South-West Mosaic – Western Australia tour
I hadn’t given much thought to the title of my impending trip. The South-West Mosaic was to be a drive through the Western Australian countryside, starting and ending in Perth. As I neared the completion of the 12-day journey through some spectacular natural landscapes, it dawned on me that this was the perfect way of describing such a diverse journey.
Like the well-known artwork, this trip was indeed a combination of small pieces, blending the harsh, remote land of outback Western Australia with the postcard-perfect scenes of the southern coastlines. From ghost towns to gold mining towns, beaches, forests, salt lakes and big cities, we covered 3,342 kilometres of Australian terrain and saw some of the best things to see and do in Western Australia.
- Perth to Hyden
- Hyden to Kalgoorlie
- Kalgoorlie to Lake Ballard
- Kalgoorlie to Esperance
- Esperance to Albany
- Albany to Bunker Bay
- Margaret River to Fremantle
- Fremantle to Perth
Kings Park and Botanical Gardens Perth -Western Australia
Visitors flock to Western Australia for the wildflower season, something I had heard of but not considered it would ever be a reason to visit. Wildflower season is a big deal though and I soon got to see why.
Starting in the north of Western Australia around June each year, the blooming wildflowers spread their colour across the outback regions, making their way down south.
Through the expansive Wheat Belt, into Perth and right down to the southernmost parts of Western Australia, the oftentimes dry looking land is dotted with pops of colour.
It was, therefore, fitting that our Scenic journey kicked off with a visit to the incredible Kings Park and Botanical Garden. Sitting high above the compact city of Perth, Kings Park covers 400 hectares of preserved native bushland and has one of the best views in the city.
At this time of year, the Spring Festival and the associated flowers bring a multitude of visitors. Other times, the 3000 or so botanical species in the botanical gardens also attract many people. The site is also a memorial to Western Australian soldiers who fought in the world wars.
Commemorative plaques at the bases of the trees and the State War Memorial that takes centre stage in the park highlight this. The Cenotaph, dedicated to those who fought in World War One, is now the location for the annual ANZAC Day dawn service.
Kings Park is one of the most spectacular park areas I’ve seen. With its expansive gardens peppered with grand trees, it’s the perfect place for a picnic or some general rest and relaxation. It’s also a spot occupied by bands during the summer when the crowds can sit in a natural amphitheatre and chill out.
While you are here don’t miss the giant boab tree. Usually only found in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, the boab (also commonly called a bottle tree) in Kings Park has an interesting back story. Initially located in the eastern parts of the Kimberley, it was in the way of development.
The importance of the boabs to the Western Australian culture and history saw an action put into place that had never been seen or done before. Over a six-day period and a distance of 3,200, the 750-year-old giant boab was removed and transported to Perth in 2008.
Tip: The city of Perth operates free public transport from the airport to the city, throughout the city and up to Kings Park.
York Western – Australia
From Perth, we joined the Great Eastern Highway and headed towards York, Western Australia’s first inland town and one of the oldest. A constant companion of this part of the journey was the Golden Pipeline, a 530-kilometre long pipe that runs from Perth to Kalgoorlie.
Designed by engineer C. Y. O’Connor, it was an innovation built ahead of its time towards the end of the 1890s. The Gold Rush of the 1890s in Western Australia had created boomtowns in the outback, but they were a long way from water sources.
The pipeline was therefore created to deliver water to these towns. Despite being ridiculed and even ostracised for this development, the pipeline was a success and it continues to form part of the overall water delivery strategy for Western Australia today. Many additions to the original pipeline have meant that it can service more towns than Mr O’Connor would have ever imagined.
The wide streets and historical buildings that greet you on the main street of York integrate seamlessly with the banks of the Avon River. While you are here, head down to the beautiful tree-lined river and go for a walk along the dedicated trail.
Take some time to wander the local stores where many reflect the pace and the products of a bygone era. The York Motor Museum is located on the main street also and is worthy of a visit. So too is the lolly shop selling all manner of sweet treats you won’t find elsewhere.
Back on the bus after a quick but lovely lunch break in York, the landscapes are ever-changing. During this time of year, the fields come alive with the bright yellow flowers of the canola crops.
