Going my own WA – my top 10 Western Australia travel tips
It’s often said that a wine writer’s life is one long holiday. Last September’s trip to Western Australia in which I combined wine and travel assignments did nothing to dispel this myth. Much as I loved it, I’ve been dying to get back to WA under my own steam with my other half for some serious R&R. This March we did just that, following up on some red hot leads from last year’s trip (which is reported here) and going off the beaten track on our own adventures. Here are my top 10 holiday tips:
1. The beaches
The photo of Conspicuous Cliffs beach (above) really captures the rugged natural beauty of WA’s beaches. This is not a swimming beach, but the Bibbulmun and Cape to Cape tracks criss cross near-deserted stretches of coastline like this. Aside from Conspicuous Cliffs near Denmark, Great Southern we enjoyed a leg of the Cape to Cape from Wilyabrup to Gracetown, home to a favourite swimming beach, the small but perfectly formed Cowaramup beach, Margaret River.
2. Greens Pool, near Denmark, Great Southern
Granite boulders ring-fence this natural swimming pool from the hectic Great Southern swell beyond – the most beautiful, calm and peaceful spot to kick back or just float, even on this rain drizzled day.
3. Dark Side Chocolates, Denmark, Great Southern
It’s fair to say we’re big fans of chocolate and renowned winemaker John Wade makes quite simply the best chocolates we’ve ever tasted! I met with him to talk and taste at his Denmark shop and you can read about his adventures with chocolate here. I have it on good authority that his hotcross bun chocolates are eggcellent…And if in Denmark, you can pick up top notch wines (and advice) at the award-winning Denmark Liquor Store.
4. Albany Farmers Market, Great Southern
More food glorious food. Russell Blaikie of Must Wine Bar whom I met on my last trip tipped me off about this market, which has been rated Australia’s best. After a couple of nights of luxury at Hideaway Haven, we stocked up on fabulous vegetables (pictured) for our stay in a self-catering cottage in Denmark and ate like queens.
5. The beach cafés
Brunch Aussie-style outside overlooking the beach – our favourites? White Elephant at Gnarabup beach, Margaret River (top marks for an especially innovative veggie breakfast of avocado, Persian feta and mushrooms on toast), Bunker Bay café, Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park, Dunsborough and, though not overlooking the beach, Smiths Beach Resort café near Yallingup, Margaret River, which does a great brunch and Champagne.
6. Hill walking in the Porongurups and Mount Lindesay, Great Southern
South Western Australia is not known for its hills, but we like walking so we scaled the high points as well as plumbing the depths of the ocean. Porongurup Range’s three “round-topped peaks” (an oxymoron surely?) Hayward Peak, Nancy Peak and Devil’s Slide (at 670m, the high point) afford commanding views over the Great Southern coastline of Denmark some 30km away and, to the north, the Stirling Range. Great to survey this fine Riesling territory and follow it up with a coolly mineral Rizza from Castle Rock’s cellar door. The 2009 was super-tight and austere, the 2004 in fine, expressive form. In Denmark, it’s tough, I know, but reaching Mount Lindesay requires you to navigate the Scotsdale Road’s cellar doors (and I highly recommend the labna and other cheeses at Denmark Farmhouse Cheese outlet at Ducketts Mill Wines). The summit is a steady climb, well rewarded with a terrific 360 degree panoramic view, which we enjoyed in the company of magnificent wedgetail eagles. Pictured here is the view towards Denmark punctuated by “grass trees.” Wilson Inlet is to the fore with the Great Southern Ocean behind.
7. Rottenest Island
London dwellers, we eschewed Perth’s urban delights in favour of a day on Rottenest Island, a short ferry ride from Fremantle (much quicker to catch the ferry here than from Central Perth). Hire bikes and you can pick and choose your beach – we visited 3 and Ricey beach came out tops. And the island is home to Quokkas – retired cast members from a Star Wars? No, these pint-sized marsupials account for the name of the island (rat’s nest) but honestly, they’re cuter than that!
8. Hideaway Haven B&B, Albany Great Southern
The dawn chorus in WA is as colourful as this parakeet which kept us company as we breakfasted on the balcony. We loved Hideaway Haven B&B – lots of thoughtful touches (DVD/DVD library for film nights, fresh coffee and milk on tap), out and out luxury (hot tubbing under the stars) and a communal well-appointed and generously-sized kitchen/dining room/lounge should you wish to self-cater. Owners Maggie and Becki could not be more helpful and their breakfasts are to die for. It transpired that Maggie works for Mount Barker College whose gym was requisitioned for the Qantas Wine Show of Western Australia at which I judged last year. Small world! Anyway, I got to taste the school’s very own Chardonnay – a 15.5 percenter (!), but enjoyably rich and ripe. They start’em early in Oz!
9. Sea kayaking around Seal & Penguin Island
Another adventure from Perth, we took a 6km tour with Capricorn Seakayaking around Seal & Penguin Island off Rockingham. When the tide is out there’s a sand spit to Penguin Island so the waters here are calm. Great fun to “play” with the sea lions who duck and dive around the boats. Aside from fairy penguins, Penguin Island is home to a colony of pelicans.
10. Fresh shucked oysters and chilli deep fried squid at Settlers Tavern, Margaret River
Last year I swung by to interview Settlers Tavern owners Karen and Rob Gough but didn’t have chance to sample their wares. Karen is very proud of the fact oysters are shucked to order and they were deliciously fresh, as was the squid, coated in a light chilli batter. From the award-winning wine list I can recommend bone dry Glaetzer Dixon überblanc Tasmanian Riesling by the glass and Bindi Chardonnay/Pinot Noir Sparkling 2003 from Macedon Ranges, Victoria. Lees aged 5 years the Bindi is a super-serious sparkler – richly textured but remarkably fresh, lemony and tight. And when in Margaret River, Wino’s on the main drag is a long-established wine lovers’ institution I’ve long meant to check out – great to make its acquaintance this time. It’s a friendly, funky place to enjoy a drink and contemporary freshly-made and sourced tapas-style bites from the chalk board.