Our weekend in Margaret River itinerary will give you a taste of Western Australia’s best wine, waves and caves in what must be one of Australia’s most captivating and most delicious food and wine destinations. In two days, you can savour fine wines and fantastic food, take in the world-famous surf, explore a cave or two, and perhaps spot some whales.
A weekend in Margaret River, Western Australia’s premiere wine region, is never going to be sufficient to really savour this great gastronomic destination, but it’s just enough time to sample the fabulous food and wine, experience the rich indigenous culture, including native food, stroll a sandy beach or two, make forays into the forest, onto the river and into a few caves, and even do some whale-watching.
Two days is obviously never enough time anywhere, but especially in Western Australia’s premiere food and wine destination, however, a weekend in Margaret River is better than nothing and now is the time to go. Winter is wonderfully invigorating by day, and by night you have crackling fireplaces to keep you warm.
The Margaret River region has a Mediterranean climate, so while there can be cloud and rain, winter days can also be lovely and sunny with an unforgettable clarity to the light. Winter temperatures in Margaret River average 15°C (60°F) by day – bliss to these tropical dwellers – although overnight and early mornings can sometimes get close to zero mid-winter, so pack the winter woollies, and a picnic hamper and esky for all the scrummy treats.
Weekend in Margaret River Itinerary for 2 Days in the Western Australian Wine Region
Travelling in Western Australia and the Margaret River Region
As restrictions have eased in Western Australia and residents are now able to travel, picnic, go boating, fishing and camping, and can drink and dine at cafes, bars, pubs and restaurants, we’re resuming our series on Western Australian itineraries and road trip routes that we put on hold in March.
While we originally created this weekend in Margaret River itinerary and other Western Australian road trip routes and weekend itineraries with international as much as Australian readers in mind, it’s important to note that if you’re reading this from outside Australia that Australia’s borders are currently closed to all but Australian citizens, international flights have been reduced, and some state borders are also closed, including the Western Australian border.
Travellers are still dreaming about travel and even starting to plan future trips, even if they’re a while off yet, so we’ll continue to share travel ideas for both Australian and international readers. But before booking, do check the latest travel advice with government, tourism, airline, and accommodation websites. If based outside Australia, check your foreign affairs, Australian embassy, and airline sites.
In the Margaret River region, most restaurants, cafés, pubs, wineries, breweries, and distilleries have reopened, however, government restrictions and social distancing measures mean that wine tastings at cellar doors might be seated and numbers in restaurants, bars and pubs limited. That means you’ll need to reserve tables well in advance. Click through and check on the venue’s website or call them or check with the Margaret River region’s excellent tourism office on 08 9789 5911.
While the weekend in Margaret River is when it is liveliest, when the region gets visitors from Perth and beyond, you could do this 2-day Margaret River itinerary during the week. Just be sure to check opening days and times in advance as some places close for a day or two during the week.
Getting to Margaret River
If you don’t have your own wheels, from Perth you can hire a car for the easy 275km-drive, which will take you around three and a half hours to the heart of the Margaret River region, Margaret River town. If you’re not in a hurry, there are plenty of worthwhile stops en route for beachside strolls, self-guided heritage walks, and even a tour or two. See our guide to driving from Perth to Margaret River for more details.
If you’re planning on doing a few tours, including wine tours, another option for getting to Margaret River from Perth is a transfer if you like the idea of a driver. South West Charter Vehicles and Winery Tours offer transfers as well as customised wine tours. You could also take a bus there and do tours once you arrive.
Getting Around Margaret River
With just a couple of main arteries, the Bussell Highway and Caves Road, the Margaret River region is easy to navigate. While you can do our weekend in Margaret River itinerary on your own, there are some excellent tours with local experts for a more immersive insider experience, so we’ve provided a mix of tours and independent exploring. If you’re going to spend an afternoon at the wineries, then you might want to consider a wine tour if you don’t have a designated driver.
Where to Stay for a Weekend in Margaret River
If you only have a weekend in Margaret River, you are first-time visitors, you don’t have your own car, or you’re visiting the Margaret River region in winter, we strongly recommend staying in the heart of Margaret River town so you can stroll to supermarkets, cafés, wine bars, pubs, and restaurants. We loved staying in The Traill’s comfortable light-filled apartments with well kitted-out kitchens right on the main street.
If you have your own car and don’t feel the need to stay in town, Losari Retreat has apartments with kitchens and barbecues a 10-minute drive from Margaret River town and 20 minutes by car to Prevelley Beach, and there are wineries nearby. There are cosy glamping opportunities in chic safari-style tents at Olio Bello, an olive farm and maker of award-winning olive oils a 15-minute drive from Margaret River town and five minutes from the beach at Gracetown. They have a tasting room and cafe offering meals made with local produce.
Cape Lodge, a 25-minute drive from Margaret River town, on Caves Road, has plush rooms and suites, lovely gardens, a small lake, and an award-winning restaurant. If you want to be on the beach and don’t feel the need to stay centrally, then in the northern part of the region, there are spacious apartments with fantastic kitchens at Smiths Beach Resort, a 35-minute drive from Margaret River town, opposite Smiths Beach and Canal Rocks. On site is the excellent Lamonts restaurant and a cosy café cum gourmet deli stocking loads of local products. Also see our guide to where to stay in the Margaret River region for more suggestions.
