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Australia - January 2018


Western Australia
The first Europeans to visit Western Australia were the Dutch in the 17th century using the new Brouwer Route. The Brouwer Route was used by ships sailing from the Cape of Good Hope to the Dutch East Indies, taking advantage of the strong westerly winds (Roaring Forties: 40-50 latitude), thus greatly increasing travel speed and saving up to 6 months time to Java compared to the circumnavigation of Africa as the Portuguese used to do.
Two hundred years passed before Europeans believed that the great Southern continent actually existed. By the late 18th century, British and French vessels had begun to explore the Western Australian coast. In 1801, a French sailor named Vasse from the two French Expedition ships Geographe and Naturaliste, was lost during a violent storm in Geographe Bay. Subsequently, the river and district were named “Vasse”, the bay “Geographe” and the Cape “Naturaliste”.

The British established a convict-supported settlement that was formally annexed on 21 January 1827 in response to British concerns about the possibility of a French colony being established on the coast of Western Australia. The two separate townsites of the colony developed into the port city of Fremantle and the state's capital, Perth.

Secessionism has been a recurring feature of Western Australia's political landscape since shortly after European settlement in 1826. Western Australia was the most reluctant participant in the Commonwealth of Australia and did not participate in the earliest federation conference. Residents of Western Australia were generally opposed to a federation. However, the discovery of gold brought many immigrants from other parts of Australia and those new immigrants voted to join the federation.


Fremantle – Margaret River – Busselton – Metricup – Perth (690 km and 9 days)

The port city of Fremantle lies on limestone hills at the mouth of the Swan River and many of the city’s most impressive heritage buildings are built from the pale-colored local limestone. Fremantle is renowned for its well-preserved architectural heritage of the 19th century, including convict-built colonial-era buildings, an old jetty, port and prisons. The Fremantle Markets opened in 1897, forming a precinct providing handicrafts, specialty foods, dining halls, fish and vegetable markets. Over 150 stalls are housed in the Victorian-era building.
Freo (vernacular diminutive for Fremantle) is a very diverse small size city with only 62% of the population born in Australia, compared with the national average of 76%. The two largest overseas-born groups come from England (8.6%) and Italy (4.4%). When walking around in Freo, the strong Italian presence is rapidly perceived, from the gelateria to the hotel, to the restaurants, everything has a distinct Italian touch. In fact, we spoke Italian during our entire stay. We will surely return here again. 

After the exciting driving and stunning landscapes in New Zealand, we forgot how boring it is to drive on an Australian highway … always straight forward and no change of scenery for hundreds of kms. Despite this, we managed to make it to the wine region of Margaret River. 

Margaret River wine region is made up predominately of boutique size wine producers, although winery operations range from the smallest crushing 3.5 tonnes per year to the largest around 7000 tonnes. The region produces just 3% of total Australian grapes but it produces over 20% of Australia's premium wine. The Margaret River region is home to more than 300 wineries with 116 cellar doors. Thanks to the input of two French sommeliers in NZ, we have compiled a short list of the wineries to visit during our stay in Margaret River. 

Our first stop was at the multi-awarded Capel Vale Winery in Capel. Family owned, Capel Vale has established mature vineyards in Geographe, Margaret River, Pemberton and Mt Barker … all of the reds are quite remarkable … we liked very much the exquisite Cellar Exclusive Geographe Malbec and the Mount Barker Shiraz as well as the superb rosé Cellar Exclusive (Shiraz and Merlot).

At Leeuwin Estate, we tasted 3 whites and 2 reds but none was really convincing.

Watershed was a magnitude better, another dimension ... we tasted 1 white (Viognier), 1 rosé (Shiraz) and 5 reds (Merlot, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon) and all were very good to exceptional, especially the Viognier, the Cabernet and the Zinfandel. The winery restaurant was also very good and offered a dazzling view of the estate!

Today, another exponential increase in class and quality at Voyager Estate … we tasted 6 white wines (Chenin Blanc, Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc as well as Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon and 3 different Chardonnays), 1 rosé (Shiraz-Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon) and 3 reds (Shiraz with 1.5% Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon and a Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot-Petit Verdot), all extremely good to exceptional. After the winery tour and the wine tasting, we enjoyed the Michelin-style restaurant with a 4-course discovery lunch menu: exquisite! The Estate itself is a bijou with the main-house built in South African Dutch style surrounded by beautiful sprawling parklands and at its center a marvelous rose garden … awesome … we rested on the manicured impeccable lawn after our lunch for the remaining of this unforgettable day.

