Margaret River Roadtrip: wine, wildflowers and woodsmoke (also beer)

A few weeks back we took a road trip around the Margaret River wine region in Western Australia.  AKA glutton’s paradise.  Seriously.

If your idea of fun is bouncing from winery to brewery to cheesery, by way of beautiful beaches, cute lighthouses, and pretty forests packed with wildflowers and wildlife, this is your place.

It’s definitely our place.

If you’re wondering what happened to China (industrial waste, mostly) I thought I’d spare you an unending torrent of China posts by going off the chronological rails a little.  I haven’t given up on China, but I’ll be punctuating tales from the world’s loudest nation with some other bits and pieces.

We had such a brilliant time stuffing our faces and soaking up nature in Margaret River, so sharing this trip seemed perfect for the first China palate cleanser.  Enjoy!

Day 1 — A crafty vineyard and beer by the bay

Our first stop on the glutton’s trail was Vineyard 28, just off the Forrest Highway, about half way between Mandurah and Bunbury.  We were drawn in by the promise of quilts (I’m into quilting), but really we were there to taste some wine.  Which scared the pants off me.

I was genuinely really nervous.  But it was totally worth it.  The owners at Vineyard 28 were very friendly and didn’t make me feel silly at all.  I’ve only been wine tasting a couple of times, and only ever in French, which makes it much less scary.  It’s less embarrassing for me to be bad at French, thus hiding my complete absence of wine knowledge, than to obviously be bad at wine.

vineyard-28-harvey

Anyway we had a lovely time admiring the wine, the home made quilts for sale, and the view onto the vineyard, and chatting about wildfires, climate change and Burmese politics.  We’re supposed to be traveling on a strict budget, but we caved (is that a pun?) and bought two bottles of wine.  It was really good. When in Rome…

Then it was a late lunch on a beautiful beach nearby, and a scenic drive to Bunbury, past the heaviest concentration of kangaroos we’ve so far encountered in Australia.

beach-wildflowersbunbury-road-kangaroos

In Bunbury we drunk beer.  There’s a microbrewery (MASH) on the waterfront, and we whiled away a couple of hours over two tasting sets, which spanned the whole beer offer, plus a boutique snakebite they threw in for free (mixed cider, beer and fruit cordial).

The beers were interesting, which was a bit of a revelation after a year of almost exclusively drinking weak lager.

My favourite was the seasonal Copy Cat IPA (6.8%!) but the weissbier was a close second.  Scrabble was played, and we watched the locals messing about in sea kayaks on the bay as the sun went down.  This trip was beginning to have a holiday feel, which isn’t often the case when you’re traveling long term.

mash-brewery-tasting-paddles

We spent so long enjoying our beers that it began to get dark, so we decided not to press on to our planned campsite in the Leuwin-Naturaliste national park, and instead free camped at a picnic area about 30 km down the road.

We use maps.me for navigation — it’s free, accurate and works offline, and in Australia it’s dotted with ‘campsites’ which are actually rest areas, often with a public toilet, where overnighting is tolerated.  Free camping basically, which is really useful in a country where a camp spot can cost £30.  You can also buy books which list free camp spots, or download the wiki camps app for about $7, which apparently has the best listings.

campsite-in-the-pines

Our chosen site already had three camper vans and a couple of tents settled in, but we found a spot and whipped up some cous cous before crawling into bed about half past nine.  We fell asleep to the sound of a possum scratching around in the pine needle litter next to our tent.

Day 2 — Beach swimming, Busselton jetty and Cape Naturaliste

Unfortunately this particular free campsite didn’t have a toilet, so day two began with a swift coffee followed by a swift getaway to the nearest public loo, a little way north of Busselton.  On the way we passed through a forest carpeted in wild lilies.

They were a bit past their best, but it was still a thrill to come across such a blanket of beautiful flowers in the wild.  The further south we went the better the wildflowers were looking on this trip.  They’re absolutely spectacular, and they’re everywhere: in forests, by the side of roads, on the beach, between houses.  Wildflowers aren’t something I associated with Australia, but at this time of year they’re a highlight.  So much joy.

The first loo we found turned out to be next to a very nice beach, so we had a nice chilly early morning swim, and then cooked ourselves some porridge in the sun while we dried off.  Bliss.

busselton-jetty

After breakfast we took a stroll along Busselton jetty.  All 1.8 km of it.  It was built for the timber trade in the 1890s, and restored to its former length a few years back.  There’s a great little exhibition on the history of the jetty, with plenty of photos, and interesting facts.  Timbers shipped from here were used to construct the London Underground, for example.

busselton-jetty-museum
One gem from the Busselton jetty museum.

It was lovely and fresh walking out to sea, and there was plenty of birdlife to observe.  At the end we saw huge yellow finned fish swimming around the jetty supports.

Click any image for a slideshow.

Back on the road we drove a miles long stretch containing nothing but a bewildering array of Christian holiday camps.  We were driving along yelling the denominations like a game of Christianity top trumps.  They had Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, Seventh Day Adventist.  You name it.  Did they all set up camp separately?  Is it competitive camp building?  Perhaps it used to be one big camp, until the schism.

Next up was Eagle Bay Brewery.  The beers here were a mostly bit underwhelming because they all tasted kind of similar, though the single batch special they chucked in for free was excellent.  But the brewery restaurant/bar is a really nice spot for a pint, with a spectacular view.  They also do woodfired pizza, but our budget only stretched to some Bombay mix, which was delicious.

eagle-bay-brewery-tasting-paddleeagle-bay-garden

We burnt off the beer with a walk around Cape Naturaliste lighthouse nearby, which is cute, and a very scenic spot for a picnic lunch.  The views out to sea from here are gorgeous, and there’s a walk you can do to get to good whale watching spots in season.

