Overnight stays: Collie River Valley Tourist Park, Collie; Boogaloo Campground, Augusta; Glenbrook Camping, Margaret River; Peaceful Park, Metricup; Yallingup Beach Holiday Park, Yallingup; Mandalay Holiday Resort, Busselton (3 nights); Manjimup Cantral Caravan Park & Deli, Manjimup
The scenic route south
Our drive from Fremantle to Collie through Serpentine, Dwellingup and Harvey was all time. Definitely one of the prettiest drives we’ve ever done, reassuring us the wildflower route was the right choice, rather than trawling on the highway through the unexciting Rockingham, Mandurah and Bunbury.
We saw enough wattle to send any hayfeverer to a psychiatric facility, stacks of dairy cows, more green than a Nimbin farmer, alpacas, cherry blossoms, and a delicious array of wildflowers. The cute towns also impressed, especially Dwellingup, showing more character than a Margaret River Cabernet.
The following day, continuing on the wildflower route towards Augusta, was just as amazing. After a couple of fails and missed turns, we eventually found our way on the horribly signposted scenic route out of Collie, towards Boyup Brook.
En route we were impressed with the beautiful forest driving past an impressive dam wall, along a river where we stopped for a cuppa, and screamed past an unexpected brewery, where we screeched to a halt, made our sixth U-turn for the morning, and decided it was the perfect place for lunch and a beer, on a beautiful sunny day, with bangers cranking, overlooking precious farmland.
Okay. We have found the weirdest place in the country. Those Gnomophobe readers best not read on, because this is the stuff of your nightmares.
Somewhere south of Collie, on the edge of the road is a ‘place’ called Gnomesville. We had read about it in a brochure in Collie, and assumed it would be a nice little place where you pay a nominal entrance fee and see a few random gnomes, possibly recreating famous moments in history, like the time President Trump was impeached. But wow were we wrong?!
As you approach a roundabout you can start to see, nay feel the presence of gnomes. Once you park and start to wander around you get a real sense of just how massive and odd this ‘attraction’ is. I really can’t describe how far and wide the little garden dwellers spread, and there would have to be millions of them, without any word of a lie. Rather than a paid attraction it’s actually just a squillion gnomes sprawled along the side of the road and into the forest, with all the little dudes contributed by punters. We later found out that visitors are meant to contribute a gnome to keep the farm growing, but visiting this strange place wasn’t a bucket-list item for us, so we didn’t pack any gnomes. Had we gnome it was a thing we would’ve brought one 🤪.
Still coming to terms with what we had witnessed, we continued through wonderful wildflower territory and the gorgeous tiny towns of Boyup Brook, Bridgetown and Nannup until we found the ocean; two of them in-fact.
We enjoyed a nice sunset where the Southern and Indian Oceans meet, followed by local fish and chips, which by this point in time were best on trip; fresh, large and delicious.
One thing we noticed both here and over the preceding days was how few travellers and Stroms (we have decided from hereon-in to Call Grey Nomads Stroms, which is short for Stromatolites) there were around. We had become used to passing countless caravans and multiple motor homes, but here in the deep south west we almost felt alone. What did everyone know that we didn’t? We put it down to the fact that most Stroms actually migrate north during the cooler months to thaw out. But there was pretty well no one around – no Stroms, backpackers or family travellers 🤔. Oh well.
South West WA is best known for three things: wine, surfing, and caves.
Of the three caves on offer, we chose to visit Jewel Cave (over Lake and Mamoth), knowing one would be plenty for amateurs like ourselves. This deep enormous cave was only discovered in 1957, when someone finally decided to hoist themself down a small hole in the ground, that opens up to a stadium of spectacular stalagtites (roof hangers) and stalagmites (floor mountains).
We were super impressed and with Liv leading the way through most of the guided tour, we were glad we made this impressive visit. Prior to this we had only visited Wellington Caves on the Wombatical, and this blew them out of the water.
Searching for stingrays
There’s a place along the coast called Hamelin Bay, where stingrays are renowned for coming assure and flapping about amongst people, accustomed to being hand-fed. Sounded amazing to us, being able to step among creatures we generally fear, so we popped in for a Bo Peep.
The weather at this point was horrid, drizzly and blowing a gale, but that didn’t stop us beakoning to the beach. On our way through to the sand we passed a disappointed family, also stingray searchers, who informed us there were none around, nor had any been seen for several weeks 🙁.