Margaret River Distilling Co. is the sister distillery of Great Southern Distilling Co, Albany. Limeburners Single Malt Whisky was named, World's Best Craft Whisky 2017, Australia's Champion Whisky 2016 and Best Whisky in the Southern Hemisphere in the 2018 Jim Murray Whisky Bible.  Margaret River Distilling Co opened in November 2015, and is specializing in Gin, Vodka and Brandy. We tasted there 5 Whiskies from Albany, all of them were very good for our taste, especially because not peaty as the Scottish ones. To note, that the gold-awarded Limeburners Whiskies are both peated to heavy peated. The Whiskies are price wise not at all affordable … 2016 Australia's Champion Whisky - Heavy Peat 61% is at 700 AUD!

Busselton is home to the longest wooden jetty in the Southern Hemisphere, stretching 1841 meters out to sea. The construction of the jetty began in 1853 and was continually extended until the 1960s, when it reached its current length. Below the waves, you can snorkel along Australia's best artificial reef.
Busselton is considered WA’s premier seaside resort town, however we were a little disappointed by this small town. Apart from the seaside, the town offers little appeal and there are only a few restaurants with the usual pub menus. Some of WA's best swimming beaches are just few kms away ... pretty little Meelup beach (quite popular), the dazzling and long beach of Eagle Bay and stunning Bunker Bay. On the other side of Cape Naturaliste we visited the beautiful but crowded Yallingup Beach and Smith’s Beach. From there, we followed Caves Road in southern direction to continue our wine tasting tour.

Next stop: Arimia Estate, a boutique vineyard with a relaxed atmosphere located at the end of a gravel road in the bush. We tasted 2 whites (Semillon and Verdelho), 1 rosé (Grenache) and 7 reds (Cabernet Merlot, Grenache-Shiraz-Mourvedre, Shiraz-Viognier, Petit Verdot, Mourvedre, Zinfandel and Syrah Fortifié). All the reds were excellent but our fabs were the Mourvedre and the Zinfandel.

Our second wine stop of the day was at Larry Cherubino’s new cellar door in Margaret River. The Estate is stunning, everything is tuned to perfection, and this applies also to the premium wines. We tasted the full range of “Laissez Faire” with 6 whites (Gewürztraminer-Pinot Grigio-Riesling-Pinot Blanc as “Field Blend”,  Pinot Blanc, Fiano, Arneis, Chardonnay) and 2 reds (Shiraz-Grenache and Shiraz), as well as 1 rosé (Grenache) and 1 rosé bubbles (Pinot Noir-Chardonnay), the later two from the Ad Hoc range. We liked very much the Field Blend and the Arneis as well as the Shiraz-Grenache. To note, that most of Cherubino’s wines are not from the Margaret River Region but rather from the Great Southern (Frankland River, Mount Barker and Porongurup) and Pemberton.

The day after, we visited Cullen Wines cellar door and dined at their 3 chef hat restaurant. Before lunch, we saw one of the apprentice collecting the herbs and flowers from the kitchen garden, while the other one was harvesting mulberries from the tree for the sorbet. We tasted 5 whites (2x Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon-Verdelho and amber Sauvignon Blanc), 1 rosé (Merlot-Malbec-Cabernet Sauvignon-Petit Verdot), 1 rosé pétillant naturel (Merlot-Malbec-Cabernet Sauvignon-Petit Verdot) and 4 reds (Petit Verdot-Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot, Merlot-Malbec-Petit Verdot and Malbec). All very good but the winner is the rosé pétillant naturel, followed by the rosé, the Cabernet-Merlot and Dancing in the Sun (Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon-Verdelho).

The next day on our way to Vasse Felix Estate, we noticed a nice vineyard with well cured, old vines. We decided to stop at the estate and taste their wines, although not on our list. Fermoy Estate is a small to mid size winery with 350 tonnes of grapes crushed each year. Their Cabernet Sauvignon was served at the official wedding reception of Danish Royal Crown Prince Frederik and Princess Mary. We tasted 3 whites (Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay) and 4 reds (Shiraz, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon). Our preferred three were the Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot and the Sauvignon Blanc.