In some parts, they are starting to fade, but I’m thankful for being able to see them in their current golden glory. Black tree trunks, the ubiquitous grass trees and rocky streams all combine with the fields of wheat and barley into setting the scene for our drive through the Wheat Belt.
Tour director John, a veteran of the tourism industry and Adam, the best bus driver I’ve ever known were a wealth of knowledge on this trip. From start to finish, they imparted their local knowledge of each of the areas we visited. This knowledge also allowed them to add in some new items to the itinerary, to ensure that guests get to experience as much as they can on their trip.
Example of this included our stops at the Rabbit-Proof Fence. The Rabbit-Proof Fence is legendary in Australia, having been built to protect the Western Australian agricultural industry from the scourge of rabbits and associated disease.
There were three fences built across a six-year period. At their completion in 1907, they covered 3,256 kilometres. The first fence, 1,833 kilometres long, was the longest unbroken fence in the world at the time.
Corrigan – Western Australia
The “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” town of Corrigan achieves its notoriety in an unusual way. Back in 1974, a local buried his faithful dog in an area just outside the town. Others noticed this and began following suit until it became a dedicated spot to bury their pets. Today visitors stop to pay homage and check the quirky spot out, anchored by an impressive stone statue at the front.
The dog theme runs strongly throughout the country town which is also known for its “Dogs in Utes” event. What began as a competition to beat another Australian state in 1997, Corrigan now holds the world record for the number of dogs in utes, registering 1527 in 2002. It’s another of those “only in Australia” moments.
Hippo’s Yawn and Wave Rock – Hyden Western Australia
One of the things I especially liked about this trip through the south-west of Western Australia is that it took me to places I had never heard of. For many, they are also places that they would not get to see any other way. Wave Rock was one of these. I’m not sure if I’ve been hiding under one, but I had just never heard of Wave Rock before. This massive rock creation was the main reason for our stop in Hyden.
Local guide Sheenagh Collins guides us along the 1.4-kilometre walk to the rock. As is the case in many small towns, Sheenagh wears several hats, primarily as the manager of the Hyden Motel where we stayed whilst in town.
The walk starts with a yawn, a Hippo’s Yawn to be precise. The rocks here have fallen, but due to the placement of the Hippo’s Yawn on the northern side. The weather is more severe on this side and has therefore caused it to deteriorate. It just so happens, as it has done so, it has been kind enough to make it appear like a yawning hippo and thus attracts visitors like us to the area.
The eastern, western and southern parts of the overall Hyden Rock are just plain looking, as the weather does not impact anywhere else other than the northern side.
We follow the path that will eventually lead to Wave Rock. It’s a leisurely amble and the prolific smattering of wildflowers keeps us entertained along the way. For a non-flower person, I’m becoming quite fond of them all. There’s also the most amazing carnivorous red plant that eats insects!
As we follow the line of rock along the trail, suddenly Wave Rock comes into view, and on first sight, it’s incredible. At 15 metres high and 110 metres long, its size instantly puts me in my place. I look like a mere insect when faced with this hovering overhang of rock.
But, it’s the dark black and orange stripes that run vertically up the rock that make the most significant impact. Hundreds and hundreds of kilometres from the ocean, this massive rock is the most unusual drawcard. Like many icons such as this, visitors rush to have their photo taken, “surfing” this impressive natural structure.
Unlike Uluru, Wave Rock can be climbed (easily) and the view from the top is good enough to warrant the extra steps. The city’s water reservoir is up here as well, with the water caught by a purpose-built fence along the edge that directs it into the holding area.
Wave Rock isn’t the only unusual place to visit in Hyden. Right in the middle of the Wheatbelt, you will also find the second-largest lace collection in the world. The Mouritz family, local to Hyden purchased a piece of lace history when they acquired the Blackburn Collection.
The lace, dating back to the 1600s was a combination of her own pieces and those she had found overseas. The collection grew when personal elements from Mrs Mouritz’s collection were also added.
In 1993, the Lace Place opened in Hyde, where you can view hundreds of pieces of lace including some magnificent vintage wedding gowns and even an offcut from Princess Diana’s veil. Our guide Sheenagh who helped to arrange the museum is well versed in all things lace, enough to take us on a personal tour through the exquisite display.
