When it comes to family holidays, Dunsborough and Yallingup are old favourites. The promise of simple days spent under the melaleucas by Yallingup bay or fish and chips on the Dunsborough foreshore has seen families return time and time again across generations. But things have changed over time – now you can spend your holidays here rediscovering old favourites or unearthing new treasures, including delightful places to eat, drink and play.
Pristine beaches, rockpools, national parks and ancient caves to explore and endangered animals to meet are no-brainers. But scratch the surface and you’ll find a thriving art scene, excellent dining and your new favourite wineries.
Whether you’re bringing your family or best friend, this is the place to recharge and revitalise. It’s time to rediscover Dunsborough and Yallingup.
1. Step back a million years
Ngilgi Cave in Yallingup was one of WA’s first tourist attractions, popular with honeymooners, and thus Caves House Hotel was built in the early 1900s. The cave is estimated to be about 1 million years old, and the crystal formations around 500,000 years old. It’s humbling to think we’re a mere blip on a mind-boggling time line. Take a semi-guided cave tour where you can explore at your own pace, or a hard hat adventure tour where you climb, crawl and commando slither through the ancient river bed, marvelling at the crystals everyone else misses.
Local Cultural Custodian Josh Whiteland plays didgeridoo in Ngilgi’s main chamber as part of his Koomal Dreaming tours. Return during the June long weekend for a Jazz by the Bay performance – the amphitheatre ceiling is covered with thousands of stalactites and has near-perfect acoustics.
2. Rediscover what makes the wine so incredible
Margaret River has a stellar reputation for producing fine wine, but on your next trip, learn what’s behind that. A new tour by Cape to Cape Explorer Tours and Vasse Felix explores the link between our maritime climate, the granite and limestone layers of the Naturaliste Leeuwin Ridge and the world-class chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon.
The Cape to Vine tour starts with a morning walk from Smiths Beach to The Aquarium, a natural rockpool just north of Canal Rocks. Snorkel the refreshing Indian Ocean water, spy dozens of fish, and listen to stories of Gondwanaland.
3. Take an effervescent dip at Injidup Natural Spa
Check out one of Yallingup’s most Instagrammable spots, the natural spa at Injidup. Waves crash over and through a narrow gap in the granite, into a naturally occurring pool. Thousands of bubbles give you a free massage. With sensational ocean views down the channel where the spa empties back into the sea, a swim here is one of those life-affirming experiences.
If the spa itself is too busy for your liking, take a quiet walk along Injidup Bay or enjoy rock hopping along the boulders – you’ll discover all manner of beautiful nooks and crannies.
4. Cast a line with a Wadandi Cultural Custodian
Josh Whiteland is in his element when fishing barefoot on the beaches of Cape Naturaliste, and he recently added fishing tours to his already successful Koomal Dreaming and Cape Cultural Tours repertoire.
Josh is said to be able to spot a school of salmon from his car window, and it’s his ability to read the weather and the ocean that makes this tour such a unique experience.
The coastal fishing tour concentrates on the magnificent beaches and coastal bushlands in the Meelup area. “You’ll get your feet wet and have sand between your toes, while enjoying the beautiful coastline,” says Josh. You might catch salmon, herring or bream among many other local species. After fishing, Josh will prepare lunch (your fish if you catch one!) and whip up a salad of foraged greens to be enjoyed with the cold drinks. It’s a truly unique way to gain a new perspective about this well-trodden coastal stretch.
5. Spy rare native animals in a biodiversity hotspot
Smack bang in the middle of one of only 34 biodiversity hotspots, there are over 7,000 plant species in the Margaret River region, of which 70% are unique to the south west of Western Australia. Rediscover Meelup Regional Park with local experts Mick and Ryan from South West Eco Discoveries.
Depending on the season, conditions and how lucky you are, you might spy dolphins, whales in spring, phascogales, quendas, endangered woylies and western ring-tailed possums, blue wrens and black cockatoos. Mick and Ryan know all the best spots to look.
And, of course, you’ll always see kangaroos. Drive (slowly) along Sheoak Drive, Yallingup, for epic kangaroo spotting opportunities. Then grab a hot loaf of bread from the nearby Yallingup Woodfired Bakery.
6. Bay hop Dunsborough to Cape Naturaliste
Choose your adventure depending on the season.
During summer, pick any beach between Castle Rock and Bunker Bay for some seriously spectacular aquamarine hues, crystal clear water and pristine white sand. Swim, hire a SUP (stand up paddleboard) from Meelup Beach Hire or explore with a snorkel.
