It's half term and already we have bumped into three families from our children's school. Put simply, Western Australia is the place to be, and in October it’s the perfect antidote to Singapore: the weather is cool, but the sun is warm; there are wide open spaces and fresh air; the countryside is a playground with miles and miles of vineyards, forests and farms; and it’s only a four-hour flight away.
We based ourselves in the small town of Margaret River, in the heart of the wine region. It's a pleasant place with all you need in terms of butchers, bakers and supermarkets (ha – didn’t think I was going there, did you?!), as well as little artisan shops.
We did our best to wear the children out, but in fact have done the opposite. In the evenings, we only have the energy to sip a bottle of local wine. Or I could just be making excuses.
Talking of wine, it is one of biggest enticements for coming here. To be truthful, I’m not a fan of reds from this region. They are a little too dry for me. But the whites are perfect, especially if you live in a hot country; fruity, crisp, clean and tangy.
The easiest way to see the region is to join a tour. As we reached the vineyards we noticed a sign asking: “Who’s the skipper?” It took us a while to realise that, as we didn’t speak Australian, there was a language barrier. We think a skipper is a designated driver, or a kangaroo, or is that a skippy? Goodness knows. Best said, get on a tour, and then you don’t have to worry about drinking and driving as someone else will drive you around.
We joined Neil McLeod’s tour. On family holiday’s they have worked out that people often pack their kids too, and so have created a varied agenda to keep the whole family entertained. On the one-day tour we joined there was a stop at an artisan coffee shop for Dad, four vineyards for Mam, a chocolate factory for the children, and a cheese shop for everyone. Smiles all round. Neil has just spruced up his big red Bedford lorry for a sunset kangaroo safari too. A Margaret River native, he knows the region’s iconic highlights as well as the best-kept secrets.
The Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse is about as far south as you can go without swimming to Antarctica. It was built in 1895 to guide ships heading to the eastern ports across the rocks where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean. Its claim to fame is that it is the tallest mainland lighthouse in Australia, and as part of a tour you can climb to the top.
At the other end of the region, the Busselton Jetty reaches 1.8km into Geographe Bay and is the longest timber-piled jetty in the Southern Hemisphere. The Jetty used to only protrude 161m, when it was first built in 1865, but due to drifting sand and shallow waters it has been extended a number of times to enable ships to unload cargo without grounding. Horses and carts were loaded up, later to be replaced by a train, until the port closed in 1973. It’s a beautiful spot and whether you decided to ride the train or use your legs, it’s worth getting to the end of the jetty to see the underwater observatory. A spiral staircase takes you eight metres under the water so you can get a close look at the corals, sponges and barnacles clamped to the side of the piles, and well as spot the odd fish or two.
There are hundreds of caves, but only a few are open to the public. Lake Cave, although not large, is one of the most intricate, with hundreds of straws, stalagmites, stalactites, columns and a floating table. If you visit Lake or Jewel you’ll need to be part of a tour. Mammoth Cave is self-guided.
The coastline is pretty spectacular. Drive to the top of South Point at Gracetown for a sweeping view over Cowaramup Bay. From the top of the cliff you can often spot whales, and the odd surfer or two. There are plenty of beaches to choose from too.
Here's an outline of how we spent our time:
Day 4: Drive to Margaret River. A wander around the town and dinner at the Settlers' Tavern, Margaret River.
Day 5: A walk around the trails of Margaret River, lunch at Leeuwin's Wine Estate.
Day 6: Breakfast at Morries, drive to Busselton. Busselton has a fantastic 1.8km pier. You can buy a combined ticket that allows you to ride the train there and back, as well as visit the underwater aquarium at the end of the jetty.
Day 7: Lake cave, lunch at Cafe Boranup, Leeuwin Cape Lighthouse, dinner at Swings Taphouse & Kitchen, Margaret River.
Day 8: Wine, coffee, cheese and chocolate tour with Neil McLeod.
Day 9: Drive to Perth. Lunch at Cottesloe Beach Club.
Where we stayed:
We stayed at Villawarra, a bungalow set back in the bush, with a warm fire, an outside bathroom and kangaroos in the garden. We booked through Airbnb.
For more information about our trip, and photographs, click here.