50 Great Ways to Experience WA’s Margaret River Region

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Mar 15, 2017

by JO MCKAY

Fifty years ago, Western Australia’s Margaret River was planted with the first commercial grapevines. A birthday needs to be celebrated so here are 50 ways to immerse yourself in the region (and yes, you will drink a lot of fine wine).

The Wines

Head straight to Vasse Felix, the region’s first vineyard, for the acclaimed tasting menu or à la carte dining in the restaurant upstairs. Or stay downstairs in the cosy Wine Lounge adjoining the cellar door for charcuterie and cheese plates.

At Leeuwin Estate, opt for a Wine & Food Flight as a discerning way to approach the label’s portfolio. 

Don’t expect magic or mystery (or a rollerskating Olivia Newton-John) at Xanadu. Do expect excellent wines, both at the restaurant and the cellar door, where tastings are informative yet approachable – a savvy balance.

SEE ALSO: Explore the Margaret River on an Electric Quad Bike

Vast lawns and outdoor games will keep the little ones busy at Windows Estate in Yallingup. Inside, you can shop for cool homewares and local cheeses while scrutinising the wine list.

One of the area’s founding wineries, Cape Mentelle is where you can taste what the Margaret River region is famous for: sauvignon blanc semillon blends, chardonnay and cabernet. In the evenings, the cellar door hosts an outdoor cinema (runs until April 9).

Set amid rows of vines, the glass-walled dining room at Knee Deep Wines in Wilyabrup offers pretty-as-a-picture scenery. Taste first then sit down to lunch. As for the menu, the Trust the Chef option never disappoints.

Rustic yet elegant, the cellar door at Cullen Wines, in Wilyabrup, features biodynamic and organic drops that will thrill both connoisseurs and the uninitiated. Chefs at the cellar door’s hatted restaurant pick ingredients fresh from the biodynamic garden.

Winning the gong for superlative views is Wills Domain, in Yallingup, where the panoramas span undulating vineyards and bushland as far as the eye can see. The food is excellent, too.

Get off the beaten track at Cape Grace Wines, one of the region’s lesser-known establishments, set on a tree-lined gravel road. It offers boutique handcrafted drops and most tastings are held in a diminutive room off the winery shed.

The contemporary, light-filled Howard Park cellar door in Cowaramup is a triple threat, with three labels on offer: Howard Park, MadFish and Marchand & Burch. Pay a fiver to taste the award-winning Howard Park Abercrombie Cabernet Sauvignon. 

With views of gum trees and vines, the informal tasting room at Woodlands Wines, in Wilyabrup, is quintessentially Australian. There are two chardonnays on the list but cabernet sauvignon and cabernet blends are what Woodlands is known for.

The mood at Fraser Gallop Estate in Wilyabrup is charmingly convivial. For something different, try the ice-pressed chardonnay, a dessert-style wine made with frozen grapes. 

Indulging in a long lunch at a winery is de rigueur in the Margaret River region and Voyager Estate has possibly mastered the longest. Settle in and loosen your belt for the three-hour-plus six-course wine-matched dégustation – a gastronomic highlight.

The unassuming cellar door of McHenry Hohnen shows a passion for single-vineyard expression. It’s owned by David Hohnen, former chief executive of Cape Mentelle, which won two Jimmy Watson Trophies under his watch. The wines are stellar and there’s an on-site deli that sells produce from The Farm House, Hohnen’s label of delectable smallgoods and meats. 

The food 

Follow the locals to Miki’s Open Kitchen (08 9758 7673), a Japanese joint that hosts two packed dinner sittings five nights a week. Order Miki’s Tempura Trust menu for seven courses of flavour bombs. 

For laid-back lunching, tuck into housemade pasta at Barnyard 1978 in Yallingup. The prawn, pork and chorizo ravioli with crisp sage and walnuts is a salty, buttery indulgence that’s supremely more-ish.

Kick back with sundowners on the deck at The Common, where there’s an easygoing menu packed with pub favourites such as pizzas and chicken parmigiana. 

Enjoy the picturesque lakeside setting and generous servings of fresh seafood at Yallingup hotspot Little Fish Restaurant.

Need a break from the vino? The cocktail list at Morries will refresh the palate. Order a Tart Gin Cooler and follow up with the spiced pork belly to share.

SEE ALSO: A Margaret River Food Trail

At Cape Lodge in Yallingup, learn from one of the best at a cooking class led by executive chef Michael Elfwing. The tutorial is followed by a delightful long-table lunch.

Enjoy share plates and wood-fired pizzas at the welcoming Swings Taphouse & Kitchen. In a clever twist, the wine – which comes from Swings & Roundabouts vineyard in Yallingup – is on tap, just like beers at a pub.

Caffeine addicts take note: the region’s finest brew comes from the back of a van. Literally. Barista Freddy Reidy parks his Combi Coffee truck (0481 849 291) in the Margaret River Mouth car park near Prevelly from 6.30am, Thursday to Monday.

Sample handcrafted fromage from Yallingup Cheese Company at Abbey Vale Wines and buy picnic packs and deli treats for an impromptu lunch.

Sweet tooths should make a beeline for Bettenay’s, in Cowaramup, to explore its 30 different flavours of nougat.