In autumn hike the Meelup Trails, or park at Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse and pick a trail – the whale watching lookout is beautiful, or the wheelchair accessible walk to Sugarloaf Rock.
Spring time means whale watching, and Point Piquet is the best place to do so. The rocky point juts out into deep water, which means even the rare blue whales – even bigger than the humpbacks – can swim past at close quarters.
7. Fly above cliffs, bays and wineries
Scenic Helicopters runs tours out of Pullman Bunker Bay Resort, as well as Cheeky Monkey Brewery and Margaret River airport. Get sky high for an awesome adrenaline experience – doors off, for an extra thrill.
Fly around Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse, over Yallingup Beach, Canal Rocks, Meelup and Eagle Bay for a totally different experience to the land-bound one. You’ll see Canal Rocks’ channel, schools of salmon, kangaroos, farms and more.
8. Rediscover fine art in Yallingup’s Marrinup Drive precinct
Yallingup has attracted artists since the 1970s, with Rob Malcolm and John Miller leading the charge. Browse artworks by renowned local artists Douglas Kirsop, Mary-Lynne Stratton and Ian Mutch at Yallingup Galleries. You’ll find fine art, ceramics, glass, furniture crafted from local timber and superb handmade gifts.
John Miller is a gold and silversmith inspired by the region’s flora and fauna; his jewellery is stamped with tiny animals, birds, foliage or flowers. Visit John Miller Gallery and you might see him melting and pouring ingots, forging bracelets and bangles and cutting, engraving and polishing.
The Studio Gallery brings together our twin loves of food and art; a smart casual restaurant and gallery inspired by the Barcelona Pavilion celebrate the best of West Aussie creativity.
No visit to Dunsborough is complete without a trip to Christian Fletcher Gallery, whose work so many landscape photographers aspire to. Says Christian; “I feel lucky to be born in Western Australia. I’ve travelled all over Australia and I think here in WA we have the best landscapes, and it has so much to offer.”
Visit during Margaret River Region Open Studios event, 27 April to 12 May 2019, to meet 24 Yallingup and Dunsborough artists as they open their private studios for this once-a-year event. Over 100 artists from Busselton to Augusta will take part this year.
9. Brunch, lunch and booze your heart out
Goanna Gallery and Bush Café is 30 years old but keeps getting better thanks to a gallery makeover (Australian designed/made only) and a brilliant kitchen team. Rediscover their creative and totally delicious lunch menu.
The Lighthouse Keeper’s Café at Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse is a retro delight. Furnished just as it might have been when the keeper and his family lived there, it’s surprisingly comfortable pulling up an armchair and working on a jigsaw puzzle someone else started. Seriously good toasted sandwiches filled with quality ingredients and top-notch coffee.
Cabernet and Chardonnay rule the roost in the Margaret River region, but Marq Wines is the place to discover lesser known varieties such as Gamay, Petit Manseng and Vermentino. Enjoy with a generous cheese and charcuterie platter overlooking their Yallingup vineyard.
Wild Hop is Yallingup’s newest craft brewery, located amongst gum trees on Wildwood Road. Epic mural art, a beautiful leafy view, tasty menu and adventure playground make this a winning combo.
Blink and you’d miss Commonage Coffee, Dunsborough’s newest hole-in-the-wall coffee spot. Jules makes one of the best flat whites around, and who can resist coffee on a sunlounge with plastic flamingos?
10. Explore the night scene
In a region famous for winery lunches, new bars and restaurants are breathing life into Dunsborough after dark.
Yarri is one of the hottest new spots; a collaboration between chef Aaron Carr and the team behind Snake + Herring Wine. Carr creates exquisite food foregrounding native ingredients, reminiscent of the dishes he prepared at Vasse Felix where he was head chef for 17 years. The restaurant interior is superb with handmade crockery, crafted timber tables, rare plants and a view of lush peppermint trees. Stop for a glass of wine or stay for the chef’s menu.
Blue Manna celebrates the region’s best seafood with spicy Asian flavours. Singapore-style chilli crab comes with a paper apron – it’s a wonderfully messy, hands-on experience. Alternatively, Snatch hot dogs and bao buns are a cheap and cheerful meal on the go. Packed with flavour and friendly smiles from the family owner/operators.
The Pourhouse and Elevator Bar have a new owner and a major renovation has freshened up this old favourite.
Bayside Burgers is a new venture set to open in April. Loosely inspired by American diners, they’re aiming for milkshake bar vibes with booth seating. A bar license means you can stop in for a local craft beer or wine, and there’ll be plenty of sides for snacking options.