Feeling like conquerors of the North, we embarked on our adventure to the South of Perth.
Bearing in mind that it’s opposite form the UK- North is closer to the equator and so warmer, South is further away and so cooler. We weren’t really prepared for it being so much cooler though, in fact it felt like May in the UK- not the sizzling heat everyone warned us about.
We stopped at Busselton on the way down to Margaret River, we heard there was a jetty that had a viewing window so you can see the fish underneath. Perfect for someone like me, nervous of deep water but enthralled by fish all at the same time.
We arrived to find out that access to this viewing platform was $88. Bugger. We paid the $12 to walk up the jetty and saw a few big shadows beneath- I was tempted to shout out to a nearby swimmer for them to find out what was there, then realised it might not be appropriate/ safe!
We swam and paddled in the safety of the shark nets on the bay. The buildings in pastel shades, evoking memories of vintage postcards and a bygone era and a joy to be around.
Margaret River had been recommended to us by practically everyone. When we drove through the lush countryside to get there, it reminded me of the Cotswolds. Leafy, hilly and full of nice restaurants, surf shops and delis. People weekend here from Perth, visiting vineyards (wineries, they call them here- in the same way that a student is a ‘schooly’ and fireman is a ‘firey’ etc) and enjoy the coast.
We headed for Hamelin Bay Caravan Park, which I had heard about previously for its Stingrays. Now we all know that I love a Stringray- it’s the one fish I can enjoy without having to go too deep into the water.
We ran straight to the beach and saw 3 HUGE rays, each 5ft wide, easily. We splashed the surface of the water and they came over to say hello- cuddling your feet and showing you their beautiful eyes which seemed conceal a wealth of feeling.
The children ran off to follow them up the beach, I couldn’t get enough of them either, it was no hardship to watch these graceful fish come up so close. Yes, they had a barb on the tail, with a sting but its only used when they feel threatened- poor Steve Irwin was just very unlucky indeed. These chaps were so tame and calm, we relaxed and played with them tirelessly. Beauties!
We met friends at the campsite and all the children embraced their freedom- cycling and scooting all around the place, getting nice a grubby. The Youngest rode a bike on 2 wheels for the first time! Proud moment. Shame we can’t carry a bike with us though. Both boys felt the pinch a little, and clearly missed having their own wheels. Lucky we had some to borrow (thank you, Charlie)
Our first port of call was a Winery- but on our way, a leisurely drive through Boranup Drive, to see the Karri forests. A quick drive, the Book said. Fine for 2 Wheel Drives, the sign said.
90 minutes later, we emerged out the other end of the drive, my neck screaming with tension as Mike inhaled sharp at each judder and bump on the road. We were relieved our van didn’t burst a tyre or shudder to a total halt. Once we were on the track, all the roads on the map didn’t seem to exist- we had to keep going at 4km/hr and hope it wouldend soon. The forest seemed ENDLESS and phone reception vanished. Our van seemed unable to cope with even the smallest bump in the road and we were grateful the youngest child slept the whole way- leaving only the eldest to panic that we are NEVER GETTING OUT OF THE FOREST…. we were fine though- and be honest, this had to happen at some point. Once again though, you get what you pay for and our van struggled out to the main road in the end.
The Leeuwin estate was such a welcome sight, I could have hugged it. It is a sprawling, manicured estate which hosts outdoor concerts and we looked scruffy compared to everyone else. Still, I’m not too proud to take free wine, so we sidled up to the tasting table and made appropriate noises over the dribble of wine we were given.
Unimpressed, we moved on to Voyager Estate. Now, this was more like it- beautiful rose gardens, heady with scent and row upon row of vines stretching over the hills and down into the valleys. If I had to draw a vineyard, it would look like this.
Abbi and I left the men outside with the kids, and propped up the bar for a while, sipping the wine and chatting about it with our friendly host. Once upon a time, wine tasting was free- but not now. Now we had to pay for each tasting- but this expense was written off if you bought a bottle. Sold! To the woman in the blue jumper. I’ll try all of them please and how long is the wine left in oak, please? *downs glass*
The next day we headed to Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, a place where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean. An iconic lighthouse stands there and if you want to walk around it, it is $21 (everything seemed to cost!)
The weather was looking grey and grim and the rain set in just as we were leaving the cape. There was nothing to do but go to a pub in Augusta and order a bowl of chips for the kids whilst we watched the drizzle move across the lush valley.
We retreated to our friends cabin and an afternoon of Uno, cheese and crackers. It smelt like a childhood memory of a rainy holiday in Devon, comforting in its familiarity. This one came with mosquitos and a slightly higher risk of deadly snakes than in Looe, but familiar nevertheless.
After the rainy day, came a sunny one- the kids wanted to do an activity, so we called the local maze to ask about prices- $60! It was all getting a bit much, this tourist trap. Instead we went to Cowaramup and sat on some fibreglass cows- also to try out the bakery there.
In Australia, I have discovered a new meal- Hooray I hear you say! Yes, this one is called ‘Morning Tea’ where you are allowed to eat pies after breakfast and before dinner. What a revelation this is and so I couldn’t deny the cultural delight of a chicken and vegetable pie before heading to Margaret River Chocolate Company to eat our body weight in free chocolate. (*Need to run more*)
We waved goodbye to one set of lovely friends and met up with the Murdochs again, at Wharnecliffe Mill Eco retreat. A beautiful campsite with an emphasis on natural materials and respect for the environment. We showed our respect by playing the guitar and recycling our wine bottles- I know, right? We are so good.
Despite the wine we were cold- 12 degrees in the evening, freezing when you’re camping and aren’t allowed a fire. The only thing for it was to head North tomorrow- well, if we can, why not?
The boys had a surf lesson in the morning- it is another thing that Margies is famous for- so seemed appropriate. They loved it, smashed it and caught waves managing to stand up after a 2 hour lesson. Yes, they were also taught to do the surfers wave (see pic).
Exhausted we arrived at Wave Rock 5 hours later… basking in the desert heat, its hard to believe we shivering with the cold just a few hours before… this country never ceases to amaze.
Where we stayed:
Hamelin Bay Holiday Park, Margaret River. 34 GBP per night unpowered site. Great location, woodland camping and right on the beach where the stingrays live.
Wharnecliffe Mill Bush Retreat 25 GBP per night with campfires, natural adventure playground and hiking trails.