Day 139: 16 October – 100km an hour winds and torrential showers

Author: Mrs A

Location: Margaret River

The wind and rain started in the early hours of this morning, prompting a slow start to the day. We headed out around 9.30am to do a few tasks in Margaret River, before sitting down for a pot of tea and some brunch. Mr A then dropped me off at the scarily named hairdressers – Ed Scissorhands, while he dropped his bike off at the shop for some new tyres to be fitted.

It is always a little daunting having a cut away from your usual trusted advisor, but my hairdresser was fabulous, listening to everything I asked for and delivering perfectly. Given the ever increasing wind gusts and rain showers I suggested they might just want to do a basic blow dry, not my usual request of bouncy curls, but my consultant insisted and did a great job! I made her take a photo to prove what it looked like before I stepped out into the world!

Mr A met me and we drove north out of Margaret River about 25 minutes to Amelia Park Wines, the newest cellar door in the region. As with many cellar doors, the landscaping surrounding the building was spectacular, but unlike others, the entrance to the actual cellar door was something else. We entered through a big heavy wooden door into a dark wood panelled room full of wine barrels. The corridoor then led you forwards at which point two sliding wooden doors opened, revealing beautiful vineyard views and a tasting room – quite theatrical. It clearly worked its magic – after a few tastings we bought a couple of absolutely delicious wines and joined their members club.

From there we went down to Vasse Felix, probably the region’s most famous winery. A little bit of name dropping didn’t go amiss, and being (extremely!) loosely connected to Virginia Willcock (Vasse Felix’s world class chief winemaker!) enabled Mr A and I a free tasting of their $85 a bottle award winning Chardonnay – absolutely delicious. Our friends Carole and Nick drove up and joined us in the tasting here.

Our next vineyard was Howard Park, before we headed back into Margaret River for something quite different. Whisky. Yes, there is a distilliary here too. The starting price for a bottle of local Whisky is around $85 and they go up from there. We tried quite a few – learning how the bouquet is not always reflective of the taste, and just a tiny drop of water can make all the difference. 

All in all a very successful day despite the inclement weather, and Mr A is very proud to have a fine bottle of single malt for those evenings around the camp fire. We returned to camp for spaghetti bolognaise and an alcohol free evening!

Day 138: 15 October  – Wheeling around Margaret River

Author: Mr A

Distance cycled: 35 km

As Einstein said “There’s hope for a race that invented the bicycle”. After a fortifying BBQ brekky, we were off on the bikes following a very rough mud map drawn by the station staff, showing us how to get to the town of Margaret River “the back way”.

And what a brilliant back road it was, meandering through tall stands of trees, the sounds of the forest enveloping us. I was leading the way trying my best to interpret the map, and got the usual questions from my team that always started with the same phrase “Did you see” then ended with words like “massive tree, bird, lizard”. Now I don’t have the best eyesight, as some of you know, so invariably I didn’t. I like to think I’m seeing the big picture, not getting focused on details…..but actually I’m just charging through on my boulder crusher enjoying the rush. 

After a few back tracks we came out on the rail trail that leads into Margaret River, and were soon sipping hot chocalates at the local bike shop cafe that I had also been recommended to call in it. My bike always garners attention (which Mrs A thinks is the whole point of me owning it, suffering only child syndrome) and this time was no exception. In fact the mechanic has offered to come in on his day off and fit me up with tubeless tyres! Such enthusiasm, perhaps helped along by me buying a new helmet, after mine has mysteriously disappeared. 

Sadly the order of a dairy free and dairied up hot chocolate may have been mixed up, as Mrs A immediately shot off to find the nearest toilets, emerging quite a while later looking decidedly uncomfortable. We set off back to retrace our steps, and in time were wheeling down the beautiful driveway that frames the entrance to our delightful campsite-come-sheep station. 

That evening we had arranged to share dinner with the couple we had got to know on our wine tour, Nick and Carol. We had a Western Rock Lobster from the freezer, kindly gifted by people we had met in Geraldton, so Mrs A is found keenly watching YouTube to work out how we prepare it. After some anxious moments, its halved and a lovely marinade prepared for the BBQ. 

