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Australia holidays: Road tripping Western Australia

NZ Herald
By: Brett Atkinson
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Linking Western Australia's two oldest cities, this journey of around 750km takes in the stunning Indian Ocean coastline of Margaret River, impressive wine and craft beer, and the history and natural spectacle of Australia's most expansive state. Along the way, visitors to WA are guaranteed to eat exceedingly well.

PERTH

Perth's evolution from sleepy state capital to exciting international city is completed by recent developments, including Elizabeth Quay, and Yagan Square linking the CBD to bohemian Northbridge. Beyond the city's new bars, eateries and boutique hotels, the November 2020 reopening of the Western Australian Museum will make it one of the country's premier cultural institutions, while Swan River views from forested Kings Park continue to reinforce that it's one of the planet's best urban escapes.

Western Australian Maritime Museum, across Perth's Fremantle Harbour. Photo / Supplied
Western Australian Maritime Museum, across Perth's Fremantle Harbour. Photo / Supplied

Essential Experiences

The Victorian townscape of Fremantle is reached by a 30-minute train journey. Soak up Freo's heritage ambience amid stylish cafes, bars and design shops, before checking out the nautical galleries at the WA Maritime Museum. Then begin your own marine adventure on the ferry to Rottnest Island, where arcing beaches, e-bike experiences and quokka selfies with the island's much-loved marsupial residents await.

Where to eat and drink

Part of Perth's restored State Buildings Precinct, Wildlflower combines Australian bush ingredients – often foraged locally – with evolving menus reflecting the six seasons of the region's indigenous Noongar people. In the same complex, Petition Beer Corner has 18 taps of mainly WA brews, and there are authentically fiery Thai flavours at Long Chim. In Fremantle, Kiwi chef Kenny McHardy harnesses his wood-fired oven for regular surprises at Manuka Woodfire Kitchen. Order the wood-roasted octopus if it's available.

MARGARET RIVER

Around three hours south of Perth, the Margaret River region has showcased Australian winemaking excellence since the late 1960s. Pioneering vineyards such as Cape Mentelle and Vasse Felix have now been joined by smaller players, often focusing on organic and biodynamic grapes and sustainable viticulture practices. Visit Stormflower's compact 9ha vineyard for their cabernet shiraz or try the on-trend orange wines at Blind Corner.

Margaret River Distilling Company. Photo / Supplied
Margaret River Distilling Company. Photo / Supplied

Essential Experiences

Beyond the pleasures of world-beating wine, Margaret River is also a craft beer hotspot. Standout destinations include the Wild Hop Brewing Company in Yallingup, and Eagle Bay Brewing high above the Indian Ocean near Dunsborough. Opportunities to get active amid the region's spectacular coastal scenery include abseiling, caving and sea kayaking with Edge Tours, or tackling a few day walks along the seven-day 135km of the Cape to Cape Track.

Where to eat and drink

With great wine and beer comes excellent eating. Margaret River's high-end dining scene is best represented by Wills Domain, Arimia and Yarri, while wood-fired sourdough from Yallingup Woodfired Bread is an essential pre-picnic purchase. Artisan tasting rooms include Temper Temper for gourmet chocolate, and the Margaret River Distilling Company crafts award-winning gin and whiskey. Margaret River's weekly Saturday morning farmers' market brings together the region's gourmet producers.

AUGUSTA

Blink and you'll miss it. Augusta marks the southern border of the Margaret River region, and is an essential stop for rugged coastal views and Western Australia's tallest lighthouse. En route to the Great Southern wine region around Denmark, venture inland on State Route 10 for canoeing along the Blackwood River around Nannup, or to shelter amid the sylvan shade of Pemberton's towering karri forests.

Refuel and enjoy the ride along the 750km link between WA's two oldest cities. Photo / Getty Images
Refuel and enjoy the ride along the 750km link between WA's two oldest cities. Photo / Getty Images

Essential Experiences

Hang on to your hat at wild Cape Leeuwin, the often windy meeting point of the Indian and Southern Oceans, and the most southwesterly point of the Australian continent. Don't leave without signing up for a guided tour of the Cape Leeuwin lighthouse.

Where to eat and drink

Dubbed "the last eating house before the Antarctic", the Colourpatch Cafe's riverview tables are a fine spot for local seafood – including Augusta abalone and whitebait – and there's a decent selection of WA beers and wines. Try a Calm Ya Farm Pale Ale from Margaret River's Beer Farm.

Oceans meet: Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse. Photo / Supplied, Sean Scott
Oceans meet: Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse. Photo / Supplied, Sean Scott

DENMARK

Traditionally overshadowed by Margaret River, Denmark's Great Southern wine region is now developing its own stellar reputation for cool-climate wines. Riesling's the biggest game in town, especially the bone-dry examples from Plantagenet Wines in nearby Mt Barker. Meandering as a sleepy pastoral loop inland from Denmark, Scotsdale Rd incorporates alpaca farms, artisan cheesemakers, and the region's best weekend lunches at Rickety Gate Estate.

Essential Experiences

Explore the Valley of the Giants in nearby Walpole, where the spectacular Tree Top Walk negotiates a forest canopy of ancient tingle trees at a height of 40m. Around 20km west of Denmark, William Bay National Park offers sheltered swimming amid the leviathan boulders and natural outcrops of Greens Pool and Elephant Rocks.

Elephant Rocks, in William Bay National Park. Photo / Supplied, Tourism Western Australia
Elephant Rocks, in William Bay National Park. Photo / Supplied, Tourism Western Australia

Where to eat and drink

Award-winning gourmet pies are the attraction at Denmark Bakery, where Skippy meets subcontinental flavours in the spicy Vindaroo. Indian and Asian spices also feature at Pepper & Salt at the Forest Hill Vineyard, with Fijian-Indian chef Silas Masih crafting a fusion menu including Thai-style hot and sour barramundi. Quell any lingering heat with a Hey Hay wheat beer from Denmark's Boston Brewing.

ALBANY

Established in 1826, even before Perth, Albany is the oldest European settlement in Western Australia, and the heritage shopfronts along York St reinforce a stately past. Nearer to Prince Royal Harbour, the restored colonial precinct features a replica of the brig Amity, the surprisingly compact sailing ship that brought Albany's first British settlers west across the Southern Ocean from Sydney.

Heritage shopfronts in Albany. Photo / Supplied
Heritage shopfronts in Albany. Photo / Supplied

Essential Experiences

Australian and New Zealander soldiers departed in navy convoys from Albany for World War I, and the National Anzac Centre is a poignant reminder of their sacrifice and bravery. Interactive galleries look over King George Sound, the same expansive body of water that carried the troopships. On the southern edge of the sound in Torndirrup National Park, a vertiginous viewing platform provides spectacular views of the roiling surf of The Gap and the nearby Natural Bridge.

Where to eat and drink

A real surprise in regional Western Australia, Liberte's Paris-meets-Hanoi vibe would even be a standout in Sydney or Melbourne. Vietnamese-style small plates combine with Asian-inspired cocktails amid velvet-trimmed booths. With Southern Ocean views, Albany's best caffeine-infused brunches are at the Vancouver Street Cafe.

CHECKLIST: WESTERN AUSTRALIA

GETTING THERE
Air New Zealand flies direct from Auckland to Perth. airnz.co.nz

Please check the latest border restrictions in each state and territory before travelling, for more information visit australia.com