Saturday, March 29, 2008

Margaret River

If it’s surf you’re after, the coast South of Perth in Western Australia is a dream come true. And even if you’re not planning to dip a toe in the water, like myself (I’ve read too much about the blue-ringed octopus to tempt fate - For tips on first-aid, check out the wikipedia entry), Yallingup and Prevelly beaches were heaven on earth – blond, fine, sand and a sea as blue as the purest turquoise gem.

As we hadn’t planned to go to the Margaret River region at all, it was a real bonus to discover this wonderful part of the world. It’s within easy reach of Perth and the landscape is not completely alien. Somehow, we felt very at home there – the weather was lovely, hot, but not energy-sapping hot, and there was plenty to see without having to drive for 10 hours. There are plenty of vineyards around, so in some ways, it felt like being in France (apart from the snake exclusion fencing, of course). Very different from the bush we drove through North of Perth or from the desert outback around Alice Springs and Uluru.

We stayed in the town of Margaret River, which was quite disappointing. It was a one-street town, with a lot of noisy traffic (the main road goes right through it), the architecture is characterless, and the shops and restaurants were not particularly inspiring.

But the minute you leave town, you’re driving through enchanting countryside. The Caves road is the main drag where you’ll find all the wineries, where you can stop to taste wine or have a meal.

We had lunch at the Cullen winery (yes, the Irish name was the reason we picked this one, along with a mention of good food we read somewhere). We were not disappointed. As Brendan was driving, we didn’t try the wine, but the food was delicious. If you’re ever in Margaret River, don’t miss it. Brendan had the dahl dish, and I had a mixed platter, with cheeses, quiche, olives, baby octopus, sourdough bread and other bits and pieces. There was plenty in it and it was ideal for lunch – all perfectly cooked/prepared. And the setting was really serene – a few tables in the garden, under a big tree. And there was a big golden labrador who came slobbering to every table, just for a pat on the head (and a morsel, if given half a chance, I’m sure).

There are plenty of tourist attractions along the way, where you can taste wine, cheese, honey, etc. As our time there was limited, we decided to check out the beaches instead. In the morning, we stopped at Prevelly beach, which is the closest to Margaret River. We sat there for a good while, watching surfers doing their thing, and we also watched a wedding – strange place for a wedding, if you ask me, with the surfer dudes walking down the steps from the car park, doing a few yoga stretches on the beach and getting into the water to paddle towards the big wave straight ahead! The surfer dudes were not as young as you’d think, by the way. Most of the ones we saw were in their late thirties, early forties, I’d say (Nice bods, though!). The waves didn’t look that big in the distance, but when you see a surfer against it, you realise that they were a good 8-foot tall.

I can’t remember exactly at what beach we saw this, but there is actually a code for surfers – i.e. rules as to who can take the wave (e.g. whoever has been there the longest, whoever is closest to the peak, etc.), what direction to go (one goes left, one goes right), etc. I had never thought of this, but it makes good sense when you see how many surfers are out there waiting for the perfect wave!

In the afternoon, we headed up to Yallingup (it means "Place of love"!), where we had stopped the previous day. I had instantly fallen in love with Yallingup – it’s a gorgeous bay, with lovely yellow sand, just a few people around, the sea is an intense turquoise and it’s so quiet. I imagine that it gets busy at weekends and on holidays, as it’s only a 3-hour drive from Perth. There are a lot of expensive houses on the hill – probably mostly holiday homes. Apparently, members of the Australia cricket team have summer houses around here.

Have a look at houses for sale in Yallingup – There was a gorgeous one for sale a couple of days ago. It was a bit wacky, but very well finished It would be worth AU$1.375 million if it had a decent garden and sea views maybe!!:

There is a nice camp site (if we had had a campervan, we would have stayed here), and a luxury hotel, the Seashells Caves House Resort. Unfortunately, the hotel didn’t have any available rooms with sea views that day.

Check out for webcam views of Yallingup

We had planned to go to the Aboriginal Centre, but arrived too late – it closes around 4 I think. So, instead, we drove down the coast a bit more and stopped at a few lovely beaches – don’t know what they were called, and there were only a handful of people at each of these – perfect if you want a quiet spot. We had planned to go back to Prevelly beach, but found that the road was closed, due to a bush fire. I guess these are not uncommon in areas that are not managed by the Aboriginal fire management system. Our guide in Perth explained to us that the land has to be burnt at regular intervals, in order to regenerate it and ensure that some plants don’t grow too large. If these plants grow too big, the intensity of an accidental fire is such that it would cause major destruction. By keeping nature in check, they ensure that there is no such catastrophe. There is a lot of vegetation around the Margaret River coast, and I guess that this land is not burnt regularly. In a country like Australia, where droughts are common, the risk of fire is a lot higher than here, and I’d say it’s essential to manage the vegetation to prevent major fires in populated areas.

Margaret River (and Yallingup in particular) would definitely be on my list of places I'd like to go back to - we'll start saving now!

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