Boasting the combination of breathtaking coastal scenery, famous surf beaches, and over 40 world-class wineries, it's hardly surprising thatMargaret River has become such a popular tourist destination. 280 kilometres from Perth, the Margaret River township is centrallypositioned halfway between Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin on the Bussell Highway. It's a laid-back community consisting not only of surfers and wine makers, but many celebrated artists, whose work is showcased in numerous galleries and studios. Australia's largestcollection of birds of prey is also on display at the Eagles HeritageRaptor Wilderness Centre.
On the western side edge of town, the sensational beaches along the Indian Ocean attract the world's best surfers, as well as those dreaming of owning that title. Experienced riders head for the impressive breaks at Suicides, Gnarabup, and Redgate, while beginners (lessons are available) develop their style on the tamer surf at Rivermouth. Backed by a splashing of the area's dramatic coastline, the more sheltered beaches of Prevelly and Gracetown are favoured among swimmers and sunbathers.
If you're not in Margaret River to surf the narley left and right handers, your probably here to sample some chardonnay. The surroundingvineyards form one of Australia's premier wine producing regions, most of which are open daily for complimentary tastings. There are several wineries to the south of town within walking distance, though most are clustered together around Caves Road twenty five kilometres to the north. The best way to visit these without the worry of breathalysers, is via one of the many wine tours operating out of Margaret River.
Following the scenic Caves Road further north of wineries, Yallingup is tiny holiday town set on the collar of Cape Naturaliste. Thetown's spectacular coastline which is worshipped by surfies, is equallywell known for it's magnificent limestone caverns. Ngilgi Cave is openfor intriguing, self-guided tours daily.
Close by on the other side of the Cape, Dunsborough is another pleasant coastal town boasting a series great beaches. On the westernoutskirts, Caves Road continues to offer fantastic views as it travels to the tip of Cape Naturaliste, allowing access to the gorgeousbeaches of Meelup, Bunker Bay, and Eagle Bay. At the right time of year, the lookouts above the beaches provide the perfect vantage pointfor viewing migrating southern right and humpback whales. In town, the thriving local art and craft scene is on display in a number of galleries, as well as a colourful market held on the second Saturday ofevery month. Both Dunsborough and Yallingup also lie within close proximity the Margaret River wineries, providing various accommodation alternatives.
Offering a great base for touring the vineyards as well, Busselton is the largest and oldest town in the Margaret River area. Enticingly set on the broad shores of Geographe Bay and the pretty Vasse River, the town has become a popular holiday destination, especially among Perthites seeking a relaxing weekend. Apart from lazing about on the beaches of the bay, or taking a walk or train ride on the southern hemisphere's longest timber jetty (2 kilometres), Busselton's main attractions are it's Oceanarium and the maritime museum contained within the Nautical Lady Entertainment Centre. Both are located on theland end of the jetty.
The scenery below the Margaret River township is just a beautiful as itis to the north. Back on Caves Road travelling south en-route to Augusta, it's not long before the road begins winding through the towering karri forests of Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park. Although the forests are nothing short of stunning, the park's most revered features are the 350 or so limestone caves scattered throughout it's expanses. Four caves are open to the public, two of which lie less than25 kilometres from Margaret River. The Cave Works Eco Centre at theentrance to Lake Cave makes the obvious place to start, providing allnecessary information as well as a modern exhibit which explains howthe caves were formed. Close by, Mammoth Cave contains amazing fossil remains of an ancient relative of the wombat. At the other end of thepark less than twenty kilometres from Augusta, the Moondyne and JewelCaves are also well worthy of exploration.
Augusta is Australia's most south-western town on the lee sideof Cape Leeuwin. A deservedly popular tourist destination, the townshipis gracefully set on the slopes of Hardy Inlet, overlooking the point where the Blackwood River empties into Flinders Bay. Although the areaboasts fine swimming and surfing beaches, ideal fishing conditions, and close proximity to the wineries and caves, most visitors come to Augusta with the hope of spotting a Humpback, Southern Right, or PygmyBlue. Large numbers of whales migrate through the surrounding watersfrom late May to October each year, putting on a brilliant display justof the coast. During this time, those that embark on one of the many whale-watching cruises are in for an unforgettable experience. From land, you can watch these magnificent beasts in action from many parts of the town, though the best vantage point is the historic lighthouse on the tip of Cape Leeuwin. From here you can also view the area's spectacular coastline, as well as the intersection of the Indian and Southern Oceans.
The Southern Forests
Travelling east and inland from Augusta, the roads wind their waythrough some of the most incredible forests found anywhere in theworld. Immense tracts of towering karri and jarrah trees (up to 90metres tall and 300 years old) create a wilderness that could only be described as priceless. Although an increasing number of small nationalparks are being established to protect these unique forests, many are still susceptible to a local multimillion dollar logging industry.
Manjimup is the commercial centre of the southern forestsregion, depending as much on agriculture as it does on timber. Manyattractions lie in the surrounding farmlands, including wineries, nutfarms, historic cottages, and wildlife parks to name just a few. Asmall enclave of enormous karri trees known as the Four Aces is alsoworth a look. In town, the main attractions and visitors centre are housed within the Manjimup Regional Timber Park.
Deeper into the hardwood wilderness south of Manjimup, Pembertonis a pretty little timber town filled with interesting art and craft outlets and historical displays. Fortunately, most of it's surrounding forest is now protected, encompassed by the Gloucester, Brockman, Warren, and Beedelup National Parks. The bush walking within the parks is nothing short of extraordinary, and the Karri Forest Discovery Centre in the town's old school building, provides all the necessary information. The eco and adventure companies touring the forests, onlyadd to the experience.
A less strenuous way to see the forests while soaking in the atmosphere of a by-gone era at the same time, is by alighting the scenic Pemberton Tramway. Circa 1907 trams travel daily through the glorious hardwood country between Pemberton and Northcliffe. In Northcliffe, there are more galleries and historical displays to paruse through, and the adjacent Forest Park is another fine bushwalking area. 29 kilometres directly south of Northcliffe, WindyHarbour is a tiny seaside town offering access to the awesome coastal cliffs of D'Entrecasteaux National Park.
Travelling from Manjimup of Northcliffe, the South Western Highwaypasses through the Shannon National Park en-route to the historictownship of Walpole. Known as The Great Forest Drive, it is more than worthy of it's name, and should not be missed. Walpole marks the point where the forests meet the ocean, lying on the shores ofNornalup Inlet. The grand eucalypt forests surrounding the town are protected by the 180 square kilometre Walpole-Nornalup National Park. The parks biggest drawcard is the Valley of the Giants, famous for it's Tree Top Walk. A 600 metre long boardwalk takes visitors up to 40 metres from the forest floor, allowing a rare perspective of this wondrous wilderness.