When our dear friends were coming from Bali to visit us in Perth, Australia for a couple of weeks we knew they would love the Margaret River wine region. So we made plans to hire a spacious 4-bedroom holiday house on the beach near delightful Dunsborough for 4 nights. Here’s everything you need to know when going “Down South”.
What Is “Down South”?
Perth locals often refer to anything around Busselton, Dunsborough and Margaret River as “Down South”, being south of state’s capital, Perth. From our place in Perth it took about 3.5 hours to drive to Dunsborough. Tackling this journey on a long weekend (when the rest of Perth also takes the same trip) can take a bit longer as there’s more traffic to wrestle with.
Do International Tourists Go Down South?
From all our research in trying to find a house in Dunsborough it made me question if anyone ever visits outside of the Perth locals. When hiring a holiday house in the area they required us to bring your own bed linen, bath towels and tea towels or pay an extra $20 per person.
In the 41 countries I have visited I have never been required to pay extra for linen or be forced to bring my own. I guess if you are an international traveller you are going to be forking out another $100+ for your holiday rental. Be warned.
There are handy websites for finding and booking accommodation Down South, Dunsborough Holiday Homes, Stayz and Cape Executive. A 2-storey home less than 30 metres from the beach in February cost us AUD$220 per night (not including linen). It had 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 2 living areas, kitchen and a balcony with ocean views. Prices can more then double during peak season and school holidays.
While the house didn’t include linen, it did include doonas (quilts), pillows, and a very well stocked kitchen with pots, pans, plates, oils, salt and pepper and more. In the backyard a tyre swing kept the kids constantly amused.
The house didn’t include cable TV or a cleaner, we were supposed to leave the house clean and tidy when we left (which we did). However the strangest thing is it did NOT include Wi-Fi. $220 per night with no linen and no Wi-Fi. Um, hello WA, 1990 called and wants their holiday homes back. If you’re visiting from outside Australia and you need Internet access, it would be a good idea to pick up a pre-paid SIM card with 4G access before making this trip.
Location & How To Get There
Busselton is a relaxed town with a famous jetty protruding almost 2 kilometres into the ocean. We’ve stayed numerous times here including our Leavers week (year 12s graduating from high school).
Margaret River is one of the surfing capitals of the world, surrounded by world-renowned vineyards. It has a very natural vibe to it and an appealing sense of isolation.
Dunsborough is a small beach town that swells during peak periods like Easter and school holidays. The beaches are plentiful with clean, white sand and chilly blue waters.
All 3 are easily accessible by car when staying at one or the other, but I picked Dunsborough as a personal holiday favourite and centrally located. Busselton is a suitable alternative if you want a bigger town, but I find that tends to defeat the purpose of getting away from the hustle and bustle.
The best way to get there is to hire a car and drive, and if you have time, stopping in Mandurah for lunch along the foreshore and to stretch your legs. If you’re looking for the quickest route, the Kwinana Freeway in Perth now extends all the way to Bunbury, then you can just follow the large road signs from there. Tip: Make sure your car is full of petrol as there can be long distances between petrol stations and you don’t want to break down in the middle of nowhere.
You can find a tourist information centre in the centre of Dubsorough which provides a wealth of knowledge and brochures about the region including a tourist map which is essential. MargaretRiver.com also offer a handy tourist map (download here) or you can view more details on their website.
What To Do
There are truckloads of options when it comes to activities and attractions Down South although most people prefer to sleep, eat and lay on the beach. Without a doubt, some of the best beaches in the world can be found in this region, including Meelup Beach, Bunker Bay, Eagle Bay, Yallingup Beach, Smith Beach, Sugarloaf Rock and many more.
Busselton is worth a visit when staying in Dunsborough. The famous jetty was initially built in 1853 and now features 4 iconic blue buildings at at the entrance. You can pay a small fee to walk it or catch a tram ride. Nearby along the coast several restaurants can be found along with a shaded playground with a grassed area perfect for a family picnic. Busselton is also home to a drive-in cinema and small theatre house in case you’re looking for something to do at night.
