Your Margaret River Region and Busselton Toyota, in partnership with 5 Rooms Retreat, are giving away the chance to have your very own eco-friendly road trip in this unique part of the world – complete with the keys to a Toyota RAV4 Hybrid for the weekend, two night’s accommodation and dinner for two at Miki’s Open Kitchen. We sent professional adventurer and writer Sarina Kamini on a test drive of sorts, to sample some of the regions more sustainably-minded delights – from honest food, to ethical accommodation, to sustainable touring and attractions. Want to win and make it your own? Read on to find out how.
There is a sense of incongruity in road tripping through the kind of pristine environment the Margaret River region presents. Travelling hybrid relieves any contradiction. For one, it’s quiet: birds, not the hum of the engine, become the aural focus. And most importantly, as vehicular travel goes, it is sustainable – in fact, the Toyota Hybrid produces zero emissions when put into electric EV-mode. For the modern eco-traveller, it’s not just about seeing the most natural environments, but also taking care of them during time spent visiting.
From emissions-reducing cars to eco-focussed accommodation and sustainable tourism operators in between, this two-day road trip runs from one end of the cape to the other. Enjoyment is primary. But so is protection of the natural landscape. One doesn’t need to cancel out the other.
Start your hybrid engines….
Your starting point: 5 Rooms Retreat
Not just green but philanthropic, that’s the ethos behind 5 Rooms Retreat, an eco lodge tucked into the bush 10-minutes drive from the central Margaret River township. “When you’re in a place where the sun shines and fresh water falls from the sky, it makes sense to work with nature,” smiles Debbie, a breast cancer survivor who – with her husband – started 5 Rooms Retreat with the sole purpose of ploughing 100 percent of the accommodation’s profits back into breast cancer research. The passive solar designed lodge sleeps up to 10 guests, runs on solar power, utilises rainwater and engages in natural land rehabilitation practices via considered replanting. Beyond that, it’s just beautiful. Design is light and spare and open. Waking from that first night’s sleep, car in the driveway, feels as an enormous exhale. Now to begin…
Stop 1: Gracie’s General Store
Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Gracie’s General Store doesn’t just smash a flat white, it does so with a staggering ocean view. North is the project today – heading all the way up scenic Caves Road to take in Ngilgi Cave and a little treetop fun at Forest Adventures South West. But no one can function without sustenance, and morning means caffeine. It takes less than 15-minutes to reach the general store from 5 Rooms, taking in stop-worthy coastal views once the left turn into Gracetown is taken. Gracetown is a tight little community, a little cul de sac of a community off the main thoroughfare that works hard to keep its environment clean and its town tight-knit. Supporting Gracie’s General Store means supporting local business – sustainable tourism. Not hard when everything here is so delicious. The kimchi in your morning ramen is made in-house. Toulouse sausage is sandwiched between Margaret River Woodfired Bread in a killer toastie. And those pies! I know it’s early but they’re made in-house, in small numbers using all local produce. Better than Cornflakes. Eat it and weep. Just wipe the butter from the handmade pastry off your hands before you grab the steering wheel.
Stop 2: Yallingup Gugelhupf
It seems a little glutinous to frog hop from breakfast pies straight to a second bakery some 20-minutes north up winding tree-lined Caves Rd, but road tripping requires a little forward planning: between descending 12 storeys underground at Ngilgi Cave to climbing 3-storeys high into the Forest Adventure trees, there’s no time for long winery lunches. (That’ll be the centrepiece of tomorrow’s itinerary.) We stop in to grab food for later. In any case, Yallingup Gugelhupf a beautiful little bakery. An upright, Heidi-of-the-plains timber structure that calls to mind German forests and yodelling. The German family who run the popular little pit-stop are locals, and it shows in their commitment to supporting fellow small producers as well as producing impeccable baked goods. Food here is a hands-on, fresh-baked daily affair. The bakery signature is the gugelhupf – a crown-shaped sweet or savoury cake. Here, it’s made with biodynamic flour in ceramic moulds. We grab a lemon gugelhupf to go, sandwiches of Yallingup Woodfired bread and a raspberry Linzer torte for later.
Stop 3: Ngilgi Cave
The drawing forward of the Indigenous history of the Margaret River region contributes hugely to visitor understanding of what makes this landscape so special, and the Aboriginal origin story behind creation of Ngilgi Cave is no exception. Formerly known as Yallingup Cave, the year 2000 saw a change in name to reflect the history and the place of the cave in the tradition of the local Wadandi people. I won’t tell, here. Not the story. You need to hear that first hand and then descend those stairs into the Earth and be staggered by the magic of all that hanging crystal. A Dreamtime story that makes perfect sense when you see what nature created – no rational explanation feels fitting. Stalactites that grow once centimetre every 100 years are metres long and weigh as much as a four-wheel drive. My brain couldn’t stretch far enough to do the math on time scales required for creation of this subterranean landscape. Suffice to say sustainable tourism practice is centre stage, here – not just in the pathways and instructions given to all who descend, but in regional management of the water catchment. We didn’t take the option of the Adventure Tour that goes off-piste (hard hats and lamps required), but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.
