Southwest WA

Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Margaret River (Photo: AAP Image)
At Margaret River, you'll find yourself zipping up and down Caves Rd
Page 1 of 4: Bunbury, Busselton and Dunsborough

The green and lush southwestern corner of WA is one of the most rewarding areas of Australia to visit. Wild bottlenose dolphins and whales frolic offshore while devoted surfers search for the perfect line on perfect waves. On land magnificent wineries beckon. While the scenery is gorgeous, distances between the myriad attractions are short, a rare event in most of WA, so drive-time is mercifully limited, making it a fantastic area to explore for a few days.

Getting there and away

Transwa (1300 662 205) and South West Coach Lines (Perth 08-9324 2333, Bunbury 08-9791 1955, Busselton 08-9754 1666) run daily bus services from. Transwa runs a service to Pemberton ($42, eight hours) several times a week. South West Coach Lines also runs regular services to Bridgetown ($31, 4½ hours), Manjimup ($35, five hours) and Balingup ($31, 5½ hours).

Transwa's Australind train service travels from Perth to Bunbury ($24, 2½ hours) twice daily.


Bunbury, 184km south of Perth, has started to transform its image from industrial port to seaside holiday destination.

The visitors centre (9721 7922; Carmody Pl; 9am-5pm Mon-Sat, 9.30am-4.30pm Sun) is in the old 1904 train station. Check your email in the Old Station Coffee Lounge next door. Nearby, Bunbury City Transit (9791 1955) will help you get around.

Start with a morning visit to the Dolphin Discovery Centre (9791 3088;; Koombana Beach; adult/child $4/2; 8am-5pm), where three pods of about 100 bottlenose dolphins regularly feed in the inner harbour, most frequently between November and April. Nearby is the Mangrove Boardwalk, by the shores of bird-haven Leschenault Inlet.


On the shores of Geographe Bay, 230km south of Perth, Busselton is a popular holiday resort with a slightly faded air. Surrounded by calm waters and white-sand beaches, the famous 2km-long jetty is the main attraction. Still family-friendly, Busselton has plenty of diversionary activities for lively kids; think playgrounds on the foreshore, sheltered beaches, waterslides, animal farms and even a classic drive-in cinema. During school holidays the population increases fourfold, accommodation is fully booked and pricey, and the beaches and restaurants are crowded.

Busselton's visitors centre (9752 1288;; Causeway Rd & Peel Tce; 9am-5pm Mon-Fri, 9am-4pm Sat, 10am-2pm Sun) has a huge range of tourist information.

Sights and activities

The town boasts the longest timber jetty in the southern hemisphere, at 2km. Constructed in 1865, a mammoth planned renovation programme will likely close the jetty for many months in 2007; check at At the shore end is a free and friendly small museum, at the ocean end is the underwater observatory (adult/child $20/12; 10.30am-3.30pm).

Diving is popular, especially on Four Mile Reef (a 40km limestone ledge about 6.5km off the coast) and on the scuttled Navy vessel HMAS Swan off Dunsborough. The Dive Shed (9754 1615;; 21a Queen St) can take you out.


Dunsborough, west of Busselton, is a pleasant coastal town. Fast developing into an increasingly chichi destination, it's now too expensive for the local family holidays that used to be its mainstay. It's also popular with school leavers, thousands of whom descend to party for a couple of weeks in late November/early December.

The cheerful staff at the visitors centre (9755 3299;; Naturaliste Tce; 9am-5pm) have a wealth of regional information.

Sights and activities

Northwest of Dunsborough, Cape Naturaliste Rd leads to the excellent beaches of Meelup, Eagle Bay and Bunker Bay (take a coffee break and absorb the stunning view at Bunkers Beach Café on the way), some fine coastal walks and lookouts, and the Cape Naturaliste lighthouse (9755 3955; adult/child $9/5; 9.30am-4pm), built in 1903.

Whale watching for humpbacks and southern rights is a regular pastime between September and December. Naturaliste Charters (9755 2276; offers two-hour whale-watching tours by boat (adult/child $60/33). The southernmost nesting colony of the red-tailed tropicbird is at scenic Sugarloaf Rock.

There has been excellent diving in Geographe Bay since the decommissioned Navy destroyer HMAS Swan was purpose-scuttled in 1997 for use as a dive wreck. Marine life has colonised the ship that lies at a depth of 30m, 2.5km offshore. Cape Dive (9756 8778;; 222 Naturaliste Tce; two-tank dive from $175) offers dives and dive courses.

Margaret River

The ample attractions of Margaret River — top surf, undulating bushland, some of Australia's best wineries — make it one of WA's most popular destinations. Margaret River gets very, very busy at Easter and Christmas (when you should book weeks, if not months, ahead), during the annual food and wine bash in November (, during surf competitions in March and November, and at the time of the renowned Leeuwin Estate open-air concerts in February.


