To World’s End, an Australian Road Trip of Discovery
DENPASAR ~ Bali-based adventurers who like to get behind the wheel of a car and discover natural wonders and culinary pleasures have a wealth of treasures to uncover in Western Australia’s geographically spectacular southwest wine and gourmet districts.
Only three hours from Perth – around the same as a drive from south Bali to Lovina or Ahmed, but many times further on wide, open roads – Western Australia’s southwest beckons the independent traveller seeking both sweeping landscapes and a taste of Australia’s great hospitality.
While a great many of Bali’s tourists come from Western Australia, expanded air links on the 3h 20 m route to Perth are an incentive for people in Bali to put aside five days or so, pick up a car at Perth airport and head to the ancient forests and caves, clean rivers and pristine beaches of southwestern Australia, knowing that fine food and wine will be plentiful along the way. And right now, in the southern spring, the region’s magic wildflower season infuses the forests with fabulous colours and heady scents.
Driving south from Perth, you first come across Mandurah, once a sleepy little holiday bolt-hole and fishing harbour but now a bustling and rapidly expanding town of more than 80,000 people with services and attractions to match, and plenty of places to stay.
Here you can dine next to multimillion-dollar yachts at the marina and take a boat tour of the canal system that shows you how Australians like to live – in a big house by the water with something powerful tied up at their jetty – and perhaps meet a dolphin or two along the way.
A 90-minute drive on from Mandurah brings you to the sleepy but well-serviced coastal resort town of Busselton which, along with nearby smaller towns within Geographe Bay, is a fine place to base yourself for a few days of concentrated regional exploration. Busselton itself has a long, flat beachside walkway, oceanfront resorts and cafés and, at 1,841 metres, the longest timber jetty in the Southern Hemisphere. (It must also be one of the longest in the making, taking 95 years to build from 1865.)
Busselton Jetty now houses an underwater observatory in which visitors can descend eight metres below sea level to view a thriving natural marine environment of more than 300 species, including vibrant corals. Divers and snorkelers are drawn to the shallow 8m seaward end of the jetty.
Dunsborough, a popular seaside town only 20 minutes drive from Busselton, gives access to walking trails, famous attractions such as Nigli Cave and the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse and to beautiful calm beaches known for their brilliant and clear turquoise waters with protected swimming and sailing – plus prime vantage points for whale watching. Chances are you will discover your own little section of deserted, pristine and protected beach.
Two special places close to Dunsborough might interest those in need of a little pampering. For wine tastings and a delicious lunch overlooking vineyards to the sea, from a European-style courtyard or an elevated deck, head to Wise winery. And for five-star accommodation in understated architecture and décor, all in beautiful natural surrounds, treat yourself to a night or two at the superbly positioned Bunker Bay Resort, which offers fine dining, glorious ocean and coastal views and a luxurious day spa. Close to the resort is Bunkers Café, for more casual eating right on the beach.
Those eager to hang ten will find fabulous waves at more than 40 nearby spots, including world-famous beaches such as Yallingup, an Aboriginal word meaning Place of Love, which seems to reflect this small town’s peaceful nature and rugged coastline, which provides secluded lagoons as well as crashing waves to challenge surfers from around the globe. Hikers can view stunning attractions such as the distinctively shaped Sugar-Loaf Rock and a wide range of plant life from part of the 135km cape-to-cape ridge-top walk from Cape Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin.
Those intent on some serious sampling of local wines can consider a myriad of themed coach tours to some of the 80 cellar doors and many specialty food outlets in the Margaret River wine region, but if you can persuade someone to be your designated driver (one of your party who will not be drinking alcohol), it may be much more fun just to follow your nose and find your own way around this delightful area.
On the 50km drive from Busselton to Margaret River, you’ll be drawn to many establishments, such as a protea flower farm that lures you with its brilliant blaze of red and yellow; cheese and brewing companies; the Candy Cow at nearby Cowaramup; a strawberry farm where you can pick your own punnets; and ceramics galleries. And of course a seemingly endless array of tempting wineries that often provide platters of yummy local produce and charming and enticingly positioned chalets and cottages.
