Take a visit to Western Australia's stunning Margaret River region, where you’ll discover an array of standout food producers and plenty of other breathtaking sights and activities. Writer and Perth resident Mel Hearse shares her favourite spots.
Margaret River is famous for many things - think pristine surf beaches, laid back holidays and an abundance of local wineries. A scenic three-and-a-half hour out of Perth along the South West Highway (or you can take the zippier three-hour route down the freeway if, like me, you’re travelling with two “are we there yet” pre-teens), ‘Margs’ is a popular holiday spot for West Australians and visitors to the sunny state alike.
I love spending laid back afternoons wandering the stores and providores in the town centre and eating farm fresh food with matched wines at a local vineyard. We also go for the easy access to glorious surf beaches and photo opportunities among the towering forests and golden sunsets all year round.
The area is also super kid-friendly, with mazes, fun parks and playgrounds all part of the package. And now that mine are a little older, we can make the most of the incredible encounters with nature on offer. There are 24 national parks to explore with an abundance of flora and fauna, including some of Australia's most spectacular and unique wildflowers.
A personal highlight was visiting Lake Cave – it’s only 20 minutes out of the town centre, and as someone that’s not super keen on enclosed spaces (or guided tours if I’m honest), I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. Fully guided, walking down into the caves reveals what is best described as a winter wonderland – stalactites and mites glistening all around as you move through the blissfully quiet corridors.
Margaret River is renowned for world-class, premium quality food of the locally produced variety – we spend many of our meals there sipping and savouring while overlooking the grounds the food grows on. In fact, it took out the top spot in last year’s delicious. Produce Awards in the ‘Outstanding Region in Australia’ category.
The gentle Mediterranean climate, fertile soil and hospitable terrain are often credited for the premium wines and produce, alongside the culture of generationally and/or family run farms. All I know is, I'm so lucky to have such breathtaking beauty and diversity in my backyard, so close to my beloved hometown of Perth.
Image: Margaret River Discovery Co.
Winter marks the beginning of whale watching season in the Margaret River region, where you'll have ample opportunity to get up close with these amazing creatures as they migrate past our coastline. Or you can get your adventure on with sea kayaking, stand-up-paddle boarding, paddle boats, parachuting or caving. History and culture more your bag? Build up an appetite climbing historic lighthouses, walking along the longest jetty in the southern hemisphere, or try your hand at painting, sculpting and blowing glass.
Image: Tourism Western Ausrtalia
Driving into the town centre, there’s a curious blend of laid back country town and thriving cultural hub – the place bursts with local arts and crafts stores, small bars, the local pub, restaurants, cafes and outlets for locally produced goods (the Margaret River Chocolate Factory is a personal institution!)
Image: Sarah Hewer
It’s also home to the Margaret River Farmers Market, held on Saturdays from 8am – 12pm, where you’ll find a huge range of fresh local seasonal goodies, direct from the producers. You’ll find everything from fresh veggies and fruits, cow and goat cheeses, milk, lamb, beef, goat and pork; eggs, handmade breads, baked goods and preserves, olive oil and wine. As one local describes it, “One of the BEST things about living in Margaret River - worth getting up early for everyday Saturday morning!”
Here are just a few of my favourite local producers, you simply must look up once you arrive -
1. Greenman Organic Produce
Producer Mike Thompson produces a variety of organic goodies - garlic, olives, honey, peppers and a variety of heritage vegetables. His garlic is keenly sought by some of Western Australia’s most illustrious chefs, and garlic lovers will enjoy the range; as well as raw, you can buy it pickled in cardamon and cumquat, or with chillies, or as aged Seer Torshi (raw-pickled Persian garlic with honey); as well as smoked, dried and home-fermented authentic black garlic. The farm is also home to an 11 acre stand of organic olives, with 650 Pendolino, Leccino, Frantoio and WA Mission trees.
Where to sample?
You can buy directly from their website, at the farm on Thursdays and Fridays, or through the markets on Saturdays. Keen to sample the wares in action? Amuse in East Perth includes their goodies in their dishes.
