HEALTHY HOLIDAYS : WESTERN AUSTRALIA
Dreaming of your next holiday and wondering where the most magical places on Earth to take the family? I have the answer for you… Western Australia.
Yep, the wonderful wines, coastline and hive of activity combined with incredible chill time sits right here in our fine country.
Let me take you on a journey. Hold, let me create an itinerary for an adventure, anyone and everyone will truly love.
Touch down in Perth and have your hit of city come island life. Perth has PLENTY to see and do, but with 36 hours as our itinerary decided for us (LOVE a good bit of planning!) we hit the best of the best in Perth, which looked a little like this…
Stay in the ALEX HOTEL, and explore Perth from there. Alex is not only central to all you need in the city centre but has an inviting warmth in its minimalistic charm. The philosophy of the hotel is guest engagement beyond the room. As you walk through the open plan lobby, a beautiful shared table awaits, with a barista station to the left overlooking State Library square. The staff are divine, and their words to us on each meeting felt, well, just like family. The room interiors are fresh, modern, well supplied and everything you might need on a stay away from home.
Sunset in WA casts in over the heavenly bed, and as it does draws your attention to the design detailing that has gone into the room – I personally fell in love soft green grey juxtaposition with the polished cement ceiling. How I’d love my home, which is perhaps why it feels like so much that way.
Oh, but go back a moment… let’s talk sunsets a little more. Which, in Western Australia are something else, and not to be missed from the rooftop of Alex. Help yourself to a drink from the Honour Bar and venture on up. Alex Hotel has minimised the likes of mini bars in the room and instead created an Honour Bar on the mezzanine with a variety of local wines and nibbles, plus a moment to say hi to fellow guests – love this.
The Perth sunset is intensely beautiful, casting light and shadow all over the city and absolutely unforgettable. And when the sun goes down, the shadows continue downstairs at Shadow Bar.
SHADOW WINE BAR AND DINING ROOM
Shadow Wine Bar and Dining Room is its name suggests is a play on light and dark with incredible food and wine in between. Being east coasters with a time difference, we head in early to enjoy our first mumma son date night, and were beyond excited to taste some of our favourite morsels on the menu.
Haloumi, black sesame, honey and calamari, pangrattato, brava to start. A game of cards in between whilst sipping on a local wine. Shark bay crab spaghettini, caper lemon, tomato, chilli and Pink snapper, fennel, skordalia, cavolo nero and caper butter for main. Whilst a kids menu is on offer, I may have been the ‘encouraging’ / can’t bear the thought of food envy mum, politely requesting Jet to order the spaghettini of which we could have easily licked the bowl. But you know… restaurant manners first.
Now, the dessert menu is absolute magic at Shadow, however, when an 8 year old boy hears the best gelato in Perth is in fact 300m down the road, then this becomes the focus for the entire dinner (must work to earn dessert with good nutrition first – amirite?) and one simply cannot go to Perth without experiencing Chi Cho Gelato.
CHI CHO GELATO
Chi Cho Gelato has long been established as one of Perth’s hot gelato spots and when you arrive you can see why. There’s a queue out the door and the selection, whilst smaller than other gelato bars, absolutely nails it and a must to taste for yourself.
Gelato flavours and individual taste are like two teams playing AFL don’t you think – are you team no dairy, all fruity flavours or are you team sweet and creamy? We played for team Salted Caramel Crack / Malted milk cornflake cookie combination and the win was considerable on this game.
Waking fresh and energised the following day, we head over to Rottnest Island. Rotto is Perth’s local adventure island, but in fact it’s more of a playground. You can jump on the Fast Ferry and be there within the hour after a short drive from centre of Perth. Hire bikes before you head over, because seeing the island by bike is key to the adventure. The roads around Rotto are wide, smooth and free for the miniature bike speed demons (young boys and their mums…) to get their hit too.
There are what feel like hundreds of small bays and beaches around Rottnest with ‘take-picnic-and-hang-here-forever’ written all over them and whilst we could have, Jet and I were particularly taken by dunes just near to Parakeet Bay.
Bike riding (Jet’s favourite part of the day!) around the island, keep your eyes peeled for quokkas, Rottnest’s local friendly marsupial. Quokkas are like a koala come possum, and they are the cutest. Be sure to get right up close for a quokka selfie if you can. Whilst some quokkas seem quite the smiley comedians in their photos, my little mate seemed more interested in the food in his hand than taking a photo, but, well look, if there ever was a person to relate to that then I am probably the right person.
Now if you’re game….just near the ferry back to Perth is an inflatable water park. Summer time might be the best for it, an Autumn day, with no towels and 25 minutes until ferry departure maybe not be the time, but we did it anyway and it was one of the highlights. You only live once right?
