Western Australian journal part 3

Sunday 4 April

After a few days in Perth, Easter day brought another chance to get out of town for some proper holiday relaxin’, so we set off with our chocolates via the McCafe south towards Margaret River. On the way we stopped for lunch at the Cowaramup Brewery (the better known Bootleg Brewery, our intended target, was already turning people, including us, away) and sampled their taster paddle of top beers.

We made it to Margs mid-afternoon, and went for a walk on Prevelly Park (the beach adjunct to the town of Margaret River itself), the smell of the decaying algae almost overwhelming but the view spectacular. We stopped on the way back to watch sunset over the rivermouth where the local surfers had found some acceptable waves.

Back at Loaring Place – a B&B with only 4 rooms, located in hardcord bush about 5km out of Margs – both Bree and I sampled the enormous spa bath on which I had insisted when booking, before getting back in the car to drive to Margs for dinner.

As we drove along Wallcliffe Road, something suddenly hit the windscreen hard and messily.  We pulled over quickly (Bree having completely kept her calm as it happened, rather than veering off the road as she suggested I might have done) and realised that whatever it was broke our windscreen, which, rather than  being covered in blood and fur or feathers, was replete with some brownish liquid. So we drove carefully to a service station and wiped off what appeared to be chocolate milk…

Somewhat shaken we went to our dinner and Wino’s and ordered much-needed glasses of wine (of which they have 800 different kinds). Food was good, and the wine was excellent, and we followed it with a beer in front of the footy in a regular pub just up the road before the excellent ‘Designated Driver’ service drove us home.

Monday 5 April

Breakfast at Loaring was excellent – proper sausages, almost unheard of with a full English – and then Sean from Margaret River Discovery arrived at 1025am to take us off on the much-lauded ‘Best of the Best’ tour (look it up on tripadvisor.com, which apparently changed Sean’s life – his tour wasn’t bringing in the punters and he was close to going bust. Suddenly his tours were voted Margs’ best, and the rest has been an increasingly successful history).

There were 6 of us in a LandRover, and first stop was Edwards winery, a small, family place with extremely good low-volume wines.  I was taken with the wine aerator, for tasting just-opened bottles, and their backstory – the late father of the winemaker flew a Tiger Moth from London to Perth over 60 days.

Afterwards, Sean drove us to another, very different vineyard. Cape Mentelle is one of the biggest producers in MR and you’d certainly know it from our guide Julie – she was full of almost too-detailed tech info and it felt a little dry (pun intended) until we got to lunch, which was a degustation spread during which Julie talked us through 6 foodstuffs and accompanying wines and explained how the food and drinks match (or otherwise).

An added bonus, which wasn’t supposed to be part of the deal (though we have a suspicion that’s what Sean says to all the groups), we got to spend a gorgeous half-hour canoeing on Margaret River itself. Bree and I made a powerful paddling team. Sean then drove us off-road to the coast, and we walked on the Cape to Cape track (which we both really want to do properly one day, walking from Cape Leeuwin to Cape Naturaliste over a week, camping on beaches and fishing for our supper) through snake-infested bush before having our photos taken on a rocky outcrop and eating rare local honeys as an alternative to a final wine-taste.

Driving home, I saw a whole field of kangaroos (only other [live] spotter’s guide tick was an ibis flying over the river). We shared our ride with a quiet couple from Sydney and a rather more confident pair who recently came to Perth. I was impressed by the speed at which they snapped up a case of the day’s best (and most expensive) wine, but all became clear when the bloke mentioned he was CEO of one of Australia’s biggest banks… A fantastic day.

We left for Margs and dinner about 7pm and the forest smelled amazing in the rain the wine-makers were no doubt cursing. We ummed and ahhhed about where to eat and passed over the heralded Arc of Iris (say it out loud – it sounds like some killer disease) and settled for Settlers, just managed to fit in a wagyu beef burger and fish and chips before the karaoke started. Thence home and an early night, for a change.

Tuesday 6 April

A day to mooch around as we pleased, so after breakfast we drove southwards to Jewel Cave. We’d planned to walk in the Boranup Forest afterwards, but driving through it on the way to the cave it was so Tolkeinesquely beautiful we stopped the car and ambled among the immense karri trees. A little detour through took us to Hamelin Bay, another outstandingly beautiful slice of WA beachfront, and I almost squealed with delight when I realised the small crowd on the beach were frolicking with black stingrays!

The biggest must have been 5 foot across, a massive, alien-looking creature with a thick jelly-like skin, and came in with the waves until it was almost entirely out of the water to eat mulies from the hands of the small children crowding around. One of the moments of the holiday, without a doubt.

We made it to Jewel Cave in time for the 1230pm tour. It was astounding – 3 enormous limestone caverns surrounded on all sides with shimmering calcite crystals, punctuated occasionally by slender, bushy beards of peppermint tree roots and one enormous, twisted karri root.  Crystal flows, shawls, stalactites, stalagmites and heclatites everywhere., and right at the bottom the skeleton of a 500-year old possum.