We checked for ourselves and unfortunately they were right, the stingrays didn’t want to be near us. There was, however, enough seaweed around to open a new sushi bar in the closest Woolies, which emitted the gentle scent of Blackall (the worst town in Australia that smells like rotten egg); time to move on.
Continuing north, through the Boranup Forest, we were overwhelmed with the size and scale of Karri Trees sprawling as far as the eyes would allow on both sides of the road. And speckled in-between were more wonderful wildflowers, which really make driving through WA in springtime an absolute pleasure.
We stopped in for lunch with a view overlooking Conto Beach, before hitting up what we were most excited about in this part of the world; wineries 🍷.
The first sip
A jam-packed day was getting away from us, but we found enough time to squeeze in visits to the nearby Leeuwin Estate and Xanadu wineries before settling in for the night. I had been super excited to visit Leeuwin, with their Art Series Chardonnay one of my favourite wines. Sadly we were underwhelmed with their wines, but Xanadu surprised us with some absolute rip-snorters, including their muscatel and cane-cut sticky.
The Capitalist in me believes in rewarding good product and service. Companies who make poor products shouldn’t survive, but it’s tough at a winery… They give you free tasting in the hope you’ll like their products and buy them. Winery sales staff are so well trained that if you don’t buy anything they will send you straight to hell, so you feel obliged. Thankfully we did like the Leeuwin Shiraz so were able to walk away with a happy purchase. But had we not liked it, who knows what we would have done…?
Barney & the fowl
We found a great little campsite on the edge of town, which is a farm run by a bloke called Jas. We absolutely loved this place, with the donkey named Barney welcoming us, stacks of roos, cute guinea fowl, and a big rotunda with a fire pit in the middle, allowing us a fire despite the rain that tumbled shortly after we got it going.
With the blissful sound of rain pattering on the rotunda’s tin roof, we sat around the fire drinking muscatel, playing games and of course cooking marshmallows. The perfect end to a perfect day.
Moving in on Margs
Loz’s friend Kylie grew up in South-West WA so offered a wealth of knowledge with recommendations for us. One of her best was the White Elephant Cafe. This place, overlooking the beach, albeit on a dreary day, was the best way to start the day as we sipped creamy coffee and ate the best muffin of my life by the open fireplace, as Liv played with the toys offered by the cafe. The best.
Working up a thirst
We wound our way back into town, with our sweet teeth not fully satisfied, easily addressed by the best bakery in the country, with caramel slice that would end war. All this sweet eating made us thirsty, so we fled just up the road to the Brewhouse for a refreshing ginger beer by the fire – we could get used to this lifestyle 😀.
Thus far we had sampled wine and beer in Margs, and wanting to naturally form the strongest shape, coffee tasting was the obvious third point to our triangle. Our friends the Coles were around the same area and had recommended Yahava Koffeeworks, so we dropped in – in a light industrial area on the edge of town, and they offered drive-thru coffee. These factors usually combine to create coffee only drinkable by Balinese monkeys. And if the Coles’ hadn’t recommended it, we would’ve run away quicker than a caffeinated primate, but we persisted and boy are we glad we did.
Apart from cat poo coffee in Bali and some other animal poo coffee in Panama, we hadn’t really ventured into the world of coffee tasting. Here they offered the same coffee made three different ways for you to compare; espresso, filtered, and cold-pressed. All were fantastic, and inside the place had a great vibe, full of coffee beans, machinery, random paraphernalia, and people. It was also lovely to sample coffee that hadn’t been half digested by a wild animal 😏.
Back to business
With 25 shots of coffee tricking through our veins we were ready to get back to the serious business of beer and wine tasting, via the bakery of course.
Cowaramup Brewing Company was nice and quiet, but the Beerfarm was an absolute favourite. It’s set on an old dairy, and pumps out the jams with cracking beers, often experimental such as a delicious blackberry beer. We spent too many hours here, sipping paddles on the couches, forgetting what day of the week it was; probably a work day though.
They say you should never mix drinks, so between the breweries and wineries we took the sensible option of cleansing the pallet with chocolate and ice-cream from Margaret River Chocolate Company. We were going uber-indulgent on this leg of the Wombatical, but you don’t go to the snow to swim, nor do you come to Margaret River to twiddle your thumbs.