We then arrived at Vasse Felix for the lunch at the 2 Chefs Hats restaurant, we tasted 3 whites (Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon and 2x Chardonnay) and 4 reds (Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot, 2x Cabernet Sauvignon and a Shiraz). Here, our preference went to the premium Chardonnay and the Cabernet Sauvignon (88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Malbec, 2% Petit Verdot, 1% Merlot). It’s the oldest estate established in the region with vines planted in the 60s.

The next winery of the day was however a big surprise and the real discovery of Margaret River!
Cape Grace is set in the middle of the bush ... you don’t see the winery when driving on the gravel road, hidden so deeply in the bush. This very small family owned winery is basket pressing 30 tonnes of grapes per year, with the reds hand plunged … all the wines, reds and whites, are excellent! You sip their wine and you start dreaming ... in every single drop, you discover the full scale of aromas of the grapes.
Karen (the owner) offered us 4 whites (Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon, Chardonnay and a cane cut Chenin Blanc), 1 rosé (Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz-Petit Verdot) and 4 reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz, Shiraz and Petit Verdot). When everything tastes to perfection it’s very difficult to have a preference … but the Petit Verdot at 14.6% ABV produced in only 600 bottles is however outrageously superb. We will definitely come back with our camper for a fill up!!

In the touristic region of Margaret River, there is a little bit of everything due to the high influx of visitors. So it is not surprising to find a couple of chocolate manufacturers here. One of them, is producing at high level: Gabriel Chocolate in Yallingup. It’s a small factory compared to others, but with a big collection of awards. They directly import cocoa beans from various regions (Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Ghana, Papua, Java, etc.) and hand sort them for an in-house roasting and immediate crafting of single-origin chocolate. The grand cru of chocolate! … better than most Belgian chocolates. 

In Margaret River, there are also ten “craft” breweries and we visited 7 of them. The ambiance in the breweries goes from fine restaurant to fast food to classical pub and the buildings from abandoned animal farm to new stylish construction. Unfortunately, most breweries are following the mainstream taste and largely focus on lagers and pale ales. One exception is the Bush Shack Brewery, a simple shed in the bush, built from recycled bricks, timber and tin. The rustic bar with its friendly team, sits well in the bush. All brews are natural and unfiltered! Very creative and innovative beers here with a large selection of both amber and dark beers as well as specialty beers like the spelt beer, chili beer or the strawberry blonde. In addition several fruity beers like mango, passion or ginger beer. Our best choice was the Chocolate Beer (Milk Stout at 5%) and the Old St. Nick (Double Scottish Ale at 8.5%).


Perth – Bunbury – Busselton – Cowaramup – Augusta (900 km and 9 days) 

Back to Perth to collect our Toyota Hilux 4WD Campervan. We have exactly the same Apollo model we had for our last Top North adventure! So, we know perfectly our way around with all the pros and cons… and we settle quickly.
En route to Margaret River to continue our wine tour. But before, a drive on the foreshore of the region between Dunsborough and Cape Naturaliste. A swim in those paradise like beaches with white sand and turquoise clear waters is a must. Unfortunately, it’s too early (or too late) to watch the whales during their migration.

We have a new list of cellar doors to visit with Karen’s recommendations from Cape Grace wines.
Our first stop is at Cape Naturaliste Vineyard. A small family owned estate where we tasted 7 wines (3 whites, 3 reds and a dessert wine). They use a basket press for their top range wines. We liked very much the Sauvignon Blanc with its tropical aromas, the full bodied Cabernet Sauvignon-Malbec (producing 2100 bottles – we bought Torpedo Rocks 2013 basket press bottle # 1436) and the luscious cane cut botrytised Chenin Blanc.

Ashbrook Estate is our next visit the day after. Don’t think you’re lost on the dirt road, keep going! The cellar door is located 2 km at the end of the well-maintained dirt road. It’s also a small family owned vineyard.
We had 7 tastings (4 whites and 3 reds). The Verdelho was full of flavors better than some of the Portuguese ones and the Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot was excellent. Watch out for their new release of Petit Verdot single varietal.
With the specificity and high quality of their wines, the estates within Wilyabrup are trying to get a sub-region label. Here, the vines are often netted but not for the birds as one would think… but because of the kangaroos! They love the grapes when they are becoming sweet and you can see them at dusk under the vines.

A small detour on the road to Moses North Beach before our next vineyard. The views are magnificent with the strong waves crashing down the beach. No wonder that this is a surfer spot.
Nearby you can drive to Cape Clairault, a beautiful long beach with hardly anyone.