Apparently the beaches round here are also pretty spectacular, but time was getting on.  So we decided to head down to our campsite in enough time to stop for another wine tasting on the way.

The cellar door at Credaro was a bit more formal and commercial feeling than Vinyeard 28, so the tasting wasn’t as enjoyable, but we still had a chat and went away with another very nice bottle of wine. (I think… I honestly don’t trust my own judgement on this.)

I’m not sure if you’re expected to buy when you go tasting?  I think probably not, but we generally felt somewhat obliged after taking up half an hour of somebody’s time, as well as a fair few glasses of wine.  Also, it’s hard to resist.

credaro-vineyard-margaret-river

It was dusk by the time we rolled into Conto’s campground, and we had the pick of peaceful woodland sites, all with a picnic bench and fire pit surrounded by sitting logs.  One of the sites had a resident kangaroo with a joey peeping out of her pouch.  We chose the site next door, she didn’t look up for sharing.  Later on we met the resident possum too.

Click for a closer look.

He flat out stole our bread.

I tried to shoo him with noise making, plate waving, and eventually a rap on the head with a plate, but he would not be deterred.  Instead he sat in a tree at eye level calmly consuming his prize while staring us down, for the next twenty minutes.

We’d borrowed a tent with a bit more room for this roadtrip, so we had the novelty of making a room with a view, by closing just the mosquito netting.  That night we fell asleep to the stars, and woke up to this…

contos-campground-view

Day 3 — Tasting everything (except wine) and a Bush Shack BBQ

After a leisurely campsite breakfast we went out to hit the tastings.  And we hit them hard.

First up was chocolate at Temper Temper, which was sublime.  I think this may have been the best chocolate I’ve ever tasted.  They’ve got a whole range of single origin dark chocolates, and they’re all smooth and rich, and complicated.  Man.  I have no idea why we didn’t buy any.  Probably because they were $11 for 100 grams.  Eek.

Then it was coffee tasting next door at Yahava.  Again, really interesting single origin stuff, yum yum yum.  Plus we had a nice chat with the guy who did the tasting for us.  I would totally have bought some of this if we had any way to make proper coffee, which I really wish we did.  Note to self: buy an aeropress.

By now it was basically noon, so we hit the spirits.

margaret-river-distilling-company

Limeburner’s mostly does whiskey, which Arthur tried, plus a bit of vodka, and a bit of gin, which I tried.  You pay $5 for a whiskey taster, $2 for gin.  Which is pretty good really, because they’re full size measures, and they tasted great, especially as the gin was mixed with elderflower and soda rather than tonic.  Unfortunately there was no way in hell we could afford a bottle, so on we went…

To another brewery.

bootleg-brewery-beer-garden

Bootleg brewery had some really nice, and particularly interesting beer, and a huge chilled sunny garden, complete with garden games.  But our goal for the afternoon was Bush Shack brewery, so we just had a couple of tasters and a quick half, and moved on.

Bush Shack was definitely my favourite brewery of the trip.  A bit ramshackle and weird, excellent beer, the nicest guy ever behind the bar, and BBQs you can use for free, to have lunch with your pint.

bush-shack-brewery-scrabble

We stayed a while.  Honestly, this place has all the beer garden vibe we’ve missed so much from back home.  Nothing like a pint of ale, a just-sunny-enough-to-sit-outside afternoon, and a game of scrabble.

micro-brewery
Not what I expected when I heard microbrewery…

After all that hard work eating and drinking our way round the county, the only thing to left do was relax by the beach at Conto’s with a chilled glass or Vineyard 28 white, and watch the sun go down.

It’s a bit sickening really isn’t it?  This little trip in a trip was just unfailingly awesome.  Probably because we spent all our money on wine and cheese.

Day 4 — The slow way home (in which more gluttony)

On the fourth day it was time to head back to Perth, to go to a halloween party dressed as Stranger Things.  But not before stopping off to taste mead, which was very nice and very strange.  I felt like I’d stepped into a German version of Lord of The Rings.  But with more mead and honey flavoured soap.  And less impending doom.

And then there were olives, olive oil, and about forty six different cheeses at three different cheeseries.  We bought some olives and a few cheeses to have with wine that night.  You know, because we’re incurably middle class.  Ahem.

The camel hangs out outside Hervey Bay Cheeses (man their cheese is good).

We also stopped by Margaret River Chocolate Company, and Providore next door, where you can taste wine and millions of chutneys and sauces and what have you.  Both were a bit meh for us flavours wise, the only thing that stood out was the moreish chocolate liqueurs you can taste at Providore.  But the Providore garden was bursting with beautiful produce.

It was worth the stop just for those artichokes.

We drove off into the sunset with me unable to stop singing ‘Oranges and lemons said the bells of St. Clements, you owe me…’

It’s a three hour drive.  Arthur must really love me.

Want to do your own Margaret River roadtrip?  We highly recommend it! 

Here’s where we went:

[googlemaps https://www.google.com/maps/d/embed?mid=1xiMYhJJW4ceSgglI-w9fPBd-sDw&w=640&h=480]

Click on the icon in the top right of the map for an interactive version.

2 thoughts on “Margaret River Roadtrip: wine, wildflowers and woodsmoke (also beer)

  1. Wow, that sounds like you had a blast! Also seems like you needed to indulge a little bit. When you mentioned the beer gardens I thought of my own feelings for cafes- with just enough sun and a patio for you to enjoy the outdoors. I can definitely relate!

    1. Yeah, I think what we needed was a bit of plain relaxing fun! All this adventure is fun, but a different kind of fun… More rewarding, but a bit exhausting too. I’m not very good at relaxing, a drink (or a coffee) in a nice setting in the sunshine definitely helps!

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