Not a big wine fan or beer drinker? Looking to detox and lay off the booze on your next holiday? It doesn’t mean you have to cross off the Margaret River Wine Region from your list of potential destinations.
Yes, the area in the south west of Western Australia is famous for its countless wineries and craft breweries – but the region actually boasts some of WA’s most beautiful landscapes and beaches, best quality gourmet restaurants, family friendly activities, a variety of unique artisans and some of the freshest and friendliest local producers you’ll ever come across.
Personally, I don’t drink. My ideology on the subject is”If I don’t drink this thing that I don’t find particularly tasty, then I can use the calories I’ve saved to eat something delicious instead!” Why not, right?!
You may be like me, pulled the short straw to be designated driver or perhaps you’re just looking for a family holiday destination. Either way, don’t disregard the beauty and variety of the Margaret River region – you’ll be pleasantly surprised if you don’t!
Here are my top 10 sober and favourite things to do in the Margaret River Wine Region:
1. Try one of Gabriel Chocolate’s up-and-coming choc chip cookies
Take a visit to the wonderland that is Gabriel Chocolate factory, where cocoa beans from around the world are handcrafted into the most delicious single origin chocolate seven days a week. Located between Margaret River and Yallingup on Caves Road, this temple to the food of the gods always has free tastings of a variety of their chocolates on offer. Need I say more?
But there’s an even better reason to stop here – order one of their incredible chocolate chip cookies and you’ll never look at any sort of biscuit the same way again. At $4.50 a pop they may seem a little pricey, but once you bite into the crunchy outer and follow through to the gooey centre, laced with big chunks of chocolate and topped with a little smatter of fleur-de-lis salt you’ll want to buy another one!
Gabriel also boasts incredible gelato, good coffee and a cafe menu to die for.
2. Pamper yourself with free testers of some of the best natural skin-care at Vasse Virgin
Vasse Virgin, formerly knows as The Natural Olive Oil Soap Factory, began when Louis and Edwina Scherini’s three children where diagnosed with eczema and advised against using regular soaps or shampoo.
They decided to create their own products and soon after discovered the healing powers of extra virgin olive oil.
The on-site factory and retail shop allows you to witness the soap making process first-hand. All their products are made using a traditional cold process method with 100% pure essential oils and plant extracts.
Free testers of soaps, scrubs, moisturisers and balms are always in abundance for the ladies, and to top it off DIY classes and workshops are now on offer to create your very own products. And for the blokes out there, don’t fret! You’ll find a smorgasbord of delicious local produce to taste including olives and tapenades (of course), dukhas, chutneys, vinegars and much more!
3. Enjoy a picnic dinner beside the kangaroos at Meelup Beach
This family friendly beach just east of Dunsborough is the perfect setting for a summer BBQ, picnic or get together. A shaded grassed area with picnic tables runs all the way to the sand with a fantastic view of the calm waters and rocky, bush-clad capes of the small bay.
In the evening you’ll most likely have company, as a group of kangaroos is often seen relaxing in the shade and drinking at the small creek that runs down to the beach. Kookaburras and small birds also love the areas so keep an eye on your food!
4. Inhale the smell of freshly cooked bread and give-in to devouring a slice before even leaving Yallingup Woodfired Bread
This place is a MUST-DO! No matter how little time you have in the region, don’t let yourself miss visiting this hidden gem of a bakery that mixes up a range of sourdough breads from stone-ground, biodynamic wheat and then cooks them to perfection in a stone oven imported brick by brick from Germany.
Owner and baker Gotthard Baue believes a happy baker creates the yummiest bread. In saying this I have no hesitations in stating that this man is definitely the happiest baker alive on the planet.
The bread is beyond delicious – crunchy and firm on the outside yet soft and surprisingly chewy on the inside. The range includes a white sourdough, a rye and a fruit bread that is made with delicious chunks of figs and apricots (this being my personal favourite).
Make sure you arrive around 4-5pm when the bread is still steaming warm and the smell in the air is intoxicating.
5. Avoid the greedy emu while indulging in a scrumptious ice-cream at Simmo’s Ice Creamery
This is the perfect place to take kids (or big kids alike) on a warm afternoon to enjoy an ice-cream, relax in the shade and play in the enchanting playground.
The ice-creams are generous, creamy and packed with crunchy bits and ribbons of flavour. Enjoy marscapone and burnt fig with a creamy and subtle cinnamon and ginger for the adults. Or go for the infamous cookies, applie pie or bubblegum flavours for the kids. Whatever flavour you choose will be a delectably sticky, finger licking experience.