From Rotto it’s a short car ride to Fremantle for lunch. Fremantle is quiet, relaxed and absolutely stunning. That said as you’ll no doubt discover through this piece most of what we saw of the West Australian coastline can be described as STUNNING!
I’m inserting a family bias here… Fremantle was on our hit list because my amazing sister, Romy (Alwill Interiors) designed the interiors for Perth local and Olympic swimmer Eamon Sullivan’s restaurant – Bib and Tucker. Wanting to experience my sister’s work and show case how clever she is to Jet, we enjoyed lunch together on the balcony overlooking the picturesque Indian Ocean.
The interiors of course were amazing, however the staff and food delivered an incredible experience to us. Highly recommend.
Fremantle also hosts a local market Friday to Sunday, so if that’s your jam then be sure to pop your head in.
PERTH STADIUM AND A NIGHT AT THE AFL
Without a moment of rush in sight – hello holidays – we mosey back to Alex Hotel, and ready ourselves for a night out at the footy. Now I don’t think I’ve been to the AFL since I was a teenager, with a bunch of boys I was likely trying to impress (*gushes) and most probably I didn’t actually watch much of that footy (because teenager and because boys) so I’d forgotten just how charged with energy a footy stadium is. However, if you are truly up for an extremely energised experience at the footy then the new PERTH STADIUM, Tour and Locker Room Experience (*gushes like teenager again) is where it’s at.
The Perth Stadium has recently opened in January 2018 and is quite the engineering and design marvel. But if we’re going to be truly marvelling, let’s be honest, it was on ground, locker room experience, watching the Freo Dockers warm up, that did the most of that for this mumma.
The stadium and locker room tour are built into the new experiential offerings at Perth Stadium, giving fans an opportunity to be right next to the action. By right next to, I mean we were close enough to feel the heat from the pre game show and smell the sweat of the Fremantle Dockers running on ground. Jet’s face in awe was beyond.
SIDE NOTE: If you are near Alex Hotel and keen on a game snack to take with hit this epic Pretzel van.
AUSTRALIA’S SOUTH WEST
Sunday we begin the journey down Australia’s South West Coast toward Margaret River. Margaret River, or Margs as the locals call it, is about 3-3.5 hours south of Perth and an easy drive with a few essential stops along the way.
From Perth we headed South down to Margs, with our first stop in Bunbury at the Bunbury Farmer’s Market open 7 days and if you’re a travelling parent/foodie a must-stop-stock-shop for your hungry munchkins. Bunbury Farmer’s Market is fresh produce on roids. There is everything you can imagine you need and more. The market is clearly a local hot spot, with pressed juices (the perfect creature comfort companion for a nutritionist on the road), fresh fruit and veg, deli options, ready made salads, meat, fish and what can only be described as a cheese mecca.
If you’re game, curious and lived in the era where garden gnomes were somewhat cool, then detour from Bunbury toward Gnomesville. Part of me wants to describe Gnomesville, the other says no, you just need to go there, venture into the valley of gnomes and spin out for yourself. I’ll share these pics in the meantime…. you decide.
Now if weird garden gnomes on mass in a forest in the middle of nowhere aren’t your thing, and you’re more the coastal crew, then a stop in BUSSELTON is for you. Busselton is home of the amazing 1.7km jetty which you can experience via the Stocker Preston Express, an electric jetty train. The jetty train journey which offers a beautiful view back toward Busselton, over the divine clear waters and if you’re there at the right time some sightings of dolphins too, is the perfect little family activity whilst in the cute coastal town.
Following the train ride, stop by the most highly recommended ice creamery in Australia’s South West – Busselton Gelato. To be honest we bee lined to Busselton based on this recommendation from a waiter in Shadow Bar in Perth. If a holiday isn’t oriented around foodie attractions – really is it actually a holiday?!?!
CALM BEFORE THE….
Our journey onto Margaret River and afternoon arrival at our accomodation at Margarets Beach Resort is a breeze and we are welcomed with the most generous hamper of delicious local cheese, muesli, fresh milk, local yoghurt, crackers and baguettes from Gourmet Food Merchant. Our hamper is an arvo saviour, not to mention our first delicious taste of Margaret River region’s produce, before heading onto a twilight horse ride.
Yep, twilight horseride…. magic right? Falling in love with Margs and the journey has only really just started.
Our twilight ride, with Humble Horse, takes us through the bush in the surrounding area on the gentlest of horses we’ve ever encountered. Jet’s face of delight is completely divine whenever we are on horseback, so this was on our do-this-list no matter what, but by twilight with the light and sounds of the Aussie bush surrounding us, it truly is something else. Following each twilight ride, Humble Horse sets up a cheese platter for you and your fellow riders to enjoy too.
