Margaret River, or “Margs” as it’s affectionately referred to by those from Western Australia, is home to some of the best food and wine producers in the world. It’s no wonder this gourmet region is such a highly frequented holiday destination by food lovers across the country and abroad. And if you haven’t yet visited this costal paradise, consider it for your next holiday.
Located three hours south of Perth, the Margaret River region starts from Augusta in the South and continues North as far as Bunker Bay, Dunsborough and Busselton, with Margaret River town located in the middle. In just four short days I managed to squeeze quite a lot into my whirlwind Margs experience. For those with a little more time (ideally a week at least) you have an abundance of artisan producers, award winning restaurants, wineries, white sandy beaches and costal treks waiting to be discovered. And with Western Australia having more hours of sunshine than any other state in Australia there’s really no bad time to plan a trip to Margaret River.
Where To EAT In Margaret River
Take a Cooking Class
Located in the heart of Margaret River is Cape Lodge a five star luxury boutique hotel (more on this below). At the helm of the kitchen is Executive Chef Michael Elfwing, who has worked in some of the World’s best kitchens including Heston Blummenthals’ Fat Duck and Cheong Liew’s The Grange. He hosts monthly cooking classes at Cape Lodge where people of any culinary level can learn how to prepare a beautiful three course meal using seasonal, local produce. Michael has trained in classical French cuisine but the dishes in his cooking class are designed to be easily recreated at home. During our cooking class we learnt how to make dill poached marron (shellfish native to Western Australia, more on this below) with yoghurt dressing and squid ink wafer, lamb fillets with quinoa salad and a fig tart with brie ice cream (yes, brie as in the cheese, ice cream). Following the cooking class you’ll enjoy lunch on one long table admiring the beautiful view at Cape Lodge Restaurant.
Cooking Class and Long Table Lunch experience is $145 per person. They also offer packages starting at $395 per person including overnight accommodation (see more about this below), a gourmet breakfast, the cooking class with Michael and the long table lunch in the Cape Lodge Restaurant.
Cape Lodge 3342 (Lot 26) Caves Road, Yallingup WA 6282, (+61 8) 9755 6311 www.capelodge.com.au
Visit An Olive Grove
Eagle Bay Olives is a family-owned producer of premium quality extra virgin olive oil and gourmet products. Based on a picturesque property just out of Dunsborough, their Farm Shop is one of the must-do experiences in the Margaret River region. Owner Julie Lloyd was working as a microbiologist in Perth before along with her husband, buying the farm. They planted olive trees in 1998 and have never looked back. The science background certainly helped her produce the finest quality olive oil but she soon saw a market for other gourmet products including pestos and tapenade. I personally love the fireball kalamata olives but there are lots of delicious products to sample in store.
The best way to experience some of their range is to book a picnic. The picnic boxes can be collected from the shop and include two dips, table olives, oil, dukkah, 2 cheeses, venison chorizo, bread and crackers, enough for 2 people for $29.95. You can also place an order with Julie or purchase some of their products on Qantas epiQure including the olive oil and tapenade.
Eagle Bay Olives, 521 Cape Naturaliste Rd, Eagle Bay WA 6281, (+61 8) 9755 3188, http://eaglebayolives.com.au/
Go Truffle Hunting
Located approximately 2 hours inland from Margaret River is a regional town called Manjimup. It’s a detour worth making for sampling fine wines and discovering diverse local flora and fauna. But the main reason to visit Manjimup is to experience one of the world’s most edible commodities, black truffles. The Truffle & Wine Co. is the largest producer of Superior Perigord Truffles in the southern hemisphere, with over 13,000 hazel and oak trees. It’s one of the few Truffières in the world where you can actually participate in a guided truffle hunt and see how they locate these rare, luxurious truffles. Truffle harvest only happens between May and August but we had an exclusive reenactment of a hunt with truffle hunting dog Bella, a beautiful black labrador. These highly sought-after hunts are a must do for foodies and available from late May to Late August.