Cybercorner Cafe (2/72 Willmott Ave) Check your email here.

Visitors centre (9757 2911; www.margaretriver.comm; cnr Bussell Hwy & Tunbridge St; 9am-5pm) The sleek visitors centre has wads of information, plus an on-site wine centre.

Sights and activities

You'll find yourself zipping up and down Caves Rd (stretching from Yallingup to Augusta) and the Bussell Hwy, taking in countless attractions on the way. There are galleries, caves and, of course, a cloistered vineyard at the end of many a dirt turn-off.

We know what you're here for — wine tasting! Drop by the Margaret River Regional Wine Centre (9755 5501;; 9 Bussell Hwy, Cowaramup; 10am-7pm Mon-Sat, noon-6pm Sun), where the knowledgeable staff can plan a vineyard itinerary for you and will ship wine almost anywhere in the world.

Eagles Heritage Raptor Wildlife Centre (9757 2960;; adult/child $10/5; 10am-5pm), 5km south of Margaret River on Boodjidup Rd, rehabilitates many birds of prey each year. There are free-flight displays at 11am and 1.30pm.

At the Margaret River Chocolate Company (9755 6555; arman's South Rd, Willyabrup; 9am-5pm), sample a bag of red-gum honey crunch or a rum-rebellion truffle, but try not to loiter by the choc buds.

A beautiful National Trust property 8km northwest of town, the 1857 Ellensbrook Homestead (adult/child $4/2; house open Sat, Sun & public holidays 10am-4pm, grounds open daily) was the first home of pioneer settlers Alfred and Ellen Bussell, led by local Noongar people to this sheltered but isolated site, with its supply of fresh water.

Another popular activity around here is exploring the many caves of the region. Caveworks visitor centre (9757 7411;; Caves Rd; 9am-5pm), about 25km from Margaret River, has excellent screen displays about caves and cave conservation, an authentic model cave and a 'cave crawl' experience.


Book at the visitors centre for your designated driver and guide to the sensational wineries.

Bushtucker Tours (9757 1084;; adult/child $60/30) The four-hour trip combines walking and canoeing up the Margaret River, and features aspects of Aboriginal culture along with uses of flora and tasting of bush tucker.

Margaret River Tours (0419-917 166; One of the longest-standing local operators, runs combined wineries-sightseeing tours (half-/full day $60/95) or can arrange charters.

Wine for Dudes (9758 8699;; tour $60) Includes pick-up and drop-off, a tour of a working winery, lunch and boules — awesome.


Augusta is 5km north of Cape Leeuwin, where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean and the magnificent Blackwood River rolls into the sea. The cape, which took its name from a Dutch ship that passed here in 1622, is the most south-westerly point in Australia and on a wild day you fear being blown off the edge of the earth.

The visitors centre (9758 0166;; cnr Blackwood Ave & Ellis St; 9am-5pm) has a range of information.

Sights and activities

Whale watching happens at Cape Leeuwin between June and September. Naturaliste Charters (9755 2276; offers two-hour whale-watching tours by boat (adult/child $60/33). Sea Dragon (9758 4003; and Miss Flinders (0439-424 455; operate daily Blackwood River 'eco-cruises' (adult/child $25/10), usually leaving mid-morning.

The Cape Leeuwin lighthouse (adult/child $10/6; 8.45am-5pm), opened in 1896, has magnificent views of the coastline. Entry fee includes a tour of the lighthouse; only 10 people at a time can enter, so be prepared to wait a while in holiday season and enjoy a coffee and the view at the attached café.

The Augusta Historical Museum (Blackwood Ave; adult/child $3/2; 10am-noon & 2-4pm Sep-Apr, 10am-noon May-Aug) has interesting local exhibits.

Southern Forests

The tall forests of WA's southwest are world famous, and rightly so. They are simply magnificent, with towering gums — karri, jarrah, marri — sheltering cool undergrowth. Between the forests, small towns bear witness to the region's history of logging and mining; most, like Pemberton, have redefined themselves as small-scale tourist centres from where you can bushwalk, take wine tours, canoe trips and trout- and marron-fishing expeditions. The backdrop to the townships is verdant farmland and meandering rivers such as the Blackwood making their way through the landscape.

The area of 'tall trees' lies between the Vasse Hwy and the South Western Hwy, and includes the timber towns of Bridgetown, Manjimup, Nannup, Pemberton and Northcliffe. The drives between towns are spectacular.

DEC (Nannup 08-9756 1101; Warren Rd; Pemberton 08-9776 1207; Kennedy St) offices can help with maps and information on new national parks.


In an idyllic setting of karri forests, farmland and the Blackwood River, Bridgetown is one of the loveliest little towns in the southwest. Despite being overrun with visitors on the second weekend of November during its annual Blues at Bridgetown Festival (, it retains a great community feel.

