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I found the delights of the south-west starting just an hour's drive south of Perth at Mandurah and culminating, on this trip anyway, in the famed Margaret River wine region.
Mandurah, with its waterfront developments .....
..... and its outdoor holiday attractions is the gateway to Western Australia's magnificent south west. Photos: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
I've always thought of Mandurah as an idyllic little coastal retreat so I was a bit surprised to learn that it's now Western Australia's second largest city. Located on the Harvey Estuary and Peel Inlet, a waterway roughly twice the size of Sydney Harbour and one of Australia's largest coastal inlet systems, Mandurah has boomed in the last 25 years.
First settled around 1830, it is today a bustling holiday and retirement destination. It features prominently on the itinerary of most international visitors to the West. Across the inlet, luxury homes sit on the banks of an artificial canal system linked to Peel Inlet.
Mandurah is renowned for its boating, fishing and crabbing. A hot-spot for Blue Manna Crabs the city holds an annual Crab Fest each March.
Mandurah is an easy 72 kilometre drive from Perth via the Kwinana Freeway or there is a direct rail link with a travel time of around 50 minutes.
Bunbury's Dolphin Discovery Centre is a great interactive and educational experience in this former port city. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Further south are the coastal towns of Bunbury and Busselton, pioneering sea ports established to export the region's agricultural produce, minerals and timber.
Bunbury is 182 kilometres south of Perth. The French explorer de Freycinet sailed this coast in 1803 but Bunbury wasn't settled until 1829 when a group of Swan River colonists arrived and established a military outpost.
Today it's the third largest city in Western Australia, the region's commercial & industrial centre and home to the modern day Port of Bunbury, the hub for world-wide distribution of exports of Alumina, silica, mineral sands and woodchips.
One of Bunbury's greatest drawcards is the Dolphin Discovery Centre, where visitors can swim and interact with local Bottlenose Dolphins in the wild.
The centre offers a guided swim with the dolphins in Koombana Bay, a 90-minute Dolphin Eco Cruise or a meet & greet in the Interaction Zone. The shallows in front of the centre are where dolphins frequently venture in-shore to mingle with visitors. But remember these are wild mammals and they may not have scheduled a meeting on the day of your visit. Interaction is more frequent from October to April.
Bunbury boasts an impressive number of places to eat & drink from award-winning restaurants, cafes & coffee shops to bars, pubs and clubs.
Busselton's historic jetty extends 1.8-Kioometres into Geographe Bay .....
..... and is regarded as one of Australia's greatest artificial reefs and one of the nations Top-10 dive sites. Photo's: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Nearby Busselton has always been on my list of 'must-see' Australian destinations. I'd read about Busselton Jetty and seen it on so many TV travelogues that to come to the west and not visit the longest timber-piled jetty in the southern hemisphere was just unthinkable.
Completed in 1865, there is conjecture about its original length; some say 161 metres, others 176 metres. Whichever it is, just a shadow of the 1.8 kilometre structure extends into Geographe Bay today. Like Bunbury, Busselton was a centre for the export of local livestock, wheat, grain and timber. Whalers were also active in the area and used the port as a base. From 1906, passenger vessels called frequently and by 1910, the town had become a prominent holiday and health resort.
Today visitors to Busselton Jetty Observatory descend 8 metres to the ocean floor to view some of the 300 species of marine life which call the jetty home, including sub-tropical corals which are very rare at these southern latitudes.
Busselton Jetty is regarded as one of Australia's greatest artificial reefs and one of the country's Top-10 dive sites. Even with an entry fee, it's definitely a 'must-see' attraction.
This truly spectacular part of the Western Australian coastline is home to two historic lighthouses. The Cape Leeuwin Light sits on the far south-western extremity of Australia, where the Indian and Southern Oceans meet. Standing 56 metres above sea level, Cape Leeuwin's light is visible for 48 kilometres to seaward.
Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse was built in 1903. Today it's one of the regions most popular attractions and one of Australia's premier whale watching sites. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Further north, on the southern end of Geographe Bay and 13 kilometres from Dunsborough, the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse is one of the area's most popular attractions. Completed in 1903 using limestone blocks quarried from nearby Bunker Bay, it's considered one of Australia's premier whale-watching sites with Southern Right, Humpback, Blue and Minke whales all passing close inshore during migration.
