hen Singapore starts to get just that little bit too hot and that little bit too busy, why not look to plan an escape? We’ve got just the place. Think premium food and wine, incredible encounters with nature and whale watching in the vast Indian Ocean. This is all yours in Western Australia’s Margaret River region.
The Margaret River region is located a three-hour drive south of the Western Australian capital, Perth, and is one of Australia’s most compact yet strikingly diverse holiday destinations.
Stretching from the family-friendly beach town of Busselton down to the seaside nature hub of Augusta, the Margaret River region is an enticing mosaic of pristine natural wonders, undulating vineyards, premium wineries and world-class restaurants, towering forests and incredible coastal panoramas.
Only 110km end to end, you can explore the whole thing in one trip – but you’ll definitely leave wanting more. So before the city blues really start to set in, check out these ten reasons why you should make Margaret River your mid-year getaway.
1. The Coast Is Your Own
The rugged cliffs and pristine bays of the Margaret River coastline are about as far from bustling city life as you can get. Nestled into a cave-carved limestone ridge, the region is bookended by two picturesque capes – Cape Naturaliste in the north, boasting unparalleled views of tranquil Geographe Bay (home to bottlenose dolphins!), and Cape Leeuwin in the south, which in the colder seasons takes on a desolate beauty as the roaring Southern Ocean and Indian Ocean meet. The Cape to Cape track connects these two points and offers walking and hiking opportunities that take you to some of the most untouched pieces of the coastline and some incredible viewpoints, including over the hallmark Sugarloaf Rock and the little-known Wilyabrup Sea Cliffs. As you meander this self-guidable track, you will find yourself entirely alone, surrounded by nothing except fresh, salty air and vistas of the expansive big blue. The track will even take you right down onto the shores, where you can squelch your toes in the bright white sand and meditate for a moment to the sound of crashing swell. Make sure you look out for migrating whales as you walk!
2. See Weird and Wonderful Wildlife
Winter in the Margaret River region offers all kinds of wildlife encounters, and the best part is that the snakes are in hibernation! So without them to worry about, you’re free to roam the region’s many forests, national parklands and river gullies on the lookout for some animal sightings. See packs of kangaroos preening in paddocks, bouncing across the horizon or even checking out the ocean views, and surround yourself with birdlife in the towering karri forests or across Cape Leeuwin. Visit Hamelin Bay to experience stingrays swimming right up to your toes, or take a drive through Cowaramup to see black and white cows grazing right by the road. You can even go horse riding through the bush!
3. Access Adventure
The monotony of everyday life can really diminish your sense of adventure, but visiting the Margaret River region will send that sense into overdrive. The adventure starts before you even arrive, with the drive down from Perth fostering that transient feeling as you move through suburbia out to bushland, pass farms and cruise roads lined by towering forest. Navigating around the Margaret River region itself is also laden with adventure: Caves Road, which connects the small beach town of Dunsborough to Margaret River and, further south, Augusta, is a narrow winding road that slithers through jarrah and karri forests and cuts around vineyards big and small. And then of course, there’s adventure to be had in the many unique pockets of the region and the diverse experiences they play host to. Alternative tours are on the rise in Margaret River, so if you love to do things differently and get a sense of exclusivity, these are for you. Imagine touring the entire stretch of cape to cape coast by helicopter, or taking a sip ‘n’ cycle tour through forests, hopping from winery to winery as you go. You’ll return to Singapore revitalised and the object of all your friends’ envy.
4. Experience World-Class Food and Wine
It’s no secret that Margaret River boasts internationally recognised gastronomy and world-class winemaking. In the way of wine, the region is unique in the global industry due to its proximity to the coast – the cooler temperatures and coastal proximity make for distinct varietal characteristics. Margaret River is best known for its fresh yet complex Chardonnays and lively, warming Cabernets, but winemakers across the region are also innovating new wave wine. You can visit cellar doors almost any day of the week and receive guided tastings of the region’s premium wines – some wineries even offer tours of their vineyards, which give you a glimpse into the history and process of winemaking in the region. In the same vein, the region is also home to an ever-increasing number of breweries, cideries and distilleries, which offer a more casual atmosphere, a variety of enjoyable beverages and usually a downright delicious lunch. Speaking of eating, your trip to the Margaret River region will not be void of exclusive dining and a taste of the freshest, highest quality local produce there is. In winter, chef’s around the region make use of marron, a freshwater crayfish endemic to Margaret River and surrounds, as well as Hapuka (deep water fish), ground saltbush (foraged from the region’s coastal plain) and abalone. Some wineries also host fine food restaurants which provide the perfect winter hideaway: imagine a bottle of peppery Cabernet enjoyed over a long lunch, surrounded by nothing but grapevines, dams, lakes and forest. Modern Australian dining is certainly the dominant cuisine – and much of this is influenced by Aboriginal seasonal knowledge and made with native ingredients – but you can also sink your teeth into top quality Japanese, Mediterranean tapas and hearty, family style Italian.