2. Leeuwin Grass Fed Beef
This small family owned business is run by fifth generation beef farmers, who focus on using the best (and low stress) farming practises to ensure their cattle are stress, antibiotic and hormone free – and 100% grass raised. Another reason their beef is of such high quality? The owners cite the Capes region, where their farm is located, is ideally suited to Grassfed Beef production because it provides reliable annual rainfall, quality soil and prevailing winds that bring fresh air from both the Indian and Southern Oceans. Their beef is also aged for a minimum of 10 days to further ensure a tender and high quality product.
Where to sample?
You’ll find them at the markets on a fortnightly basis, or they offer a home delivery service – to retain quality and meet demand, they no longer supply to restaurants or cafes, so you’ll have to rely on your own cooking expertise with this meat!
3. The Farm House
Known for its Arkady Lamb (which is served in top restaurants including Bennelong in Sydney, and Rockpool in Perth), the Farm House is unique in WA for grazing lambs through the summer months on irrigated pasture, making for a superior ratio of omega-3 oils within the meat than that of lambs fed on grain supplements – a common practice in Australia. Their animals are fed on green pastures and treated with respect, making for tastier meat that’s ethically produced.
Where to sample?
If you can’t get yourself into any of the restaurants above, the good news is, you can buy their meat directly. The Farm House is not open to the public, but orders for meat can be placed by calling a week ahead and picked up from the markets.
4. Cambray Sheep Cheese
This popular cheese is a family affair, borne of wife Jane’s passion for cheese making and husband Bruce Wilde’s experience with sheep farming;, with son Tom and his partner Emma work in the dairy. What makes their cheese super tasty? Their flock of milking ewes are free to graze the pastures, which are surrounded by native bushland, they drink from natural springs and are milked in a relaxed environment; meaning milk of the highest quality, full of flavour.
Where to sample?
Clearly a quality cheese, there is no shortage of places to get your hands on these goodies – you’ll find them at the following farmers markets:
• Margaret River (every Saturday)
• Boyanup (last Sunday of each month)
• Kalamunda (first Saturday of each month)
• Manning (every Saturday)
• Stirling (fortnightly)
They are also available through Little Cheese Shop, The Cheese Barrel, Fresh Provisions (Mt Lawley) and the Little Sisters Deli. Keen to try them in a dish? They are also stocked at a wide range of restaurants and cafes – Jane says the Petition Kitchen in the CBD use their feta on their puffed grain and broccoli salad and Bread & Common, Bib & Tucker, The Reveley, Halo, Houghton’s in the Swan Valley, and Millbrook in Jarrahdale also use them in their dishes. Down south? Visit Cape Lodge, Aravina, Settlers Tavern, Brewhouse, Flametree, or Clairault.
5. Burnside Organic Farm
Owners Jamie and Lara grow certified biodynamic (a holistic, ecological, and ethical approach to farming) avocados, olives, Zinfandel grapes, macadamias, capers, fruit trees and seasonal vegetables. Though they are the full timers, they also credit the 80 geese, 30 chickens, 10 or so pigs and a small herd of cows for contributing to their bounty by eating grass and weeds in the orchard and vineyard, and fertilising the soil. Burnside are particularly well known for their Hass avocados; which are famed for being large and creamy tasting, and fuelled by heavy mulching, compost and lots of water.
Where to sample?
Available at the markets and The Organic Collective, Hamilton Hill; the avocados from October – December only.
5. Heritage Preserves
Offering chutneys, relishes, pickles, jams, jellies or marmalade, Heritage Preserves works with locally grown and sourced produce to create handcrafted and homemade products in small batches that are subject to seasonal availability – they also make seasonal ‘extras’ including Christmas Pudding. The business has evolved from a treasured collection of family recipes handed down through generations of a Western Australian pioneering family, and is run by locals Kerrie Purse and Kaye Hamersley. Bonus: All their products are preservative and artificial colouring free.
Where to sample
You can purchase their goodies from the Margaret River Farmer's markets throughout other markets in the South West (keep an eye on their Facebook page for details) or through their mail order service – email or call for an up to date product and price list.
P - 0408 485 972
A - 83 Yungarra Drive, Quedjinup
This article is brought to you by Tourism WA.