Olio Bello’s farmshop has the pantry essential you didn’t know you needed: Parmesan-infused olive oil. 

Want to experience the best seasonal local food, all at once, all in one weekend? Book tickets to Margaret River Gourmet Escape, an annual epicurean celebration that will be held from November 17 to 19 this year.

The coast & waterways 

Wade with gentle stingrays at Hamelin Bay, an often-deserted stretch of beach in the south of the region. 

Loved by locals, “The Aquarium” near Canal Rocks is a rock pool that’s sheltered from the ocean’s tides. It’s the ideal place for a midday swim, even if it is a bit challenging to find.

Head to the bustling café-cum-lifestyle store Riversmith on the Bussell Highway, Margaret River’s main street. Don’t leave without browsing the covetable Australian-made homewares that occupy the back half of the premises.

As the sun rises, be wooed by the surfscape at Gnarabup Beach from White Elephant Beach Café. For an unusual breakfast, try the pork and cheese toastie – naughty but nice.

“Margs” has consistent year-round swell, making it a magnet for surfers. Witness the world’s best carve up the breaks in the Margaret River Pro from March 29 to April 9.

Catch a few rollers of your own. Yallingup and Prevelly beaches have the most renowned breaks but a word of warning: the seas can be big and rough. In winter 2015, an enormous 18-metre wave was recorded. Newbies should book a group or private lesson at former pro-surfer Josh Palmateer’s Surf Academy

Don’t fancy being dumped in the whitewash? Josh Palmateer’s Surf Academy also hires out kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards from the Margaret River Mouth car park. Gliding along the three-kilometre stretch of pristine river offers glimpses of scenery that you simply can’t view from land.

Stroll barefoot along one of the myriad stretches of beach: Gnarabup, Smiths and Meelup all offer bliss-inducing sand-between-the-toes experiences.

On Saturday mornings, Margaret River Farmers’ Market showcases the region’s agricultural heritage. The market opens at 7.30am so arrive early to stock up on fruit and vegetables, fresh bread, pastries, homemade preserves, vegan treats, local cheeses and more.

Behold the annual whale migration between July and December. Simply stake out a spot on the beach (Gracetown and Prevelly both offer good vantage points) and wait for one – or several – of these awesome mammals to swim by.

Sights & sounds 

Marvel at striking scenery while you meander along part of the Cape to Cape Track. The 135-kilometre path runs the entire length of Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park. 

For upscale trekking, book a guided trip with Walk Into Luxury, which tempers the exertion with meals at wineries and lavish accommodation. 

The 59 steps at Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse, perched high above Geographe Bay, are an easy ascent. Follow the climb with a ramble along one of the nearby trails for gorgeous ocean views. 

Explore the eerie subterranean realms of Mammoth Cave and Lake Cave in Boranup and Jewel Cave in Deepdene. The fragile stalagmites, stalactites, shawls and columns, which have formed over a million years, are strangely beautiful. 

In spring, survey the abundance of wildflowers that bloom on the coastline. The Margaret River region has more than 2500 species, including 150 types of orchid – some not found anywhere else in the world. Hit the many walking trails in the area to enjoy them – the Cape Naturaliste area and Meelup Regional Park around Dunsborough are good bets.

Art buffs should time their trip for Open Studios, held from April 22 to May 7. The event showcases the work of more than 120 of the state’s prominent and emerging artists. 

For a burst of creative inspiration, head to Yallingup’s cool cultural enclave. The Studio Gallery is the standout for its roster of artists that includes David Beaumont, Bronwen Newbury and Laura Matthews, as well as its awarded bistro.

Forgot to make a dinner reservation? Grab a gourmet hamper from The Larder then head to Sugarloaf Rock lookout, south of Cape Naturaliste, to watch the sun set behind the ocean while you picnic.


Above image: Sugarloaf Rock

Bookworms will find their spiritual home in the exemplary independent store Margaret River BookShop, which stocks titles by local authors. Make note, too, of the Margaret River Readers & Writers Festival, held from June 2 to 4, which features author talks, book signings and workshops. This year, headline authors include Kerry O’Brien, Robert Drewe, Jane Caro, Clementine Ford and food writer Stephanie Alexander.

Stretch and de-stress with Yoga South West. If you can’t make one of the drop-in classes at the Dunsborough studio, the team of yogis will travel to teach you and your friends wherever you want, whether that’s on your hotel balcony or the beach.

Join the mountain-biking elite in October for the 10th Cape to Cape MTB, a four-day, 220-kilometre endurance race that speeds through forest and bushland.

In stunning Boranup Karri Forest, pause to admire the lofty, pale-barked karri trees (they grow more than 60 metres tall), the cacophony of bird calls and the sunlight that glimmers through the tree canopy.

Take an evening tour of Ngilgi Cave, north of Yallingup, with local Wadandi man Josh Whiteland. He’ll share Dreaming stories before delivering a stirring didgeridoo performance.

Cape Leeuwin boasts the tallest lighthouse on the Australian mainland. Climb the 176 steps for unrivalled views of the point where the Indian and Southern oceans meet.

SEE ALSO: One Perfect Weekend in Margaret River