Last stop of the day, Windows Estate. Another small, family owned winery still utilizing a manual basket press. This estate received numerous awards and was nominated for many years as the best small producer of the year.
We tasted 6 wines including a sparkling wine. We had high expectations and unfortunately, we were a bit disappointed by the wines (too dry, too acidic or too young).

It’s gonna be a light day today… It’s rainy and cold and it was quite tough to get out of the campervan! We decide to go and visit Brown Hill Estate, east of Margaret River. One of the gems of Margaret River. The vines there are non-irrigated. You can taste their entire collection amidst the wine tanks and the press. It’s a small family owned vineyard where they grow the vines and manage all the steps up to the bottling on the premises.
An incredible wine selection better and larger than what the big shots have to offer. 13 wines tasted out of the 17 proposed and all reds are excellent!
They really propose their entire collection for complimentary tasting and they’re not shy with the amount. Beware and be prepared! We had the privilege to visit their barrel room and meet the winemaker, the son of the owner, Nathan Bailey.

Final stop at the Black Brewing Co.: a nice venue in front of a pond with a restaurant serving interesting and unexpected food combinations. We took a flight paddle of 4 beers and the ones to be noted were the Honest Ale (4.5%) with Yallingup sea water, the XPA and the Black XPA (6%). Worth a visit if you’re in the region.

Today, we brave the rain and go to the Calgadrup cave. A self guided cave where you’re provided with a helmet and a torch to go and explore the cave by yourself. When we arrive, the parking is full… not a good sign... It’s gonna be crowded down there :-(

The first meters are a pain with all the people but after 10 minutes, everyone is gone and we have the cave all by ourselves!!! It’s amazing how nature can work wonders! We spent at least 1h30 in this stunning underworld and stars in our eyes when we get out.

Cape Mentelle was one of the wineries recommended by a French sommelier. So, the expectations were quite high. 9 wines tasted (2 whites, 1 rosé, 5 reds and a dessert wine). With only a few drops in a glass for the wine tasting, it’s hard to entice our palate… Verdict: none of the wines are really convincing except eventually the Botrytis Viognier. Really disappointing!

Well, we still have a full list to go. So we head to Juniper Estate. A nice discovery, just opposite Vasse Felix, that can easily be missed. They have a beautiful wine selection with unusual varietals such as Fiano. We tasted 10 wines (3 whites, 1 rosé, a dessert wine and 5 reds). All the wines are good to exceptional with a preference for the reds especially the Tempranillo but also the Cane cut Riesling 2011!

Finally, today as promised we’re back to Cape Grace wines, the small winery in the bush, but this time with our campervan to fill up…
We have to do the tasting again in order to refresh our palate. And we’re again delighted by the outstanding quality. We leave with a bottle of basket pressed Petit Verdot, basket pressed Cabernet Franc, a bottle of basket pressed Cabernet Sauvignon – Shiraz, one of basket pressed Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, a bottle of Chenin Blanc (single varietal) and one of rosé (Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz-Petit Verdot).

Next stop is Woodlands wines, a family owned vineyard established in 1973. One of the first five wineries in the region. We had a complimentary tasting of 11 wines (2 chardonnays and 9 reds). Surely, the best Chardonnay we tasted in the region so far.

Last stop is at Aravina Estate, a beautiful estate with wonderful gardens. A complimentary sample of 9 wines (3 whites, 1 rosé, 5 reds). We preferred the Sparkling Chenin Blanc and the Shiraz Tempranillo. A good match for our lunch tomorrow.

We finish the day on the Canal rocks. A stretch of granite boulders entering the Indian Ocean with wonderful views of the shoreline at sunset.

After passing by several times in front of these well cured vines, we finally decided to stop here. Woody Nook Wines, a family-owned boutique winery crushing around 700 tonnes a year. They produce unusual varietals such as Graciano. There we tasted 11 wines (3 whites, 1 rosé, 5 reds, 1 fortified wine, 1 frizzante). The vino frizzante is fabulous.

After lunch, we stopped at Fraser Gallop. Another family-owned estate where we tasted 1 rosé (Chardonnay, Muscat, Shiraz !) and 4 reds. We much enjoyed the Misceo, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot.

