After an amazing month in Indonesia, we headed back to the Western culture in Australia…would we like it? Hate it? Will we pick up the accent? Do they really cook shrimp on the barbie? Are kangaroos everywhere? We weren’t sure, but read on to hear our tales on the road in Western Australia, specifically Perth and Margaret River. Enjoy!
We honestly didn’t have much planned for Perth. It wasn’t a spot we had planned on visiting, but it was the cheapest flight east from Bali and our open travel schedule made it a good spot to start exploring Australia. However, the exploring didn’t really start for about three days when we went south of Perth to Margaret River. While in Perth we took care of a few things; such as go to the post office to ship a package of unneeded clothes plus Christmas presents, get used to the Westernized grocery stores again (no more instant coffee!), take a walk through the large Kings Park, and we ate fish & chips with the locals at Cottesloe beach. Other than that we hung out with our awesome Airbnb host (originally from Jakarta), joined him for dinner at a great Indian restaurant where we learned Australia has BYO (bring your own booze) restaurants, and got ready for our next two months in Australia.
Our first impression of Australia was kind of, well, underwhelming. It felt like home with a few oddities, the city (Perth) didn’t have a lot going on, and we missed outdoor adventures of the islands. Uh oh, did we plan to spend too much time in Australia?
We hired a car and drove south to an area just south of Perth called Margaret River. It’s a tourist town akin to Hood River in Oregon with nearby wineries, cute cafes, and outdoor activities. We spent about a week there exploring. Thanksgiving occurred while we were there, and the thoughts of family, friends, familiar fun and traditions got to us. Also, since Australia was going to be easy to explore and a Western culture similar to the USA, we found our minds drifting to home. We were thinking about the end of our trip more and more, rather than embracing the exposure to a new culture/language/transport/diet as we have been the last 10 months. We tried to make the most of it, and in the end we enjoyed Margaret River. The following tells you about how we adventured down under on Australia’s west coast.
Caves are a big deal down in Western Australia! And these aren’t just some little holes in the ground or small caves in the side of a rock, these are proper limestone caves with cavities a hundred feet tall! We bought a 3 cave pass, called ourselves spelunkers and ventured into the following caves:
Lake Cave – This was our first real big cave experience and we were quite amazed. Initially we were skeptical because it felt touristy and gimmicky with a big group mostly consisting of Asian tourists with nice cameras ready to record every moment, so our expectations weren’t high. However, we were so wrong. We took the required guided tour and went down into this first cave. They had some amazing lights set up to illuminate the cave so we could all see specific features, including one of the only (or the only? no one knows) “suspended tables” in the world and weighs several tonnes. You’ll see it in our picture below where the still water below had a beautiful reflection. Being our first guided tour we learned a lot about caves and cave formations. It was interesting to learn about the various structures and unique qualities of the caves in this region that were created about 1 million years ago. Another highlight was getting to experience “cave darkness” where all the lights go out and no one uses any screen of any kind — it was complete and utter blackness… Cool!
Mammoth Cave – This cave definitely lived up to its name, this cave was huge.It was massive, hence the name “Mammoth”. For this cave walk, we walked self-guided down and through the cave which actually passes under the roadway above. Within the cave were some amazing limestone structures and this is one of the few caves where fossils have been found. There was even a jaw bone of an extinct zygomaturus in the cave wall.
Jewel Cave – This was our favorite cave of the three we visited. It was very large and sparkled like a jewel when illuminated, had many cool features similar to Lake Cave, plus we had a fun guide. It is the largest “show cave” in Western Australia. One of the cave formations that was highlighted on our tour was new to us: the helictites. They’re neat because they are created from water forced up or out, instead of just down, so they seem to defy gravity! We also enjoyed the stalagmite that were shaped similar to a forest – can you see it in our pictures?
Bottom line: the caves in WA are really impressive and well worth a visit!
Wine (and Beer and Chocolate) Tasting
We spent over 6 days in the Margaret region and we quickly found out that it has over 5,017 hectares under vine and more than 215 wineries. So naturally we went wine tasting at a few of the cellar doors. We didn’t have time to spend an entire day out of tasting since we were off riding, running and adventuring in the mornings so we went to a tasting or two each evening before they shut at 5pm. The following are the wineries we visited along with a few others, chocolate tasting and beer tasting.