If finding such a special lace collection in a small rural town isn’t enough, next door you can also visit the Toy Soldier Museum. In a small room, over 10,000 small toy soldiers have been used to recreate scenes played out in world wars and battles. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
Merredin -Western Australia
Scattered across the Western Australian Wheat Belt are the silos that are an essential part of the wheat farming industry. Over the past few years, they have also been instrumental in attracting visitors here for an entirely different reason.
As part of a community project, artists were commissioned to paint the silos, transforming a functional piece of infrastructure into pieces of art that have brightened the skies and the hearts of everyone who sees them. They now form part of a public silo trail in Western Australia and the process has spread to other parts of the country.
Coolgardie -Western Australia
Coolgardie was a town I really wanted to see. Ostensibly known as a “ghost town”, this once thriving town is a mere shadow of what it would have been during its heyday. As I step out onto the expansive highway that runs through the centre, I visualise the kind of gunfight that made the towns of the wild west in the US famous.
There’s no one around. I stand in the middle of the highway and only have to move once for an oncoming car. It’s late in the day and the sun is setting on this eerily deserted town.
Once the third-largest town in the state, I can see its former glory all around me and yet the visible cues of what it has become are equally obvious. As the first town of the gold rush era in 1892, it flourished with many hotels, breweries and a large population.
The main street would have been resplendent with the stone buildings, the like of which can still be seen at the post office, the town gaol and town hall.
They are matched with the businesses that are no more. Those with the hoarding covering the windows or the signs saying the business is shut. It’s another mental note of why it is so important to support the small towns that we are fortunate enough to travel to. Spending a few dollars might mean nothing to us, but to those who are receiving it, it could mean the world.
There’s no denying that Australia is an enormous, geographically dispersed country. The drive from Hyden to Kalgoorlie is a testament to this. This stretch is one of the longest driving days on tour, covering 520km.
There’s not a lot in between the towns today. At times, it feels as though I’ve been on this bus forever. I’m itching to get out. The audiobook being played on the bus is a monotone ramble and if it wasn’t so irritating, it would put me to sleep.
Thank goodness for headphones. I can sit back and look out, even if I am looking at a never-changing landscape, in silence. There are several stops but because we’ve got a lot of distance to cover, the stops are brief.
My brother, a photographer with a love of remote Australia, shakes his head when I tell him there’s nothing in this patch. “That’s the best part of it all”, he says. I don’t mind driving the distances. I just like to do stuff along the way and having a changing landscape is helpful too!
Where to stay: Rydges Kalgoorlie 21 Davidson St, Kalgoorlie S WA 6430
Read more about Lake Ballard
My article on Lake Ballard was featured in the Scenic Wonder Magazine.
Lake Ballard -Western Australia
The bitumen gives way to the red dirt of the Western Australian goldfields. The bush surrounding the road hasn’t changed for quite some time. It’s these moments when you truly realise how different it is to drive through Australia.
I can only make out two types of trees here, those that are brave enough to tough it out in this harsh land. It’s red, sandy soil out here and the sun beats down relentlessly. The trees clump together familiarly, as though they are preparing themselves to face whatever the weather throws at them.
We head towards Lake Ballard, one of several interconnected salt lakes in Australia. It’s a journey that takes us out of Kalgoorlie where we ended the night before, some 200 kilometres away.
I’m keen to see it as I am reasonably certain I will have seen nothing like it before, and not likely to again. We’ve been given a precis of the lake by a tour guide that we picked up in the nearby town of Menzies.
She came to Menzies for a week 11 years ago and is still here. She is also the town’s paramedic, although today she explains that “it’s probably not the best day for an emergency”, given she is on the bus.
A significant rain season will see Lake Ballard, and its connected lakes merge into a giant inland ocean, still today, there’s no water to be seen. From a distance, the salt lake looks a rich red, drifting off into the mirage we can see on the horizon.
As I venture out onto the lake’s surface, the white of the salt crust can be seen. A little rain during the week has made it soft underfoot and our soles stick to the red dirt that holds on ever so tightly to the soles of my shoes.