Our last wine tasting in Margaret River is at Hay Shed Hill. We sampled 7 wines (1 sparkling, 1 white, 1 rosé and 4 reds). Unfortunately, not the best cellar doors we’ve visited. The focus here appears to be more on quantity rather than quality.

Our top 5 wineries that should not be missed in Margaret River:
Cape Grace Wines, Brown Hill Estate, Voyager Estate, Juniper Estate and Cullen Wines.

To note, the big names usually ask for a 5 to 10 AUD per tasting or for specific top range wines whereas the small estates have complimentary tastings of their entire collection. 


Augusta – Pemberton – Walpole – Albany (366 km and 3 days) 

In Augusta, we camped at the Turner Caravan Park situated just in front of the Blackwood river mouth. It was a wise choice as we had the amazing opportunity to stroke and feed wild stingrays in the water next to the shore. It’s weird to feel this gelatinous mass and more bizarre when they swallow the pieces of fish from your hand, it’s like a vacuum. They visit at high tide, with the pelicans in the hope of finding fish scraps thrown into the water by the anglers from their catch of the day.

The drive from Augusta to Denmark winds through spectacular old-growth forest such as Karri, Tingle trees in Western Australia’s Southern Forest region. It’s a welcoming and unexpected change from the boring scenery of the Northern Territory.

Pemberton sits between the Great Southern and Margaret River wine regions. It’s relatively new as a wine region. Pemberton combines southern latitude with high altitude where vineyards are influenced by the Southern Ocean. However, Pemberton is not a Cabernet Sauvignon region.

With that said, we need to at least visit one cellar door and compare. We stop at Silkwood wines, a very large and beautiful estate with a lunch menu out of the ordinary.
There, we taste 2 bubbles and 4 reds. The bubbles are not great but the reds are quite good.. We sample an amazing Pinot Noir, the first good Pinot Noir we tasted so far in Australia, better than the ones from Central Otago, New Zealand. The Merlot was also fantastic.

After our delicious lunch at the estate, we drive towards Warren National Park to check on a specimen of Karri tree.

The Dave Evans bicentennial tree, in Warren National Park, is the tallest of the three fire lookout Karri trees open to the public. With its 65 meters, it’s the highest treetop lookout in the world!
Spotting bushfires from tower built on high ground traditionally gave firefighters their best chance of responding to fires quickly. However, in the Karri forest it was hard to build towers taller than the trees. So, the tallest Karri trees were once used as fire lookout. Eight trees were selected as lookouts in the region and thus, pegs were hammered between 1937 and 1952 into their trunks to form a ladder and a cabin built on top.
At 65 meters, this Karri tree is not a climb for the faint-hearted and it’s more physical and harder than you would imagine… Our bodies still ached after 2 days! However, once you climb the 182 pegs to the top including the final 4 ladders, without hornet, rope or net protection, you are rewarded with 360-degree views of the Karri forest, glimpses of the Yeagarup dunes and the coast beyond…indescribable sensation!!
Nevertheless, this is surely a first for us in Australia as we‘ve been used to paramount safety everywhere.

Karri tree (Eucalyptus diversicolor) can grow up to 90m tall, making it the tallest tree in Western Australia and one of the tallest tree in the world. Karri has a long, straight trunk with smooth bark in shades of pink, orange, grey and white which is shed each year. It has relatively few leafy upper branches that are arranged in distinctive “broccoli”-shaped clusters. Some of the forest giants in Warren National Park are more than 200 years old.

Not a sunny day, today. It’s rather cold. So, en route to Walpole to the Valley of the Giants… A lightweight suspension bridge soars 40 meters above the tingle foliage where you stand amongst the canopy of the tingle trees on the 600 meter-long Tree Top Walk. Thereafter, you can meander through a grove of veteran tingle trees called the “Ancient Empire” across the forest floor. There’s really nothing to see here compared to the awesome views from the bicentennial Karri tree. What a disappointment and money waster!

With the cloudy weather and to save the day, we decide to go to Denmark for our first wine tasting in the region instead of the beach … maybe later if the sun comes out!
Out of the beaten track, after 3 km on a gravel road and through a Karri tree entrance lies Moombaki Wines: “where the river meets the sky”.
A micro-winery with only 10 tons on average. A family-owned estate established since 20 years. All their wines are excellent. Great red wines especially a well-balanced Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec blend and the full bodied 100% Malbec. All their red wines are at least 18 months aged in French oak barriques.
Wonderful idea it was to go there!

