Jul 10, 2018
MINI Presents: A Weekend in Margaret River.
Chunky jumper hanging loose. Damp towel around the waist. Beanie askew. Big grin. Flat white.
That’s the scene at the neighbouring table when we land at The White Elephant beachfront café on a crisp morning in the middle of winter. Seeing contented locals enjoy a post-dip breakfast just paces from Gnarabup Bay is all the reminder we need: this region has appeal beyond its tourist bumph.
There’ll be classy tipples and gorgeous scenery, sure. But it’s the laid back vibe – towels draped over rails, dog walkers silhouetted along the convivial curve of the beach – that has lured us here for a short break. We’re looking for a contrast to the urban grind, and we’ve found it.
Breakfast is excellent, by the way. And the coffee. We’ve driven 300 kilometres south from Perth but there’s been no need to relinquish our soft city expectations of being well fed and watered. This is a region whose regard for gourmet sensibilities is high.
We discover this a couple of hours into our drive down, when we’re lured in by the big red doors of the Fire Station in Busselton. Whatever tension we’re holding from the week has already burned off with thoughts of the artless landscapes and fireside cabernets to come. It seems only right to mark our official entry into the region (the bustling small city of Busselton heralds its northern edge) with some great bao and pork belly by the fire and a local drop from the tapped wine barrels at this honey-hued small bar.
Next, some sea air. We flick the MINI Countryman into Sport Mode and wind our way to the tip of the Leeuwin-Naturaliste ridge. At the Cape Naturaliste lighthouse, a new whale watching platform affords a sense of scale. It’s 135 kilometres to the sister lighthouse at the cape’s southern end. We feel pretty tiny. Below us, hikers make like ants along the Cape to Cape track. If they’re going the distance, it’ll take them about a week.
We stick with the car. At nearby Sugarloaf Rock, we climb out for a leg stretch along tracks lined with gnarled melaleucas and coastal heath. The triangular protrusion that is Sugarloaf rock turns a soft peach as the sun dips into the sea. City grind? What city? Back in Margaret River town, we toast the end of Day One at The River Hotel, a rejuvenated Tudor-style pub, timber-hewn and cosy, whose impressive wall of spirits glows warm behind the bar.
To wake up at Burnside Organic Farm is to be reminded that, no matter how good the whisky and the duck wantons in town, you really are in the country. Chickens burble. Piglets do the mud thing. There’s a vast veggie patch, grape vines, beehives and fruit-bearing trees. Everything is done on organic and biodynamic principles here, including the Zinfandel and Vermentino wine.
Only guests in the rammed earth and limestone bungalows can access the seasonal fare, but that hasn’t stopped the occasional traveller lobbing down the dirt track to photograph themselves posing with the tractor, or chopping wood. We suppose they’re trying to augment their Instagram feeds with a dose of ‘down south’ authenticity. We hear them.
For us, it’s a jaunt down Caves Road, the tree-lined, cave-dotted, vineyard-flanked tourist drive. It’s home to wildlife parks, farm gates and galleries, and more cellar doors than anyone can reasonably hope to conquer. We give it a nudge. Come late lunch time, we’re in the mood for cleansing ale. At Black Brewing Co, we get options: beer, wine and gin are all made here. We opt for a paddle of beer in the copper-clad tasting room, and crab pasta overlooking the lake. If not for the promise of further discoveries, we might sit with that fireplace until nightfall.
We forge south, hankering for tall trees. Deep in Boranup Forest, soft sunlight bounces off pale-trunked karris towering over gentle valleys. It smells blissful, and looks like a fairy tale. Caves Road bends and weaves right through it – a perfect afternoon drive.
Nourished by greenery, we make for the coast once more. We park up at Surfer’s Point in Prevelly, like hundreds of dreamers before us. Soon we’ll seek out a cheeky shiraz at Swings Taphouse and Kitchen, but first we want to check out this iconic beach – a central pillar of Margaret River’s soul.
This is where the surfing crowd has made its pilgrimage for years: before the vines went in, before the winery restaurants rated, before the world’s spotlight got switched on. And here’s where the laid-back vibe prevails. Surfers, dogs, beachcombers, onlookers; everyone has their gaze on the horizon, shoulders relaxed, smiles ready.
Who could tire of watching the sun go down over the ocean?