Stop 4: Forest Adventures South West
An hour below ground, before hitting Caves Road bound further north to the forest of Ludlow Tuart, just passed Busselton, off the Bussel Highway. In these tree tops, 35-minutes from Ngilgi, is a complex configuration of zip lines and Ninja-style aerial challenges that – even when harnessed with rope and hook – feel thrilling. Pascal of Forest Adventures tutors us on the climbing clip system. ‘Us’ includes my nine-year-old son, and it’s not 10-minutes before he’s climbing like a monkey. This is all-levels, all-ages excitement. Nerves come into play when scaling ladders upward toward the advanced zipline course, but nothing that threatens the Yallingup sandwich we ate under the trees before starting. This adventure park is set among eight acres of bush. From the tree tops, harnessed in and ready to zip, we see eagles and ducks, native mice getting scooped up by the local ravenous butcher bird. And at the end? Marshmallows roasted by the fire, courtesy of one of our three enthusiastic and hands-on instructors. It’s the fuel we need to get us up for the return trip south to 5 Rooms – but not before we take care of that Linzer torte.
Looking for a detour? Head into Busselton and rediscover this bustling beachfront town.
Stop 5: Cullen Wines
A Margaret River road trip wouldn’t be a Margaret River road trip without at least one winery stop. Retracing our path south back down Caves Road takes us right past Cullen Wines. Not only is Cullen one of the region’s few fully certified Biodynamic and Organic wineries, it’s also just been certified as Australia’s only carbon neutral winery. The wines, of course, are worthy of attention on their own. Cellar door is particularly knowledgeable (a Margaret River region trademark) and buying a bottle to take home for pre or post-dinner drinks back at 5 Rooms is no hardship. Like it pink? Rose Moon sparkling. Like it flagship? Kevin John Chardonnay. Like it regionally representative? Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot.
Stop 6: Mikis Open Kitchen
It’s a big day, but not eating is not an option. Not when there’s so much good food and wine to be enjoyed. A shortcut down Carters Rd and then left onto the Bussel Highway will deposit you right outside Mikis Open Kitchen. Run by long-time Margaret River local, Mikihito Nagai, Mikis is a nondescript brick building that hides an unforgettable open kitchen experience that is part theatre and all pleasure. When it comes to food, let Miki do the choosing for you and go with his special menu, matched with either sake or an interesting array of Margaret River wines. A specific kids degustation means the longer dining option becomes viable for families when the little ones are as interested in food as the grown ups.
Stop 1: Yardbyrd
We start early. But that’s ok because Yardbyrd does, too. Rob and his wife Nicole run a neighbourhood café that’s all big city competition with the stellar coffees, but small town feels with the friendly banter, tree-dappled courtyard and central combustion fire. We’re heading south today, to the bottom of the cape, and a morning of whale watching (fingers crossed!), coastal walking and lighthouse climbing. This café in the one-street town of Witchcliffe, 10-minutes south of Margaret River on the Bussel Highway, is a beacon for local coffee snobs. Two flat whites and a brekkie burrito later, and the siren call of adventure grows loud.
Stop 2: Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse
You can’t get to Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse without checking out Augusta, a 30-minute drive further south from Withcliffe. It might seem one-street towns are the thing around here – Augusta is another that puts it all out to show in the one spot; antique stores, cute little cafes, a retro record treasure-trove and a great pub with the kind of rolling, sloping green lawn of which a child’s roly-poly dreams are made. And from every spot on the street is that view of the beautiful Blackwood River winding its way to the Southern Ocean. Speaking of oceans, there are two here that we need to see and both conveniently converge at a spot right beneath the shadow of the lighthouse positioned at the most south westerly point of the Australian continent. It’s just a few minutes to drive from Augusta main street to the lighthouse complex. There is everything to experience. The walking. The lighthouse itself – the tallest on mainland Australia. But for all the manmade beauty it’s the ocean you’ll struggle to tear your eyes from. A signpost directs you to the joining of the Indian and the Southern Oceans. So vast it’s difficult to comprehend, even with the reality laid out in front. And then there’re the whales. You can do a whale spotting boat tour. Or, if like us, you’ve got plans for long lunches, spend some time scouting for those majestic mammals from your position on the cliff tops. From May through to September, this is prime watching territory.
