Marvelous Margaret River

Looking for a nature-filled, low-key, relaxing getaway from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong? Margaret River is the place. Fresh air, blue skies, expansive beaches, wholesome food and gorgeous vineyards — this region in Western Australia has it all. Bonus: There is no time difference from Hong Kong!

I’ve done this trip twice with my family for a two-week stay in December and both times the natural beauty of this area stunned. There are loads of ways to entertain the children and keep the grown-ups happy (did I mention the vineyards?). All the activities and sights are basically off two main roads that run through the area so, it couldn’t be easier to get around. While it is not superposh or trendy, the down-to-earth vibe is part of the appeal.

Cape Mentelle Vineyard

Logistics

Margaret River is located in the southwest corner of Australia, accessed via a flight to Perth and a three- or so hour drive south.

Cathay flies direct to Perth — the flight is nearly eight hours. From my experience, it is best to book a night in Perth on either end of your trip to avoid “drowsy” driving after the long flight.

The Perth airport is very easy to navigate and the car rental lot is within walking distance from the international terminal. We took a taxi (easily got a van-taxi from the queue) to the hotel and picked up the rental car the next morning. We rented a “people mover” from   Hertz — all very convenient.

Perth Hotels:

Pan Pacific Perth: This hotel was inexpensive and had connecting rooms. It was well located in Perth — about 20 minutes from the airport. We stayed there on both ends of our trip and learned the hard the way that there are renovated and non-renovated floors. The “old” rooms that we stayed in our first night felt like a rundown motel, though spacious. The “new” rooms we had on our last night were clean and modern. Another thing to keep in mind: We requested a rollaway bed and they quoted a charge of $70 AUD (!). We skipped it, asked for an extra pillow and duvet and made a kid-size bed out of the couch in the room, which worked perfectly well for a little one!

Duxton Hotel: We stayed here four years ago and it was nice, clean, convenient and absolutely fine for a short stay. Also well positioned in the city.

The Peninsula:  Stay in one of the best locations in Perth -situated on over an acre of prime riverfront land, this location offers stunning views of Perth’s city skyline and Swan River that are unparalleled anywhere else in the city.  Fully self-contained apartments with a 24-hour front desk, free parking, free wi fi, bike hire on the premises, easy access to the city, freeway north and south by car, and access to the city by ferry.  It is also walking distance to the Mends St shopping precinct and to the Zoo.  Use promo code “HongKongMoms” and save 10% off a 1-2 days stay or 15% off a 3+ day stay.

Sunset in Margaret River

Where to stay in Margaret River: To capture the true laid-back feel of this trip, the holiday house is the way to go. There are a few beachside resorts like Smith’s Beach Resort and Pullman Bunker Bay that are worth looking into if that is more your style.

Stayz: We’ve had great luck using Stayz to find home rentals in Australia. This website seems to have a broad range of properties in varied locations in the region. Note: There was a recent security breach on this site so, it is wise to contact the home owner directly as well.

Private Properties: The houses rented through this site are lovely and seem luxe — but are limited and get booked up quite fast.

Driving down Caves Road

Roadtrip: The drive from Perth to Margaret River is relatively straightforward and well mapped. Depending on which town you stay in, the drive could take from approximately two to three-and-a-half hours. After breakfast at the hotel we loaded up and drove down, stopping part-way for lunch in Mandurah. We had burgers at “healthy” chain Grill’d. While the food was not the best, there was a bit of outdoor seating, activity-packs for the kids and it was efficient. The town of Busselton would also be good for a midpoint lunch break.

Simmo’s: A detour to this ice cream institution in Dunsborough is a must for the kids. There is a cute playground (even a resident emu) and everyone was thrilled to get out of the car and have a treat and run around.

Stocking up:

Coles: Once you get to your holiday house, it’s best to make a mad dash to Coles, the vast supermarket, which stocks nearly everything you need. There is a liquor/wine store attached.

The Larder: For fancier nibbles, The Larder has high-end cheese, crackers and prepared food among their gourmet assortment.

Toyworld, Hopscotch, & Sportspower: Swing by these shops in town for balls, games, crayons, coloring books and everything you need to keep the kids occupied in the house.

Dunsborough: If it is more convenient to your holiday house, the busy town center of Dunsborough has a wide range of shopping options — think groceries, liquor, baked goods, clothing and gifts.

Cape-to-Cape path in Prevelly

Things to do in Margaret River 

The Margaret River tourist website is loaded with awesome, extremely useful information. Pick up a hardcopy (or a few) of the regional map as soon as you get down there — it is all you need and you will use it constantly.

Surfing on Redgate Beach

Surfing: Mom, dad and kids alike had a blast surfing with the Margaret River Surf School. The lessons, held at gorgeous Redgate Beach, were (relatively) easy and the whole family went at the same time. Though the water can be quite rough, hardworking coach Jarrad Davies (who couldn’t be nicer) made sure everyone was safe — and got the whole family up at least once! Note: In our case, the kids had a much easier time surfing than the adults!