Lake Ballard is also the home to Australia’s most extensive outdoor art gallery. A strange concept at first thought, but it makes for an incredible and unique offering. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Perth International Arts Festival, British artist Antony Gormley created and installed a highly unusual art display on the lake.
Called “Inside Australia”, he sought volunteers from Menzies who had their bodies scanned using a 3D scanner he had acquired from the US. With further artistic manipulation, he created the 51 abstract sculptures that are dotted around the lake today.
The guides say you can spend two hours here, and it would take at least that if you were planning on seeing them all. To be honest, I’d hate to do this on a high-temperature day.
The glare alone from the lake surface would be difficult to withstand. Once you’ve seen a few of these sculptures, you’ve really seen them all. Being abstract, they don’t resemble any of the people who kindly donated their time for art.
They are fun, and it’s impressive to see how the Australian landscape contributes to both the physical and verbal story. But, I’m not an art expert nor an art lover, so for those who are, you will no doubt appreciate the artistic side more favourably.
I loved the geography of the area and I couldn’t wait to climb Snake Hill, an island in the lake linked strongly to local indigenous Dreamtime stories. With a howling westerly wind making my ascent up the mountain a little tricky, I finally arrived at the top and was rewarded with a fantastic view.
Back on the bus, there are mixed reactions to Lake Ballard. I concur that it is a long way from anything else of any great significance. If art appreciation or long drives with not much in between aren’t your thing, then Lake Ballard isn’t going to tick your box of must-see locations.
The wheels kick into reverse as the red dirt that has clung to the tyre treads is released. “It’s an implied courtesy in the dusty, sandy parts of the goldfields, to leave as much dust behind as possible to avoid tracking it into the towns”, our bus driver Adam explains. I love these little snapshots into life in outback Australia. They are the things you can’t adequately explain until you are here.
Menzies -Western Australia
Menzies is the entry point for Lake Ballard. Like most of the goldfield towns, Menzies hit a peak a long time ago during the gold rush days. Once it had 10,000 people here frequenting the 13 hotels, three banks, three schools, a school and the brewery. By 1906, the population had fallen to 1,000 and the onset of World War Two hastened the decline.
Today, around 100 people live here, of which 85 are local aboriginal descendants from Menzies. The Royal Flying Doctor Service only visits once a month, so our guide tells us “that locals can only get sick once a month”. It’s certainly a different set of circumstances that you are faced with when living in such remote towns.
We stop for lunch at the Menzies Hotel, the only one operating in the town and under new management. Whilst the lunch won’t hit any high notes in the culinary world, and there are probably a few things that the new owner could improve upon for his future guests, I’m not going to judge someone trying to earn a living against such difficult circumstances.
After all, this is what travel is like. It’s not always glamorous and it’s also not always what you might expect. The reality is that this is outback Australia and this is most definitely an outback town. When you are on a trip such a this, it’s important to understand that sometimes options are minimal.
A fancy lunch in a larger town would never have delivered the opportunity to speak directly with a local gold miner. Over a local beer at the public bar, I sat and talked to Dave and learned so much about gold prospecting in the area.
Kalgoorlie -Western Australia
Kalgoorlie stands out from many towns we have visited so far for several reasons. Firstly, it’s one of the largest inland towns, with approximately 30,000 people based here. It is also a gold rush town that has survived, prospered and grown, still supported by the gold industry. It still has one underground mine shaft remaining and the cavernous Super Pit that has been operating for 122 years in the same location.
The town centre with its historical buildings is its beating heart and a proud sign of the wealth that once occupied it. The main streets are a fabulous place to walk and enjoy the history of the town.
Where to stay: Rydges Kalgoorlie 21 Davidson St, Kalgoorlie S WA 6430
Kalgoorlie Super Pit -Western Australia
A visit to the Super Pit operated by Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mining is a must when in Kalgoorlie. Previously owned by Australian entrepreneur Allan Bond, the area covering 36,000 hectares and 262 individual leases has now been merged into one. The mine employs 800 people who all live locally.
We jumped on board a tour bus and headed into the mine, gaining great insight into how the mine operates. It is also the best way to get up close and personal with some of the largest equipment you will ever see.
