From forests of creepy gnomes to giant trees you can climb, the south west corner of WA is gaining momentum as one of Australia’s rising tourist destinations, says Jennifer Ennion. Here’s why you’ll want to visit.
Home to one of Australia’s gourmet food epicentres, Margaret River, it’s no surprise culinary cleverness has spread to other parts of the south west. The Alkaline Cafe is leading the way in Albany thanks to health-conscious owners who’ve created a menu around sugar-free, raw and organic ingredients. The vegan lasagne with eggplant, pumpkin and silverbeet is a popular lunchtime choice, as is the ‘nourish bowl’ of kale, avocado, buckwheat, quinoa and poached egg. This is also the place to grab a choc beet, turmeric or matcha latte and while away the afternoon.
Further west, you’ll enter truffle country and the best place to indulge in this delight is at The Truffle & Wine Co., Manjimup. The 53-hectare estate is the largest producer of superior black Perigord truffles in the world and includes a vineyard, cellar door and casual fine-dining restaurant. You can’t go wrong with the house-made potato gnocchi and it’d be a sin to skip the moreish truffle ice-cream.
As you reach the north-western fringes of Australia’s South West you’ll come across one of the region’s most anticipated dining options, Yarri Restaurant and Bar in Dunsborough. With celebrated chef Aaron Carr (previously from Vasse Felix) at the helm, Indigenous-inspired Yarri has been a hit with tourists and locals since opening in February (2018) – and rightly so. There’s a strong focus on West Australian produce here, with marron complemented by native saltbush, and desert lime and wattleseed accompanying kangaroo. Sit at the kitchen table if you want to be among the action.
It’s not only the food that’s luring people to this far corner of Australia. The fairy-tale forests are hard to resist and offer a great contrast to the renowned surf breaks and white-sand beaches. For the ultimate forest bathing experience, head to the Valley of the Giants near Walpole. Here you can wander through the canopy of rust-hued tingle trees on a 600-metre platform that reaches a maximum height of 40 metres above the valley.
If that’s not enough of a challenge, make your way to the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree, one of three fire lookout trees in the Pemberton area. The tallest of the trio, the Dave Evans soars 75 metres above the ground and brave travellers can scale the steel reo bars spiralling up its trunk. First pegged in 1988, climbers are rewarded at the top with 360-degree views across Warren National Park.
If you’re travelling with children, or you have a fascination with all things quirky, Gnomesville makes a fabulous stop. Popular with tourists passing through the Ferguson Valley, Gnomesville is easily spotted on the side of the road due to the impressive population of around 5000 gnomes. Weaving around trees and shrubs, and snaking down narrow dirt paths, this growing village is a fun, albeit odd, attraction.
Second only to the scrumptious food, the beaches of Australia’s South West are another big drawcard. Search #greenspool on Instagram and you’ll understand why millennials and Gen-Yers are heading in droves to the cool coastal town of Denmark. Visit on a calm weather day and the ocean rock pool is Insta-worthy. Around the corner you’ll also find Elephant Rocks, a collection of boulders smoothed by the sea and wind. Although it’s difficult to see how they got their name, the rocks still make for a pretty pitstop.
The region’s most notable beaches, however, are in Margaret River, with Gracetown, Prevelly and Yallingup all chilled-out havens for surfers. The ocean can be wild here and reef breaks and sharks will keep your senses heightened, but there’s no denying these beaches are among the best in the country. A cool way to experience them is by joining Margaret River Adventure Co. on Australia’s only ‘coasteering’ tour, which involves hopping, scrambling and jumping off rocks as waves pummel the coastline. It’s bound to get your heart racing and show you a different side of Margaret River.
With so much exploring to do you’ll want to return to a stylish, comfortable hotel and five-star Smiths Beach Resort is hard to beat. Located opposite the resort’s namesake beach, it makes for a great base to see the best attractions in and around Margaret River. There is a large choice of accommodation, from family-friendly ‘beach shacks’ to four-bedroom beach houses. There is also a resort-style pool, on-site gourmet deli and cafe, and Lamont’s Restaurant, with bestselling cookbook author and chef Kate Lamont in the kitchen. To make the most of your stay, check in with the ladies at Experience Smith, a concierge service that pieces together personal itineraries and takes travellers to the area’s best wineries, breweries, restaurants and beaches.