- Our first winery tasting was at Carpe Diem winery and vineyards. It was a small Italian run business and we showed up right as the owner was about to lock up for the day. We asked if he had time for two more tastings and he welcomed us in to the small tasting room that housed a few of his brewing vats as well. It was fun to talk to the owner about his move from his vineyard in Italy to creating one in WA in the early 2000s and how his vineyard has become a success. We enjoyed sipping the wines, specifically his nebbiolo which was a lighter red, and learned a great deal about the different varieties that thrive in Margaret River’s unique micro-climate. The tasting experience was unique to us and we plan to seek out Carpe Diem WA wine in the future.
- Voyager Estate – This estate is known to be one of the fanciest in the region and is one of the more touristy since they have a nice restaurant on the property. We tasted the basic free tastings and were less than impressed. The server was tired and not enthused to explain the wines to us, but we could sympathize since she was almost done for the day. We didn’t enjoy any of the wine in particular although we enjoyed the beautiful landscaped property.
- Eagle Bay Brewery – We stopped in for pizza and a beer taster tray on a hot day. It seemed just like a formal winery atmosphere instead of a local brewery so we were a caught a bit off guard and it made us miss down-to-earth feel of Double Mountain Brewery in Hood River, Oregon. The atmosphere and the okay beer put us in a down mood and the flies didn’t help. Now would be a good time to mention the large amounts of flies that overpopulate the region during late spring before the dung beetles hatch to regulate/eat them. Imagine sitting on a patio with ice cold beer and freshly cooked pizza when about a dozen flies land on your food and face. It’s bad!
- Windance Winery – We did a short free tasting at this rustic tasting room. Nothing too spectacular about this one except that they had a delicious chardonnay.
- Stella Bella – This was one of Jenny’s favorites because of the cute name, we were greeted by a little dog when we arrived and the scuttlebutt white wine was delicious. We chatted with the elderly woman serving us about our travels over a tasting of the scuttlebutt wine, cabernet and cab merlot blend. Well worth a visit!
- Gabrielle chocolate – We stopped in this award winning chocolatier one late afternoon. Unfortunately I forgot my wallet so we had to forfeit going on the busy Saturday but went back a few days later. When we went back we got some of their delicious chocolates and their was no crowd. The guy serving chocolate samples gave us a few too many since we were the only ones browsing. Delicious! Jenny’s mom would have enjoyed tasting the dark Moroccan chocolate. Maybe we will save a bar…
- Leeuwin Estate winery – This estate was another bigger winery with beautiful grounds where they hold concerts in the summer. We enjoyed the tastings of the whites more than the reds. Jenny snagged a book called “Dogs of Wineries” that was produced by an Aussie photographer and shares the stories of the dogs that live on particular vineyards we were visiting. We flipped through to dogs for a bit, but put it back before we got Hurley-sick.
- Windows Winery – This airy modern tasting room was where we had our favorite cab merlot and it tasted great after our chocolate tasting experience. Cheers!
- Knee Deep – This fun little winery yielded great red wines. Of course the cab merlot was an award winner that we managed to get an extra taster to enjoy out on the patio. We sipped our wine and ate some bread with truffle butter while enjoying the outdoor vineyard.
- Bootleg brewery – This was the second brewery we went to and it was so much better than Eagle Bay. No flies, better atmosphere with yard games and great beer. I enjoyed the American IPA which was a little sweet, but tasty. We sat out at one of the many picnic tables overlooking a pond and a playground as we ate a big n’ tasty chicken burger along with the beer.
- Vasse Felix – The most prestige, popular and oldest vineyard in the region. We expected a formal interior with uptight servers, but were pleasantly surprised. After entering the estate — which has lush green grape fields, a well manicured yard and a beautiful estate. The dark oaky interior, dim lighting yet large glass windows made for a comfortable setting to enjoy a taste. The server pouring our drinks was full of knowledge and engaging. We didn’t think their wines were outstanding, but we did enjoy their top shelf cab and top shelf Chardonnay. I enjoyed the sweet dessert wine, a cane cut semillon too.