While we were Down South we took our friends on a day trip. We do a similar trip every time we visit Dunsborough but this time, with young kids in tow, we spread it over 2 days. These are the most common places we tend to visit with occasional side-stops as a signboard on the side of the road catches our eye.
Vasse Virgin – A scenic vineyard that opens around 10am. The gift shop is also a soap factory and is home to the sweetest smelling bath products. In the back you’ll find a free food tasting, the best Ginger & Coriander dressing that keeps us coming back for more, balsamic vinegars, olives, chesses, chutneys, olive oils and more. It’s my favourite place to visit Down South. While it’s free to sample the goodies I always walk away with a lighter wallet.
Simmo's Ice Creamery – An ice cream factory selling premium quality ice cream situated in large private parkland. They offer mini golf, playgrounds, picnic tables and an ice cream eating emu (if you get too close).
Margaret River Chocolate Factory - More free tastings. This store has been giving away free milk, white and dark chocolate chips since 1999. I dare you to walk out with empty hands – resistance is futile.
Cheese Factories – Along Bussell Highway are a few great places to try cheese and, of course to add to your collection of gourmet products you’ve ended up buying from all the free tastings. Look out for The Margaret River Dairy Company, and Margaret River Cheese Factory.
Wineries – Vineyards are in abundance and wineries are everywhere. Most will offer free tastings from their cellar door (mini shop attached to the vineyard), with the odd one occasionally charging for the pleasure. For the majority wineries have great facilities for children. Evans & Tate had a jumping castle; Lawrence had a playground, plus many more. You don’t need an organised tour or booking in advance, just drive from vineyard to vineyard at a leisurely pace and enjoy.
There is plenty more on this day trip to enjoy including lavender farms and liqueur tastings. I use to always include Candy Cow on the list, which was a store selling honeycomb, fudge and lollies, however over the years the quality of service has been declining rapidly. After our most recent experience we decided we wouldn’t go back, which is a shame.
Where To Eat
The Margaret River wine region is not known for it’s cheap eats, however it is known for quality. Here are some of our favourite places that we continue coming back to each time:
Albies, Busselton – The local’s pub. You’ll find an all-you-can-eat salad bar with any main meal purchase, and the meals will set you back AUD$20-$40. The meals are always delicious and the salad bar helps to dissipate any guilty feelings after gorging on cheese, wine, ice cream and chocolate. The outdoor seating area was ideal for the kids to be loud and boisterous.
A new addition to Dunsborough is Clancy’s Fish Pub. The location is absolutely divine with the most luscious bush surrounding it, a large lawn area for kids to race around on and a giant Connect 4 and Chess game to keep them busy. Fish and chips will set you back about AUD$20 for one meal, but the views really are outstanding.
Also in Dunsborough you will find the famous Dunsborough Bakery, which unfortunately has been resting on its fame for one too many decades. The better place to try is Tas’ Bakery. Stop in for a meat pie, sausage roll, vanilla slice, custard donut or lamington and sit on the shady grass soaking up the warm sun - enjoying life’s simple pleasures.
Also in Dunsborough are several take away shops. Notable ones are Big Pig Pizza and Squid Lips for those times you are determined to stay indoors after a day of touring.
Many of the vineyards have restaurants attached to them. On this trip we were recommended to check out the Cowaramup Brewery which featured a scenic country vista along with a kids playground and sand pit. The food was delicious and I heard the beer was good too. Look to spend about AUD$20 per meal here.
The Wise Vineyard Restaurant is overlooking rolling vineyards and the Indian Ocean. Prices are extravagant to match the views, but the kids are treated with colouring books and the food is really top notch, wow. When you’re looking to celebrate a special occasion or just treat yourself, this is the place to go.
We have been visiting the Margaret River wine region for decades now and it’s the perfect place to spend a few nights or even a couple weeks. It is not a cheap holiday. In fact, you could probably fly to Bali for the same price as your fuel. And certainly accommodation and food would be cheaper, but it does hold a special place in our heart and if you are looking for a local getaway and a beautiful slice of Western Australia, then make sure you put Dunsborough on your list of things to do when heading to Perth.