The Super Pit is an incredible sight, at 3.5 kilometres long, 1.5 kilometres wide and 600 kilometres deep. A round trip to the bottom of the pit and back via vehicle takes 45 minutes.
Lake Lefroy -Western Australia
The Scenic South West Mosaic tour includes several photo opportunities. They aren’t a dedicated stop, not really. They are a chance to stretch your legs and break up the journey and have a quick sticky beak at a pretty area.
From Red Hill Lookout, the red expanse of the salt lake continues out into the distance. As if Western Australia doesn’t have enough peculiarities, Lake Lefroy is also home to land racing, where sailing yachts on wheels set land speed records across the crusty lake top.
Enroute to Esperance, the landscape changes once more. Here the instances of salmon and white gums increase and agricultural pastures come into sight again. The weather starts to change too, with the winds that the southern coast is known for increasing.
Where to stay: Comfort Inn Bay of Isles 32 The Esplanade, Esperance WA 6450
Rotary Hill lookout – Western Australia
The most spectacular view from all the lookouts we visited belonged to the Rotary Lookout on Wireless Hill. Not far from Esperance on the southern coast of Western Australia, the view from up here gave me my first real glimpse of the rugged coastline. I would have loved to have seen more of this on my journey, but it will be one of the reasons I come back to southern Western Australia in the future.
Pink Lake – Western Australia
I have mixed feelings about the Pink Lake found in the Monjingup Reserve. Originally called Spencer Lake, it was renamed to Pink Lake as a result of the algae found here. The algae produced beta carotene, which when associated with other contributing factors helped to turn the water a shade of pink.
It became a tourist sensation in a short space of time and visitors flocked to the area to see it for themselves. Today, as you drive through the area just near Esperance, you’ll see many businesses, including the local butcher and caravan park, using the Pink Lake brand to promote themselves.
Unfortunately, many changes to the lake and its environment, including the ceasing of salt harvesting in 2007 has destroyed the water environment. Whilst scientists believe it can return, for now, it looks like any other salt lake you’d find around here, albeit one with water in it!
Whilst I appreciate that travel doesn’t always deliver the perfect moments, this is one situation where the hype doesn’t match the reality and I was disappointed to hear that it hasn’t been pink for many years. As such, I would seriously question why anyone would include this in their itinerary, especially if it meant a significant diversion.
Ravensthorpe -Western Australia
Ravensthorpe was a chance to round out our wildflowers experience through attendance at the annual wildflower show, recognised as one of the best in the world. Inside, rows of shelves display wildflowers and a chance to learn more about them all.
The town is also home to another part of the public silo trail.
Bluff Knoll – Stirling Range National Park Western Australia
As the wind picked up, we found ourselves staring at Bluff Knoll in the Stirling Range National Park, and is the highest peak in the south-west of Western Australia. This tour only allows for a visual inspection of the area, however, if you love to hike, it is possible to do so on Bluff Knoll.
The southern coastline from Esperance to Albany provides some of the most beautiful scenery in the state and it was where I enjoyed my time on the tour even more. The striking contrasts of the clear blue ocean with the rocky outcrops and sheer cliff faces was nothing short of extraordinary.
Tordirup National Park – Western Australia
This national park left me speechless at times. It allowed us to get close to the activities of the coast without actually being down at the waterline. In the reserve, we spent time at the Natural Bridge and The Gap, two spectacular natural water occurrences.
The Gap proved to be a little too much for some who suffered from a fear of heights. Suspended only by a cantilevered bridge, with the raging waters of the Southern Ocean below is enough to test even the most adventurous traveller.
Through the grated mesh flooring of the bridge, I could see the angry ocean leaving its mark on the rock, white foam and ice-blue water colliding. On the edge of the bridge, I put my faith in the engineers who have built this bridge that hangs 10 metres out from the rock where it has its last physical connection. It’s too good an experience to miss as we dip our heads to watch all the action below.
The nearby Natural Bridge was created by years of the ocean carving out the granite from underneath.