5. It’s a Whale Watcher’s Haven
Singapore’s towering skyscrapers might offer phenomenal views of the city, but one thing you won’t spot is a beautiful mother humpback whale moving calmly through the ocean with her calves in tow. From June to early December, this sight is a common one in the waters of the Margaret River region, and you can get a prime spot to see it from, too. Multiple chartering services take visitors out to see migrating whales pass through the Leeuwin-Naturaliste waters, where sightings of breaching humpbacks and flicking whale tails surprise and excite. These majestic creatures are mesmerising to watch as they move through the water with ease, but you don’t have to be on a boat tour to see them. The region’s coastline provides many vantage points for whale watching, including the two lighthouses that stand tall at either end.
6. Rug Up for Cabin Fever Festival
While the Margaret River region is famous for its summertime, the buzz and character of the region doesn’t disappear throughout winter. In fact, with the Cabin Fever Festival running for a week in July, the amount of seam-splitting comfort food, fireside brews and good vibes to be consumed goes through the roof. The Festival draws together a bunch of gourmet chocolate, cheese and coffee appreciation events, wine dinners, degustation menus and bonfires, at which you can mix and meet with locals and travellers alike. Showcasing the very best of what the cooler months in the Margaret River region have to offer, Cabin Fever Festival is made up of more than thirty unique events at some of the region’s most iconic venues, as well as at some of the hidden spots that you just wouldn’t see otherwise.
7. Visit Unique Landmarks
Sightseeing in the Margaret River region is less about feats of architecture or manmade structures, and all about incredible natural landmarks that have existed for hundreds of thousands of years. The entire cape to cape region is dotted with underground caves, and some of the most beautiful ones are open to the public. Some can be explored on your own, and some have guided tours. The most famous of these caves is Jewel Cave, which is home to the longest straw stalactite in any of Australia’s show caves – and is encrusted with intricate and spectacular crystal creations that give the cave its name.
Other show caves in the region include Mammoth Cave, home to the fossils of long-extinct megafauna; Lake Cave, where the water reflects the cave’s delicate formations; and Ngilgi Cave, where you can learn the Aboriginal dreaming story of a battle between a good spirit (ngilgi) and a bad spirit (wolgine). Although, if it’s structures that excite you, visiting the Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin Lighthouses is also a fascinating experience that gives insight to the region’s maritime history. Both lighthouses are fully working by night, but by day visitors flock to climb to the top, learning stories of unimaginable tragedy and rescue at sea and gaining sweeping views of the surrounding national parks and coastlines. Leeuwin Lighthouse is the tallest on mainland Australia, and sits sturdy and dignified at the most southwestern point of Australia. The lighthouse sits right on the point on the map where the Southern and Indian oceans meet – and historically this was where the mapping of Australia first began, when Matthew Flinders began his circumnavigation from this cape in 1801.
There’s also the iconic and heritage listed Busselton Jetty, which stretches 1.8kms over the still waters of Geographe Bay. You can take a walk, or jump on the Jetty Train which takes you for a leisurely ride out to the end. Here you’ll find the Underwater Observatory, which allows you to experience the artificial reef without getting wet (it is winter, after all!). Descend eight metres down a spiral staircase to the ocean floor, where you’ll see more than 300 species of vividly colourful fish and sub-tropical coral.
8. Family Farmstays
There’s no shortage of family-friendly activities in the Margaret River region but a genuine farmstay experience has to be one of the best ways to keep the kids entertained while enjoying the fresh country air, natural wonders and peace and quiet of the south west.
Alpacas, emus, cows, sheep, kangaroos, peacocks, chicken, geese, guinea fowl and ducks are just some of the animals that can be found at the region’s farmstays, many of which have regular feeding times where the kids (and parents) are encouraged to get involved.
Warm, welcoming and well-known for their rustic charm, a farmstay is just as much a treat for parents as they are for kids. Check out the full list of farmstay accommodation available here.
9. Watch Indian Ocean Sunsets
It’s a fact: there is nothing better than watching the sun set over the ocean. You can’t put a price on the incredible sunsets of the Margaret River region, which cast bright pinks, purple and orange across the sky and light up the ocean. Pull up a seat on the sand (perhaps with a bottle of Margaret River wine purchased on your wine tour earlier that day), or find a spot in the rocky coastline to sit and enjoy. Cosied up in a jumper and sipping on a glass of red, watch as the sky changes colour and the sun dips below the horizon – you’ll want to stay forever.
10. Learn About Aboriginal Culture
The Margaret River region is home to the Wadandi and Bibbulmun people of the Noongar nation, who have walked on and cared for this country for tens of thousands of years. Today, Aboriginal people share their cultural knowledge and unique seasonal understanding of the region through cultural tours available to visitors. These tours take you to traditional meeting places and landmarks where native food sources still abound, and share with you traditional hunting and fishing techniques, toolmaking, song, dance and language. Experience a traditional Welcome to Country, go fishing with a Traditional Owner and taste freshly caught fish smoked on the shore, journey into Ngilgi Cave and hear the sound of the Didgeridoo resonate within it, or have a bush tucker inspired gourmet food experience whilst looking out over the Leeuwin-Naturalise waters. These experiences are a unique way to connect to boodja (country) and to gain insight into both traditional and contemporary Aboriginal culture.