In the past whenever I thought about Australia the first thing that popped into my head was the red earth of the outback.
So it came with great surprise to be travelling through rolling green hills and lush vegetation as we journeyed our way into Australia’s South West.
Two hours after leaving Perth on our road trip down south I was starting to get peckish, so stopped off for snacks in Bunbury. Bunbury’s a city that’s really going places and after a whistle stop tour of some great spots on the high street and waterfront, I discovered that you really can have your cake and eat it here.
After washing rum baba out of my beard it was back on the road, another hour south to the luxury resort of Cape Lodge where I’d be staying that evening, to meet up with Sean from Margaret River Discovery Tours. His tours are all about reconnecting with the land and understanding nature. I realised that a slow kayak down the Margaret River is one of the most relaxing, tranquil things you can do, and that the views out into the Indian Ocean from the cliff tops are mesmerising.
That night I was staying at Foragers, a farm based cooking school, 130km away in the town of Pemberton. Run by Sophie and Chris, it’s not only exceptional cookery classes and luxury chalets, every Saturday Sophie hosts seasonal dinners in their 40 seat dining hall, using ingredients fresh from the kitchen garden and produce from the Southern Forests region.
After all this food I needed to do some exercise. The Munda Biddi mountain bike track stretches just over 1000km from the south of Perth all the way down to Albany in Australia’s South West, making it (possibly) the longest off-road mountain bike trail in the universe.
It was a crisp, clear, fresh morning when we set off and the sun was shimmering through the huge Jarrah trees in the forest. The Munda Biddi is a fairly physical adventure, but I think something that anyone could do with a bit of grit and determination. I’d love to go back one day and spend a month cycling the whole trail and camping in the forest, that’d be a real challenge.
But not as much of a challenge as conquering the Gloucester Tree.
The Gloucester Tree is 61 metres tall and stands in the heart of the Pemberton Karri forest. In the olden days it was used as a watch tower for bush fires, with workers stationed up top in 12 hour shifts to keep an eye out for flames in the distance.
Metal poles stick out of the trunk acting as a ladder circling the tree all the way to the viewing platform at the top. It’s a terrifying challenge and with sweaty palms, shaky knees and a lot of determination I set off on the daunting near vertical climb to the top. There are no harnesses or safety equipment and it’s quite refreshing to find this kind of challenge still exists in today’s health and safety obsessed world.
Right, here we go. One rung after another, focusing on every step. Three points of contact at all times and whatever you do, don’t look down.
Higher and higher, slowly, slowly, don’t think about slipping……oh no! I just thought about slipping! And now I think I’m getting dizzy, “I’M COMING DOWN!”
Defeated. I sat at the bottom of that tree for a good half hour, enviously watching young girls and elderly gents fly up and down with ease, so I decided to give it one more go…
Nope, couldn’t do it. Time for lunch!
What better way to alleviate my disappointment of the Gloucester Tree failure than with a gourmet fish roll.
Holy Smoke Gourmet Food Shop and Café in Pemberton smoke locally caught rainbow trout on the premises using a combination of local timbers, quite apt really seeing as Pemberton used to have a huge logging industry.
After lunch I joined the Pemberton Discovery Tours four wheel-drive tour to witness the natural phenomenon of the Yeargarup sand dunes just outside the town. Due to high winds blowing off the Southern Ocean, these massive sand bodies are moving inland at approximately four metres a year. Over time as the wind shifts the sand, tops of trees are beginning to be uncovered, revealing just how deep these dunes actually are.
I tried to capture the beauty of the South West in this video.
Next stop, Manjimup, for the Cherry Harmony Festival and Truffle Farm.
Tips and Tricks
Getting to the Margaret River Wine Region
- Self-drive is the best way to journey to and explore the region. Car rental through Budget Rent a Car.
- If you have limited time, Virgin Australia operates flights to Busselton.
Where I stayed in the region
- Cape Lodge , if you’re a cooking enthusiast, join a Cape Lodge Gourmet Retreat, or a cooking class at Foragers.
My expert local guides
- The locals are so enthusiastic about the region and happy to share their local knowledge but you can always join one of the local tours if you’re keen on learning more.
My insider tips
- The local producers – of olive oil, cheese, chocolate and ice cream, wine, beer and more are open to the public for tastings and are a great way to learn about the local produce. If you’re there on a Saturday, check out the local Margaret River Farmer’s Market.
- Want to know the best surf breaks, take a surf lesson with Josh Palmateer, four-time winner of the Margaret River Classic. Follow this up with breakfast at the White Elephant Café on the beach.
Events to Keep an Eye Out For
- Margaret River Gourmet Escape, 21-23 November 2014
- South West Craft Beer Festival, Busselton, 22-23 February 2014
- Drug Aware Margaret River Pro, Margaret River, 2-13 April 2014
- SunSmart Busselton Festival of Triathlon, Busselton, 1-4 May 2014
- CineFest Oz, Busselton, 20-24 August 2014
- Cape to Cape MTB, Augusta to Dunsborough, 23-26 October 2014
And there are plenty more, for a full list of events in the region visit: www.westernaustralia.com