Albany Historic Whaling Station Albany – Western Australia
I’ve grown up in an era where whaling is frowned upon and even outlawed in most countries so I was surprised to learn that there was a whaling station in Albany and it only ceased operations in 1978.
On a guided tour throughout the facility that once slaughtered humpbacks and other local varieties for whale oil, we got to understand a little more about this now-defunct industry in Australia. Run by the Cheynes Beach Whaling Company from 1952, the site is well set up to explain how the economic reasons of the past collided with today’s environmental expectations.
The site, now a museum offers a chance to view the equipment and infrastructure once used, watch a variety of films that discuss the whaling industry and examine various specimens of marine life.
It’s a great educational experience and worthy of a visit. From its bloodthirsty days, the town of Albany now supports the preservation of whales that are quite often visible from its shores.
National ANZAC Centre Albany – Western Australia
Another place that should be on the must-visit list of every Australian, but also somewhere for international visitors is the National ANZAC Centre in Albany. Perched on the edge of the land it occupies, it looks over the picturesque King George Sound. But this location is far more than just a pretty face.
The positioning of the national centre is entirely symbolic, for it was from King George Sound that the first convoys of ANZAC soldiers left on 1 November 1914. They were bound for the foreign battlegrounds as part of the Australian offensive during World War One.
Inside the centre, the museum has been cleverly designed to be interactive and immersive, offering the opportunity to step into the shoes of someone who went to war. With a card bearing the name of an Australian soldier, I moved around the centre reading information that related solely to his experience.
It’s the kind of reality that hits you right in your stomach and brings the story to life. Elsewhere I can search for someone who left the Australian shores bound for war. This beautiful view that I now take in through the floor to ceiling glass windows, without fear, was the last thing they saw as they left the Australian mainland.
Walk up Convoy Walk to the top of the hill for an even better view. Back near the centre, a significant range of books and ANZAC related products may also be purchased.
The town of Albany is somewhere I would have also loved to spend a little more time. As the first European settlement in Western Australia, there is plenty of history to be found here. We arrived on Sunday and everything was closed save for one or two food stores.
Built upon a hill that overlooks the water, it’s a small town with a great vibe, historical buildings and an emerging street art scene. We also timed it well to stop in at the Sunday markets for lunch which were much better than having to eat at the places that were open in town.
As we left Albany the landscape changes once again. Given we are bound for the Valley of the Giants, it’s hardly surprising that the flatter vegetation gives way to the tall Karri trees, or “widowmakers”. The Karri trees are so named for their tendency to spontaneously fall over.
In yet another Western Australian contrast, rolling green hills also emerge. It is lush farmland here and the black and white dairy cows are the first farm animals I can recall seeing since we left Perth. Here the dams even have water in them!
Valley of the Giants Denmark – Western Australia
The trees are thin, tall and reach for the sky on the treetop walk in the Valley of the Giants. Despite being called Dingle Dingle by the local indigenous people who lived here, the name has somehow morphed into Tingle. Whilst there are 6,000 hectares of them, this is the only place you will find them, making them very special indeed.
They are also special because as they get older and grow taller, they create huge buttress roots at the base. Some have been known to measure 24 metres in diameter. Being able to get inside the trees causes damage and many have died (over time) as a result.
The treetops walk was created and designed to get people away from the roots and up into the canopy, thereby preserving the lifespan of the Tingle trees.
It was an engineering feat to get this into place. Everything was pre-fabricated in Perth except the pylons (Melbourne) and positioned in the forest. The spans were put together on the forest floor and the pylons erected using scaffolding. The spans were then jacked and winched into place.
Forty metres above the ground, it’s a simple walk, provided you aren’t afraid of heights and it puts you right in amongst the canopy and gives a birds-eye view around the forest.
If heights aren’t your thing, the Ancient Empire boardwalk is a good option. Here you can also walk through one of the enormous Tingle trees.
Pemberton – Western Australia
Pemberton was a timber town with its own sawmill. It has a uniqueness to it that centres around the miller’s houses, provided to those who worked at the sawmill. They are essentially all the same and were provided to workers without prejudice and without any leeway given for the size of the family they may have had.
