Travelling Australia Part III - West Coast; Perth and Margaret River
Spend some time travelling in Australia and you will quickly learn just how big the country is. We spent two months in Australia and felt like we barely scratched the surface. The west coast of Australia often gets skipped, it’s just that much further from everything and many of its highlights are more dispersed.
We had heard great things about the beauty of the west coast and the vibes being a little more chilled out, since it doesn’t get quite the same tourist volume as the east. And since we had to head that direction anyway, we opted to spend a week in the west visiting Perth, Margaret River and Dunsborough.
I’ve got to say I was pleasantly surprised by our time in the west. Of course, in one week we couldn’t possibly see or do too much of it, but what we did see we loved.
We arrived late in Perth, made it to our hostel and spent our first day sleeping in, chilling out, napping and getting a feel for the city. When you are on the move and travelling for a while you need days like this; days with no real agenda, days to get shit done and days to unwind.
We managed to get in a bit of time wandering Kings Park, a botanic garden with beautiful views of the city and waterfront. A particularly awesome thing about Perth is that buses are free in the city centre – yes, free!
We met up with our local friend Danielle who took us on a walking tour of the area and we grabbed a few drinks in Russell Square. Fringe Festival was on during our stay, so there was a heightened presence of colourful activities and people. It was great to have a local pointing out the cool things to do, great places to eat and must do activities. (Thanks Danielle for playing tour guide for us in your hometown!).
Rottnest Island came highly recommended from many people. Rottnest is a small 19km island off the coast of Perth that is fantastic for biking, snorkeling and beaching. The only vehicles on the island are service vehicles and the tourist bus. Rottnest is only accessible by ferry and the popular activity is to rent bikes and ride the island. There is a hop-on-hop-off style bus option as well, but where’s the fun in that?
You can easily buy packages that cover ferry tickets, bike rental and snorkel gear. Rottnest is also known for the quokka – they are glorified giant rats and they are only found on this island, hence Rottnest or Ratnest Island. Don’t worry, they are so cute and charming. Just google quokka selfie and see for yourself!
We woke up super early to take the first train from the city centre to Fremantle, so that we could then get the first ferry to the island. The ferry was about 30 minutes. The island is small, but there are a few places to pick up food and drinks, though you are paying a premium for it since you are on an island. We picked up our bikes and headed for the trails.
There is so much to do on this island. Even though it is small you would be hard pressed to fit it all in one day – we tried though! We biked and stopped at various beaches for snorkeling; we saw cauliflower coral, lots of fish and a small shipwreck. It was not my best snorkeling experience since I had heard the area was known for great white sharks on occasion. Needless to say I was distracted and constantly looking behind me just in case…
It’s also a big enough island that it never felt crowded. Often you were at the beach, snorkel spots and lookouts by yourself, so it felt like a private experience. It was a hot and exhausting day, but we really had the best time. And those quokkas are the best! They were my favourite critter we encountered in Australia.
We were lucky enough to be rolling back into Perth that evening just in time for a little world food night market happening in the city centre – it was so delicious and got us really excited for the markets we knew would be coming in South East Asia!
Margaret River and Dunsborough
We grabbed our rental car and headed about three-hours south to Margaret River. Margaret River is best known as being a wine region, more specifically where the wine region meets the ocean – which is pretty much why we flocked there! There is so much variety in this one area; wine, wildlife, ocean, beaches, caves and even diving!
Upon arriving in Margaret River we wandered the town and started to make some plans for our few days in the area. We wandered out to visit Mammoth cave, and then had a picinic at Happs Winery. We ate and drank by the vines, watching the white cockatoos munch on olives and fallen fruit.
Margaret River Wineries
At home we often took to exploring our local Bench and Niagara-on-the-Lake wine regions, so we were eager to do the same in Margaret River. We signed up for a full day wine tour with Southwest Charter Vehicles and Winery Tours. We had initially chose them because they would pick us up directly from our hostel in Dunsborough, but it also ended up being a private tour as no one else had signed up that day. This was awesome, since I hate that feeling of being herded in a group from place to place.
Our day in wine country included a visit to five different wineries, an olive shop, cheese shop, chocolate shop, lunch and a few bonus sspots to find kangaroos and beautiful lookouts. Most importantly, it included a guide driving us from place to place so we could booze all day.
Also I have to say, in Ontario wine tastings aren’t legally allowed to be free, but that is not the case in Australia. We were often trying 8-12 wines at each winery. Needless to say, it was a good thing we weren’t driving, which was really the whole point of signing up for one of these things. It was a hazy afternoon that’s for sure. I tried so many wines, I miscounted how many wineries we went to and had thought we had been gipped out of one. Nope, we went to five of them, I was obviously just drunk.
Dunsborough – HMAS SWAN Wreck
Having just been Adventure Diver certified a couple weeks prior, we were eager to get back in the water again. There were a number of diving options on the west coast, and we decided on diving a shipwreck, the HMAS Swan wreck. We dove with Dive Shed, who had great reviews and the trip did not disappoint.
Waters were much cooler in the west so were geared with 5mm wetsuits which felt terrible on land, but pretty cozy in the water.
I was pretty nervous about diving the wreck, it was not only a deep dive but there were some opportunities to actually go into the wreck. Maybe for some people this is exciting, but for whatever reason it just made me nervous! Despite all that, I managed to get over those nerves and complete both dives as well as swim through the wreck a couple times.
The Swan wreck was beautiful, awe-inspiring really. Considering it had only been sunk 20 years ago there was a surprising amount of growth and marine life, including a massive wobbygong under the ship! I don’t have photos, but google it – it’s a weird looking thing!
When looking for accommodations in Margaret River everything was booked, so we ended up staying in Dunsborough at the YHA. In the end, this actually worked out much better. There were still lots of wineries in the area, but we were also much closer to diving and the beach. The YHA has an awesome location right on the water, with a beautiful beach literally steps away from the hostel. We ended our busy days drinking wine at the beach with some glorious sunsets.
We headed back to Perth for our final day and mostly did the boring responsible stuff that all travellers needs to do – laundry, mailing stuff home, repacking and picking up essentials for the next leg of the journey.
Our time in Australia had come to an end. We spent eight weeks exploring this massive and diverse country and loved just about every moment of it. Of course, like anything it wasn’t without it’s challenges. While it was super easy to communicate and get around, our savings took a deep dive. It’s probably a good thing we were heading to South East Asia where we knew our money would go a lot further
And just like that our time in Australia was done and our time in South East Asia was just beginning, and our first stop was Indonesia!