We were thrilled to return to Australia. This is our 4th visit but our first to the west coast. We wanted to see Perth and explore the Margaret River wine region. It’s springtime down under and it’s been refreshing to enjoy some cooler temperatures and low humidity. One day, we even had to break out our jackets as the highs only reached into the low 60’s. Australia is a pretty big continent and WA is fairly isolated. This raises the cost for most things as they need to be imported and thus it is fairly expensive. As an example a pint of beer was $11 at a local tavern. Still, it felt good to be in a western country again where English is the primary language and the food is much more familiar.
Margaret River, Leeuwin Naturaliste Park, Lake Cave, Boranup Karri Forest, Perth, Freemantle & King’s Park. Driving through the countryside is fairly pleasant in WA. The traffic’s not too bad and there’s a mixture of trees, fields, meadows, bush, vineyards, coastline, cattle and sheep. We saw a few kangaroos but not many. There were a lot of pretty wildflowers still in bloom along the roads and hiking trails.
The coastline is beautiful with both rugged rocky areas and white sand beaches. There are a lot of caves in WA and we toured one of them (Lake Cave), which was both fun and informative.
The Boranup Karri Forest was eerily cool. Karri trees are only found in WA and they grow to be 600 years old. Entering the forest is rather breathtaking as you feel like you’re entering an enchanted forest. Margaret River was a cozy town where you can walk to everything. It’s also worth mentioning that WA seems to have the most tenacious, pesky flies that we’ve ever encountered. They don’t bite. They’re just annoying as hell as once one or two of them have found you, they’re relentless in buzzing you and trying to land and crawl on you.
Rich got another horse racing fix while we were in town as they were broadcasting the Melbourne Cup known as “The Race that stops a Nation”. It’s akin to the Kentucky Derby with lots of parties. Interestingly, the race is run on the 1st Tuesday of every November and it’s a public holiday in the state of Victoria where Melbourne is located. Bets could be placed in the local taverns. Rich proved that he’s equally inept at picking winners Down Under as he bet 4 different horses to win (for just $1 each) in the 24 horse field and none of them hit the board. It was exciting and fun just the same. Freemantle is about 30 minutes southeast of Perth and the original port city in WA. It retains a lot of the original architecture and is a quaint area to walk around, browse, shop, eat and drink.
Perth was a clean modern city with a lot of waterways. Its best to have a car to get around as there’s a lot of urban sprawl. We liked what we saw. Nearby King’s Park included a Botanical Garden and spectacular views of the city skyline and waterways.
We moved around a lot for a variety of reasons. We started out in a motel aptly named Vintages Accommodations in Margaret River but felt it was overpriced. In hindsight, it had the best Internet service of any of our WA stays. We next tried AirBNB to book a room within a private residence where we stayed with a local woman named Ruth, who had 2 cats and 5 chickens. It was a little awkward sharing someone’s house with them but we could have made this work for a longer stay except that she had no A/C and no Internet service. Next, we moved onto the Margaret River Resort (MRR), which was sort of a combination Hotel/Motel. The room was fine and the location was great as it was directly across from the “Shire” of Margaret River Recreation Center where we purchased a 1week pass so that we could use their excellent fitness center. While the MRR had Wifi, the service was expensive and of poor quality and only supported one device at a time. We left the Margaret River area to spend some time in Perth and used some points to stay at the Hyatt Regency. This was another fine Hyatt property that we enjoyed with the exception of, once again, poor Internet service. In case you’re wondering, the reason the Internet is so important to us is that we rely heavily upon it to research and book all of our travel and to figure out what we’d like to see and do in an area. We’ve become quite dependent on it and feel somewhat lost without it.
Food and Drink:
When we arrived, we immediately headed for the Margaret River wine region, which is about 275 kilometers south of Perth (a 3 hour drive). They’re known for their Chardonnay’s and Cabernet Sauvignon’s. We tasted a lot of wines while we were there and frankly, we were disappointed. Of course, we found a few wines that we loved but they were few and far between and pricey ($85 – $130). Those are out of our price range as we’re usually looking for more affordable, value wines. The good news is that, unlike California, tastings are free and the staff were enthusiastic, knowledgeable and disappointed when we chose to sample less than their full array of a dozen or more wines that they usually offered. The 2 wineries that stood out from the crowd were Voyager and Woodlands.
While the wine fell short of our expectations, the food more than made up for it. Many of the wineries also had restaurants and we’d heard that they’re well known for their food. We had a late lunch at the “Knee Deep in Margaret River” winery and the food was outstanding. They served a unique free-range chicken dish that was similar to having a filet mignon of the tastiest and juiciest chicken that we’ve ever had. We find ourselves now addicted to Thai food and Margaret River came through with a Thai restaurant where we got our fill of Red and Massaman Curries. We also had a very authentic Italian dinner in Perth at CaffeItalia where we enjoyed the best Vegetarian Pizza that we’ve ever had.
We also had a lot of very good seafood dishes at several restaurants with the Mussels in Chili sauce at the Mussel Bar in Freemantle being quite tasty.
We made it all the way throughout Asia without the need to rent a car. That all changed when we arrived in OZ as Australia is often called. We rented a car and relied on it for all of our transportation needs within WA. We logged close to 1,000 km by the time we turned the car in. They drive on the opposite side of the road down here and have lots of Roundabouts, which require that you pay close attention to select the appropriate exit. Signage is good and we rely on Google maps on an iPad mini to help guide us and keep us on track.
We’d like to thank Liz, who’s son is the Chef at Arimia Winery. We met Liz on our Sea Caves trip in Phuket, Thailand. We stopped to meet his son but it was his day off. Nevertheless, the staff provided numerous recommendations on places to visit, eat and drink including “Knee Deep” that were spot on. Thanks Liz & Arimia!
For Your Amusement:
There are a few things that are different here. They consistently check credit card signatures. Rich is carrying Elizabeth’s Chase Sapphire Credit Card as it has the best reward points and no foreign transaction fees. Unfortunately, Rich hasn’t learned how to forge Elizabeth’s signature yet and he’s had a couple of charges rejected when Elizabeth wasn’t by his side. You won’t find brewed coffee here, just espresso drinks. In such cases, we’d normally order an “Americano”, which is a shot of espresso or two with hot water added. However, we’ll just get a puzzled expression if we order an Americano. In Australia, it’s called a “Long Black”.
“Knee Deep in the Margaret River” where we enjoyed an unforgettable lunch in a picturesque setting.
Next Up: Southern Australia…a return to Adelaide and the Barossa Wine Region where we already know the wine is outstanding.