It cooked beautifully, and would have comfortably fed a less than hungry mouse, oh dear, we should have brought another one. Well it was only supposed to be the entree, and thankfully Carol had had  a casserole bubbling away all day. With some fresh bread it was just fantastic. Oh, and rather a lot of red wine, and then the Choclate Port came out, and the cheese. A perfect end to a perfect day, breaking bread with new friends, getting to hear their stories and dreams, simply wonderful. 

Day 137: 14 October – Old friends, new friends and more hidden delights

Author: Mrs A

Location: Margaret River

We were treated to another warm, blue sky day here in the Margaret River as we headed into town to the Farmer’s Market which runs on Saturday mornings. We didn’t know what to expect, given the range of markets we have experienced around Western Australia – ranging from the very poor Derby market which sold a few cacti and a couple of home made jams through to the surprisingly delicious Carnarvon market with famous chefs serving up food. This market was fabulous – more along the lines of what we are treated to at Forestville or Warriewood markets in Sydney.

Rows of stalls with samples of sheep and cow cheese, fresh bread, cakes, croissants, vegetables and herbs, olive oils, balsamic vinegars, fresh meat, eggs and fish…the choice and sampling opportunities were endless. We picked up some sheep cheese (I discovered I can tolerate this in small amounts – yay!), vegetables and wood fired bread. As Mr A was listening to the story of the bread shop, I looked around to see what delights awaited us next and spotted an old friend from Sydney! We popped over to surprise her…

Fiona now lives about 45 km away from the Margaret River in Augusta, and runs a successful and growing business, Alkomy Kombucha. Kombucha is a sparkling, non alcoholic beverage which contains probiotics which help your stomach health as well as help clean your liver and overall boost your immune system. Our livers are already crying a little after all the wine tasting, so we bought a bottle to take with us. It was great to see Fi and catch up on how she’s doing now.

Returning to our sheep station we found the ‘Griswalds’ have moved into a spot next to us – two feral families headed up by a potty mouthed Australian bloke. Fortunately after setting up their tent they went out for the remainder of the day, returning us to our serenity. We enjoyed freshly baked bread, cream sheep cheese and sliced tomato in balsamic and olive oil for lunch, sitting under dappled shade overlooking meadows of yellow flowers and grazing sheep. It feels like France!

Carol and Nick, an English couple we met on the gastronomic tour yesterday popped over to see our mobile apartment. They are considering moving to an off road van from their 26 foot monster. We wandered over with a bottle of wine to check theirs out too – it is huge, with three distinct separate rooms, each separated by sliding doors – makes ours look tiny! Not sure we could have got into all the interesting locations we have visited with that length of van, however. We whiled away the afternoon exchanging stories while enjoying a cool white wine.

The evening saw us back in Margaret River for dinner. We had been told about and had read great reviews about a restaurant called Miki’s Open Kitchen. Set back from the street in an arcade area, first impressions were quite unassuming, but once we were seated we were in for a treat.

The kitchen is the centrepiece of the restaurant, with seating on three sides. Nothing is hidden here – we were able to watch everything being prepared as the chefs worked their magic. Miki’s is Japanese fusion, with some incredible food prepared. We chose the Miki’s Trust menu, an ever changing degustation. I lost count of how many dishes we were served, but each contained about three different morsels, every one consisting of carefully balanced flavours and perfectly cooked. They were served up like mini artworks, with delicate edible flowers adorning the ever unique serving dishes. What an experience!

A really lovely evening, and a relatively late night home for us – 11 pm!!

Day 136: Friday 13 October – Sampling the delights of Margaret River

Author: Mr A

Location: Margaret River region

The day dawned sunny, finally it was warm enough to have breakfast outside again. A certain member of our family group particularly enjoyed the warmth:

So we’re not usually tour group inclined, but on this occasion I’m glad we signed up to today to do this all day guided exploration of some local producers. I really enjoyed having someone do the driving and make the decisions about where we go. We left at 10am and got back at 6pm – thats a big day of sampling I reckon, and for $80 a head, great value.

We had a wine tasting, followed by a decent lunch, another wine tasting, with nougat sampling thrown in, then a chocolate factory, another winery, a venison farm and finally a distillery!

