Margaret River May Be the Most Heavenly Place on Earth

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Aug 31, 2017

by MAX VEENHUYZEN, Writer

Long a magnet for hippies and surfers, this region south of Perth is one of the country’s gourmet hotspots, too.

Postcard-perfect shorelines. White-sand beaches. Towering karri forests. As far as God-given beauty goes, Western Australia’s Margaret River region hit the jackpot. Those who live in Perth are just as fortunate – the area is only three hours south of the capital by car. While many hit the road in search of peace and quiet, more and more travellers are making the journey to sample the region’s burgeoning food and drink scene. Initially, it was world-class wine that put it on the map; now, the country’s South West has equally formidable restaurants to go with all that grape juice. Sweeten the spot with art galleries and luxury accommodation and you have the makings of a very fine holiday. 

Explore 

Local produce and art

Held every Saturday morning at Margaret River Education Campus, the Margaret River Farmers’ Market (margaretriverfarmersmarket.com.au) is as much about celebrating community as filling your shopping basket. Check out the locally grown produce and pick up some olive oil or nougat for gifts. At Jah Roc Galleries, the souvenirs are a little harder to transport yourself but include fine furniture as well as paintings by artist David Bromley. Need a caffeine hit? Sidekick Cafe, opened by the owners of the charming Settlers Tavern, is your best choice in town for coffee. 

Wine-tasting 

At Voyager Estate in Margaret River, winemaking and viticulture manager Steve James and the team produce standout wines. The cabernet sauvignons and chardonnays are consistently rated among the region’s best and the tasting experience is similarly polished. Book early to secure a private tasting in Michael’s Room, named after Voyager Estate founder Michael Wright. These sommelier-led tastings feature museum and exclusive limited-release wines. Afterwards, make your way to Surfers Point in Prevelly (a 15-minute drive away) to admire the deep-blue might and majesty of the Indian Ocean. 

View from above

Activated in 1904, Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse holds an important place in the region’s maritime history. Climb the staircase to its balcony and be rewarded with views of the Indian Ocean and surrounding Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park. A cottage sells souvenirs, drinks and snacks – ideal if you plan to tackle the walking trails that connect the lighthouse with Bunker Bay. From June to December, observe the annual whale migration from the viewing platform at Shelley Cove. Although the walks are easy, a guided bus tour with an operator such as Nature’s Cape Tours is an excellent way to learn about local wildlife and flora while you spot kangaroos.

Brew time

Although the region is renowned for wine, it’s fast gaining a reputation for its quality beer offerings, too. A number of craft breweries are spread throughout the area but Eagle Bay Brewing Co. gets our vote for its cosy hillside home and widescreen outlook across the land. (John d’Espeissis, father of the brewery’s owners, has the neighbouring sheep and cattle farm.) While beer fans flock to the brewery to drink limited-edition and seasonal brews, it’s also the perfect place to be introduced to signature beers such as the bright, refreshing kolsch and the Vienna lager.

Eat & drink

Breakfast at Bunkers Beach House

Named for the pretty bay it overlooks, Bunkers Beach House combines commanding views of the beach with a menu of reliable breakfast favourites. Fill up with hearty shakshuka (Middle Eastern-style baked eggs), smoked-salmon bagels and chia pudding.

Lunch at Arimia

Arimia’s seclusion is part of the appeal of this understated cellar-door restaurant located on an unsealed road in Yallingup. It also chimes with the owner’s softly-softly approach towards living on the land. Rainwater is gathered, wastewater is treated on site, the restaurant generates its own power and chef Evan Hayter drives Arimia’s grow-it-yourself ethos. Vegetables from the organic garden star in dishes such as tiny tempura baby fennel and Jerusalem artichoke chips, while estate-reared pigs are showcased in daily porcine specials such as udon noodles served with a hearty tonkotsu-style broth. To finish, expect the comforting likes of chocolate cake scattered with dehydrated cherries and pistachio. Works by South West artists Russell Sheridan and Linda Skrolys beautify the restaurant, outdoor spaces offer alfresco dining and snappy wines round off this pleasing package.

Dinner at Leeuwin Estate

Leeuwin Estate in Margaret River feels like the definitive Australian winery, with giant karri trees that shadow guests as they enter the property, kookaburra calls that punctuate the air, and a stately vine-wrapped verandah that overlooks the grounds and the natural amphitheatre. Leeuwin produces the revered Art Series range of wines and many regard the estate as one of the names that put the region on the world wine map. That spirit of endeavour is alive today in both the winery and the restaurant. Asian elements feature prominently in the refined cooking of chef Dany Angove, so local abalone is served with Japanese kewpie mayonnaise lifted with yuzu citrus, while makrut lime is used as an accent for raw kingfish. After your meal, visit the on-site gallery, where the original works for the Art Series wines are displayed. 

The next big thing 

Vasse Felix, Cullen, Pierro, Moss Wood – all pioneering Margaret River wineries. And all names that call Wilyabrup home. While this part of the South West is awash with winemaking history, it’s also fertile breeding ground for newer talent. One of the region’s brightest stars is Knee Deep Wines, thanks in no small part to the thoroughly modern cooking of recently arrived chef Baxter Newstead. A go-getter who counts Noma Australia and Melbourne’s Vue de Monde among his previous ports of call, Newstead has a fondness for seeking out local and native ingredients and turning them into delicious, almost-too-pretty-to-eat dishes. Marron and a brown-butter emulsion find synergy with puréed carrots, while a dazzling “rose” made of carefully arranged slices of white plum closes the meal on a high.

Stay

The tennis court and well-tended vines that greet guests on the drive into Cape Lodge set the tone for its elegant brand of country luxury. Surrounded by native bushland, the estate’s meticulously manicured grounds are perfect for escaping city life – not least because mobile phone coverage is limited in the area (however, wi-fi is available). The rooms are just as conducive to rest and relaxation. Choose from 22 suites with garden or lake views or the handsome Vineyard Residence, a standalone house with space for eight people and its own putting green. The lakeside restaurant and drawing room allow guests to meet and mingle. As well as producing its own wine, Cape Lodge has a thriving kitchen garden. Which brings us to one of its biggest drawcards: the chic dining room. Though guests have a variety of in-house dining options, the best way to experience the breadth of chef Michael Elfwing’s talent is the six-course tasting menu. Elfwing draws inspiration from Asia and local produce to create winning dishes such as Esperance greenlip abalone in a deep duck broth and Broome bug tails steamed with ginger and lemon verbena. He can play it straight, too, as demonstrated by his perfectly juicy roast duck. The cellar, meanwhile, is filled with local benchmarks (Cullen, Moss Wood, Vasse Felix, Leeuwin Estate) as well as cleverly chosen imports from around the world, making it possible to eat local but drink global. 

SEE ALSO: Discover the Best of Manly – From Brunch to Bushwalks