The Margaret River region sometimes feels purpose-built for the retreat from everyday life. As Sarina Kamini finds out, Eight Willows Retreat actually is purpose-built with this in mind; and it might just be the perfect ground zero for your next visit to the region.
The night sky is a bona fide Margaret River region commodity. As a visitor, one of the most spectacular moments you can have is to simply step outside in the hours after sunset and look up. So. Many. Stars. At Eight Willows Retreat, the moment is heightened by the complete lack of light pollution. There’s no main street nearby. No distant highway lights competing for attention. Just the odd cluster of scudding cloud playing hide and seek with a new moon.
Real retreats are hard to come by. Places where the entertainment is designed to wind life back a peg, or two. I’m a huge fan of environmental entertainment. Mountain biking. Swimming. Bushwalking. General nature communing. Living in the Margaret River region allows constant access. Turns out, a stay at Eight Willows Retreat does, too.
“Where are we going?”, is the shared question of Boy 1 and Boy 2 as we pack up the car. Just an overnight bag. Some groceries. Sunday sleepovers aren’t the school night norm, but how else to describe the experience of a place about which manager, Jordan Palk, spoke of with such romanticism, other than to spend a night?
“Metricup Road,” I grinned, pulling out of our Margaret River drive and, twenty-five minutes later, pulling into Eight Willows to encounter a world so similar to the one we already occupy. Tall, straight gums. Endless stands of them. Roos. Ring necked parrots. But even given our familiarity with the region, the curving driveway pulls us in and the chalets hidden in small groups among trees immediately promise snug nights in and quiet mornings of adventure.
Eight Willows Retreat has seen a few incarnations over the last 20 years, and at least three or four name changes. Eighteen-months of renovations in 2014 saw the addition of fourteen more chalets to the original number of ten, along with a new moniker to more accurately reflect what the accommodation offers to guests as a short-stay experience.
“It was Willy Bay Resort,” explains Jordan, “but we wanted guests to understand that Eight Willows is really a retreat away from the rest of the world.”
Beautifully equipped chalets ensure a stay here offers peace and luxury. Huge tubs. King-sized beds. Muted décor that highlights the surrounding bush visible from the deck. Careful planning means every chalet’s viewpoint is private, and noise isn’t an issue. Even on a night of full occupancy, we barely see another soul.
The boys and I walk, that evening, around a bush track that begins at the back of our chalet and extends in a loop through the rear of the property where it abuts National Forest. There are kangaroos everywhere, joeys in pouches and big boomers standing guard over their mob. The end trail takes us past the retreat’s orchard where stone fruit trees spread their branches around larger citrus – the lemon or lime for your evening G&T if you ask at the front reception. A chicken coup is a reminder of the breakfast basket that waits back in our room: Eight Willows eggs, local bread, Gabi’s Muesli from just up the road and local milk, of course. Margaret River region was original dairy country.
We missed the 4pm feeding of chickens and roos earlier that day, but the next morning a fish for trout in the lake out front makes up for any feeling of loss. We don’t catch anything, but Jordan assures us that other guests do. The rods are there for loan, and the lakeside lawn is a sunny patch of peace for parents who are happy to cradle a glass of the region’s wine while looking out for their kids.
As for the chalet’s themselves, so warm, so cosy, so quiet. The kitchen means big days of touring the nearby wineries, chocolate and cheese factories don’t have to be backed up by evening meals out (though town’s not too far if cooking seems too much).
It’s easy to feel at home, here. For out-of-towners, the experience is in living what the region’s locals enjoy every day. Quiet. Connection to the landscape. And access to all of that night sky. You don’t get that at Disneyland.