Living the dream
Loz has had a dream since forever to sit by a wood fire on a rainy day in Margaret River, sipping red wine, overlooking the vineyards. As I do with many of her perfect imagination ideas, I laughed off this proposition as ridiculous, it’ll never happen.
But that’s exactly what happened at Vasse Felix. After tasting their hit and miss range we were mighty impressed with Cabernet, so agreed to buy a bottle, just as a couple left the couches by the fire and window, and the rain started on the vineyard outside. Cheese platter? Sure 😁. Life goals, tick! It was a pretty special and memorable moment, and the ideal almost end to a day of coffee, beer, chocolate, cheese and wine exuberance.
The perfect day was absolutely topped when we were the only ones staying on a farm just down the road, eating marshmallows and sinking muscatel by our fire 🔥.
The show must go on
We were having a ridiculously good time in Margaret River, and our taste for wineries wasn’t quite complete, so we continued the following day, knocking over Woodlands, Evans & Tate, and the incredible Amelia Park all before lunch. We loved the latter so much that we actually joined their wine club, with our first delivery due at Christmas 🥂.
By this time we had also collected quite a few bottles from all the wineries we had visited; more bottles than we’ve probably consumed on the entire Wombatical. So we agreed House of Cards would be our last winery after lunch and a beer paddle at Black Brewing Company in a beautiful setting overlooking a small lake while the sun finally came out in Margs.
Oh, and one more chocolate visit, with the most delectable mint choc-chip ice-cream served with a warmed up cookie; now we’ll call it a day (as far as indulgence was concerned).
For those of you wondering what Baby Wombat was doing this entire time… She loved the breweries because we got to play UNO, Snakes & Ladders, and many had playgrounds. At the wineries she would draw, read or play quietly with toys, like the little legend she is. And obviously she lapped up the chocolate places like a boss 🍫🍨.
Chockablock full of wine, beer, chocolate and ice-cream, we shifted back to the coast, headed for Injidup Beach. This was another place recommended by Kylie, with a steep sand dune at the southern end of the beach, primed for sand sliding. Liv’s birthday present boogie board hadn’t had a lot of action so we were keen to give it a rip on a hill where you’re apparently supposed to slide down all the way into the water.
The walk to the top was expectedly exhausting, with the sand softer than that Snapchat filter Millennials use to hide their imperfections, that hilariously makes their boyfriends and husbands look like 10yo boys.
I went first, struggling to slide on my bum, carrying some serious holiday baggage, until I came to a halt halfway down the hill. Time to mix things up, so I jumped up on my feet and hilarity ensued as I slid for a second or so and rolled the remainder of the way down, much to the amusement of Loz and Liv.
This faux pas gave everyone the confidence to slide for a few turns each, which was a hell of a lot of fun. Livvy was scared shitless but brave and seemed to enjoy it, as long as Loz was holding her tight.
Injidup Natural Spa
Hidden amongst a bunch of boulders we eventually found this natural spa we had saved as a point of interest somewhere along our travels. We didn’t know what to expect, but assumed it wasn’t going to be a near 40’C toasty natural spa given its’ proximity to the ocean.
Waves crash into the coastline rocks at ferocious force, and when the break is big enough a gush of waterfall will smash through a stream of rocks, and flow out into a deliciously pretty rockpool, thus forming a natural spa. The water is about as cold as our reaction when we saw the Shark Bay Stromalolites (the actual ones, not Grey Nomads), but Liv and I braved it for a fun way to end another magnificent Margs day.
We pulled in for a night at the surfie town of Yallingup, just in time to watch one of our last ocean sunsets of WA, happily observing surfers, dolphins and whales.
The following morning, before setting off across the northern coast of the south-west, we found a ripper playground across the road where we were able to watch the scores of surfers somehow not being at work at a reasonable hour on a weekday morning. It was an impressive beach for surfing, but too rocky for everyday punters, so we cruised on, keen to check out the remainder of Cape Naturaliste National Park.
Sugarloaf Rock offers a nice viewpoint with beautiful water, as does Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse, which has the addition of passing whales enjoying the sunshine blessing us from above.
Our first stop along the north was at Bunkers Beach House, which we reckon is one of the best located cafes in Australia, bang on the beautiful beach. The coffee and muffins matched the view, working up our appetite for our first south-west swim.
Bunker Bay was another pristine beach, super calm, and just warm enough to avoid hypothermia.
