Thusday evening 28th February.
As we draw to an end of our trip we are looking forward to exploring the Margaret River area and have secured a cosy room, so we think, in the YHA. All our experiences of such places have been good right through New Zealand and Australia but our spirits sink as we walk into the communal kitchen to prepare an evening meal. Quite frankly it is a contagious disease risk area.
The first thing I notice is how small it is for such a large hostel. It is also badly resourced with very few utensils. Then I see the food prep area where a few youngsters are happily chopping up meat amidst filthy washing up cloths and, as I start to clean up a few square feet for my prep, I have to negotiate a sweaty T-shirt that some thoughtful soul has plonked in the middle of the surface. I hold it up with some tongs and, as no-one claims it, I plonk it in the bin.
This is where I notice the bins! And we won’t go there except to say that the recycling code that has been so strong in every other place we have stayed has gone to pot in this one and the bins are already overflowing with detritus.
Marilyn looks for a space in the large fridges to store our food and is horrified at what looks like a store room for half finished chemical experiments. She has to clean a shelf of an opaque yellow liquid before placing our sealed cool-bag in the crowded fridge.
There is also a code that asks you to clean up after you have cooked. You are meant to wash up, dry up and put away. This does not apply here obviously and the place is as bad as any student flat I have ever been in – and that includes some pretty hideous ones I have lived in. Quite honestly there are a few folk here who are plain idle and unthoughtful and it only takes a few to spoil it for everyone.
By boiling every utensil and eating a very simple meal very quickly we think we might just have avoided the worst of the botulisms and retire to our little room to sleep. We have not realised that it is near a section of dormitory rooms and we are kept awake most of the night by people returning from the town pubs pissed and on the pull. We are party to several successful and some quite pathetic chat up lines outside various rooms. At about 4.30 in the morning we are woken by a loud knocking on a door adjacent to ours as a young woman tries to gain access to her bedroom. However her girlfriend with whom she shares has secreted a young man in there earlier in the evening and is not opening up. After twenty minutes of furtive and, at times, very agitated banging the whole place is awake. I go and suggest to the young lady that her friend is not going to let her in for whatever reason and that her best bet is to go and sleep on one of the sofas until morning so that the rest of us can sleep. After another five minutes of knocking she gives up and shortly after five o’clock we get some sleep.
In the morning we ask to move and are told of a little annex just 100 yards over the back lawn. There is no-one staying there, it has a clean tidy kitchen, a comfy lounge, and a covered garden seating area. The young man at the desk apologises for our experience and tells us that we should have been given this room last night. This is code for – it is where we put all the old fogies who can’t take a bit of noise and mess. He does seem genuinely upset that there are some people currently staying who are not respecting the place. I don’t envy him his job.
It reminds me of a notice I saw in one hostel that said, ‘ I am not your mother and she does not live here….please tidy up your own mess’.
In any event we are delighted with our new environment. So much so that we extend our stay in Margaret River until Saturday. It is a long holiday weekend and accommodation is impossible to find anywhere between here and Perth anyway. And away from that kitchen this is a most beautiful and picturesque part of the world from which to explore.
Today we head South from our new found accommodation. We follow the pretty Caves Road towards Augusta, stopping first at the local beach at Prevelly where surfers enjoy a good sea while we enjoy an even better coffee.
Lunch is at the erroneously named Cosy Corner Beach. It is awesomely beautiful but windswept and hot. We are approaching the Southwestern corner of the state where things start to get a bit wild. I love walking over the wind eroded rocks along the cliff.
Two guys come up from the beach laden with snorkeling gear that includes powerful harpoons and a float. Their catch of fish has been snatched from them by a three metre shark, they inform me, and they are off to a different reef. I notice that their camper has a huge dent in the front. ‘Kangaroo’, they inform me. I hope their third encounter with Australian wildlife is not unlucky for them!
We go on to Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse despite Marilyn’s observation that once you have seen one lighthouse……..We get slightly blown away by the steady wind that always blows here at the point that the Indian and Southern Oceans meet. We enjoy a short stop in Augusta before heading back through the pretty Karri forests to enjoy a meal cooked in a clean kitchen and then an undisturbed sleep.
Thursday 1st March…..
Whatever happens today won’t be as exciting as the news we receive in an email from Rosie, our daughter. It includes two scan pictures of the little baby girl that she is expecting in July. She can now start fretting about a name for a girl…..
That news was always in the back of our minds as we headed North today on Caves Road. This is real wine country. They are young vineyards, only financially viable since the 60’s and most of them much more recent than that. There are hundreds of them along this road and the area around and we promise ourselves to tour them tomorrow in some form or other.
We stop of at Yallingup, a pretty little town built round a surfers beach. The surf is up and people of all ages are riding the waves while two guys stand on their boards looking out for sharks.
From here we head to the very Northern point of this stretch of coast at Cape Naturaliste where we find a lovely beach to walk around at Sugar Loaf Rock where a granite outcrop has survived the ravages of this massive sea and looks very much like a Cornish Cove I know at Kynance with the contrast of rock,sea and sky.
