Exploring Western Australia Beyond Margaret River

Don’t let Western Australia’s premier wine region be your only stop in this part of the state.  

By Shamilee Vellu.

Avocados are among the Southern Forests region’s bounty of produce.

Encompassing more than 1,000 kilometers of coastline, 24 national parks, towering forests, and lush farmland, Western Australia’s southwest is filled with diverse attractions and landscapes that demand exploration. The Southern Forests region, an hour or so’s drive from the wine-growing area of Margaret River, is particularly inviting, offering everything from quaint tearooms and wildflower trails to epic, sweeping views of the Southern Ocean. Foodies should take special note: the Southern Forests is known as Western Australia’s “food bowl” for good reason—its many farms produce epicurean treats year-round, including world-class wine, ginseng, marron (freshwater crayfish), and superb truffles. Make sure to check out these three towns when you’re next in the region.

Taking in the views from a fire lookout high in a karri tree in the forests of Pemberton.

Nannup

A 50-minute drive east of Margaret River is the historic timber town Nannup, whose name means “stopping place” in the language of the indigenous Noongar people. Heed their advice. Located on the banks of the Blackwood River, Nannup is the very archetype of a small Australian country town; indeed, its weatherboard shop fronts and charming little tea rooms possess such a sense of nostalgia that scenes in the 2013 movie Drift (about the birth of Australia’s surf industry in the 1970s) were filmed here. 

A heritage trail of interpretive plaques leads walkers past the town’s cultural and historic sites, while A Taste of Nannup and Beyond is the perfect spot for souvenirs, with gourmet goodies and wares from more than 60 regional artisans and producers. The riverfront Nannup Bridge Cafe is a local favorite for solid, regionally inspired bistro fare like venison chorizo and twice-cooked pork belly in apple cider jus. Also worth stopping for: the Nannup Music Festival (Feb 28–Mar. 2, 2020), which highlights new and emerging Australian talents in a fun, family-friendly atmosphere.

Exploring the Yeagarup Dunes by four-wheel drive.

Manjimup

Early settlers were drawn to pastoral Manjimup for its fertile soils, abundant fresh water, and straight timbers. Today’s visitors are driven by appetites of a very different kind. Optimum growing conditions have turned Manjimup into the hub of Western Australia’s truffle industry, producing Périgord truffles that once unearthed are quickly spirited to fine-dining kitchens around the globe. Truffle madness peaks in June, when the charmingly named Truffle Kerfuffle festival draws gastronomes to join truffle hunts, meet growers and celebrity chefs and, of course, consume the prized fungi in endless culinary permutations.

Manjimup’s Pink Lady apples (one of Australia’s most successful exports) are another source of local pride, having been first cultivated here in the 1970s. An easy afternoon itinerary: Buy a few crisp specimens at a local farmers’ market, then head to one of Manjimup’s tranquil forests for some soul-soothing shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) or take a leisurely dip in Fonty’s Pool, an old-school freshwater swimming pool that dates back to 1925.

Pemberton

Pemberton may not be on most foodies’ radars, but it ought to be. While the viticultural scene here is relatively new, it yields quality chardonnays and sauvignon blancs. Early experiments with the finicky pinot noir grape have also shown promise, and not just for the wine: local brewery Jarrah Jacks finishes its seasonal cherry ales in pinot casks. 

Pemberton is home as well to a multitude of food producers growing everything from chestnuts to crayfish; at Forest Fresh Marron, owner Dave Evans sells his sustainably farmed crustaceans to day-trippers and Australia’s finest restaurants alike. An excellent way to sample the area’s produce is with a rustic vintner’s lunch; try the tasting room at Pemberley of Pemberton, where you can enjoy a home-cooked meal in the delightful company of second-generation winemaker David Radomiljac and his wife Monica.

To work up an appetite, climb one of Pemberton’s fire lookouts. Built dozens of meters high in the trunks of the tallest karri trees and accessed via steel pegs, these platforms provide breathtaking views of the surrounding woodlands. For a truly unforgettable experience, however, join Pemberton Discovery Tours on a 4WD tour of the forest-fringed Yeagarup Dunes. A remnant of receding seas after the last Ice Age, the dunes’ dramatic, wind-swept isolation offers a powerful invitation to contemplate life’s mysteries—or, at the very least, to plot a return visit.  

This article originally appeared in the February/March 2020 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Beyond Margaret River”).

 

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