Discover 3 local secrets around Margaret River


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.

Beyond Disneyland…

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me that timber cutting and the dairy industry were once the mainstay of the local economy – although today they’ve been superseded by wine making and tourism.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)
Cape to Cape

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.

South West Orchid
Cape to Cape

Arc of Iris Restaurant

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.

Engaging atmosphere

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 Dessert

Fast Facts

  • 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.
Arc Of Iris
Arc of Iris open kitchen

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.

Soul Camping Contos Beach
Soul Camping
Soul Camping Glamping
Soul Camping Contos Beach

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?

Soul Camping

Need some holiday discovery tips…?

Author 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. | | Facebook (ZigaZag) | Facebook (Lifestyle Fifty)


  • budget jan says:

    Love the Wigwam and would like to experience glamping. While I’m into glamour I also love the sound of the oysters at Arc of Iris- Chilli and ginger – interesting. 🙂

    • Jo says:

      Those chilli and ginger oysters at Arc of Iris were amazing, Jan – and that’s coming from an au naturel kinda gal. Hope you get to experience Oysters and Glamping soon 🙂

  • Kathy Marris says:

    You have bought to me a couple of treasures along the South Western coast of WA, I never knew existed. Exquisite scenery and by the looks also exquisite food! I do love the look of that wigwam too. It looks nice and snug and comfy!

    • Jo says:

      We were as snug as bugs in rugs in the Soul Camping wigwam Kathy. I reckon it would be awesome in winter too.

  • I can see why Western Australia is getting so popular (I have seen it in several “Places to Visit in 2016”). I will book that tour with Hank in a cinch. It has everything I like and more (cliffs, beaches, flora and fauna). The glamping tent is beautiful.

  • Jo says:

    Thanks for popping by Ruth – yes WA is not so undiscovered anymore 😉 And Yes, we do have everything and more when it comes to fauna, flora, scenery, beaches, caves, wineries … and and and!

  • If camping in my younger years had been anywhere close to glamping in the beautiful wigwam tent you’ve pictured I’d still be doing it! Looks like Margaret River has every reason to be discovered by the masses but I hope it stays off-the-beaten-path for a bit longer so I can see it at it’s best. Western Australia is amazing and I can’t wait to see it for myself!

  • Can’t wait to see you over this way soon, Anita 🙂 And yes, I have to say, I hope the region stays just a little bit off the beaten track for a while longer too 😉

  • Oh so beautiful and interesting!! Thank you for introducing me to this part of the world!!

  • Carol Colborn says:

    Truly glamorous tent and bed for the night…now I know what glamping really looks like. My daughter is migrating to Australia next year so I am excited to see places like the Margaret River region!

  • Great overview of things to do in that area of Australia. I’ve glamped before but yours looks so luxurious and colorful. Lovely layout too.

  • Oooooh, Margaret River looks like a fascinating and gorgeous place to visit. Definitely on my mind.

  • Jo says:

    Hi Charles, here’s hoping we can keep on inspiring you!

  • Michele Peterson ( A Taste for Travel) says:

    The Arc of Iris sounds like an amazing place to dine in the heart of nature. Margaret River seems like a place I should definitely put on my must-visit list… I might even try the glamping!

  • Jo says:

    I think glamping is the most fabulous mixture of nature combined with home comforts, Michele! Go for it!

  • Rebecca says:

    I love glamping! I went in the summer of 2015 in the San Juan islands in the Pacific NW coast – just off Seattle. This looks amazing too – it’s such a great concept.
    The more I read your posts about the Margaret River, the more you are convincing me one day I have to come back to Australia (the last time was 1993/4 – so a lot has changed!)
    Thanks for sharing.

  • Hi Jo. What a great article. From a born-and-bred 4th generation local, you are spot on! Hank is great, and has a very unique tour with real knowledge of the area. Arc of Iris is a fantastic place, and I’ve had friends glamping with Soul a glamping for birthdays and all have said it was absolutely the way to go. I have Cafe Boranup, and adore the tall Karri trees and am amazed by the orchids and birds near work every day!

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