The price is $90 per person and includes a truffle information session, truffle food tasting, a guided truffle hunt, full wine tastings of ‘Truffle Hill’ & ‘The Truffle & Wine Co.’ ranges and a take home merchandise pack. Sessions are for max 12 people and sell out so be sure to book in advance.
The Truffle & Wine Co., Lot 490 Seven Day Road, Manjimup WA 6258, (+61 8) 9777 2474 www.truffleandwine.com.au
Eat Artisanal Chocolate
Bahen & Co is an artisan chocolate producer located on a picturesque family farm in the heart of Margaret River. Owner Josh Bahen, a former winemaker, takes a traditional approach to chocolate making. He works directly with farmers in Brazil, Papua New Guinea and Madagascar to get the best cacao beans he can source and uses a restored vintage chocolate machine to make his chocolate. He also works closely with the farmers to make sure his production is mutually beneficial, transparent and fair. Bahen & Co chocolate is available on the new Qantas epiQure site. My favourite is the sea salt and almond.
Dine With The Locals
Swings Taphouse & Kitchen is located on the main street of Margaret River and is a popular place for lunch and dinner with both tourists and locals. It’s owned by Swings & Roundabouts a wine producer based in the northern end of the Margaret River region and is a great place to go if you’re looking for a low key, casual meal. Their wood fire pizzas are particularly good and they have their wines on tap available by the glass, half carafe or carafe. They also offer a selection of wines from ‘Guest Backyards’ and a variety of cocktails and local beers.
Swings Taphouse & Kitchen, 85 Bussell Hwy, Margaret River, 6285 (+618) 9758 7155 http://www.swings.com.au/taphouse-kitchen/
Have A Private Dinner Cooked In Your Room
Located along WA’s beautiful Yallingup coastline, inside Smith’s Beach Resort (more on this below), is Lamont’s Smith Beach, a cafe and deli by day and tapas wine bar and a la carte restaurant by night. It’s owned by one of WA’s most renowned chefs Kate Lamont who’s philosophy is to “take the best produce you can find, treat it with respect and intelligence and then let the food speak for itself”. We stayed at Smith’s Beach Resort for two nights and were lucky enough to have Kate cook for us one evening in our house. Be sure to enquire about cooking classes and in room dinners if you choose to stay at this beautiful place, it’s quite the treat! Then in the morning grab a casual breakfast, coffee or herbal tea in the cafe before your day of adventuring (note: the Cape to Cape Walk and The Aquarium mentioned below are just a short walk away from Smith’s Beach Resort).
Lamont’s Smiths Beach, Smiths Beach Road, Yallingup, WA 6282, (+61 8) 9750 1299 https://www.lamonts.com.au/venues/smiths-beach
Have Breakfast Beachside
White Elephant Café is a laid back cafe overlooking Gnarabup beach and is a picturesque spot to sip your morning coffee. Watch people stand up paddle boarding (more on this below) and enjoy a local produce driven menu that’s light and healthy. They are open all year round for breakfast and lunch. In summer and holiday periods, they host BYO pop up Sunset Dinners.
White Elephant Cafe, Gnarabup Rd, Gnarabup W.A. 6285, (+61 8) 9757 1990, http://www.whiteelephantcafe.com.au/
This shellfish is closely related to the species of crayfish and yabbies and are native to Western Australia. You’ll find it on the menu at a lot of places in Margaret River including at Cape Lodge. Rene Redzepi used it on his NOMA Australia menu also.
Where To DRINK In Margaret River
Margaret River is one of Australia’s most stunning wine regions, both visually and because of the quality of wines produced in a climate that is similar to Bordeaux. The overall production may be small but Margaret River accounts for more than 15 per cent of Australia’s premium wines. Chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon are the star performers and sauvignon blanc semillon and cabernet merlot blends have become the region’s signatures.
