A short morning drive found us in Augusta, but unfortunately we found there wasn’t much to really do in Augusta. We took the pretty drive out to Cape Leeuwin, famous because it is where the Southern and Indian Oceans meet. However, we really couldn’t justify spending $10 to get into the lighthouse and though we walked around nearby, there wasn’t anything special to see. I had seen the “meeting of oceans” in the far north of New Zealand a few years ago and found that that was much more impressive, with waves going in different directions out at sea. There was none of that here, at least not that we could see.
Having realized that Margaret River was much more a region than a town or specific area (the town itself is just eateries and shops), we decided to stop at a couple wineries on our way up there. We first went to Leeuwin Estate. It was really crowded, so we went downstairs to their art gallery to let the crowd die down a bit. They have an Art Series that features artwork (that wins some contest every year) on the label. They had all the original pieces, plus some other artwork, down in the gallery so we enjoyed looking around down there. Then we went back up and tried their wines, which were all very good but just a bit out of our price range.
We then made our way over to Xanadu, another of the big contenders in the region. It wasn’t as crowded, but wasn’t over friendly either (you won’t find yourself chatting with the staff in Margaret River like you would in Pemberton or McLaren Vale — at least not on the weekend). I believe the wines were also good but a bit pricey.
Then we headed into the actual town of Margaret River to have a walk around and eat lunch. Again everything was very expensive (even Subway didn’t have their special $7 footlongs — yes a footlong here will cost you $8.10 for the most basic ones, $10+ for anything with chicken! And this is with the Aussie dollar nearly even to the American!). We were put off by the prices of the caravan parks, but again we were saved by the “Bible”/Camps book recommendations.
After a bit of an accidental adventure trying to find it, we settled down at Big Valley Campground. This was one of the first times we found ourselves surrounded by other people like us. We sat around the campfire with a group of British, German, and French people who were also driving around Oz while on their Work & Holiday. It was nice to sit around and chat with people of similar mindset and we had a good time.
The next morning we decided to do a few more wineries. Breaking them up definitely improved the experience, as our previous wine region day tours had always left us exhausted after going to too many wineries in a row. Again we just visited a couple, but first we decided to stop at a few food shops.
Our first stop was the Margaret River Dairy Co. We sampled a number of cheeses that were delicious, but they were just too expensive for us. Then we went to the Margaret River Chocolate Co. We loved this place! They had big serving bowls full of chocolate pastilles (milk, white and dark) and you could help yourself to spoonfuls of samples. The milk chocolate was especially amazing, but after helping ourselves to a couple of samples we were so full!
Adjoined to that is the Providore, which is supposedly one of the top gourmet experiences or something like that. I thought it was a just an overpriced, under-delivering shop. They had jams, sauces (many out to try), olive oils, cheeses (not available to try and crazy expensive), and wines (which we tried and were tasteless!), and nothing was particularly great. Though it was all particularly pricey. I wasn’t a fan.
Then we moved on to wineries. First we stopped at the big man on campus, Evans & Tate. I was a bit disappointed how small and unassuming it was, but the wines were nice. We were pretty much in and out and off to the next one. The next place we stopped was Laurance Winery. We first enjoyed all their art. Even their bottles are artsy (and you can buy them — empty — for $5!). Then we were told it was $6 to taste any wines, so we gave that a miss. We did make use of their impressive bathrooms (I even looked through their guestbook and noted that every other person who signed it also made note of their lovely toilets!). Their surrounding gardens were also beautiful, but we couldn’t part with that much money just to try a couple wines!
On a whim we stopped at one last winery with a fun name: Swings & Roundabouts. We immediately liked it. It was nice but laidback, and the woman doing the tasting (is there some kind of word for these people?!) was very friendly and chatted with us. The wines were also all really good and acceptably priced. We opted for an inexpensive but still very good red. (The reusable wine bag it came with was even adorable, with a little dog and a tire swing on it!)
I think we were pretty wine’d out by this time, so we decided to change things up and make our last stop a brewery. I had been intrigued by the unique flavors the Bush Shack Brewery advertised in its brochure (and also liked that aside from its brochure I found in the visitors center, it wasn’t mentioned or hyped up anywhere else like the other breweries in the area). We immediately liked it, as we drove up to the little place out in the middle of the bush with groups of people out at all the tables enjoying meals and drinks, and a barbeque on with some snags on the grill. It felt like we’d just arrived at a block party or something.
Oscar decided to give the passionfruit beer a try (he didn’t love it), and I got a Strawberry Blonde (I did love it!). We had a nice time sipping something other than wine and just having a chat in the nice sunny weather. It was a really great atmosphere and I would definitely recommend it.
By this time we were practically in Busselton, our stop for the night. We couldn’t believe how time had flown, we were now getting very close to Perth. And with a bit more time to spare than we were sure we could really fill in the small area we had left remaining. But again we were in a bit bigger of a town (I think we’ve come to define a place in WA as a city or a big town if it has a McDonalds!), though again without a whole lot on offer.
To be quick with Busselton, really, though it has a nice feel and is a very cute town, the one touristy thing it has to offer is its jetty and underwater observatory. Unfortunately, someone set fire to the jetty (which was old and all wood, part of what made it such an attraction), and since the observatory was at the end of the jetty, that was pretty much done for as well. It’s still there, but unreachable. They are building a new jetty (which looks to be crazy long!), but it’s still not done (though a lot of brochures say “April 2010” – oops!) and I’m not sure how close they really are to finishing it. But for us, the observatory looks really cool (they had photos from the brief time it was open, and there was everything from sea lions to squids/octopi peering in the two story windows — it looks like an aquarium but it’s all natural!) but would have probably been skipped due to cost anyways (it was $20 then which means it would probably be $30+ today if it was open).
And after Busselton we had a pleasant day and a half in Bunbury, which is supposed to be (at least according to one brochure) the second largest city in WA. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but it was definitely bigger than many of the small towns we’d encountered. It was quite a lovely city, with the city center set up almost like a big outdoor mall. We enjoyed wandering around it as well as visiting a few of the nearby beaches (though nice, none of them were especially impressive).
We also visited the “Big Swamp,” where we took a nice walk around the swamp a bit and down a boardwalk through it. We spotted tons of different seabirds, but no snakes (which Oscar really wanted to see) or frogs. It was very peaceful, though, and a nice change of scenery.
That night we were planning to stay at a campsite in the Leschenault Peninsula Conservation Park. However, as we were driving in we started spotting signs warning that it was a high risk area for mosquitos carrying the Ross River Virus, especially during spring and summer. Being a target for mosquitos as it is, I wasn’t really feeling comfortable with the idea of sleeping there anymore, and neither was Oscar. So I took a quick walk around the area (possibly due to the whole mosquito thing, it was pretty much deserted, though I did see hundreds of swans out on the nearby lake/swamp and stumbled across a couple of kangaroos or wallabies as well), then we headed back toward town for the night.