Most travelers make the 3 hour drive from Perth to Margaret River in one go, without stopping to smell the metaphorical roses.
Admittedly that was me 5 years ago, when I visited both Perth and Margs and literally nothing in-between. What can I say, Margaret River gets all the hype in this part of Australia: it’s popular and well known for good reason (namely beaches and wine).
But if you have more time, and/or it’s not your first trip to South Western Australia, I HIGHLY recommend you spend at least a few days exploring the greater Margaret River region, particularly around Geographe Bay. From surf towns to Caribbean-like beaches to gnarly rock formations and neon blue lakes, there’s enough to fill up your trip before you even reach Margaret River town.
From Bunbury to Yallingup, here’s everything you can’t miss en route to Margaret River:
Bunbury is the 3rd largest city in Western Australia and the “economic hub” of Southwest Australia, and these days it’s being marketing as somewhat of a lifestyle destination. Think: lots of events, hip bars, art exhibitions, and trendy shops.
If you want in on all that, just take a walk down Victoria Street. If you’re just here for nature, go hang out at Koombana Bay (right in front of the Dolphin Discovery Centre) in the morning and you’ll likely be joined by dolphins that swim in to shore.
I was lucky enough to see dolphins elsewhere in the wild around Geographe Bay, so instead I opted to take myself on a little street art tour of Bunbury. Thanks to the Six Two Three Zero initiative, expansive murals have popped up all over town in the last few years in an attempt to “use art in public spaces as a catalyst for urban development and social change by bringing communities together in conversation and creative inspiration.”
Download a map here and get exploring! I’d say this is some of the best street art in Australia outside of Melbourne.
Collie River Valley
Pools. Lakes. Gnomes.
Intrigued? You should be! And by the way, all of these *interesting* sights I’m about to share with you can be seen in a day.
If you’re camping in Western Australia, book a site at Honeymoon Pool campground and base yourself here for at least one night ($15/person). I found it to be such a serene spot with campsites amidst the trees, many right next to the river.
Honeymoon Pool itself appears mystical in some photos that are floating around online, but in reality it looks pretty ordinary (or should I say pretty, but ordinary). It’s a popular day trip spot for families to come and splash around – jumping off the deck is kind of the thing to do here.
If you stay at the campground, you can go for a morning dip before the day trippers arrive. It’s so peaceful around this time!
Black Diamond Lake
Not to be a downer, but Black Diamond Lake is another site that might look better in photos than it does in real life. I didn’t find the water to be as blue when I visited (which was on a clear sunny day, mind you).
Still, it’s worth a quick visit. There are a couple places where you can park next to the lake, but swimming access isn’t so great. I’d stop at one or two of the parking areas, snap a few photos, and continue on to the other nearby spots:
Now Stockton Lake is where you should spend the bulk of your time. There are numerous access points for swimming, though signs around mention that the water is “acidic from previous coal mining operations” and that for your health and safety, you should “avoid prolonged exposure to the water.”
With neon blue water like this, I definitely believe it. I opted not to swim but saw a few others jump in while I was there.
Stockton Lake is an ideal spot to chill and have some lunch, which is exactly what I did. Note that you can camp along the lake, but you can’t book ahead – just turn up and hope for a spot.
At a campground elsewhere in WA, I overheard a camper at the site next to mine tell someone about a place with thousands of gnome statues. I promptly forgot all about this ridiculous story until I noticed a place called Gnomesville on Google Maps – and it happened to be close to all of the lakes and pools I was visiting.
So of course I just HAD to go and check it out. You guys, GNOMESVILLE EXISTS!
What I found there was a short walking trail beside the road COMPLETELY lined with gnomes, ranging in quality from brand-spankin’-new to covered in dirt and shattered into pieces. Most gnomes were left with a name and date drawn on them, or on a small sign set next to them.
FYI the horse flies (or I guess March flies is what they call ‘em in Australia) were beyond horrendous here, so be warned!
Admittedly I did not spend much time in the small city of Busselton, but the thing to do here is walk out on the 1.8km-long jetty.
Instead, I spent a day holed up at The Good Egg cafe, which I adored for the simple reason of it having its upstairs set up for working. There are long tables with outlets and lights, and even meeting rooms – it’s very much like a coworking space, but contained within the cafe and FREE to enjoy! (Obviously you should buy some food and drink proportionate to the amount of time you spend there, but even then it’s still a great deal)
On top of accommodating remote workers, The Good Egg has a kids play area, offers workshops and cooking classes, and donates 5% of profits to brain cancer research. What they’re doing is pretty unique, and I always love supporting businesses doing cool sh*t so I was happy to throw down a little more money than planned on brunch and numerous coffees. So worth it!