After wearing ourselves out clambering out of a cavern filled with carbon dioxide, we drove to Augusta for a quick sandwich lunch before taping up the cracks in the windscreen and driving the scenic route to the Leeuwin lighthouse.  The view of the lighthouse, the ocean, the waves and the cliffs (and the foreboding rain in the distance) was more enticing than actually entering it, so we drove up and drove off.

We stopped next at Flinders bay, overlooking the Southern Ocean.  It’s a gorgeous place with a dual history as a centre of whaling, but recently improved its reputation with the most successful stranded whale rescue ever took place – 96 false killer whales being freed alive and well.

On the way back up the Bussell Highway we decided to leave the Berry Farm, which Bree had been looking forward to, until tomorrow, and took in a couple of wineries instead.  Hamelin Bay Winery was a small, very picturesque cellar and we sampled a decent enough Savignon Blanc to buy a bottle for Helen, our neighbour back in Perth.

The second winery of the day was the tiny and rustic McLeod Creek, run by the Ianarelli family whose patriarch, Mario, was on hand (in full farming gear) to serve us. McLeod Creek was totally different from the other slick, shiny wineries – we got big glugs of wine a buon mercato as well as Mario’s life story, including 7 years spent in Cornwall, of all places.  Inevitably, and deliciously, we bought a bottle.

Back at Loaring Place, I went for a wildlife hunt in the bush behind the B&B. After snapping a black and white cockatoo and (possibly) a twenty-eight, and almost having a heart attack as I walked face first through a spiderweb, I glimpsed movement about 20 yards ahead as two kangaroos bounced into a small clearing to my left.

Keeping stock still – though not still enough to avoid spooking the littler roo, I started taking (blurry and distant) photos.  When I had enough to act as evidence, if not provide aesthetic pleasure, I started walking around the remaining kangaroo, still about 20 yards away, looking for a better spot – ideally one with a clear line of sight as the foliage was confusing my auto-focus.

I never got a pic of both mother and joey, but I got something half decent and bush-walked triumphantly back to the room and proudly showed Bree my pics before taking a victory spa.

For dinner, we managed to bag a table at Arc of Iris, buying 3 bottles of wine just to be sure (the third obtained on foot from the drive-through bottle shop when we realised how inappropriate our shiraz was).  Our main course was the seafood platter: (deep breath) 7-spice squid, smoked salmon, oysters Kilpatrick, snapper fillets, garlic prawns, Vietnamese fish balls, scallops with venison chorizo and the ubiquitous chip.  Too much food!  We didn’t quite manage 2 bottles of wine, but were very happy to use the designated driver once again.

Wednesday 7 April

A chatty breakfast featuring a chirpy social work student, an ex-pat British couple from Rockingham and a loquacious judge from Croydon who took a shine to Bree (who got his number, though she’s not allowed to call him after 930am).  Then to the Berry Farm, which was as impressive as we’d heard.  It was nice to have a tasting set-up that didn’t feature booze (but mmmm grape jam and raspberry syrup and Indonesion sambal) for a change. Of course we ended up supping booze as well, including a gorgeous apple and vanilla port that I’d have bought in large quantities if we’d a means of getting it home.

Unfortunately the next stop was a bit disappointing – the Margaret River Dairy Company was not one, but two small, unprepossessing shops with a measly selection (though we bought some camembert and romano for future lunches). Odd, or a bit of a missed opportunity, Bree thought.  We then had a wonderful coffee (sorry, koffee) at Yahava and a dose of reality when we enquired at the Margaret River Wine Company about the cost of adding to a pallet of wine destined for the UK – AUS$210, or ten pounds sterling per bottle. Shame.

We finally made lunch at the Bootleg Brewery, though Bree’s previous all-fish diet meant her ultra-rich steak and ale pie was too full on for her, so most of it ended up in me, along with the most perfectly battered snapper, and three of their fine beers (the last of which I swigged, probably illegally, as we drove off).

Before we hit the highway north, we popped over to Dunsborough where I daringly changed in public (so Aussie) before a swim in the waters of Geographe Bay.  Driving back towards Busselton we passed the entrances to at least a dozen Christian youth camps of all creeds, from Anglican via Baptist to 7th Day Adventists to scarily apocalyptic-sounding cults I’d never heard of.

Accidentally driving through the centre of Busselton, I combined my map-reading and sun-navigating skills to send us the wrong way, Bree driving patiently up the older, slower South-West Highway.  On the plus side it was much prettier than the (considerably quicker) Kwinana Freeway we’d intended to take, and we saw a real life camel among a crowd of sheep.

After a line-painting convoy tried our driver’s patience for the last time, we switched to the dull Highway 2, which was a rude car-filled shock.  We arrived in Perth at sunset, and the city itself was pretty empty – through when Bree took me to a beach to take photos of the wonderful city skyline she got caught parking in a reserved bay… Finally home we wound down with some quality TV (for a change!) and some long-awaited Brodie-time.

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