly be back!

Johanna Castro

About Johanna Castro

A gypsy heart and a geologist husband brought travel writer Johanna Castro from Cape Town to Bunbury in 2008. Exploring the South West region soon became a passion which led on to writing for The West Australian, Fodor’s Travel Guide and various tourism agencies. In 2010 she began blogging and created ZigaZag (focusing on South West Australia) and Lifestyle Fifty. Jo’s contributed to over 40 publications and lived in 11 different countries but her gypsy heart is now content as she continues to discover and write about the fabulous produce, fine wines and beautiful scenery of WA.www.zigazag.com | lifestylefifty.com | Facebook (ZigaZag) | Facebook (Lifestyle Fifty)

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