A little background first. The Margaret River is a relatively young wine region, with dairy farmers starting to turn to grapes less than 40 years ago. Blessed with really fantastic terroir, they have aimed at the premium end of the market, with mainly low volume, bourtique producer (around 185 at last count). In total last year Margaret River wineries only accounted for around 1% of Australia’s total wine production. In an effort to diversify, a number of wineries have added other foods to their cellar door shelves. Nougat production, fine olive oils and chocolates. One has even built a distillery, offering premium (an overused word in this region I think) beers, whiskey, and liqueurs.

We drank some good wine…and some very ordinary wine, but had a lot of fun and learnt some things. Objective achieved. There has been very little about the food and wine in WA that we would perceive as good value, compared to what we have experienced in other states. My take is that those who truly are offering premium goods and services in their niche will continue to do OK, but those businesses who aren’t at the top of their game will find, as the economy in WA struggles, their usual queue of well heeled local customers will shorten or disappear. The customer demographics are also changing dramatically – UK visitors were down in WA this year by 10%, tourists from Asian countries are all up significantly. The businesses who understand how to meet these changing customer needs will prosper, but those who continue to present a very traditional white Australian face perhaps may not.

Day 135: 12 October – Margaret River has sheep too!

Author: Mrs A

From: Yallingup

To: Rosa Brook, just outside Margaret River

Distance driven: 51 km

Distance cycled: 10 km

We continued our exploration of the region, heading further south and setting up camp about 10 minutes drive outside of the town of Margaret River. It’s a very picturesque area, and a lovely change of scenery being surrounded by bleating sheep and lambs, all recently shorn. We’re set up on a working sheep station, complete with chickens, cockerels and guinea pigs (!) roaming the area, much to Miss T’s delight. The native birdlife is prevalent.

(Above: Western New Holland Honeyeater)

We decided to cycle to a nearby winery, one of many recommended by friend Cathy. It was only 5km away, and Miss Google promised just a 15 minute ride. It was a very scenic journey, though quite hilly. While it was 15 minutes in one direction, it was definitely slower on the return journey (particularly with a couple of bottles in my pannier and a few tastings under our belts!).

Brown Hill Vineyard had some great well priced wines though, and an enjoyable visit.

We did very little the remainder of the day, choosing to relax in the sunshine and read. We’re booked on a gastronomic tour tomorrow, so we’re saving our eating and drinking energy for that!

(Below: a pair of Common Bronzewings)

Day 134: 11 October – A Margaret River lunch to remember

Author: Mr A

Location: Margaret River, Wills Domain

Another cold, gloomy day, but we had indoor games planned today so it didn’t matter. We had followed several friends’ advice and booked a table at Wills Domain, a restaurant and winery made famous by head chef Seth James.

Before heading out to lunch, however, we headed down to the beach for a short (emphasis on the short!) walk down along the coast by Yallingup. It’s the first time we’ve seen proper surf in a while, and a stunning location.

After getting the blood moving and some fresh air in our lungs, we headed over to Wills Domain.

It was set in a beautiful location amongst the vines, and we were offered a sample some of their wines before lunch.  Margaret River is known for Chardy and Cab Sav, not two of our favourite grapes actually, but one needs to be flexible in these matters. If we were still building a cellar, rather than drinking as we go, I would have been tempted with several of their wines, which are likely to turn into beauties with some more time in the bottle.

Tasting over, we wandered through to the restaurant, which they have recently renovated and changed the style to be very intimate, I counted only 6 tables, so there was no getting away from me for Mrs A. The dining room was quite lovely, with a fire flickering away and plenty of space between tables, refined not raucous, we fitted right in.

We asked our waiter (whose accent seemed to change from French to something else every other sentence!) the dairy question right up front – What can Mrs A eat without spending the afternoon losing her lunch from the dairy allergy she has? We were interested in the “feasting option”, as they so bluntly called it. In fact a great sample of their food in small courses. So, Mr ‘French-this-Minute’ comes back and explains how they can adapt the ingredients to suit. Wow….and they did. And it was a feast. Such fantastic blending of flavours, fresh ingredients, a little spiciness here and there, we loved it.

The car seemed to struggle back up the hill to our caravan park carrying the extra load.  Mrs A then took Tassie out for a late afternoon stroll, attracting the attention of several parrots, who seemed as intrigued to see a cat on a lead as some of the other residents. We are so happy she seems to be gaining in confidence, and with some encouragement, exploring her surroundings. Tomorrow, we will destroy all that and move her again!