The Pemberton Tram now operates as a tourist service, taking passengers from the Pemberton train station into the karri forests. The final destination, “the Cascades” is a freshwater creek with a low-level waterfall. It operates on the railway line that connected Pemberton to Northcliffe.
The tram ride itself is simple and easy to do and a tour guide provides some commentary along the way.
Gloucester tree Pemberton – Western Australia
I was looking for a bit of excitement as the day wore on and I found it at the Gloucester tree. Punching 53 metres into the canopy, this tree was once part of an important network of fire lookout trees. Now rested from its official duty, visitors, like me, can climb to the top for a birds-eye view. It’s not a climb for the faint-hearted, but with good fitness and no fear of heights, it’s a good climb.
Where to stay: Pullman Bunker Bay Resort 42 Bunker Bay Rd, Naturaliste WA 6281
Mammoth Cave Forest Grove – Western Australia
The Margaret River region of Western Australia is well known for beautiful wine and stunning natural coastlines, still I had no idea it also had such incredible limestone caves. A visit to the Mammoth Caves soon taught me all I needed to know about caves in this area.
The caves were created nearly one million years ago by a flowing stream, dissolving and eroding the limestone. Tannins have coloured the insides of the caves, so there are rich reds and browns throughout.
Stalactites and stalagmites are prolific throughout. Rain comes through from the surface, moves through the limestone and dissolves it then picks up the crystal and leaves it behind.
Depending on whether it leaves it on the roof or the floor will determine whether the crystal formations grow upwards or downwards. There are also about 10,000 different specimens of fossils of megafauna that once lived here.
Margaret River Chocolate Company Metricup – Western Australia
Anyone who doesn’t love chocolate probably hasn’t been to the Margaret River Chocolate Company. It was heaving with international visitors when we arrived. With only a small amount of time to spend here, we really only had a chance to sample a bit of their pride and joy. Some went for the ice-cream, strongly influenced by their chocolate, or for a quick cup of coffee in their attached cafe.
I headed for their selection of providores, buying some tasty vinegarette and some dark chocolate buttons to take home. How they survived the rest of the trip is a testament to my willpower, which is usually zero when it comes to chocolate.
Leeuwin Estate Margaret River – Western Australia
No visit to the Margaret River could ever be considered complete without visiting at least one winery. Fortunately for us, we had some quality time to spend at Leeuwin Estate, one of the early comers to the wine industry. It is now one of the largest producers in the region with around 50-75,000 cases produced per annum. This production represents about 5% of the Margaret River total crush.
Downstairs we were taken through a comprehensive wine tasting which saw me walk away several purchases to bring back home. Upstairs, a three-course meal was taken on the deck, matched of course with a glass of their finest. The food was exceptional, particularly the slow-cooked oyster blade, showcasing how a secondary cut of meat can be taken to a new level.
The toasted brioche parfait was light yet textural. Matched with the tang of the lemon and sweetness of the strawberry, it was the perfect end to a quality food and wine experience.
Busselton – Western Australia
The pretty town of Busselton is centred on the jetty that extends from the shoreline 1.841 kilometres out into the ocean. It is the longest timber jetty with timber piles in the southern hemisphere.
In the 1880s the jetty was used as a port for passenger ships and it later became a hive of activity for exporting agricultural products, animals and timber. American whalers also used Busselton as a base for dropping off whale oil and picking up much-needed supplies. Commercial operations on the jetty ceased in 1972, and today it remains a tourist attraction for the town
What caught my eye was the postcard-perfect blue shack sitting at the start of the jetty.
Fremantle Prison Fremantle – Western Australia
The World Heritage Listed Fremantle Prison was an eye-opening experience. It was a mens-only prison for 36 years for convicts brought to Australia from Great Britain. After that, it was handed over to the colony of the Swan River settlement and in 1901 it continued to be the maximum-security prison for the area.
Quite unbelievably, it only closed its doors as a working prison in 1991. this followed a series of riots, and the decision by a Royal Commission into prisoner conditions declared it should be shut down.
The prison is made from stone and built on the most solid of stone foundations meaning the provision of electricity and plumbing was difficult. Whilst they did manage to eventually get electrical connections, plumbing remained something of a luxury item. Buckets continued to be used in individual cells right up until the prison closed.