Margaret River itself offers romantic accommodation, riverside in the forest and within an easy walk of the quaint township’s bustling centre with surf shops, glass studios, art galleries, a fudge factory, designer ice cream, hemp products such as clothing and oils, health-food stores, body treatments and a great range of locally produced goodies, including olive oils, jams and chutneys. This is a happening place and there’s some great al fresco dining in the town centre – so you can choose a prime spot for watching locals at work and tourists at play.
About 75 minutes drive from your Busselton base, through the historic town of Nannup and along an especially lonesome and heavily forested country road that gives you an eerie feeling of being alone in the world, you’ll cross One Tree Bridge, made from a single giant karri tree that was felled across the Donnelly River in 1904. Here, you are in the heart of the majestic karri and jarrah tall – tree country, and it’s worth stopping near One Tree Bridge to see the Four Aces – a perfectly straight row of 300-year-old karri trees.
Soon, you are in the regional centre of Manjimup, a town whose timber park and museum gives a fascinating insight into local logging heritage but which is newly famous for its cherries, chestnuts, truffles, marron farming (marron is a unique species of fresh-water crayfish), organic vegetables and avocados. The annual Cherry Festival this year is on December 12 and around that time, at a price, you can join a gourmet long-table lunch under the cherry trees.
Just out of town of you can visit scenic Fonty’s Pool, with covers nearly half a hectare and is fed by fresh spring water. It was originally created by the land’s Italian migrant owners, the Fontanini family, who pulled a tree across a creek to create a dam that soon provided a swimming and relaxation venue for local families and, as tourism increased, visitors from much further away.
Nearby is The Wine & Truffle Company, whose rich soils produce the sought-after French black truffle, which is exported to Europe and fetches the equivalent of Rp24.6 million (US$2,460) a kilogram. You can join a truffle hunt with dogs especially trained to sniff out the underground fungi in a 21-hectare orchard of hazelnut and oak trees, into which truffle spores have been injected. And you can sample truffle oil and honey.
Twenty minutes south of Manjimup, through canopies of towering trees, sits the pretty former timber-milling town of Pemberton. Here, you will find quiet forest walks, waterfalls, trout and marron farms, canoeing, picnic spots, a popular lavender and berry farm, woodcraft and other galleries, a timber museum and a historic movie house.
All that comes along with 50 wineries and boutique breweries such as Jarrah Jack’s, at which you can sample six original ales while overlooking a lake and vineyards to the forest.
Scattered through the region is a wide array of charming and secluded cottages and retreats with a choice of views to lakes, streams, rolling hills, valleys and forests and menus featuring local gourmet products.
Most visitors to Pemberton head to the famous 61-metre-tall Gloucester Tree, a karri that is one of the highest former fire lookouts in the world, where if you’re game enough (it’s quite safe really) you can climb up pegs stuck into the tree for views across many kilometres of forest to the dunes on the wild Indian Ocean coast.
Those with a taste for that sort of adventure will probably want to head the 60km further south to Windy Harbour, an informal holiday settlement on public land with a wild coastline, limestone cliffs, lighthouse lookout across the chill Southern Ocean and swimming, surfing and fishing on big, deserted beaches.
Here, where regular holidaymakers have over many decades rejected proposals to connect the settlement to mains electricity in favour of using kerosene and oil lamps (some have small generators) in order to discourage mass tourism and development, you can easily feel that you have reached the end of the earth.
Roads throughout Western Australia’s southwest are good and both natural and manmade tourist attractions are well sign-posted. Free maps and brochures are available at the region’s many Tourist Information Centres.
Three percent of Western Australia’s international tourists are from Indonesia. WA is Australia’s largest state by area (more than 2.5 million sq km) but has only 2.2 million people, more than a million of them in the capital city, Perth.
While 85 percent of WA’s population lives in the southwest, many Asian visitors to the area are overwhelmed by the big empty spaces and wide, vacant roads.
It’s all there for the taking. But a word of caution: avoid driving on country roads around dusk and dawn, prime-time for kangaroos grazing by the roadside to bound into the road, be blinded by your headlights and end up as roadkill.
The Bali Times travelled to Perth with AirAsia Indonesia, which now flies twice daily Denpasar-Perth. The self-drive motoring tour was arranged by Tourism Western Australia. The weather in September and October in the south-west is generally mild to warm during the day (low to mid-20s Celsius) but can be cool at night, especially away from the coast.Filed under: Travel & Culture