We finish the day at Conspicuous Beach within the Walpole-Nornalup National Park. A wonderful beach covered in white sands with turquoise waters. Icing on the cake, there is hardly anyone on the beach. 
A strenuous walk (for Australian standards …) takes you to the clifftop lookout and the viewing platform on the top of the sand dunes offering breathtaking views of the beach and the ocean.

The next day, we make a detour via the Hilltop road before going to Denmark. The Hilltop loop road winds through a very special red tingle forest (Eucalyptus jacksonii). It’s a great dirt road right in the middle of the forest where you drive amongst the huge Karri and Tingle trees without paying a penny.

Denmark is a charming town located on the banks of the Denmark river. Driving along the Scotsdale tourist drive leads you to most of the wineries of the region.

Our first wine tasting is at Sommerset Hill. The first winery to produce Sparkling wine in Denmark.
It’s a rather small family estate winery where we met the owner, Graham, who is also the winemaker and was in his past life a mycologist. Wine and mushroom, his 2 passions! Their sparkling wines are outstanding and the reds, not far behind.

We stop for lunch by the lake at The Lakehouse after sampling some of their wines. The location is superb but we are not convinced by their wines.

In William Bay National Park, we discovered Greens Pool, a sheltered beach with calm turquoise waters. A perfect place to swim if temperature permits (the water was far too cold for us). You will also see a huge rock known as “Elephant Rock” and the path will lead you to Elephant cove, a secluded beach with peaceful green waters surrounded by granite boulders.


Albany – Bremer Bay – Esperance (600 km and 5 days) 

Albany is a relatively small town with few remaining Victorian buildings. Albany was the first European settlement in Western Australia, and evidence of the early settlers can be seen throughout the city. However, there’s not much to do around.

Nonetheless, North of Albany lies Porongurup National Park. The Porongurup Range’s distinctive granite domes of twelve peaks are the remains of the ancient Porongurup pluton, a massive intrusion that pushed upwards into the overlying base of the continent. The Porongurup National Park is home to the Granite Skywalk. The Granite Skywalk is a suspended walkway around the granite outcrop of Castle Rock with 2 lookouts. The upper lookout is the best one, offering panoramic views of the Porongurup landscape. Don’t be intimidated by the warnings that the lookout is for the more adventurous and that it’s a class 5. Welcome back to Australia where anything steep or rocky is a “challenge”. If you’re able to climb few rocks and a ladder, and are not shy of heights, then it’s a piece of cake. The Skywalk is reached by an easy 4 kilometer return walk.

The 5 km “panoramic” drive along Angwin Park Road is hardly providing views of the granite outcrops and the granite range of twelve peaks.

The South Coast sits in the Great Southern Wine region - the largest wine region in Australia. The region spans Albany, Denmark, Porongurup, Mt Barker and Frankland River. The region produces 37% of wine grapes in Western Australia and is known for its premium and sustainable cool climate wines. Breaking rains don’t fall until late April in the region, giving reds time to fully ripen.

There are 10 wineries to visit in the park! Although there are 10, many of them are not cellars doors. Most of the remaining ones were closed during our visit so we were only able to sample the wines from IronWood. It’s a small family vineyard on the Porongurup scenic drive with interesting wines. We much enjoyed the late harvest Riesling, the Rocky Rosé (the owner didn’t want to tell us which grapes were used) and the 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.

We now need to arrive to Bremer Bay before the end of the day! We’ve been really looking forward to this next adventure and we’re so impatient… The weather forecast is beautiful sunny weather. This is ideal for what we’re going to do tomorrow…
Every year, between January and March, this remote spot of the WA coast becomes the epicenter for an unbelievable intensity of life. Bremer Canyon is a stunningly beautiful, remote habitat abundant with marine wildlife: including sperm whales, giant squids, dolphins, masses of sea birds. The recently discovered Bremer Canyon is home to the largest known congregation of killer whales (orcas) in the Southern hemisphere, the ocean’s undisputed apex predator. That’s our teaser ...

