3 Local Secrets
around Margaret River
The lush green farmland, tall karri forests and spectacular coastline of Your Margaret River Region make for fabulous scenic drives.
In fact, the area between Cowaramup Bay and Karridale offers some of the most rugged and inaccessible coastline you’re likely to find in Western Australia.
Come with me today as we delve a little deeper behind the scenes and explore some secret scenic spots and 3 innovative regional businesses.
Nature based tours – Margaret River Exposed
Who better to show you around the area at a grass roots level than Hank from Margaret River Exposed Tours?
He’ll most likely take you along remote four-wheel drive tracks to lonely white sandy beaches. At places like Cape Mentelle you’ll find dramatic limestone cliffs with scenic lookouts where giant ocean swells break in great big white horses to give professional surfers the ride of their lives.
Hank will escort you to hunt for elusive bird species and secretive wildflowers, particularly orchids in spring, a subject in which he is an expert.
“Orchids were my passion as a kid and I used to spend hours cataloging and photographing them. I have historical records and knowledge of where they grow and their habitats. There are over 400 species in the South West,” he told me.
Hank grew up in the Margaret River area, in fact his father worked at Wharncliffe Mill and planted the first pine trees there in 1950. Hank told me that timber cutting and the dairy industry were once the mainstay of the local economy – although today they’ve been superseded by wine making and tourism.
For 30 years, Hank pursued a career in banking. Then he woke up one day and said: “This is not what I want to do for the rest of my life,” and decided to follow his passion … which was orchids.
Now he runs customised nature based tours centred around orchids, birds, flowers and off the beaten track encounters, for small groups of up to 6 people.
Hank’s top lesser known spots to get back to nature
- Contos Cliffs
- Wilyabrup Cliffs
- Basalt Cliffs at Black Point (high clearance four-wheel drive vehicles only)
On a Snapshot Nature Based Tour, which lasts from 9am to 4pm, you’ll most likely be taken to the Cliffs at Conto, visit and tour Lake Cave, have morning tea at Café Boranup before driving to Cape Mentelle, then possibly do a walk at Wilyabrup, enjoy a light lunch at Olio Bello, and visit a corporate and a boutique winery.
“But my tours are not cast in stone. Depending on what my guests want to see or do we can go off at a tangent if necessary; search for an elusive flower or find the bird they’ve been wanting to see for years. Anything’s possible.”
And on to the grassroots level I was mentioning – we visit a secret valley of grass trees on an old sand dune beyond a forest.
“Over 2 million years ago the ocean must have come to this point and then receded to leave a sand dune and some grass seeds,” Hank explained.
Incredible. Who’d have known?
Pondering the wonders of nature as we drive back along winding gravel roads through the Boranup Forest I look up and around at the tall, pale-barked karri trees that tower over us at above 60 metres high. “This is the further west that Karri grows,” Hank says. “This is actually re-growth forest, only about 100 years old.”
Pfft … mere youngsters 😉 – at least in the scheme of this region’s amazing things.
After dark secrets – Arc of Iris
Following a day exploring the region’s less visited places, it’s time to discover a gastronomic haunt which has been around for 20 years, but which Margaret River locals, I think, prefer to keep hush-hush.
The Arc of Iris (Arc = rainbow. Iris = Greek Goddess) is a quirky foodie’s delight at the top end of the main street in Margaret River. It has locals queuing up before the doors open on a Saturday night. We booked, and it was lucky we did because it seems Margaret River residents know a good thing when they find it.
The restaurant is intimate, eclectic and has some great signature dishes, most notably the free range Wagin duck which I tried and loved, and the slow cooked belly of pork – also delicious.
To start you can’t go past the fresh oysters. Try them! There’s Kilpatrick, natural and chilli-gin-ginger. Absolutely yum.
Management are passionate about promoting and supporting regional suppliers and quality local produce and the extensive menu is mouthwatering.
There’s pork, beef, lamb and venison and a great range of fish and vegetarian dishes. How about salmon linguine, crab pasta, or a fish platter?
And for dessert you can’t go past the cassata and chocolate fondant, which in my humble opinion are to die for.
But why is the restaurant called The Arc of Iris? I asked Carina who hails from the Netherlands and has been managing the restaurant for 4 years with head chef Denis, who’s from Germany.
“We can’t change the name because everyone’s known us as the Arc of Iris for 20 years,” she told me.
Except me. I thought. More fool me.
Denis the head chef is singing along to the music. Beau the trainee chef is busy in the background and Carina doesn’t stop smiling. It’s a great atmosphere all round.
“So why so popular?” I ask Carina.
“People come to the Arc of Iris for the atmosphere, the food quality, and the service,” she told me, and to tell you the truth, I’m not surprised.
So if you want to give this restaurant a try, make sure to book, and get there before the locals do.
- Arc of Iris is open EVERY NIGHT from 6pm.
- Fully licensed with a great wine list showcasing local wineries.
- Inside you’ll find an intimate dining area with exposed walls and eclectic features. It feels both urban and edgy, cutting edge in fact, but very welcoming.
- There’s an open kitchen, so you can see what the chefs are up as your food is cooked right before your eyes, and the staff are friendly and slick in their service.
3. And so to bed – Soul Camping
We wind our way back to the camp ground at Conto, where Soul Camping have set up a sturdy bell tent, like a wigwam, in a clearing of trees.
It’s as if elves have been at work while we’ve been busy elsewhere because the tent looks a little like something out of a fairytale. It has colourful bunting around the tent opening, and there’s a vibrant Bedouin style mat outside.
Inside, it’s luxurious and bright with colour.
The mattress is thick and soft, the bed linen is crisp and clean, the cushions add bright splashes of ‘home beautiful’ style. We have wooden bedside tables that are piled with interesting books and magazines, a lamp, mosquito repellant and a torch. There’s even a string of tiny paper lanterns strung around the tent edge inside which are a welcome addition in the deep dark night of the forest.
Glamping at its best
Camping like this offers all the elements of being at one with nature, and yet is suitably removed from it too.
The tent is luxurious, but the best bit is of course that you don’t have to have anything at all to do with the putting up and taking down of it. It’s like a lock up and leave without all the grappling that goes with tent pegs, unwelcome ants, and the sweeping of groundsheets.
Soul Camping offers Glamping for anyone who likes the idea of camping but still wants some creature comforts. It would be great for a wedding, or a weekend away with friends – especially if you wanted space to glam up to go out at night because you can stand up in the tent and there’s plenty of room for suitcases and going-out-frippery.
Overall it’s an experience for the camping faint hearted, and for veteran campers in need of a holiday.
So there you have it. Fabulous secret places, 2 intriguing businesses, and a tour operator with a difference.
Which will you choose to book, see or do on your next visit?