The Gourmet Loop
Discover a taste of Western Australia's South West with a gourmet self-drive road trip that will take you from forest to coast. You can easily tackle WA's Nature and Wine Drive in six days, but you might want to pack an extra few days to discover Perth's waterside dining and local vineyards too.
Growing up in the UK, a road trip was defined by hours; here, there’s no “are we there yet”, because in Western Australia the journey really is the destination. For me the south west is a mix of rugged natural landscapes, history and fresh local food. You taste the region, as much as you see it.
Day One: Perth to Margaret River
It takes just 3 hours to drive from Perth to Margaret River, but take the chance to stop, stock up and stretch your legs along the way.
Millbrook Winery, just under an hour from Perth offers a food and wine experience that’s among the best in the State. The restaurant under Chef Guy Jeffreys, is known as one of Australia’s most sustainable. Jeffrey’s is part gardener, part chef, and a meal at Millbrook brings the full breadth of his paddock to plate repertoire.
Bunbury Farmers Market is a popular stop for those heading up and down from Perth. This large market is predominantly stocked with WA grown ingredients. Their coffee window has been my pick-me-up on many a trip.
Day Two, Three, Four: Margaret River
The Margaret River wine region is more compact than you might think. At just 100 miles long, by 27 km wide, it comes as a surprise to many that the wineries that dot the landscape are framed by towering forests, subterranean cave systems and a coastline of coves and bays. Cape’s Naturaliste and Leeuwin mark the northern and southern ends of the region; between these points the region’s wine has, over fifty years become a focus for premium wine lovers. A Mediterranean and maritime climate gives long warm days in summer, with cool breezes bringing the temperature down over night. Perfect for viticulture.
While many people just know the name Margaret River, it’s worth looking at the (unofficial) sub regions from north to south: Yallingup, Carbunup, Wilyabrup, Treeton, Wallcliffe and Karridale. Tasting your way through the region either driving yourself or with a tour allows you to pick up the variations in a relatively short distance.
Depending on the amount of time you’ve got in the region, and your level of wine interest there’s different ways to explore the region’s wine.
In a short visit you can’t cover all Margaret River’s cellar doors, so make a selection from small to large, newer players to the founders. Start at the beginning with the Wilyabrup set: Cullen Wines, Vasse Felix, Juniper Estate, Woodlands and more. This is where wine in the region started. Up near Yallingup, Will’s Domain, Deep Woods and Marq Wines are great stops. Further down towards Margaret River township, Leeuwin Estate, Voyager, McHenry Hohnen, Xanadu and Cape Mentelle are notable. In the far reaches of the region at Karridale, Glenarty Road offer a look at both a small scale winemaker and working farm.
The ocean plays a huge part in Margaret River life. It’s drawn in winemakers and chefs for years and for most is a part of daily life. A morning dip at a good swimming beach, like Meelup, Yallingup, Gnarabup or Hamelin Bay is a great start; but there’s also more active pursuits, whether it’s a Standup Paddle Board or surf lesson. If like me you feel most comfortable looking out over the ocean you can do that on the Cape to Cape track or with a long black and breakfast at Gnarabup’s White Elephant Cafe, a local haunt year round.
We do lunch well in the South West. Our winery restaurants are typically open only for lunch, their chefs, some of the best in the State, drawn to the region by not just the coastal lifestyle, but also the wealth of produce from abalone and marron, to premium vegetables, truffles (in season) and of course premium wine. Many offer both a la carte and tasting menus, as well as more informal sharing dishes. Vasse Felix, Cullen Wines, Leeuwin Estate and Voyager have formidable culinary reputations; while newer names and chefs are making their mark at Knee Deep Wines, Amelia Park Restaurant, Wills Domain and Aravina Estate.
Days Five, Six, Seven – Southern Forests
The Southern Forests (Manjimup, Pemberton, Northcliffe and Walpole) have a long farming tradition, built upon the migrant families who made it home in the early 20th century. A landscape of towering forests of Karri, that gives way to rich agricultural land awaits.
While you’ll find plenty of roadside stalls selling seasonal produce, Fontatini Fruit and Nut sell farm fresh produce straight from the source. In season take to their orchard to gather chestnuts for roasting.
Farm visits, tastings and the chance to meet the regions farmers is available through The Genuinely Extraordinary Southern Forests Food and Farm Experience, a monthly initiative run by a local farmers association.
Heart of Australian Truffle Country
The home of the Australian truffle industry, in season black truffle is shipped to the world’s best restaurants. You can get a taste at the annual Truffle Kerfuffle on the last weekend in June, or take a farm tour and truffle hunt at a number of producers, including the Truffle & Wine Co., and Australian Truffle Traders.
Days Eight, Nine, and Ten: Perth
From the coast to the city, Perth offers laid back and fine dining. With a few days up your sleeve you can discover how the locals eat and drink. Beachside breakfast at Odyssea at City Beach and Bib & Tucker; lunch by the Swan River at Ku De Ta; cocktails in Perth’s hippest neighbourhood at Mechanics Institute; or late night dining at Long Chim. While great produce and chefs grabbing national attention drive Perth’s food scene, there’s also classic Perth to discover from the delis of Northbridge, to the pubs of Fremantle.