To top it off Simmos has a mini golf course, vast children’s playground, inquisitive emu neighbour (who’ll steal your ice cream if you’re not careful) and a variety of summer activities including camel rides, wall climbing, trampolines and a mini train.
6. Get adventurous exploring one of the many vast limestone caves
Some say that the Margaret River region is as beautiful underground as it is above ground. The area is interlaced with over 150 highly decorated limestone caves and tunnel systems that span hundreds of kilometres underground. The caves range from intimate caverns decorated with waxy stalactites and stalagmites to immense rocky cathedrals and even an entire lake within a cave.
Must visits are Jewel (the largest cave in WA), Lake and Mammoth Caves. But my personal favourite is Ngilgi located on Caves Road between Dunsborough and Yallingup. This relatively small cave was WA’s first ever tourist attraction and enticed honeymooners from all over the state to visit as far back as the very early 20th century. Not only does it have a cave ‘amphitheater’ where local and international artists take advantage of the great acoustics and hold live shows, but it also boasts the aptly named ‘Tunnel of Doom’ for youngsters and the young at heart – a transparent tunnel slide that takes you into the very belly of the cave!
7. Take your pick of innumerable stunning beaches for surfing, swimming, or relaxing
Not only is the Margaret River area rich in its quantity of beaches, it is also blessed with their quality, variety and accessibility. Cape Naturaliste just to the east of Dunsborough is a geographical wonder that ensures on any day of the year you’ll find the perfect beach to suit your liking. When the wind is coming from one direction you’ll find the beaches to the north protected by the cape – calm, clear and great for children, families or a lazy, relaxing afternoon; while the beaches south of the cape will be ripe with waves made for the pickiest of surfers.
When the wind comes from the other direction however, you’ll find the north coast dotted with sail boats and windsurfers while the south is still and quiet, opening an invitation for divers and snorkellers to explore it’s labyrinth of rocks and reefs.
Great surfing beaches include Red Gate (for learners), Smiths, Thee Bears, Yallingup and Moses Rock. If you’re looking for a more family friendly beach try Meelup Beach, Eagle Bay or Bunker Bay.
8. Pitch a tent at the Boranup campsite and sleep among the Karri trees
The drive south on Caves road from Margaret River is a surreal winding adventure – The rolling farmlands and regrowth bush on either side of the road suddenly transform into a lush forest of looming Karri trees with low lying ferns and vines at their base. Its in this fairy tale setting that you’ll find the Boranup campsite, a Department of Parks and Wildlife site that can accommodate seven camping groups at once. The beauty of this site isn’t just the magnificent setting among the verdant trees, but the quality of its amenities. You’ll find seven clearly labelled and cleared camp sites and a bush toilet along with a communal fire ring, picnic benches and even chopped firewood to use between April 15 and November 30 each year!
Relax with a book in your hammock, go for a walk among the trees or visit neighbouring Boranup Beach or Hamelin Bay during your stay. You’ll start feeling invigorated and relaxed after only a day!
9.Enter a world of quirky eclectic furnishings and yummy baked goods at The Margaret River Bakery
This interesting blend of grandma’s lounge room, an art gallery and a brightly coloured high tea setting gets your stomach rumbling just looking at the food cabinet choc full of magnificent treats.
This unique bakery serves up a mixture of sit down breakfast and lunch with takeaway crusty pies, gooey desserts and fluffy pastries.
For a sit down meal I recommend the granola pancakes with berry coulis, marscapone and honeycomb shards or the breakfast burger that comes packed with bacon, eggs, rocket and generous drizzlings of aioli and hot sauce – not to mention the complimentary orange juice on the side!
The chai latte was delicious (with a heavy-handed scatter of cinnamon on top) as was the iced-mocha in a massive jam jar.
10. Take yourself on an architectural tour of the fancy wineries and breweries
Even being a non-alcoholic, I still enjoy being the designated driver for friends as they do a wine, beer or cider tour of in the Margaret River region. Sometimes I’ll find wineries that offer non-alcoholic drinks as a substitute to wine (Voyager Estate make a cracking sparkling grape juice), delicious restaurant menus (Eagle Bay Brewery and Will’s Domain deserve a mention here) and high-end gift shops (Aravina not only has a stunning Hampton’s sytle gift-shop but a massive sports-car garage and display for the boys).
Everywhere delivers on fantastic scenery, tasteful interior design and eye-catching architecture.
You won’t feel like you’re not one of the wine tasters if you visit places such as Lawrence Estate, Credaro Wines, Sampson and Bowen (formerly Saracen) and Aravina Estate. You’ll be thoroughly drinking in the beautiful setting and getting tipsy as you spin your head every way to find yet another stunning hand-placed stone wall, sparkling water feature or wine-glass chandelier.