Beach fishing in Dunsborough

Fishing: We had a lovely experience fishing on the beach with Access Fishing. We met the company’s owner, Justin (who seems to have unlimited patience!), on a flat, quiet beach with crystal-clear water in Dunsborough. Justin brought all the gear and taught us casting and the like. The kids were especially enthralled with the lesson on how to filet our catch! Added bonus was a visit by a blue crab and a stingray sighting. After fishing we headed to a delicious lunch at Eagle Bay Brewery (see details below) followed by a frolic on the stunning Bunker Bay Beach.

Up close and personal with a peacock at Sunflowers Animal Farm

Sunflowers Animal Farm: The kids adored meeting the residents of this local petting zoo. It is a manageable walk around the property and with a bucket of feed in your hand, it is not hard to get the attention of the animals. The best part was playing with the baby kangaroos. They sell Simmo’s ice cream, which the kids can enjoy at the shaded playground. Don’t forget to bring hand-sanitzer!

A ride through the bush

Horseback Riding: Seeing the magnificent landscape from the back of a horse is an unforgettable experience. My children wanted to go horseback riding everyday. Jester’s Flat offers various options — we particularly loved the sunset ride, with loads of kangaroo sightings and the warm bread and olive oil snack served post-trot (plus, a glass of crisp wine for the adults). The Humble Horse actually has an all-day riding camp for the little ones! Perfect for when mom and dad want to enjoy a leisurely winery lunch (we went to Wills Domain, details below).

The “suspended table” of Lake Cave

Caves: The region boasts many fascinating natural caves, complete with stalactites and stalagmites. Each one is a bit different and the type of tour ranges, i.e. length of time and physical difficulty. We did Lake Cave this trip — relatively quick guided tour, not too scary and pretty manageable for kids (though there are steep stairs) yet breathtaking. Combine this with a walk through the amazing Boranup Karri Forest and an excursion to Contos Spring beach (see below).

A walk though the Karri trees

Boranup Karri Forest: You will be in awe when you drive through this unique forest of Karri trees. The light shining though the branches is beautiful. Pull over at a lookout point and wander through the paths. It is what fairy tales are made of! Be careful when crossing Caves Road — it is winding and cars drive very fast!

Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse

Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse: It is worth a drive down south to the tip of Margaret River to see this glorious relic and the spot where the Southern and Indian Oceans meet. Skip the internal tour of the lighthouse and pay the fee just to walk around the grounds — the views are amazing. Don’t let the kiddies wander off because apparently there are poisonous snakes in the grass! After checking out the scene, hop back in the car and drive two minutes to the Old Water Wheel. It is a great place to play on the rocks and take pictures. In fact, we brought sandwiches from home (not a lot of lunch options nearby) and picnicked up on the big, red boulders. On our way back up to Margaret River, we stopped for a splash around with the stingrays at Hamlin Bay (see below).

The herd at the Yallingup Shearing Shed

Yallingup Shearing Shed: Watching sheep being sheared, feeding the baby lambs and learning the process of making wool is a kid favorite. Tack this activity on to a trip to swimmable Smith’s Beach or maybe lunch at the nearby Swings & Roundabouts winery (see below).

Outdoor movie at Cape Mentelle

Outdoor Movie at Cape Mentelle: This is must-do. Watching a film outdoors in a gorgeous vineyard is incredible. Go all out with the cushy bean bags, blankets, dinner and lovely wine. Be sure to look up and take in the intensely starry sky when the sun goes down.

Margaret River Farmer’s Market: Get yourself to the farmer’s market on Saturday morning to stock up on specialities and produce for your holiday house. The market has a very bohemian vibe mind you, but we found great produce, amazing cheese from Cambray Sheep Cheese (highly recommend the Havarti), fresh baguettes and huge meringue cookies from the Margaret River Bakery, as well as meat for our evening barbecues.

Gnarabup Beach

Beaches

Margaret River has a seemingly endless array of incredible beaches, each with their own unique characteristics — from wild, rough waves and rocky shores to pristine, white sand, and calm tides. Below are the handful we’ve visited:

Gnarabup: We loved this beach for exploring and hanging out — but found it a bit rough for swimming. There is a great, shaded playground nearby, a gorgeous jogging path and fun, little beachside “brekky” spot called The White Elephant (flies were an issue though).

Rough rips at Surfer’s Point

Surfer’s Point and Rivermouth: These spots are next to Gnarabup. Surfer’s Point is fun for watching the surfers and kite-surfers and climbing on the massive rocks, also a popular sundowners spot. In the day, kids can splash around in the actual Margaret River that runs into the ocean there.