On our trip we had the opportunity to visit Voyager Estate. They have a food and wine pairing class I strongly suggest doing. The knowledgable sommelier will teach you how to match different food with wine depending on its level of salty, sweet, sour, bitter or umami notes.
You simply cannot visit Margaret River and not visit founding wine estate of the Margaret River, Vasse Felix. Chief Winemaker Virginia Willcock has been producing award winning wine for the past 10 years in particular cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. Be sure to save room in your suitcase to take some bottles home with you or at least book yourself into their cellar door restaurant for a long, lazy lunch and enjoy a tipple (or three) overlooking the vineyards.
Chief wine-maker of Cullen Wines, Vanya Cullen, is another incredible female in the WA wine industry. Cullen is a family-owned boutique winery that is certified biodynamic, carbon neutral and powered naturally by wind. They achieve the best results when they harvest their grapes by hand on a full moon fruit day, to achieve the most lively wines. They believe in producing a wine that represents a sense of place.
Family owned, Leeuwin Estate, is another winery you have to visit. Their wines have received many international accolades and they are well known for their award winning restaurant, cellardoor and art gallery. The Estate is also renowned for staging some fun events.
Although I didn’t get time to experience this on my trip, I’m told Margaret River has a bustling pub scene. Settlers Tavern, located on the main street of Margs is said to have an amazing wine list and sophisticated pub food. It’s also a popular spot for live music.
Where To PLAY In Margaret River
Try Stand Up Paddle Boarding
Located right out the front of The White Elephant Cafe is where you’ll find stand up paddle boards available for hire. You can also take lessons with Craig Fisher from Stand Up Surfing. He’s been operating in Margaret River since 2011 and offers SUP group tours, lessons, exercise workouts, retreats and more. Lessons are designed for anyone over the age of eight, are great for your fitness and lots of fun!
Walk the Cape to Cape
Shake up all eating and drinking with a costal trek. Walk into Luxury offer a number of self-guided and guided walks through the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park and along Australia’s most south-westerly coastline. Their 4 day Margaret River Cape to Cape Walk combines this spectacular walking trail with the magnificent food and wine of the Margaret River Region, as well as secluded beachfront accommodation and exclusive experiences available only to Walk into Luxury guests. They operate throughout Autumn and Spring with the highlight being Spring (September to November) when Western Australia’s famous wildflowers are in full bloom. For those on a tight schedule or budget the one day trek is a great option. It’s a scenic 2-3 hour walk along a beautiful section of the track between Injidup beach and Smiths Beach. On your way stop and have a swim at The Aquarium (more info below). For more info on pricing and bookings visit their website.
Swim at “The Aquarium”
Stop off at Yallingyup during your Cape to Cape walk and take a dip in the Indian ocean. There’s a secret, secluded hotspot where all the locals go to swim called The Aquarium. Large rocks form a protective enclosure from the crashing surf and it’s created a natural home for some colourful marine life. I would tell you where it is but I’ve been sworn to secrecy. Ok, truth is I don’t think i’d be able to find it again if I tried but apparently it’s near Canal Rocks. Your best move is to make friends with a local who can show you the way, it’s worth it.
Margaret River is known for it’s incredible surf beaches. If you’re a beginner and looking for lessons Josh Palmateer’s Surf School happens at the Margaret River Mouth, close to ‘Surfers Point’ which is one of Margaret River’s famous surf spots. You can also try Margaret River Surf School at Redgate Beach. One of the benefits of Margs having one of the most consistent surf breaks in the world is that a lot of ex surfing pros end up living there and running surf schools.
Pro Tip: If you’re a surf lover time your trip around the Margaret River Pro. This event is part of the World Surf League competition and happens early April each year. For more info visit the website. If you need some extra inspiration check out the video above of pro surfer Taj Burrow’s favourite Margie Moments.