Wake up at 6 in the morning to ensure to be on time for the boat. We don’t want to be left behind!
We arrive well in advance (at least 30 minutes) at the small harbor where we can see our boat waiting for us for our Killer Whale expedition.
08:30, the boat leaves the harbor. We are around 15 on board and we’re given a crash course on orcas and the particularity of Bremer Bay. A matriarchal organization where mummy and granny rule. To spot the mammals we’ll be using the clock system.
Around 10:00, our first chills. 2 large pods of dolphins are encircling us on our way to the Bremer Canyon. This is promising!!!!
One hour later, here they are… a group of 5 orcas is swimming in front of us at 12:00 (directly in front of the boat). Another group of 4 killer-whales at 3:00. Oh gee, this is one comes right next to the boat. We’re so small. Wow, this is intense…
During the course of the day and until we leave to reach the shore, we are privileged to admire the beauty of 50 individuals (males, females, calf) in at least 5 pods!
It was truly awesome… yeaaaah, incredibly orca-some!!!!

If you’re lucky, you can also witness the annual migration from June to October of the humpbacks, southern right whales and the rare blue whale which migrate past the south coastal shores. Not for us this time unfortunately :-(

There’s s an end for all the good things and we have to leave for our journey to Esperance through the Fitzgerald River National Park. On the way, we see many farms with endless parcels cultivated with grains. It’s the Grain Belt of WA. We also make an unexpected encounter with 2 emus, running as fast as 60 km/h and parallel to our campervan. Who’s gonna be the fastest? Amazing ...

Esperance or the “Bay of Isles” is the only port in the south east of WA and is an important agricultural town, exporting around a million tonnes of grain each year. Located on Esperance Bay, the town overlooks more than 100 islands of the Archipelago of the Recherche.
During a storm in 1792, 2 French frigates on a mapping voyage of the Australian coast under the command of Admiral D’Entrecasteaux took shelter off Observatory Point. The first ship to enter the bay was l’Espérance (“Hope”), the archipelago was named after the second ship, Recherche (“Research”).

The Great Ocean drive, a 40-km loop starting next to the visitor center, is a spectacular scenic drive.
The circular loop includes the Rotary lookout, West beach (with 3 dumping pipes on the beach!), Blue Haven beach (much nicer), Salmon beach, Fourth beach, Twilight beach (supposedly the most beautiful but certainly the most popular), Observatory Point (where the French frigates sheltered from a gale in 1792), Observatory beach (our favorite beach, away from the crowds with its sweeping cliffs), nine mile beach, ten mile lagoon (a rocky shore acts a natural breakwater, forming a long pool) and eleven mile beach (features a lengthy lagoon).

After our tour, we pause at Lucky Bay Brewing Co, a very small brewery where they have an excellent IPA and an honorable porter.
Last stop is the Pink Lake which is no longer pink because of the building of the train line ...

The weather is not great today, quite cloudy. Not a bless to visit some of the most beautiful beaches in Cape Le Grand National Park, home to many sheltered turquoise bays where the white sand is so fine, it literally squeaks under your feet … but we’ll see how the day unfold.

Rossiter Bay is the only bay that doesn’t fit the above description. After few kms on a dirt road, you arrive at the bay covered with decaying seagrass and seaweed where the waters aren’t very inviting ...
Lucky Bay is the longest of the bays and was voted the whitest beach in Australia. A paradise-like beach where you can spot or socialize with one or 2 kangaroos. With its turquoise pristine waters, it’s hard to resist the temptation but walking on the white sandy beach feeling the sand squeaks under your feet is gorgeous even in jumpers !
At Thistle Cove, you have the feeling of being Robinson Crusoe, alone on an isolated island. The best spot for a wonderful picture is on the granite boulders after the Whistling rock.
With its turquoise waters and magnificently sheltered, Hellfire Bay has nothing to envy to the others. Try to get to the other end of the beach on the rocky hill to have a stunning panorama of the beach.

Cape Le Grand beach is huge but not as beautiful as the other beaches. For the adventurous, you can drive 22 km on the white sandy beach to Wylie Bay and stop to see the sand dunes. We preferred to use the sealed road to Wylie Bay and drive on the beach to the sand dunes from there.

Not our lucky day as the only caveat with those picture-perfect beaches is that you need to be an Inuit to have swim or else. At this time, the water temperature was around 18 C and with a hazy sun and outside temperature of around 20 C, you need to be very brave to get in there… really though as the water is so tempting...and we are in the hottest summer month!


Esperance – Fraser Range Station – Cocklebiddy – Eucla – Nullarbor – Fowlers Bay (1420 km and 7 days)

That’s the start of our great journey across Nullarbor !!! 