The town's visitors centre (9761 1740;; 54 Hampton St; 9am-5pm Mon-Sat, 10am-3pm Sun) has a collection of apple-harvesting and cider memorabilia, and a curious jigsaw collection. Bridgetown's old buildings include Bridgedale House (9761 1740; ampton St; admission $3; 10am-2pm Fri-Sun), which was built of mud and clay by the area's first settler in 1862 and has been restored by the National Trust.

Between Balingup and Bridgetown, drop into the historic mining and timber township of Greenbushes. Some splendid, decaying buildings from the boom-days line the road, and heritage memorabilia is dotted through town.

Nearby Boyup Brook is the centre of country music in WA. The Harvey Dickson's Country Music Centre (9765 1125; comes complete with a life-size Elvis, an Elvis room and three 13.5m-tall guitar-playing men. It hosts regular rodeos as well as the WA Country Music Festival in February.


Deep in the karri forests, and at the centre of yet another promising wine industry, is the delightful town of Pemberton; a few days here is time well spent.

DEC (9776 1207; Kennedy St; 8am-4.30pm) Has detailed information on the many local parks, and also stocks the useful Pemberton Bushwalks brochure ($4).

Pemberton Telecentre. (Brockman St) Check your email here, next door to the visitors centre.

Visitors centre (9776 1133;; Brockman St; 9am-5pm) Includes a pioneer museum and karri-forest discovery centre; it's also the place for Transwa bookings.

Sights and activities
The national park forests around Pemberton are simply stunning. Aim to spend at least a day, or preferably two, driving the well-marked Karri Forest Explorer tracks, walking the trails and picnicking in the green depths. Its popular attractions include the Gloucester Tree, laddered with a daunting metal spiral stairway that winds 60m climb to the top. The Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree, tallest of the 'climbing trees' at 68m, is in Warren National Park, 11km south of Pemberton. The Bicentennial Tree one-way loop leads via Maiden Bush to the Heartbreak Trail. It passes through 400-year-old karri stands, and nearby Drafty's Camp and Warren Campsite are delightful for overnighting or picnics.

The enchanting Beedelup National Park, 15km west of town on the Vasse Hwy, shouldn't be missed. There's a short but scenic walk that crosses Beedelup Brook near Beedelup Falls; the bridge was built from a karri log. North of town, Big Brook Arboretum features 'big' trees from all over the world and from Australia's eastern states.

Wend through marri and karri forests on the scenic Pemberton Tramway (9776 1322;; Pemberton Railway Station). Trams leave for Warren River (adult/child $18/9) at 10.45am and 2pm daily.

The Lavender-Berry Farm (9776 1661; Browns Rd) is purple to all people, with berry, lavender or honey ice cream ($3); lavender soap, oils and ornaments; and hundreds of miniature lavender mice.

In lush gardens, the Fine Woodcraft Gallery (9776 1399; Dickinson St; 9am-5pm) has furniture made by clever people with lathes.

Last but by no means least, the wines (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz) of Pemberton's burgeoning wine industry attract favourable comparison to those from Burgundy; check at the visitors centre for wineries that are open to visitors. The Pemberton Wine Centre (9776 1211;; 9am-5pm), in Warren National Park, offers tastings of most local wines, and can pack a mixed box to your taste. Its attached café makes a mean local cheese platter.

Pemberton Discovery Tours (9776 0484; Operates half-day 4WD tours to the Warren and D'Entrecasteaux National Parks and other parks around Pemberton (adult/child $75/50). If you have your own 4WD you're welcome to tag along.

Pemberton Hiking Company (9776 1559; Runs well-regarded (and environmentally sound) walks through forest, clear rivers and sand dunes; alf-day tours start at $40 per person.

Shannon National Park

The 535-sq-km Shannon National Park is on the South Western Hwy, 53km south of Manjimup. The Shannon was once the site of WA's biggest timber mill (it closed in 1968), and exotic plants, including deciduous trees from the northern hemisphere, are some of the few reminders of the old settlement.

The 48km Great Forest Trees Drive takes in pretty country — tune in to 100FM for a commentary or buy the Great Forest Trees Drive ($15) from DEC. It's a one-way loop, split in two by the highway; start at the park day-use area on the north of the highway. From here you can also take an easy 3.5km walk to the Shannon Dam (checking out the quokka observation deck on the way), and a steeper 5.5km circuit to Mokare's Rock, where there is a boardwalk and great views; further along, the 8km-return Great Forest Trees Walk crosses the Shannon River. Off the southern part of the drive, boardwalks give access to stands of giant karri at Snake Gully and Big Tree Grove.

User comments
Hey, Great site for tips and travel. I am heading over that way from SA via Esperence up to Perth in October. I will be driving with a caravan, so some tips on the best parks would be great. Hope you dont mind if I print off some of these pages as references for our travels.