The local crowd at Hamlin Bay

Hamlin Bay: The highlight of this white-sand beach is the friendly stingrays that swim up near the shore. Worth a visit but note it gets hot and there is not much around to offer escape from the sun. Also, we saw a very dangerous Common Brown Snake on this beach!

Bunker Bay Beach

Bunker Bay: This beautiful beach is a great for swimming, surfing, and playing on the rocks. Bunker’s Beach Cafe is seaside, but was closed when were there. Instead, we had lunch at the rollicking Eagle Bay Brewing (see below) nearby before spending a relaxed afternoon here.

Contos Spring

Contos Spring: After our walk through the Boranup Karri Forest, we drove to Contos Spring and “hiked” down to the beach. A gorgeous spot for exploring and climbing around the rocks. But the waves were huge and strong — we had to keep a sharp eye on the kids.

Smith’s Beach

Smith’s Beach: This jewel of Yallingup is a popular family beach, white sand and crystal-clear blue water. You can grab a coffee and snacks at the nearby Lamont’s Smith Beach or have a pasta lunch at the highly-rated Barnyard 1978 (closed when we where there).

Gorgeous rows of grapes

Wineries/Breweries/Restaurants

Most restaurants are open for lunch only and things shut down early around town. Dinners are typically spent at home with wine and cheese (of course) followed by a barbecue. Lunch is bustling at the good spots and bookings are suggested for the vineyard restaurants. Some wineries are nice for a quick tasting and purchase, while others have lawns and playgrounds for the kids to have a romp and you can take your time.

Leeuwin Estate: This expansive vineyard is one of the cornerstones of Margaret River. The wine is great, as is the food at the restaurant. There is a big, green lawn for the kids to run around on while you enjoy the wine. (If you become a fan, this wine is sold at Marketplace by Jason’s in Hong Kong.)

Wills Domain Winery

Wills Domain: We indulged in a long lunch at this gorgeous vineyard while our kids were at horseback-riding camp. The setting was stunning (request a table outside), the wines were delicious, yet we found the food was a tad overwrought and rich.

Hay Shed Hill: This is the place-to-be for lunch (and rightly so), therefore, book ahead. If you can’t get into the pretty restaurant for tapas and pizza, stop by for a tasting anyway — the wines are very nice, there is a small art gallery and a cute gifts to buy.

Vasse Felix: This high-end winery has a lot going on — tastings, tours, restaurant, and art gallery. The thoughtful staff gave our kids activity packs to keep them occupied while we sipped their luxe wines.

Pierro: We loved the wine from this hidden gem. Good for a tasting and a stock-up for the house.

Cartwheels at Cullen

Cullen: Another of the more well-known vineyards, Cullen is picturesque. The children had fun investigating the “biodynamic”, spiral garden on the property.

Voyager Estate: This spectacular “European-style” property also has a pretty “kitchen” garden, used for their well-recieved restaurant.

Eagle Bay Brewing Co.: This big restaurant and brewery was jam packed when we were there. All was good though for a short wait with crayons for kids, wine for mom and beer for dad. We sat outside at a picnic and the kids ran around the lawn and garden. The menu was pizzas, burgers and the like but very tasty and fresh and well made.

Cheeky Monkey Brewery & Cidery: Like Eagle Bay Brewing, Cheeky Monkey is very popular. There is live music, a big playground for the kids, outdoor seating and a menu to please all. Great option for a casual family lunch.

Swings & Roundabouts: Location-wise this restaurant works well for lunch with the kids if you are in Yallingup. The picnic-table seating is fun though it is a little run down. More pizza. The kids can burn off energy on the tree-swing.

Morries: Hit up this relaxed, modern restaurant if you want to grab lunch or dinner (one of the few places open late) in the Margaret River town. Wide-ranging menu from barley salad to burgers and fun cocktails. Kids’ menu too.

Where the Southern and Indian Oceans meet

Things to Keep in Mind

The sun is STRONG. Load up everyone with sunblock all the time!

The surf is also STRONG. Look for the signs that detail where swimming (or not) is appropriate on the beach and keep an eye on both the bigs and littles.

The flies are a huge pest. There does not seem to be much you can do to avoid them. Outdoor dining can be hindered. They seem particularly attracted to black Lululemon workout clothes!

If you are squeamish about spiders and other little insects, you may not want to book a house in the “bush”. While supposedly the local spiders are not harmful, they are abundant.

It is so fun to see kangaroos around — but beware, they are all over the place and they often hop out onto the road! I had a few near-misses driving. There also seemed to be accidents caused by kangaroo “rubbernecking”!

Kangaroo feeding at Sunflowers

Jenny Levin is a freelance writer and the Editorial Director of Hong Kong Moms. She’s lived in Hong Kong for nearly eight years with her husband and three children.

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