An early start the following day is made with a tour of local certified organic, biodynamic and permaculture founded farm – Burnside Organic. These food, nutrition, education, inspiration experiences are those I crave when travelling through any region, and the knowledge offered to us throughout the farm tour by Lara McCall (founder, farmer and mother) was phenomenal.
And, whilst fruit picking wasn’t (for once!) on our agenda in Margaret River as it usually is on Jet and my travels, we found ourselves naturally immersed in the experience all the same, picking and devouring the organic produce as we walked and learnt. Burnside Organic is a self sufficient family farm not only growing produce but offers bungalows for accomodation, a vineyard and winery. For the wine lovers reading, a bottle of Burnside’s Zinfandel (organic, preservative and sulfur free) is the most delicious souvenir.
From Burnside it’s time to get lost – the best way to travel right? Although this getting lost is a tad different because it comes in the form of Western Australia’s giant maze experiences.
Yallingup Maze a 20 minute scenic drive through Margaret River’s most notable vineyards from Burnside Organic Farm is our first let’s-get-lost stop. The maze is the biggest timber built maze in the Margaret River region and the initial maze experience Jet and I have had together.
Mazing (is that the term?) is one of the best ways to bond-compete-challenge-shoot water pistols-get totally lost as a family. And, if it’s not getting lost together, then just outside the labyrinth of walls, Yallingup Maze creates family connection with a jumping castle, cafe and more puzzles than we’d ever laid eyes on. Puzzles that will have you focussed (or stumbling) for hours and totally switching off to anything else, which is precisely why the family run business offer so many of them – to make it a time to switch off, become immersed, and reconnect as a family.
So, at this point I’m going to reveal in all honesty…Prior to travelling to Western Australia and Margaret River on this occasion, my perception were that is was a place for surfers and wine aficionados. I didn’t think family holiday was the ‘thing’ to do in Margaret River. Within 12 hours of being there, I am proven so very wrong, and if it’s not gnomesville, ice cream, jetty’s, twilight on horseback and maze 1 to convince you, then stay with me, let me introduce you to the next stage of our adventure.
Yes not one but 2 (and as I understand several more) giant mazes exist in the Margaret River region! And as for getting lost, well, taking a road we weren’t expecting to found us at Yallingup Maze, but then on the journey back to Margaret River, we directed our map to a second phenomenon – AMAZEN – Australia’s largest hedge maze. This is 100% utter family delight for the outdoor, active, problem solving, garden adoring, be lost and found again loving crew. Read : Jet and yours truly.
AMAZEN is located just a few minutes outside of the main Margaret River township and is the most beautifully manicured maze and garden. You can totally lose yourself in the green walls of the maze, and then, should you choose, lose mini golf to your 8 year old son. Kids natural skills with mini golf never cease to amaze me.
An afternoon-evening following all the maze action is spent wandering through the lovely township of Margaret River. Pottering and absorbing the warmth of the local community before an early night with snuggles and movies. Perfect down time as a family.
Now day 4 in Western Australia and our second full day in Margaret River proved quite the unique combination of outdoor adventure meets history, organic wine with exceptional food and ending with a charming surprise too.
ECO-ADVENTURES QUAD BIKING
Meeting in the middle of the Boranup State Forest, the day begins with an epic Eco Adventure on eco-electric quad bikes through the forest. I’m not sure who was more stoked – both Jet and my face were so ecstatically lit up as we jumped on a quad bike together and journeyed through the forest.
The team from Eco-Adventure are bursting with knowledge of the forest, cape and surrounds and enlightened us with the history and stories of the custodians and settlers of the area. It is an eco adventure seriously not to miss, in particular when travelling with younger kids who may not yet love the idea of long bush walks to absorb the natural environment. We may well be coming back in the future to do some of that when Jet is a bit older however…
HAMELIN BAY STING RAYS
From Eco Quad Biking, we’re given the locals tip to head further down through the forest, a magical scenic drive, and onto Hamelin Bay to ‘pat’ the giant sting rays. Hamelin Bay is stunning, (yep there’s that marvel again – it actually does not stop in Western Australia) and there are most definitely some giant sting rays present but ‘pat’ ummmm well I think I’ll keep my patting to our puppy dog. It is a great experience however, witnessing the sheer size of the rays and on a warmer day braving the water might be an option too.
From Hamelin we shoot a little further along the coast to Wilyabrup and inland to the organic and biodynamic vineyard of Cullen Wines. This is a moment for any foodie/wine lover to melt into their happy place. A tour of the Cullen Vineyard and winery, enhances our knowledge and understanding of biodynamic farming methods and viticulture and Jet has ALL the questions about the vines – love. (You can discover more about Cullen Wines biodynamic practice here and for more education look up the work of Peter Proctor ‘Grasp the Nettle’ and Rudolph Steiner).