To give you an idea of the caliber of the beaches near Dunsborough, the next major town west of Busselton… well, let’s just say I feel like the heart-eyed emoji incarnate right now just thinking back on the time I spent at them.
In short, if you visit on a clear, calm, sunny summer day, you could easily imagine yourself in the Caribbean.
The three beaches I’m talking about, from closest to furthest from town AND in order of popularity, are: Meelup Beach, Eagle Bay Beach, and Bunker Beach. All of them are on the bay side and therefore have calm water fit for easy swimming. t
Meelup Beach is the busiest and best equipped in terms of facilities and picnic areas. There’s usually a cafe kiosk and a SUP rental van onsite.
I’d dub Eagle Bay as the most Caribbean-esque of the three. The water here really is that clear! And in the sun, the sand looks pretty damn close to white.
It’s also the longest beach, perfect for walks and for spreading out from the crowd (not that there are really any crowds here).
Bunker Bay is the quietest of the three beaches (though there were two weddings happening on the sand while I was there).
Then right when I was getting ready to pack up and leave, I spotted a few dolphins swimming just 10m offshore. I can’t believe how close they came!
Definitely one of my favorite moments of my entire 3 week Southwest Australia road trip.
Just past these beaches you’ll find yourself on Cape Naturaliste.
Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse
Here you’ll find the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse. It costs $4 if you want to get anywhere near it, which I find to be rather silly (especially given there’s no view from it, and that you can glimpse the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse further south without having to pay anything).
Cape to Cape Track
Unless you really love lighthouses, I recommend going for a walk around the Cape instead. There are some short loop trails that circle the lighthouse (though you still can’t see it from these trails), or you can walk a segment of the epic Cape to Cape Track along the coast heading south.
While you’re here, it’s worth visiting Sugarloaf Rock just 2km south of Cape Naturaliste. This cool rock island just offshore is a great place to watch the sunset, and not-so-great for swimming (too rough!).
Yallingup boasts the best of Southwest Australia: great surf, gorgeous beaches, stunning coastline, top notch wineries.
If you want to chill out and enjoy the glorious scenery, Yallingup is the place to do it. You won’t find shopping plazas or any semblance of nightlife in this little surf town! And that’s exactly why it’s worth a visit.
First off, if you’re a fellow lavender lover, you MUST stop in at Cape Lavender, a cafe and store in Yallingup. It’s a bit dated and service wasn’t the best when I visited, but who really cares when you have all manner of lavender things to distract you?
Did I really need lavender scones and lavender ice cream immediately after breakfast? The answer is no but yes. I have no regrets.
Yallingup’s also got a handful of wineries where you can stop in for a tasting or even a bite to eat.
I stopped for coffee at Barnyard1978, which is SUCH a pretty venue, the sort of place you could hold a wedding. I really wish I’d had more of an appetite for their signature pasta, wine, and honey tastings, but y’know… I’d just rolled in from the lavender cafe next-door.
Smiths Beach made the cut for my Best Beaches in Western Australia list, so that should tell you how pretty it is.
Backed by sand dunes and frequented primarily by surfers, rest assured there’s plenty of eye candy here. But if you need more there’s always nearby Yallingup Beach, said to be the birthplace of surfing in the 1950s.
Injidup Natural Spa
Injidup is one of the coolest works of nature in all of WA! Upon first glance, it looks like just another rock pool – but get in it and you’ll see why it’s referred to as a natural spa.
When waves crash over the rocks, they shoot water into the pool similar to how a jacuzzi jet works. It’s SO MUCH FUN to grab the rock wall and let the waves pummel you (er, I mean give you a nice little massage).
Nearby, there’s another little rock pool and a beach, all equally picturesque.
I recommend spending a half of a day at Injidup to fully enjoy the area! And get there as early as possible to avoid crowds (I arrived at 9am on a weekday and there were a couple dozen folks at the pool).
Want more cool rock formations to explore? Canal Rocks is well worth a visit, featuring a boardwalk that winds around the rocks and across channels to the rock islands just offshore.
Like Sugarloaf Rock, it’s a great place to watch the sunset.
Fun fact about the Margaret River region: there are over 100 limestone caves here. Only a few of them are open to the public, including Ngilgi Cave in Yallingup.
Entry to Ngilgi Cave costs $22.50 and includes a tour of the cave.