Perth, Pemberton and Margaret River Road Trip
Tall trees and long beaches: the Perth, Pemberton and Margaret River loop
Usually, there’s no beating the first time you experience something. Yet each time my car cruises around a certain country bend and the luminous white trunks of Boranup Forest come into view, I get the same soul stirring high. Breathtaking is an overused adjective, but seeing hundreds of ramrod-straight giants spearing the hillside and reaching for the light genuinely dazzles me. I adore driving to this little-known spot south of Margaret River, and if I meet anyone going to the region, I send them there, promising they’ll know it when they see it.
Yet it’s only one of the wide-eyed stops to make while road tripping from Perth to Pemberton and back via Margaret River. The winery-studded regions are interspersed with tall tree forests and national parks, and linked by a raw coastline of sandy beaches and sculpted rocks. Below is a list of towns to follow, like a dot-to-dot, to see the best of it.
HOW: Pack the car and set off on this round-trip loop, which takes in the two regional stars, and weaves in a number of country towns – one of them produces some of the most expensive produce in the world; another sees wild dolphins regularly visit its shores. Departing Perth, you’ll travel about 830kms, and while you can do it quickly (four days minimum), we suspect you’ll want to spend at least six days, with a couple of stopovers.
WHEN: You can do this trip anytime, but I love catching the whale migration, which happens between June and December, and I usually try and combine it with the wildflower bloom, from August to November. I’m a water baby so I often (also) go in the warmer months, from November to April. That said, stoked fireplaces and a brilliant winter festival make July a very alluring prospect.
Kooky gnome-town in Ferguson Valley
The bucolic Ferguson Valley is about two hours’ drive from Perth. Lush green hills roll like gentle waves, many of them ribbed with vine trellises, with owner-run cellar doors at their toes. As much as I love popping in to meet a winemaker, I’m always drawn to Gnomesville, one of the quirkiest places in WA. Literally thousands of garden gnomes are spread throughout the bush. I suggest staying a night in the valley.
Quaint town alert: Balingup and Bridgetown
It’s only another 30 minutes in the car to reach Balingup, a super-cute village that is characterised by scarecrows along the road, weatherboard stores and sloping hills. The first antique shop as you come into town is a treasure trove, and Taste of Balingup stocks loads of local gourmet goods. Twenty minutes on, stop and roam the main street of Bridgetown, where historic pubs meet characterful cafes and interesting shops.
Manjimup, where truffles (and avocadoes) grow
Fun fact: more truffles are grown in Manjimup, one hour’s drive from Bailingup, than anywhere else in Australia. Said to be the most expensive produce in the world, it sells for around $3000/kg. Join an educational truffle dog hunt (in season, June to September), or have a truffle infused lunch at the Truffle and Wine Co (where you can also do a wine tasting). As you cruise around the pretty area, watch for avocado orchards – growers have jumped onto the smashed avocado trend in a big way. Have some change handy for the farm stalls, selling just-harvested fruit and nuts.
Tall trees and fine wines in Pemberton
As you drive eastward towards Pemberton, half an hour away, the trees grow taller and straighter. Stop at Gloucester National Park and consider climbing the Gloucester Tree – it’s 61m high and there’s a platform at the 53m point. Listen to the birdlife and follow walking trails through the bush. There are more wineries here and it’s a great place to eat try region’s freshwater crayfish, marron, and also rainbow trout. Stay a night here.
The whales, wine and wildflowers of Margaret River
It’s a 1.5 hour journey onwards to Margaret River, passing through state forests and national park (lots of places to stretch your legs). Follow the Brockman Highway all the way to Buller Road, which becomes Caves Road. Turn right and after about 10 minutes, you’ll drive through that magical stretch of karri trees I mentioned earlier, Boranup Forest. Park at the wooden lookout platform and drink in the idyllic scene. Continue north to Margaret River, a place where you’ll wish for the car to break down, just so you can stay longer. The region stretches up to Yallingup and Dunsborough – you need to visit them – counting about 200 wineries in between. In season, thousands of playful humpback whales frolic and flirt as they migrate along the coastline; join a whale watching cruise or simply gaze at the horizon to spot them. Seasonal wildflowers twinkle from the scrubland and there are dozens of nature walks – I’m a big fan of Cape to Cape Track sections, which link to stunning, sandy beaches. If you’re a wintertime visitor, the place crackles during Cabin Fever (July 19 -28 in 2019), with foodie events, bonfires, mulled wine and more. Yes, you should definitely stay a few nights here.