Lunch in the Cullen Restaurant following the tour is phenomemal. With produce on the menu drawn from the Cullen garden and surrounding Margaret River region the restaurant creates an abundance of organic flavours in each dish with Cullen Wines to match for a deliciously long lunch and an afternoon of warm sunlight overlooking the vineyard.
We continue on from lunch that afternoon to the tiny but awesome town of Yallingup.
Yallingup appears to be a hidden gem in Australia’s South West, which is probably its greatest appeal. It’s a quiet, sleepy town with an insane bakery, the Yallingup Gugelhupf, providing all the refuel treats after what can only be imagined as endless surfs. We take a short drive down to see the stretch of beach at sunset before heading onto a family retreat at Premalaya.
Premalaya (accomodation, community and retreats) is a beautiful haven of relaxation with the gentlest energy, warmth and kindness from Hayley and her family who run the retreat. With its beautiful spacious black timber lodgings, you can take quiet in your own spacious apartment, or enjoy the activities increasingly on offer.
A personal note, nor Jet and I, arriving to a family of similar ages and interests, keen to jump on the trampoline, kick a footy or shoot hoops was the loveliest of surprises, and one of the small things that make such a difference when on the road with kids. As a mum, Premalaya in particular initiated an important moment for me, sculpting out the time to practice yoga for the first time in many months. And, as a result has helped me recreate that time back home in Sydney too. Small things, make such a difference don’t they?
Our sleep at Premalaya is deep and peaceful ready for an action fuelled day of exploration the following, starting with…
SMITHS BEACH, CANAL ROCKS AND INJIDUP SPAS
Absolute wonder are the only words to describe these stunning locations around the Yallingup area. Smith’s Beach is a hit for the avid big wave surfer, long walks on the whitest of sand, or simple afternoons enjoying a picnic. And whilst our time there was short, it would undoubtedly be a location to return to with a number of accomodation options in the area too.
Canal Rocks showcases a dramatic rock formation with waves crashing through the canals carved throughout. Words don’t do these places justice…Photos can do better, but experience it is what would do most. And that you should.
From Canal Rocks head onto Injidup Spas. A natural oceanic spa set on the coast, I’ll go out there and say – this is my absolute highlight in Western Australia. I could sit for hours and absorb what Mother Nature has created here. The most crystal of water and waves funnelling through intricately woven channels into the natural spa – it was/is mind blowing. As locals tell me, Injidup was only recently (the past 3 years or so) put on the map for visitors to the Yallingup area. For the reasons that did that (likely social media) we are beyond grateful. Injidup simply cannot be missed…
Our oceanic adventures move further on to Yallingup Beach with a surf lesson with Yallingup Surf School… Surf lessons are definitely something ALL the family can enjoy, even though perhaps I was the only mum in a school holiday surf camp, but moving right on… Run by Crystal and her gorgeous family, we are taken into the warm (ish!), relatively shallow but safe reef waters in the corner of Yallingup Beach which creates the perfect learner environment. And whilst the waves are consistently cranking out the back for those more experienced surfers, we confidently (well Jet more so than I) catch some of the more reasonably sized waves to get our surfing hit.
With surfing and ocean exploring comes an insane appetite, and we venture on to the locals absolute favourite restaurant – Yarri in Dunsborough. Yarri showcases a fusion of modern Australian cuisine and a tribute to the indigenous custodians of our land integrating Australian bush native ingredients, to create an incredibly insane menu.
Chef Aaron Carr, is present in the kitchen and upon being seated at the kitchen bar we immediately connect and launch into conversation on the inspiration and ingredients poured into the menu. The bar nibbles to start are a flavour explosion with burnt pumpkin, nori and togarashi and a corn red pepper and manchego croquette.
The main course delivers on everything I crave – barramundi, tomato, fennel, pistachio and clams. Feeling inspired, this may well carry back to Sydney with me for a recipe inspired by our travels to WA – stay tuned.
FAREWELL TO WESTERN AUSTRALIA… FOR NOW…
A final morning visit to Yallingup Beach reveals the biggest, cleanest swell we’ve witnessed in our travels through Western Australia, plus a delicious brekky at local haunt, Shaana Cafe. As we jump in the car from Margs back to Perth and continue home to Sydney, I turn to Jet and ask his favourite part of our holiday. He ponders a little, “I loved lots of things in Western Australia Mum, but I really liked we didn’t have to rush and we could just relax together.” And that really does sum it up. Western Australia, whilst on one side can be an action packed, eco adventurers, adrenalin seeking dream, is just as much on the other side a family fuelled, wine and food loving, totally chilled experience too. They say, ‘just another day in WA’, well from our experience, I’ll say I’d like to be ‘every day in WA.’