You’ve lunched at Voyager, had tastings at all the wineries and think you’ve seen all there is to Margaret River… think again. Hidden amidst the tall timbers are a myriad of waterfalls and natural treasures that are awaiting your visit.
Stepping out of the car at Redgate Beach we are buffeted by gale force winds. The rain pounds onto our bodies and within seconds, anything not wrapped in Gortex is drenched through to our skin.
We set off across the wet beach sand in rain that falls relentlessly from the angry sky above, while huge waves break in a crash of white spray just metres away.
People thought we were crazy when, over a coffee that morning, a group of us decided to set out on a hike from Redgate to Contos. The area is the most exposed section of the world renown Cape-to-Cape track and, while offering stunning views of the rugged coast between Margaret River and Augusta, offers no protection from the rolling winter storms.
Yet by the time we reached the other end of the beach and begin to weave our way up the limestone track to the top of the cliffs, the rain has stopped. We are left with just the wind to contend with as we enjoy the rugged beauty of the shoreline.
When we finally arrive at our destination – a hidden track just south of Contos – the grey clouds are lined with brilliant silver. Our pick-up vehicle is waiting and we make our way home, exhausted but exhilarated.
At work the next day a colleague asks about my weekend and I replied that I had enjoyed a few days in Margaret River. “Margaret River? That place is overrated,” he replies.
I was tempted to ask if he had ever seen the Margaret River rapids in full flow, watched the whales play from atop the ancient Wilyabrup cliffs, knew the dreamtime stories of the Meekadarabee falls or had ever stumbled upon Ellen Bussell’s colonial-aged vegie patch?
But after a weekend enjoying Margaret River, I was far too relaxed. I just smiled.
First, there was the surf and the big waves that now draw in some of the biggest names in the business. Later, clever marketing of the region’s wonderful wines made Margaret River a popular destination for wine tourism.
Margaret River region has always had a natural beauty and recently, more and more tourists are wanting to step away from the crowds for a better understanding of what the region has to offer as the locals see it.
The figures paint the picture of the changing face of the region’s tourism. A recent study by the Sustainable Tourism Co-operative Research Centre found 44 per cent of visitors to Australia’s wine regions come to see the natural beauty and scenery while only 30 per cent visit for the wine itself.
Closer to home, Tourism WA has confirmed the last four years has seen a 54 per cent increase in visitors wanting to experience national or State parks and a 30 per cent increase in visitors seeking bushwalking experiences, while shopping as a leisure activity remained static.
The buzz word in the tourism industry is ‘experiential’ travel and Francine Burton, Chief Executive Officer of the Augusta Margaret River Tourism Association, confirmed the trend was on the rise in the region.
“Extensive research and experience in the Margaret River region has found visitors are seeking a variety of unique, natural experiences in an unspoilt, pristine environment, and value highly those which combine a connection to the environment and the culture of the region,” Francine said. “Visitors want exposure to this bio-diversity and memorable characters and behind the scenes opportunities which leave indelible memories of a special holiday experience.” “The discerning visitor is also increasingly requesting experiences which connect them with people and places they couldn’t find on their own.”
Savvy tourism operators are already tapping into the changing market, offering itineraries to sites day-trippers and international guests are unlikely to find on their own. “To cater for the demand, we are seeing an increase in the number of operators offering high end private touring in the region, which meets the expectations of the visitor for a nostalgic, non-commercialised, uncrowded and laidback discovery of Margaret River,” Francine said.
The Margaret River Discovery Company is leading the way, combining an off-roading, back-to-nature experience in a wine tour with a difference. The private touring experience has thrilled international and domestic guests, evidenced by its #1 ranking on TripAdvisor, thanks to its highly personalised approach and the enthusiasm of proprietor Sean Blocksidge.
Formerly the operations manager at Voyager Estate, Sean now delights in sharing his passion of the region with visitors who seek local knowledge and privileged access, rather than filling their days ‘ticking the boxes’ of the big name sites. “We get behind the tourist façade and discover people and places you can’t find on your own,” Sean explained. “It is a day of highlights. A snapshot of the best places, best people and special access I’ve discovered after years of living here”
“The highlights of a Margaret River Discovery Company tour include a unique lunch experience among barrels of ageing wine, the opportunity to meet former Australian Winemaker of the Year, Clive Otto, and privileged access to the waterfalls and significant – but rarely visited – sites of the Leeuwin Naturaliste Ridge.”
A demographic snapshot of the experiential traveller shows a well-travelled person at the high end of the tourism market, who is looking for a tourism experience that will set apart their latest journey from previous travels. As Sean’s clientele has proven however, their country of origin is less important, with domestic travellers equally keen to expand their horizons as international guests.
“It has been remarkable how many locals I’ve taken on tour and shown them highlights they didn’t even know exist, like the Wilyabrup Cliffs. The cliffs are possibly the most spectacular scenery along the Cape. Many locals are thrilled to canoe the Margaret River for the first time.”
“The other day my guests ate morning tea from a vantage point 20 metres above the rugged coastline, watching the waves crash against the rocks below, while a humpback whale burst through the swell. The two Brits, aged in their 60s, had entertained me with tales of their extensive travels, but admitted their visit to Margaret River would have standout memories.”
“Ultimately, everyone says the same thing… they didn’t expect Margaret River to be this good, for there to be so much to do or for it to be so peaceful.”
For more information about the Margaret River Discovery Co contact Sean Blocksidge on 0439 910 064 or visit www.margaretriverdiscovery.com.au
source: Cravings Magazine Margaret River Volume 2
Margaret River Discovery Tours
Sean Blocksidge is the owner operator of the Margaret River Discovery Company, an avid photographer, blogger and South West WA ambassador. In 2010 he won Western Australian Guide of the Year and his tours have been rated the #1 thing to do in Australia on the Tripadvisor website for the past two years.