Along the Coolgardie-Esperance Highway, not far away from Norseman, we notice a nice absolutely white salt lake. A good opportunity to take a small rest to stretch our legs. It’s an indescribable feeling to walk barefoot on the salt … and why not collecting some “fleur de sel” for our remaining camping days?

Nullarbor earned its name from nullus arbor – latin for “no tree”. We’re going to spend the next week in the middle of nowhere with only a few roadhouses every 100 to 150 km. We ensured that we are full of fuel, water and food supplies. Ready for the adventure…
A quick panoramic view from the 2km drive up to Beacon Hill in Norseman, a historical gold mining town and the gateway to the Nullarbor.

Our first camping stop on the way is at Fraser Range Station, 300 km from Esperance. A basic station with camping facilities. That will do. After a restful night, en route to reach our next stop: Cocklebiddy, 333 km farther. 

Cocklebiddy is a rather nice roadhouse with a very friendly owner from Tasmania. The weather is awful – raining cats and dogs and pretty cold. The owner tells us that the temperature dropped close to 25 degrees in less than a day … and it’s not getting better any sooner. Well, it seems that we won’t see Nullarbor under a scorching sun!

Third day on the Eyre Highway, the weather is not getting better. It feels like being on the South Island in New Zealand, rainy and cold, rather than in summer in Australia with sun and 40 C. Camping is definitely no fun when it’s cold and wet! Besides, it’s not really “nullus arbor” as there are lots of tree on the way.
Nonetheless, by taking the side roads we saw herds of kangaroos. They’re jumping everywhere and you don’t know which side of the road to watch …

Don’t waste time trying to visit the Eucla old telegraph station ruins as they’re completely covered by graffiti but along the track to get there you can spot many kanga!!!

On our fourth day, the sun has finally arrived and it’s getting warmer! So we venture to the Eucla National Park. Located against the head of the Great Australian Bight, the park includes the vast Dessiter Sandhills, Wilson Bluff, and the coastal cliffs stretching from Eucla for hundreds of kilometers to the east.
Not easy to find the way to the famous Dessiter Sandhills. A hidden dirt track leads you to the Eucla National Park . After few km in the bush and then in the sand, you arrive onto a plateau to a wonderful lookout over the Dessiter sand dunes and the ocean.
Following that track through the sand dunes takes you to the spectacular views from Wilson Bluff, a high limestone cliff providing an inspiring panorama of the awesome coast … breathtaking ...
And guess what, by continuing that track from the sand dunes, we crossed the border without going through the quarantine checkpoint… Yeah, but that was not the one for us. We have another 300 km before being inspected in SA. So, plenty of time to eat our veggies :-)

We follow the Bunda Cliffs and from time to time we take a track to enjoy the view over those magnificent cliffs. If you’re lucky, you can even spot pods of dolphins playing in the ocean. Amazing...
From the signposted scenic lookouts over a stretch of 200 km, the best one is scenic lookout #3. It showcases the entire view of the Bunda Cliffs!

Now that we’ve crossed the border to SA, this is really Nullarbor, a vast treeless plain.
Nullarbor’s dry plain is covered with small, hardy blue-bush and salt-bush shrubs. They are drought-resistant and salt-tolerant. The shrubs thrive in arid conditions by drawing moisture from the atmosphere through their leaves and absorb the equivalent of their weight each day. The vast Nullarbor Plain is the world’s largest limestone karst landscape covering an area of 270’000 km2, extending 2000 km between Norseman and Ceduna. Two thirds of the Nullarbor is within Western Australia and one third is in South Australia. Would be great for a sci-fi movie landscape...

Time to break way to the cliffs "off-the-beaten-track". This time to Wigunda Cave, a large doline. For our last night in Nullarbor, we decide to camp under the stars next to the cave. Completely alone with nature and wildlife for sole company.
After a gorgeous sunset and a gargantuan salad (we had to finish all our veggies before the quarantine point), final look at the treeless plain before going to bed … zzzz
The stunning colors of the sunrise are waking us up… Time to get ready for our final day over Nullarbor.

On the Nullarbor, we have followed some of the tracks leading off the main road to check out the cliffs, caves, wildlife ... and it’s always worth the effort. We can bet that 99% of people drive this highway with no idea what lies just off the bitumen.

Another beautiful day, so en route to Fowlers Bay via the Flinders Highway. A less frequented highway compared to the Eyre Highway on the Nullarbor plains.


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