Taking a tour of the prison is time well spent on any visit to Fremantle. Hangings were part of prison life and long days were spent outside in the hot Western Australian sun. The lives of those who were incarcerated would not have been something I would have wished for.
Fremantle tram Fremantle -Western Australia
If time isn’t on your side in Fremantle, taking a tram tour is a simple way of becoming oriented with the city and seeing the main sights. Fremantle is now one of my favourite cities in Western Australia and I can’t wait to come back here to explore it further.
Once down on its luck, the city had a massive injection of cash and infrastructure ahead of the America’s Cup race in the late 1980s.
Today, it’s got a city vibe with a coffee and cafe culture underpinning the city centre. However, it’s still a quiet country town underneath. There’s no peak hour. In fact, I walked around the city during the week and wondered if I had forgotten it was actually the weekend, such was the lack of people. Everyone knows one another and there’s a sense of community here.
Where to stay: Esplanade Hotel 46-54 Marine Terrace &, Essex St, Fremantle WA 6160
Swan River cruise Fremantle – Western Australia
Getting off the bus made for a nice change and what better way to travel from Fremantle to Perth than via the Swan River. It’s a slow journey taking approximately 1.5 hours, so it’s definitely a tourist activity as opposed to a commuter one.
The number of boat marinas instantly stands out, as does the value of the marine vessels moored there. The river is lined with limestone, making small caves along the shoreline in certain areas.
This patch of the Swan River is also home to many millionaires and multi-millionaires, with lavish houses sometimes rivalling the size of hotels occupying premium real estate.
Perth Bell Tower Perth – Western Australia
Having visited St Martin-in-the-Fields Church and crypt in London, I was keen to see this bell tower, given its connection to it. Located right in the heart of Perth city, the 82.5m high glass and copper structure was a controversial addition to the streetscape when it was first built.
Inside there are 18 bells, 12 of them have an extraordinary history. It is believed they date back to the 14th century and are known to be one of only a few sets of Royal Bells in existence, with links to Queen Elizabeth I and Kind George II.
Their life began in St Martin-in-the-Fields church in London. They were used to celebrate, amongst other things, the WWII victory in 1942, the coronation of British monarchs and New Year’s Eve. However, the bells were deemed to be the wrong size for St Martins-in-the-Fields (kind of hard to imagine given their centuries of use). It was said they were going to be melted down to make new smaller bells.
A philanthropist and mining entrepreneur from Western Australia came upon these bells, and well, long story short ended up negotiating a deal to bring the bells to Australia. In return, the church received enough metals from Western Australia to be able to make new bells to suit their needs. These were the only English royal bells to have ever left England. The bells were shipped to Australia as part of our bicentennial celebrations in 1988 but remained in storage for 12 years.
In 2000, as part of the new millennium celebrations, the tour opened in December and has been an iconic part of the Perth skyline since then.
Where to stay: Pan Pacific Perth 207 Adelaide Terrace, Perth WA 6000
Food tour Swan Valley – Western Australia
A food tour! What a glorious way to end my time in Western Australia. I had a choice of visiting several iconic Western Australian areas today. I knocked back a chance to see the cute and cuddly quokkas on nearby Rottnest Island or the spectacular Pinnacles rock formations near Geraldton, north of Perth. A food tour is likely to always win with me when push comes to shove, and so it was that I found myself aboard the Tastebuds tour bus.
I joined Loris aboard her minibus and headed off into the Swan Valley. Loris, a veteran of small businesses and a former resident of the Swan Valley, was the perfect choice to spend the day with. Her tour, known as “speed grazing” was at times a little too speedy for me, whisking us away from venues to complete the full round of locations on our dance card.
That being said, I’m a foodie and I’m quite sure that the amount of time I’d like to spend at some venues would not have been to the liking of my fellow travellers. I make a mental note however, to only recommend this to people who want to brush over some excellent local food businesses.
From honey to chocolate, nougat to ice cream, organic juice, cider and wine, it’s reliable coverage for a food tour.
Beer and Croissants was a guest of Scenic Luxury Tours and Cruises. As always, all editorial, opinions, content and images are my own unless otherwise noted.