We are disappointed by Dunsborough which looks like it has been put together by a town planner who was brought up on Lego. The beachfront to the yacht club is lined with massive houses from a massive Lego set that are owned by millionaires who, between cocktails, must live in fear that a tsunami or the almost inevitable rise of sea level will eventually float their expensive home away.
The ride back takes us back through a mixture of dairy farm, vineyard and uncleared forest. The weather is glorious and we have decided that, if we ever win the lottery, this would be an idyllic place to spend January and February every year.
We learn on the news tonight why it is difficult to find accommodation in the area this weekend. Not only is it a long weekend and half of Perth is heading South but Stevie Wonder is in town for a one off concert in a local Vineyard just North of Margaret River.
Now he is an idol from my youth….surely we can get tickets for this event?
Friday March 2nd….Wine tour in search of a special ticket.
We have decided on a wine tour that will show us some of the smaller more eco friendly vineyards that are growing up in this region and at 9.30 am Jamie turns up with the mini bus and tells us that we are the only takers for today’s tour and we have his undivided attention on the ‘Heritage Eco Friendly Wine and Food Tour’. The tour will comprise a journey through the region enjoying the best of the local food and wine through a series of tastings that will essentially take us through a gourmet meal in stages throughout the day.
First we meet Ray the owner and grower at Clownfish Vineyard. He is in the process of removing the nets from his Semillion grapes in preparation for picking this evening. He takes time to show us the different tastes that come from the various grapes. He tells us with enormous passion how he is searching through bio dynamic methods to produce award winning wines that are eco friendly. It is a much more complicated process than I had imagined, even down to the times of picking to coincide with phases of the moon and times of day to maximise the yield and taste in the grape. We get to taste his wines that are truly delicious and I buy a Shiraz medal winner to sup later. We learn at the tasting centre that there are Stevie Wonder tickets available and, as we will be passing the vineyard where he is playing, we will stop in and get some. This could be a perfect day.
Our tour takes us to a little town called Cowaramup where we taste some different wines that are grown organically and fermented without preservatives. The Settlers Ridge winery claims to produce wine that is ideal for certain asthma sufferers who are adversely affected by the preservatives used in most wines. The owner of this vineyard started the vineyard because they suffered badly from such problems themselves. These wines are also delicious and we are easily persuaded to purchase the white Sauvignon for a taste at home tonight.
From here we go to the local shop ‘ Fruity Cows’ where the owners are stocking locally produced groceries and preparing delicious fresh sushi. Here we get to taste some local cheeses, figs, deliciously sweet grapes and local bread, olive oil and chutneys. We buy a little piece of peppered goat’s cheese to go towards our evening meal.
At the local delicatessen ‘Margaret Riviera’ we sample the local olive oils that are surprisingly varied and scrummy. We decide to take some of their bread and a nut pesto home to add to our evening meal.
So we have had our starters and now we are taken to ’Providore’, a local boutique vineyard with a gourmet restaurant attached. The chef uses only local produce, much of which is grown in the gardens that surround the restaurant. It has been judged in the top hundred Australian places to eat. We taste seven of their lovely wines before choosing the wine for lunch. Marilyn enjoys fish while I have a delicious Belly Pork dish. This is followed by a chocolate liqueur that would be splendid poured over a vanilla ice cream.
Our tour continues to a tiny grower of purely organic wine – The Peacetree Vineyard. The owner is a true enthusiast. Her vines are certified organically grown and her wine maker, a French woman from Bordeaux, makes the wine using organic methods and so these wines are double certified as organic. They are truly delicious as his her liqueur and they have to be purchased to bring home for a special occasion despite the certain knowledge they will create weight problems with the luggage.
We pass the Winery where Stevie wonder tickets are allegedly on sale and everything is closed. We see the preparations for the gig but have to move on ticketless.
Next is a stop at a chocolate maker who takes us through the process of purchasing the right beans, sorting, roasting and cooking into different grade chocolate. ‘ Gabriel’ chocolate is another enthusiastic entrepreneur who is producing quality goods at a reasonable price. His chocolate ice cream has to be savoured and is truly wonderful.
To finish off the tastings and our ‘meal’ we visit a local coffee shop where beans are roasted on site. We taste three different coffees and fly out of there with our free gift of a pack of our favourite bean.
To end our fascinating day we get to watch a young glassblower practice his art and talk us through the process of making a piece. Ned is the son of the main man Gerry Reilly who has been producing beautiful glass in Margaret River for over thirty years. Ned is now ready to take up the mantle and is at the start of a road of discovery. I like his pieces that are a bit wobbly and imperfect but his father’s work is quite stunning and when I have a spare few hundred pounds I will get one of his pieces that are so in tune with the landscapes we have been passing through in Western Australia.
Our guide has a final attempt to get us our Stevie tickets but is told that we will have to go to the venue early and we will probably be able to pick up a ticket on the door. That is the only disappointment in a fascinating day during which we have met several passionate producers of great food, wine and art. Our guide has been personable and so helpful and I would recommend this tour to anyone thinking of exploring the region’s smaller and more eco conscious outlets.
The day will be complete if we manage to get those tickets…….