You may have heard by now that the chiselled face of Australia, Chris Hemsworth, recently told Qantas’ inflight magazine that Western Australia’s iconic coastline is hot on his bucket list.
The West Australian Travel Editor Stephen Scourfield wrote an open letter to the man better known as Thor, inviting him to come ‘thor’ out by heading north along the WA coast. We love the warm, dry, arid coastal plain of our state’s northern rim as much as the next person, but couldn’t stand idly by and let Chris and his family plan a visit without considering a drive south instead.
So here’s our response to The West’s response to Chris’ desire to visit us here in the west. When it comes to combining adventure, surf, fishing and even family fun with a relaxing, luxurious break, there really is no place like the South West.
It’s true that the Travel team at The West know WA better than most. But, as the Local Tourism Association for the Margaret River region, we like to think we have a pretty intimate and local understanding of this unique slice of our state and without any bias at all, we think it should top your WA hit list. So when you’re done with Stephen’s itinerary, here’s ours.
You’re only 2 hours south of Perth and that fantastic sense you get when travelling of freedom and adventure has already set in. You’re reaching Busselton, the gateway to the Margaret River region, and one of the most picturesque (and family friendly!) beachside towns in the state. Set in front of the crystal clear Geographe Bay – which around this time of year hosts an estimated 35,000 migrating whales we might add – Busselton is dominated by the colour blue, a slow clock, and a local tourism scene just waiting to entertain your family.
Jump on the iconic Busselton Jetty’s Jetty Train which journeys 1.8km out to sea, where descending an 8metre spiral staircase delivers you to the Underwater Observatory, one of Australia’s greatest artificial reefs set among the jetty’s pylons. Your kids will be in awe as they admire more than 300 species of sub-tropical fish and coral, not to mention gloomy octopi, giant cuttlefish and friendly resident seals.
With the inevitable question of ‘are we there yet?’ temporarily abated, it’s time to get back on the road.
Caves Road will take you all the way to Dunsborough without losing sight of that beautiful Geographe Bay blue, before you venture out onto Cape Naturaliste which hosts some of the region’s most famous landmarks: the working and newly-refurbished Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse, the iconic Sugarloaf Rock, and spectacular beaches like Castle Rock, Meelup, Point Picquet (also a popular surf break when the swell’s right) and Eagle Bay – where, incidentally, there also happens to be a family-friendly brewery that offers delicious seasonal beers and food, a warm fire and sprawling views of the native bushland.
Did we mention that every one of these beaches, sheltered from winter swells, also make for excellent fishing spots? Come at the right time of year, and you might even be able to go fishing with a local Wadandi Cultural Custodian, who’ll pass on the stories of the Wadandi people and country during a walk along the pristine coastline, and cook you up a storm of fresh catch right there on the beach.
And you’re barely even stuck in yet.
Home of Taj Burrow and the region’s famous Woodfired Bread, the lifestyle in Yallingup can pretty much be drilled down to going from the surf to the bakery and back again on repeat. Yallingup Main Break, dubbed the birthplace of surfing in the South West, is a sight to behold when working in all its glory. Funnelling left and right handers breaking just a short paddle off the shore, it’s not hard to see why the region’s earliest surfers would just set up camp in the Maleleuca trees on the beach, surfing all day and hitting Caves House by night. Learn more about this history at the region’s first Surf Museum, hosted at the beautiful Aravina Estate, where you can also enjoy a world-class lunch and award-winning wines – don’t worry, there’s plenty of space where the kids can roam free (but not too free).
If the kids are restless by this point, drop into nearby Ngilgi Cave. Semi-guided tours depart every half hour with the guide sharing some history and the Indigenous story of Wolgine as you enter the cave. After a 10-minute intro, you’re free to explore the cave at your own pace – perfect for impatient youngsters.
But we get it, you’re looking for the simple life. Well Chris, it’s also possible to scrap all of this and just set up camp and go fishing. (Soul Camping will even set you up a crisp bell tent complete with comfy white linen and fairy lights in a location of your choice if you want to take things up a notch). That’s the beauty of the Margaret River region.
Image Credit: (right) Rhiannon Taylor, www.inbedwith.me, (top left) Jacqueline Alwill, www.thebrownpaperbag.com.au
Winding your way the 40-odd kilometres down Caves Road from Yallingup to Margaret River is an experience worth visiting for alone. You’re traversing the ancient cave-carved Leeuwin-Naturaliste ridge, passing sprawling vineyards and weaving around towering Karri, Jarrah and Marri. Despite the short distance travelled, you’ll witness astounding natural contrast as you move further south, through Wilyabrup – home to the epic Wilyabrup Cliffs and some of the region’s founding wineries -, past Gracetown, famous for its surf (but loved for its local shop – a pie from Gracie’s General is mandatory), and on to Margaret River.
Now, we’ve seen our fair share of visitors walking down the main street of Margs in a state of confusion as to where the ocean is, so we’ll come right out with it: Margaret River is set inland. But, it’s set inland from some of the best, most untouched beaches, many of which can only be accessed by 4WD – so ample opportunity for you to flex your off-road muscles here, Chris. You’ve got Gnarabup, Boodjidup, Redgate and, further south, Contos, Boranup and Hamelin Bay, the three of which can be accessed via the staggering Boranup Karri Forest, hosting trees reaching 60-metres in length, and riddled with 4WD tracks, caves, campsites and secret lookouts.
We know it seems like you’ve had a lifetime’s worth of experiences already, but you’ve actually only travelled about 80km so far, and you’ve got one very important leg to go.
Any keen fishermen will tell you that if you’re really serious about catching fish in the region, Augusta is the place to be. Along the Blackwood River you’ll find a spot all to yourself, the grassy banks offering up perfect serenity to cast a line, sit back as a family and soak it all in. Closer to the entrance catch herring and whiting, or head further up river to find good sized black bream. Memories of quality time spent fishing with dad on the jetty at Hardy Inlet will stick in the kids’ minds for life.
From here, you can also venture to the state’s most southwestern point – Cape Leeuwin – and check out the tallest functioning lighthouse on the Australian mainland right where the Indian and Southern oceans meet in a mesmerising clash of currents. The aforementioned 35,000 whales also like to hang out here, so you’re almost sure to spot their antics from the top of the lighthouse, while also hearing the tales of tragedy and rescue that dot the location’s maritime history.
A few final words. Being a ‘movie guy’, you probably know that the region also hosts one of the country’s most important film events – CinefestOZ – in August. Time your visit right and you might just get to catch some of Australia’s best emerging film talent, and even keep your red carpet skills fresh at one of the beachfront premieres.
Stay a little longer and you’ll be around for Gourmet Escape, where you can feast on local delicacies like marron and abalone cooked by internationally acclaimed chefs, right on the beach. There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of glamour on even the most off-grid of holidays, especially when it tastes this good.
There are many places to travel on from here – the forests of Pemberton, secret bays of Denmark and long, white beaches of Esperance certainly call upon the heart of the traveller. But we agree with Stephen: slow down. Take it all in. Appreciate every grain of sand between your toes, savour every flavour that passes your tongue. Worry about the rest later. We’ll be here, doing just that. Just let us know if you’re coming.