Australia's Been Hiding the Beachy Wine Region of Your Dreams
The name “Margaret River” is a catchall: It's a river, a town, and a region at the southwesternmost point of Australia. Despite the generality, tell any Australian you are “going down to Margs” and they will know precisely where you are heading. On the other hand, tell an American, and they might ask if Margaret River is nearer to Sydney or Melbourne, if they know it's in Australia at all.
Wine aficionados might recognize it as one of the continent’s better harvest regions, and maybe a surfer or two will have heard about the area’s breaks. But Margaret River is a part of the world where sheer remoteness has kept it somewhat under the radar. To get there from the U.S. entails taking a 14-plus-hour flight over the Pacific to Sydney, waiting for a five-hour flight to Perth, then driving three hours south, to Margaret River.
But thanks to Qantas’s new direct London-Perth route, launching this month, it will now be possible to fly 17 hours direct over the Indian Ocean, making it at least one connection closer and shaving off a couple of layover hours in the process. (Who knew a 17-hour flight would be “shortcut?”)
After finally making it to Perth, the three-hour drive south to Margaret River is extraordinary. Driving away from the city, you follow the coast and pass through suburbs that eventually give way to green pastures, red clay roads, and stately forests of massive jarrah trees. Packs of wild kangaroo bounce across the horizon, and in springtime, this is one of the best places on earth for wildflower spotting.
This place is idyllic, unspoiled and wild — in other words, it’s Australia the way you dreamt it would be. Here are a few of the highlights that make this remote destination worth crossing the globe.
Food & Wine in the Margaret River
Margaret River produces just 3 percent of Australia’s wine grapes, yet it accounts for 20 percent of Australia’s premium wine market. Most varieties thrive here thanks to a Mediterranean climate, but cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay are the region’s calling cards.
“We are very lucky here,” explains Sean Blocksidge, founder of the Margaret River Discovery Co., a boutique tour operator in the area. “The best way to describe it is that we have Bordeax’s ‘best years’ every single year.”
There are more than 200 wineries in the area ranging from massive estates to boutique vintners, and the Margaret River Wine Association is a good resource to navigate them all. If it’s wine you’re after, the best time to visit is either during harvest in March and April, or during the Gourmet Escape festival in November, which attracts award-winning chefs and sommeliers from around the world.
The food here is no less spectacular. Western Australia is known for pristine and abundant produce, and most wineries will have cellar doors or tasting rooms that are beautiful for lunch or dinner. Have one meal at one of the grande dames like Voyager or Leeuwin Estate, then another meal at one of the boutique wineries such as Amelia Park — that way you see the full range of winemaking operations in the area.
If you are traveling with children — or need a couple hours off between wine tastings — the region’s rich variety of sprawling limestone caves makes for a welcome detour. With some caves dating back 1 million years, there is much to see here, and exploring the caves channels the Western Australian sense of adventure and discovery.
Go to Jewel Cave to see arabesque displays of stalactites and stalagmites; Mammoth Cave for fossils and mind-bogglingly large chambers; and Lake Cave to watch light filter through spindly rock formations and reflect off an underground lake.
Connecting the Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin lighthouses in the north and south of Margaret River, respectively, the Cape to Cape Track is one of Australia’s great long-distance trails. Although it takes about five days to complete, there is much to see along the way, like towering Karri forests, wildflower meads, and craggy rock faces that tumble into the Indian Ocean.
If carrying your own bag is not your thing, operators such as AusWalk that will carry your luggage from stop to stop for you. And if a weeklong hike sounds like too much of a commitment, there are a host of smaller day hikes around that are no less scenic.
Drive just five miles west from the wineries in Margaret River and you’ll find yourself at some of the best surf breaks in the country. Most insiders will catch some waves at Surfer’s Point, then meander south towards the White Elephant Café for a flat white and avocado smash.
And best of all — this west-facing beach means that sun sets over the ocean, making this one of the country’s most scenic and memorable spots for die-hard surfers and spectators alike.