But if riding the waves rather than watching them is your thing, you've certainly come to the right place. The region boasts 75 top-class surfing breaks along the 130 kilometre stretch of coast between Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin.
One of my favourite spots, Yallingup, has a sheltered beach suitable for swimming & snorkelling as well as great surf breaks including Smiths, Rabbits and Three Bears. From Yallingup it's just a short drive to Margaret River. At the centre of this, one of the world's iconic tourist regions, the township turned 100 in February 2013. In 2010, it was named the 'Jewel of the South-West' by Lonely Planet and nominated as one of the Top-10 destinations in the world.
When the surfs up Yallingup is a great place to relax and watch surfers tackle world-renowned breaks including Smiths, Rabbits and Three Bears. When it's not it's just a great place to sit and relax. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Bustling with arts & craft centres, galleries and a host of wining, dining, shopping and accommodation options, it's the perfect base from which to enjoy the wider region. There are several hundred caves nearby with six of them open for guided tours. KARST Systems, the caves were formed by very fast drainage of large volumes of underground water over long periods of time. Best known is Mammoth Cave, about 20 kilometres south of Margaret River and first found by Europeans in 1850.
Margaret River is renowned for its bustling arts & craft centres and galleries .....
..... as well as its wineries and fine dining establishments. Photo's: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Different people come to this part of Western Australia for different reasons but it's undoubtedly best known for its wines, conceived in near perfect growing conditions. The range of wine produced here in the past 60 years is impressive but the region is best known for its cabernet sauvignon, cabernet blends and some truly great Chardonnay.
With so many producers competing for a market share it's not surprising that many cellar doors are co-located with restaurants, each putting their own unique stamp on the region, its wines and food. What we've seen so far is just part of what's on offer in the greater south-west of Western Australia.
Beyond Margaret River, you'll find the township of Manjimup surrounded by the tall timber of the Southern Forests and a vibrant pioneering history. On the far south coast, Albany, with its whaling history and important role in the ANZAC legend, beckons. To the east lies Esperance, named after a French ship sheltering nearby in 1792, the clear blue waters of the Southern Ocean on one side and the arid contrast of the Eastern Goldfields on the other.
But all that's another story. In the meantime, the welcome mat is always out in Margaret River.
Getting There ….
Mandurah is 73-Kilometres south of Perth, just over a 1-hour drive via the Kwinana Freeway/State Route 2.
Margaret River is a further 200-Kilometres south via State Route 2, just over a 2-hour drive from Mandurah and passing through Bunbury and Busselton.
Staying There …..
As you'd expect in one of Australia's premier tourism regions, there is no shortage of quality accommodation to be had.
Mandurah is literally surrounded by caravan and holiday parks as well as hotels, holiday chalets and apartments.
It's a similar story at Margaret River, Bunbury and Busselton.
There are also a number of excellent free campsites in the district.
Prime whale watching season on this stretch of coast is from September to November with charters operating from both Busselton and Dunsborough.
It's way beyond the scope of this article to detail the myriad attractions on offer in this part of the world. Instead visitors are best advised to check out the following websites and those of individual businesses and service providers for a comprehensive listing regarding availability, cost, on-line bookings and any restrictions or limitations that may apply during the on-going COVID situation.
The 'Welcome Mat' is always out in Margaret River and the surrounding great southwest region. Photo: copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Why? You'll find the delights of Western Australia's magnificent southwest starting just an hour's drive south of Perth at Mandurah and culminating, on this trip anyway, in the famed Margaret River wine region.
When:WA's magnificent southwest is a great spot to visit any time of year. Whale watching season on this stretch of coast is from September to November.
Phone:Western Australia Visitor Centre (08) 9483 1111
Where:Mandurah is 73-Kilometres south of Perth, just over an hours drive via the Kwinana Freeway/State Route 2. Margaret River is a further 200-Kilometres south via State Route 2, Just over a 2-hour drive from Mandurah via Bunbury and Busselton.
Cost:Many of the regions attractions are FREE. Check the websites of individual businesses and service providers for full details on availability, cost, on-line bookings and any COVID restrictions or limitations.