Day 134: 11 October – A feline perspective of the Margaret River

Author: Miss T

Location: Yallingup, Margaret River region

Distance walked: 600 metres

Apparently we are in an area famous for whine. I’m not entirely sure why my servants have brought me here – after all I only associate whine with dogs or complaining humans, particularly the small variety – neither of which are good.

There are several other terms I have heard bandied about, which I can interpret as follows:

Bouquet – that I understand fully. Bouquet is all about the aromas – and that I know a lot about. I am more than capable of sitting in front of a single bush for in excess of 20 minutes just enjoying the smells of the creatures that came before me – be they feline, canine or possum, the odours they leave behind are quite irresistible. I get bouquet. 

Palate – I can only assume this means when something tastes rather nice. Like those treats my humans recently purchased for me. They don’t seem to understand how irresistible they are – if only I could eat those instead of that Science Diet they give me. That is rather dry on the palate, extremely savoury, lacking complexity, with hints of fake chicken and meat juices. Fills a hole but that’s about it.

Terroir – Easy.  Its all about how much sunshine I get, how little I am disturbed, multiplied by how nice the soil outside is to walk on. I don’t really understand why humans find it so ethereal….interrupting the terroir can result in a look like this below…you don’t want to disrupt the terroir…

Thankfully, it is rather quiet in these parts. It seems we are travelling outside of school holidays, so no small screaming (or whining) humans around, and only the occasional canine. It’s a good opportunity to explore somewhat freely, though I still seem to be tethered by the pink lead thing. Hopefully the servants will soon learn to walk without me guiding them.

I was stalked this afternoon by a pair of ringnecked parrots. Most odd. I said hello to them in my usual feline way (a slight hint of ‘I’d try to catch you if I wasn’t so well fed’) and they followed me all the way home. Quite  scary. I believe Alfred Hitchcock wrote a film about this exact situation. I’ll be staying in the rest of the night – I dread to think what’s next…

Signing off for now. Miss T x ? 

Day 133: 10 October – Our first taste of the Margaret River

Author: Mrs A

From: Busselton

To: Yallingup

Distance: 33 km

Waking to a morning of showers we considered stopping another night in Busselton, but decided to make the move onwards into the Margaret River region, our local map looking dauntingly full of places to visit.

Our first stop was the Flametree winery, just 20 minutes up the road. Flametree has just won the prize for the best Chardonnay in the Royal Sydney and Perth wine shows…And at $65 a bottle, it was priced to reflect that status. Mr A and I are not usually Chardy fans, but theirs was lovely – not too oaky, not too sweet, much more complex than the Chardonnays usually rejected. But we declined to invest in a bottle on this occasion. The tasting was good, an interesting selection, but we have limited space and many wines to taste ahead. We made a single purchase of a rather nice Tempranillo-Touriga blend.

Miss T enjoyed a stroll around their yellow daisy filled lawns on our return, before we headed off to Yallingup to set up at our new campspot for the night.

We’re quite close to Wills Domain here, a winery several people have praised for not only their delicious wine, but very special lunches too. We decided to book in for lunch tomorrow, and gave our new friends, Chris and Anne a call to see whether we could have a tasting of their wine before that, given they are located right across the road. Instead, they suggested we visit today, and given our very flexible plans, we headed over to see them, via a local chocolatier – yum!

I tapped in the secret code to the gate, and we drove up to the house, past vineyards and dams and a very pretty holiday cottage. Chris was there to meet us, and we transferred into his car for a tour of the 13 hectare property, learning about the various grape varieties, the soils, the pruning methods and how things had changed in the 20 years since they first started planting vines.

Then it was back to the house for some tasting. Not a single bad wine – all delicious – even the Sauvignon Blanc, which was made in the style of the French Sancerre wine. We ended up staying about 3 hours all up, and left with half a case of wine, fresh eggs from the hens, two pots of home made jam and some protea flowers – and best of all some incredible memories, and friends we hope to keep in touch with, and perhaps see again in Sydney next year.

We finished off the day at the local pub for fish and chips and soda waters. A fine start to our Margaret River adventures!