We did two bike rentals from Margaret River Cycles during out time their. The first was a biking trip to Surfers Point with a stop at White Elephant Cafe for a flat white and muffin. We were starting to learn that the Aussies do espresso pretty well! We biked to watch kite surfers at the Main Break. They were impressive and made riding the wind look so easy! Along the route back into town we saw our first kangaroos and of course stopped to shoot some photos of them. We learned that they are similar to deer in the Pacific Northwest USA (aka. pests) so we were sure to see lots more. After the trip to the coast we biked to some trails in a dedicated mountain biking park not far from the city center. The trails were fun, and it was enjoyable to advance our skills in single track riding since we hadn’t done much mountain biking in our lives. Jenny keeps saying, “why have we never taken this sport up?” Needless to say we will be riding more!
The second time we rented bikes (from the same great little business) we decided to take the 13.5km forest track to Cowaramup. The trail we rode on was fun and easy. While in Cowaramup we found a local bakery where I got a meat pie and Jenny picked up a fruit cinnamon roll (with heaps of frosting). So delicious! On the way back we went back into the bike park again and we both conquered one of the tracks we had trouble with the previous day and mastered the large gravel hill. I think the baked goods helped! We felt proud of our mountain biking improvement.
Whale watching was highlighted in most of the things you read about in the area, so we had to give it a try. We signed up for a morning session at 10am in Dunsborough. It ended up a bit more like ‘Dudsborough’… since we didn’t see any whales, so it was more like a long boat ride. I knew it was the end of the whale watching season, but they had sightings just yesterday and I thought it was worth a shot. Since we didn’t see any whales on our trip they offered a free re-booking. A couple days later I went whale watching again while Jenny went exploring (she didn’t want to go for another boat ride). No whale sightings again, but I did get to see a pod of dolphins (consolation prize?). At least this time I was prepared to see no whales, so seeing the dolphins felt like a bonus!
Jenny’s adventure was a trail run and some beach exploring; some of her favorite things!
Walks, Runs and Swims
One of the big highlights of the area for us was a sunset walk at the Wilyabrup Cliffs. There is a nice little path that leads to some beautiful seaside cliffs. We made it to the cliffs and decided to head down to the water to shoot some photography. We watched the surf hit the exposed rocks, chased away crabs and search for shells as the sun continued to set. It was a peaceful way to end the day.
The next day we visited the Boranup Karri Forest for a trail run. It was neat to run in the forest but the trail was a lot of loose dirt and large rocks which wasn’t the best for our non-trail running shoes. We enjoyed the escape into the forest, but realized our shoes needed better footing.
Augusta’s Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse walk and tour – The windy weather is an understatement! We were almost blown over a couple times when the gusts picked up on our walk to the lighthouse. So you could say, Augusta was a-gusting! This lighthouse is at the most south-westerly point of Australia where the great southern ocean and the Indian Ocean meet. The 1895 limestone lighthouse was a cool sight. I enjoyed thinking about where in the world we really were at that moment (map here).
While the rec center swimming pool in Margaret River wasn’t outdoors, this was our first introduction to pools in Australia, and we’ve turned out to really enjoy them. We purchased a pair of goggles and took turns swimming for about 45 minutes. It felt great to get back into the water to do some lap swimming. We could tell Australians value a good pool and the “casual entry” rate was very reasonable.
During my time swimming Jenny went on a trail run on the biking/walking path that led to the biking park. When I handed her the goggles after swimming I asked, “how was your run?”. Flustered she replied, “I got clawed by a bird.” On her way back to the rec center she turned her last corner when a magpie swooped at her head. She had headphones in so couldn’t hear the warning call, but the persistent mamma bird ended up nicking her forehead with a claw. We later learned that spring time is “swooping season” when magpies will attack anyone walking, running or biking by the tree they are nesting in. Crazy! Jenny wasn’t impressed with the welcome to Australia and was freaked out by birds for a while.
Our last sunset
After a fun week exploring Margaret River we stopped for brekkie at the Margaret River Bakery on our way out of town. It was a delicious meal before we drove back to Perth for our last day in WA. With not much else to do in Perth we decided to catch our last sunset over the ocean. I say “last” because we would be leaving the west coast of Australia in the morning and heading south to Melbourne and then to different spots on the east coast.
We enjoyed our adventure in Western Australia and hope you enjoyed hearing about them. In our next post we will share our stories of Tasmania, the isolated island south of Australia’s mainland known for it’s rugged wilderness. Until our next update, we hope you’re out adventuring in your own way!
Will and Jenny