Meeliup was a wonderful surprise. A helpful staffer at one of the wineries had recommended this beach as great for kids. On the eastward drive along the north coast, we had already stopped numerous times for the morning so almost didn’t make the turnoff for Meelup Beach.
If we didn’t make the turn we would have missed one of the most beautiful beaches we’ve ever been to. Best of all, it was dead quiet, with only a handful of people around despite the cracker of a day on offer.
We spent hours cooking lunch on the public BBQ (literally hours trying to work the bloody things), eating, relaxing, swimming, and whale-watching as they played almost within swimming distance. I can’t express how wonderfully surprised we were with this massively underrated beach – an absolute cannot miss in Australia, especially on a cracker day.
On the way into Busselton there are seemingly dozens of cheap religious campsites, each run by a different religion. At this point we wondered what the hell this town was…? Thankfully there are other options available, so we bypassed the bible-belt and pulled into the Mandalay Holiday Resort, which on arrival we discovered as one of the greatest caravan parks in Australia. Our stay jumped swiftly from an overnighter to two nights, to three, until they finally rejected our extension request and kicked us out – school holidays were beginning.
To make things better we had the best site in the whole park, directly opposite the jumping pillow (available to everyone, not just kids) and playground. This meant Liv could play and bounce to her heart’s content, and we could supervise with a beer in-hand, from under our awning. Perfect.
The park also had a deliciously heated indoor pool and super-slick waterslide, pew pew.
Very little was done on our relaxing days here, aparting from bouncing, sliding and swimming, which was just what we needed after single-night stays for well over a week.
Our friends the Coles messaged us saying they were in the tiny town of Manjimup for the annual Bluegrass Festival and they’d love us to join them. We love Bluegrass and Manjimup was on our planned wildflower loop back towards the south, so we set on our way. First stop was Donnybrook Playground, recommended by Kylie as the best in the country, and we reckon she wasn’t far off – it was mcmassive. Apparently Donnybrook was voted Australia’s least interesting town about a decade ago, so when an old fella with a massive block in town died, he donated his land to the community and told them to do something useful with it. The council and residents chipped in to create a playground bigger than a Yallingup right-hander, which has become an almost tourist attraction for the town.
We were also lucky enough to meet up with Kylie’s sister and her family while there, giving Livvy some friends to share the surplus of equipment with.
Driving not all that far from where we were only a week or so before, our carefully planned wildflower route was as good as expected, passing through the most beautiful little towns of Balingup and Bridgetown, places you feel like you could retire to the peace and quiet, with a fresh loaf of bakery bread each day, a coffee and slice at the only cafe, and a counter meal at the pub, in bed by about 3pm.
Majimup was also a cute town, and the caravan park was right amongst it. We laughed a little as when we arrived we were expecting hoo-haa to the scale of Tamworth during the Country Music Festival. Turns out things weren’t quite as hectic; in-fact they were nowhere near the scale, to an almost laughable level. It was a public holiday, and everything in town was closed – we could almost sense a wheel of tumbleweed about to blow into the main street.
The caravan park slotted us right next to the Coles as requested, where we reaquainted while Liv and Sam kicked off exactly where they left off in Freo.
As we usually do when we setup camp, we put some tunes on, although this time they were pleasantly interrupted by the close distant sound of banjos. Turns out a couple of the Bluegrass musos in town were staying only metres away, and were warming up for the concert that night – perfect.
The six of us, carrying bags full of kids entertainment (anything to keep them quiet at a concert), wandered up to the main street and into the pub to snag the few remaining seats. This festival, although not anywhere near the scale we anticipated, was just perfect. It was small, warm and friendly. Everyone knew each other, shared a passion for music, and were there for the same reason.
The concert was good fun, with a mix of beginner, ametuer, extreme-Green, and amazing music. And the beer was cold and creamy – an awesome way to spend another awesome night with the Coles before parting ways again the following day.
The playgrounds in country south-west WA are pretty ridiculous. Maybe there’s an oversupply of children in the area, possibly caused by a lack of contraception? Or maybe playgrounds are just their way to attract family visitors? Manjimup playground was no exception, and the racing flying foxes were enough to keep the adults happy while the kids played.
Saying goodbye to the south-west
South-west WA came with few expectations for us. We assumed wine and that was about it. Not only did the wine over-delivered for us in terms of quality and quantity, but the beaches, sights, playgrounds, breweries, weirdness, caves, adventures playgrounds, chocolatiers and people gave us so much more than we asked for.