Where To STAY In Margaret River
Cape Lodge is located on its own vineyard and is a true international small luxury hotel in the heart of the Margaret River. This five start establishment has 22 luxury suites and a magnificent lakeside restaurant where chef Michael Elfwing (mentioned above) is at the helm. Then, sitting privately on its own three acres is The Private Residence a gorgeous property with a master bedroom upstairs, two king size rooms downstairs with the kitchen and living room and a separate guest house. It is absolutely stunning and has attracted many notable guests including Sting, Bill Clinton, Sean Penn, Katie Perry and most recently the King and Queen of Norway. Yes, I’ve slept in the same bed as the King and Queen of Norway. It’s not everyday you can say that!
Cape Lodge 3342 (Lot 26) Caves Road, Yallingup WA 6282, (+61 8) 9755 6311 www.capelodge.com.au
Smith’s Beach Resort
Listed as one of the Small Luxury Hotels of The World, the award wining Smiths Beach Resort is adjacent to the pristine, white sands of Smiths Beach. The newly established resort, backs onto the most incredible backdrop and picturesque costal land strip between Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin. This is the quintessential Australian beachside experience. Carefully constructed to cause minimal impact on the environment, Smiths Beach Resort offers the ultimate in beachfront living. Get some friends together and stay in one of the beachside houses with full kitchen facilities and the perfect entertaining space for up to eight guests. They also have a tennis court and relaxing infinity pool. Eat breakfast, lunch or dinner at Lamont’s (mentioned above) onsite.
Smiths Beach Road, Yallingup WA 6282, (+61 8) 9750 1200, http://www.slh.com/hotels/smiths-beach-resort/
Injidup Spa Retreat
With just 10 luxury Villas, Injidup Spa Retreat is a very calm and private accommodation experience. Each villa has it’s own private plunge pool and breathtaking ocean views. They also have a number of indulgent spa treatments set in one of the world’s most naturally beautiful settings. Injidup Spa Retreat it’s the perfect place for some quality couple down time.
Getting To Margaret River
Qantas fly daily to Perth. If you’re feeling flush or have the points and decide to fly business class the newly refurbished Qantas A330 aircraft have full flat beds (which is the ultimate luxury should you catch the red eye home). You can also relax before your flight home in the new Qantas Business Lounge at Perth Airport, complete with wine bar and pizza oven with menus designed by Qantas Chef Neil Perry.
From Perth it’s a three hour drive south to Margaret River. Everything is quite spread out in the region so it’s a good idea to hire a car so you can get around. If none of your travel companions feel like being the designated driver (I don’t blame you with the wineries available) you can book a driver. We had a fabulous driver named Gloria take us around for the 4 days we spent there. For a quote contact Perth Luxury Tours.
Make A Stop Over
Break up your trip and stop at the town of Mandurah on your way to Margaret River. It’s only 45 minutes south of Perth and is a relaxing spot to enjoy the beach and friendly hospitality. If you’ve got time, spend the night at Seashells Mandurah, a beautiful beachfront resort. Stay in one of their self contained apartments or get a few friends together and book an ocean view villa. Visit waterfront restaurant Stage Door or for something really special get them to cater an ocean themed meal in your room. While you’re in Mandurah try some local wine from the region. Boutique winery Drakesbrook Fine Wines produce an excellent malbec and rose.
Seashells Mandurah, 16 Dolphin Drive, Mandurah WA 6210, (+61 8) 9550 3000 www.seashells.com.au
One For The Diary
Margaret River Gourmet Escape
Margaret River Gourmet Escape is an annual event that brings together a fantastic line up of amazing food, fine wines, great beer and celebrity chefs. This years experience is from 18th – 20th November and the program is sure to showcase the best of WA and the region. This culinary extravaganza is not to be missed. Tickets go on sale mid 2016.
Cover photo courtesy of Cape Lodge
Special thank you to Tourism WA and Qantas for putting together this special trip for me. It’s been great to share my adventure.