Margaret River, You Had Me at Hello

Australia’s Anzac holiday weekend is coming to a close. The annual celebration reminded me of my trip to Margaret River, Western Australia, a gorgeous and wild place filled with wine and relaxation. Here are some reflections on my journey down under.

Margaret River

A Margaret River vista.

On the journey to Margaret River, three hours South of Perth by car, I perused a tourist map to begin getting to know the more than 100 vineyards in the region. We wouldn’t be able to make it to every single one, but I could dream. My sister, a seasoned traveler to the vine-filled holiday spot, piped in with many suggestions. Although wine is one of the biggest attractions for this South Western region, there are many other attractions including breweries, surfing, cave exploring, hiking, day spas, horseback riding, cheese sampling, coffee drinking and yoga.

The region is best accessed via private car which you can rent from the Perth airport, where most major rental companies have desks in the baggage/arrivals area. Luckily, my sister and her partner have a car and they happily shared the driving duties. Overall, roads in Western Australia are well marked, so the journey South was easy. If you can get a GPS system, do so; otherwise buy a good road map.

Before we embarked on a tasting adventure, we stopped at our accommodation: Woodstone Cottages, four quaint newly renovated self-catering cabins in a nicely wooded forest, containing puff-ball trees like the kind in Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax.” The guestbook provided us with plenty of funny stories about encounters with kangaroos; many entries suggested keeping an eye out for the roos that hop past in the early morning and evening hours.

Each morning I was captivated by an assortment of bird songs that I had never heard before. The ravens sounded like crying infants, and the kookaburras like laughing chimpanzees. They were particularly active in the morning when the sun came up at 5 a.m.

Our first foray into Margaret River’s vineyards was at Woodlands Wines, a small producer, yielding an annual crush of 319,670 pounds. As we were walking toward their cellar door (as they call it down under) set against a picture perfect backdrop, my husband revealed that he’d never been wine tasting—ever.

The experience did not disappoint. The tasting room itself was a crisp white, dotted with ornate burgundy colored chairs. A large oblong table sat in the middle where books and other items were on display. I imaged having dinner there, looking out onto the rows and rows of neatly planted vines dating back to 1973—some of the oldest in the region. At another table two women poured samples. We waited for the small group ahead of us to finish and then we began our journey through their short, but impressive list. I fell for the 2012 Woodlands ‘Margaret,’ a cabernet, merlot and malbec blend.

By the time we finished at Woodlands, we were hungry. Just down the road at Hay Shed Hill, we bookended lunch with a tasting beginning with the sparkling and ending with the heavy reds. The lunch in between was delectable, but simple. The flavors from the beef, served like sushi, jumped off my plate and onto my tongue when the wind wasn’t trying to steal away the parsley garnish. The gentlemen enjoyed an Italian style pizza and my sister gobbled up a salad.

I’m not a surfer, but the tasting room staffer assured me that one of the best spots is Smith’s beach in the tiny town called Yallingup, only a short drive from the cottage. I didn’t muster up enough gusto to give it a go, but if you want to try your luck on the waves or rent a board, contact Yallingup Surf School or Margaret River Surf School.

We ended our day at House of Cards, where a husband and wife team serves up a solid selection of sparklings, whites and reds. The vineyard, now open three years under their ownership is planted on 12 hectares of land and produces the following varietals: cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, merlot, malbec, petit verdot, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and viognier. If we’d arrived earlier, I would have suggested buying a bottle of their 2013 ‘The Joker’ cabernet merlot to drink on their relaxed patio with a view, where I’d have felt right at home. The House of Cards dogs certainly did.

The next day we took a break from the imbibing on Meelup Beach, a small, but protected stretch of sand that attracts couples, friends and families alike. A volunteer lifeguard brigade watches over you while you soak in the salty waters. The blue-green hues never ceased to amaze me, nor did the clarity of the water and freshness of the air. I almost felt like I’d never seen a beach before, but what’s more accurate is that I had never seen beaches like the awe-inspiring beaches of Western Australia.

By the time we were packing to return to Perth, I felt peaceful and rested in a way that I haven’t experienced in a long, long time. I don’t know if it was the pure Indian Ocean air, the placid beaches, the luscious wine or the quiet cottage, but I know that if I’m ever looking for a place to reenergize I’ll choose Margaret River’s restorative powers again and again.

Margaret River beach.

One of Margaret River’s stunning beaches.

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