Stop 3: Hamelin Bay
We stop at Hamelin Bay on the way back north up the coast to Karridale; a little side-trip west, but cutting across is easy enough. In any case, it’s impossible to resist the lure of those gentle giant stingrays that glide in and around the bare feet of those curious to wander into the water. We dare each other to reach down and touch them. It feels incredible. Their skin is spongy and slick and silken, and their curious nature propels them to investigate us as much as we investigate them. There are miles of beach to walk, here, but we’re getting hungry. Lunch calls.
Stop 4: Glenarty Rd
Owned by fifth-generation farmer, Ben McDonald, and his winemaker wife, Sasha Foley, Glenarty Road is the kind of farmhouse winery restaurant you want to move in to. It takes just 15 minutes to find our way back to Karridale from Hamelin. Bush through forest to ocean, and back from ocean through forest to bush. The environment frames our movement as it frames the actions of those within the community: what continually strikes us about accommodation providers, small cafes and restaurants, and wineries is the matter-of-factness of sustainability practices. No grand ethos. Just working with the environment because you care and because it makes sense to do so. I mean, of course the food is seasonal in the Glenarty kitchen. The animals thoughtfully raised and butchered. Even the wine, made naturally so it tastes of the terroir and the year’s conditions. Glenarty lamb on the outdoor woodfired grill is unforgettable. In summer, expect salads of heirloom tomatoes with local sheep’s curd, while autumn calls for open flame aubergine. Hours can be spent here. Local Cambray cheese. Dessert. More wine. Coffee. The kids play outside and we grin at each other over the dregs of espresso.
Stop 5: Boranup Forest and Gallery
It doesn’t take much longer to divert off Bussel Highway and back to Caves Road for the drive back to 5 Rooms. The scenery is worth it. Passing through Boranup Forest is an essential part of the south west experience. Straight, tall and majestic, endless stand of Karri trees tower up to 60-metres skyward, making us feel small in the best possible way. Wind down the windows and listen. It’s so quiet. All of the efforts to move sustainably and considerately through the world make sense. There is so much to protect. We do a slow drive by the Boranup Gallery. It’s a treasure of local artistry and sculpting in the tree tops, and the adjoining café does a lovely afternoon tea. But we’ve got relaxation on our minds and 5 Rooms is waiting. Tonight, a quiet night in feels like part of our own self-sustaining cause.
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Image Credits: Tim Campbell Photography, Russel Ord Photography
5 Rooms Retreat- Beachhouse HolidaysAvailable for enquiries every day.Great For: BBQ,Fireplace,WiFi
Margaret River, WA, 6285
Ngilgi CaveSemi-guided tours of the show cave. Ngilgi Cave Centre open 9.00am - 5.00pm. Tours depart every half hour from 9.30am - 4.00pm daily. Extra tours during peak holiday times. Closed Christmas Day.Great For: Adrenalin Activities,Rainy Day,Sunny Day
76 Yallingup Caves Road, Yallingup, Western Australia, 6282, Australia
Forest Adventures South WestMonday: 9:00am until 5:00pm
Wednesday - Sunday: 9:00am until 5:00pmGreat For: Adrenalin Activities,High Ropes, Rock Climbing, Zip Lining,Rainy Day,Sunny Day
Ludlow Park Road, Busselton WA 6280, Australia
Cullen Wines & RestaurantMonday - Sunday: 10:00am until 4:30pmGreat For: Child Friendly,Disabled Access,Dog Friendly,Vegan Wines
4323 Caves Road, Wilyabrup, Western Australia, 6280, Australia
Mikis Open KitchenMonday: Closed
Tuesday - Saturday: 6:00pm until 9:30pm
Shop 2-131 Bussell Hwy Margaret River WA 6285
Cape Leeuwin LighthouseCape Leeuwin Centre open 8.45am – 5.00pm. Fully-guided lighthouse tours depart every half hour from 9.00am - 4.30pm daily. Interpretive Centre Heritage Pass only (no tower entry) 8.45am – 4.30pm. Extra tours during peak holiday times. Closed Christmas Day.Great For: Birdwatching,Rainy Day,Scenic Spot,Sunny Day
Leeuwin Road, AUGUSTA WA 6290, Australia
Glenarty Road | Kerfuffle WinesMonday: 10:00am until 5:00pm
Thursday - Sunday: 10:00am until 5:00pmGreat For: Child Friendly,Dog Friendly
70 Glenarty Road, Karridale, WA 6288, Australia
Boranup Karri ForestOpen 24 HoursGreat For: Birdwatching,Free,Scenic Spot,Walking & Hiking
Boranup GalleryMonday - Sunday: 10:00am until 4:00pmGreat For: Rainy Day,Scenic Spot
7981 Caves Road, Margaret River WA 6286, Australia