We spent a lovely Christmas (& New Year) this year in Margaret River. Or, more precisely, in a little farming town called Cowaramup, just north.
Yes, there are even lots of cows there too. 🙂
The farmstay/camping park we were based in that we booked two months ago was overflowing with more than just Christmas cheer. The boys had a ball on the huge jumpy pillow and made many new friends, including the lucky farm animals that were ‘retired’ there.
George or Georgina (a.k.a. G) the delightful Pig was spoilt by many, but we like to think he/she especially loved our leftover rockmelon, carrots and the odd rubbery potato that found its way past its slobbery and well-tuned snout.
‘G’ also had a high pitched squeal (like a cry) that carried from one end of the large paddock G roamed to the other, earning him the nickname we gave him of ‘The Sook’. If the wind was right, you could smell him before you saw him. Perhaps ‘right’ is the wrong word however G was a delightful animal and was a wonderful addition to the lovely area we were staying in, albeit a busy one.
Dr. Tom Cullity planted the first Margaret River vines on the eight acres of land that he had bought for $75 an acre on Harman’s Road south, in 1967. He named his property “Vasse Felix“, a name the much-extended vineyard still bears today. The area known as Vasse was named after a French sailor named Thomas Timothee Vasse who was lost overboard off the coast in the area from the “Naturaliste” in 1801.
As a region with its restaurants and world famous surf beaches, Margaret River (MR) needs little introduction to most, but it was the sight of many kilometres of undulating paddocks lined with beautifully tended grape vines was a lovely welcome to us after 4 months of orange & ochre desert vistas of the north. With so much to do in MR, we finally managed to fit in a couple of restaurants, breweries and wine-tasting visits – Leeuwin Estate was a highlight, closely followed by Howard Park / Madfish.
We were impressed with the chardonnays from the region across many of the wineries and enjoyed tasting our way through the Leuwin Art series at the Leeuwin Estate. LE is one of those flash boutique wineries that produce 95+ point wines year after year and are blessed with great regional terroirs. LE is also the regional estate that puts on concerts in their vineyard and the Three Tenors have played there, as has Elton John, and many others at that sort of level. Next month it will be Chris Isaak but we will not be in the area, much to the disappointment of Lochie and Aidan. And of course one must buy some wines at a Cellar door for this is the main purpose of going, but the irony here is that you always end up paying more for a wine at the vineyard than from your local bottle-o.
The town of Margaret River itself was a busy little hub of holiday makers and we did some browsing (semi-reading actually) in a great bookshop, as well as some satisfying clothes shopping for yours truly. We certainly felt like we were ‘in the holiday mode’, along with the thousands of others that descended on the area from Perth.
After a lovely lunch at Xanadu (the vineyard not the ONJ song which became lodged in our heads for the rest of that day), we discovered the Eagles Heritage Wildlife Centre which takes in injured raptors, and watched a fantastic raptor show.
In our travels we have seen many of the lovely big eagles and kites, squatting over some unfortunate roadkill creature. As we approach them (usually at 96kmh which is our optimal towing speed), it seems that they take an awfully long time to decide whether to lift off or not, and as we get nearer we can appreciate how very BIG they actually are.
Their talons are apparently strong and sharp enough to cut through even the best leather gauntlets, so they are not part of the show however the boys both got to hold a beautiful barn owl called Ivy, and we were all up close to watch the black kites dive and swoop for their lunch. There were lots of other great bird exhibits too, in amongst the many acres of bushland.
Following the Abrolhos Islands experience, Geoff is now having Nature photography yearnings which may mean a new specific camera lens to be purchased – there goes the budget. 🙂
The Rainbow coastline as it’s affectionately known is gorgeous, despite the never-die wind in this part of the world.
We had some big seas over Christmas, with 4-5m swells which made for some big waves. The water is chilly but refreshing. We spent a few relaxing afternoons having a swim at a different beach each time, all with very white sand, very blue water and sometimes a pontoon to jump off. Ahh, Australia.
Hamelin Bay had some gnarly waves when we were there – not fun to swim, but we ‘patted’ the local giant rays and smaller rays in the shallows. Some clued-in visitors had small baitfish to handfeed them. Because of their size (some were 4-5ft across) and the distance of their mouth from the edge of their ‘wings’, meant that one man had to be just about run over before he said he felt the mouth suck his offering up.
Near to the rays was a busy, but precarious boat ramp, that was periodically pounded by messy looking waves. Geoff got a great shot of an ‘almost disastrous’ boat hitching attempt. The skipper of this boat came into shore at a bad time, looked to be almost 90 degrees on his side, motor still running with the prop out of the water at one moment, and about to become an insurance claim when a lucky wave righted him and he gunned it up and onto the boat trailer, and saved embarrassment and lodging a claim. It was exiting to watch though.
Photographing the natural (and man-made!) wonders that we’ve seen is a very enjoyable and sometimes challenging part of our experience.
It’s been great to see both boys, but especially Aidan with his camera, absorb some of the lessons that Geoff is expounding with regards to the art of photography. It’s wonderful for them to have the time to observe and join in with this kind of hands-on experience. The boys have often surprised us with a great shot or a striking composition. One of the best sunset shots was by Lochie on his iPad. This shot of Aidan’s was taken after much thought, and manipulation of his model. I look forward to watching this passion of theirs develop.
As if vineyards and beaches were not enough attractions for the area, we are now at the start of the smaller Karri forrests – as in the feature image Geoff shot for this post. (Just quietly, the feature shot Geoff really wanted to use for this post was ever-so-slightly out of focus. His eyes are not getting any younger and slightly missed the focus on his preferred forrest shot on his manual-focus-only camera – will he persist?)
The countryside as we drive through very tall trees of 40 meteres in some cases, takes on a different type of grandeur to that of the far north we’ve recently come through. The low-lying shrubby plains in the north are striking in their own way, but these groves of massive trees make one exclaim with a hushed breath. We did quite a lot of four wheel driving through Boranup Forest, winding our way parallel to the rugged cliffs and the choppy seas. The tracks moved in and out of these big trees, up and down steep inclines, seeing no one for hours, we felt we were a million miles away from the Xmas crowds of Margaret River and gave us a real opportunity to explore the area outside of he vineyards.
Whilst enjoying the region’s attractions over Christmas, we were forced to stay several days longer at our Margaret River stop, due to a problem with the electric disc brakes on the Kimberley van. As this was an important part of the vehicle, we were loathe to tow a 3.5 tonne van anywhere without them working, as you can well imagine. However, trying to find someone suitably qualified to come out on site and fix them in a small country town between Christmas and New Year, was one of our very few stresses we had. Luckily we did find someone. After numerous phone calls thanks to Adam at Kimberley who rang around and found Brad in Busselton, an ex-Rio Tinto diesel fitter. After a bit of mucking around and using Geoff as his apprentice, had to replace some of the existing poorly designed copper hydraulic lines (one which had fractured and we lost all fluid in the system) with steel, bled the system, and got us back on the road. Thanks Brad.
We were sad to leave George and the rest of the inmates of Taunton Farm, but were equally glad to get back to travelling and seeing more of this lovely part of the West Aus.