Weekend in Margaret River Itinerary
Getting Your Bearings
Our weekend in Margaret River itinerary begins in the heart of the region in Margaret River town, which is where we should explain that Margaret River is indeed the name of a river, but it’s also the name of a town, and, as you know, the name of the region – which is why you’ll find yourself saying Margaret River region, Margaret River town, and Margaret River river.
As its name suggests, Margaret River town is set on the picturesque banks of Margaret River, amidst fragrant bushland. From Margaret River town, it’s only a ten-minute drive to the beach at Prevelly and it’s just 5-20 minutes to the Margaret River region’s most celebrated wineries, Cape Mentelle, Xanadu, Voyager Estate, Leeuwin Estate, and Vasse Felix – which is why we reckon Margaret River town is the best base for first-timers to Margaret River region.
Regardless of where you choose to check in, our weekend in Margaret River itinerary starts in Margaret River town so you can pick up some supplies at the supermarket, bakeries and delis, and stretch your legs after the drive with a stroll along the main street, which is dotted with gourmet food shops, stylish boutiques, art galleries, and lively cafés, bars, pubs, and restaurants.
At the very least you’ll need a baguette or water crackers, some Margaret River cheese and olives, but don’t buy too much tonight as we’re sending you to the farmer’s market tomorrow morning. For supermarkets, the IGA and Coles are on the main street, and Woolworths is two blocks from the main drag, but for outstanding bakeries, try Margaret River Woodfired Bread and Margaret River Bakery (links below).
To clink glasses to the great weekend in Margaret River ahead of you, head to local favourite, the Settlers Tavern, on the main street in the heart of ‘Margs’, as the locals call Margaret River town. ‘The Tav’ dates back to the 1970s when the area began to develop as a surfing destination and some of its iconic wineries were established, so don’t be surprised if you’re bumping elbows with surfing legends or legendary winemakers. There are plenty of Western Australian craft beers on tap, including local brews, however, Settlers has won numerous ‘best Western Australian wine list’ awards over the years and has some 150 local wines on its list, with a good selection by the glass.
While you’ve only got a weekend in Margaret River (which means you should try another spot for dinner), the pub grub here is notable if you’d prefer to, ahem, settle in for the night. Bookings essential as only 20 diners are currently allowed to ensure adequate spacing. There’s lots of sustainable WA seafood on the menu including local line-caught fish and Southern Ocean oysters shucked to order. As it’s truffle season now, you can have local truffles shaved on any dish for an additional $10. The tavern is both child- and pet-friendly. Settlers Tavern, 114 Bussell Hwy, Margaret River, Mon-Thu noon-10pm, Sat-Sun 11.30am-midnight.
Margaret River’s most convivial spot, Morries may not be as old as The Tav but it’s been just as much a local institution since it opened in 2012 as Morries Anytime, and was relaunched and revamped four years later. Enter the warm dimly-lit space on a winter’s evening and you could be at one of those inviting Viennese cafés where you while away a night hugging big glasses of velvety purple-hued Austrian reds. Perhaps it’s Thonet’s No. 14 bentwood chairs around the square café tables. But once you hear those Aussie accents and convos about wines and waves, you know you couldn’t be anywhere but Margs.
Book stools at the long black-tiled bar and order cocktails to sip while you peruse the menu. Most contain a local product, such as the rum-based King Kong Killer made with Cheeky Monkey IPA, one of the region’s, um, killer craft beers, or if you’re pretending it’s not winter, the Summer Thyme, with Margaret River’s own West Winds Cutlass Gin, thyme, rhubarb bitters, lime, and Voyager Estate’s sparkling grape juice. Aussies love Espresso Martinis and these are made with Berry Farm chocolate liqueur, Drambuie, espresso, and salted hazelnut cream.
The region’s best-known chef Tony Howell, who established Cape Lodge as the Margaret River’s finest fine dining destination, was helming the kitchen when we first ate at Morries. ‘Tone’ as he’s fondly known in Margs is back at the Lodge, but he left his mark on Morries’ sharing plates. Try the croquettes with braised beef, cheddar and wholegrain mustard; crumbed soft-shell crab with green pawpaw, nam jim salad, cabbage, and Sriracha aioli; Shark Bay prawns with lemon, Szechuan pepper and pineapple sambal; and as it’s truffle season, the Wagyu beef slider with onion jam, cheddar, truffle aioli, and pickles.
If you’re wondering who Morrie is you’re probably not old enough to remember the 1990s best-seller Tuesdays with Morrie (which the owners said was an inspiration), but you might know its quotes: “Don’t cling to things because everything is impermanent”, “As you grow, you learn more. Ageing is not just decay, it’s growth”, “The truth is, once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.” Germane words of wisdom to mull over your martinis during these uncertain times. Morries, 2/149 Bussell Hwy, Margaret River, daily 5pm-late, 08 9758 8280.
Saturday morning in Margaret River means a morning at the markets and time for you to properly start your weekend in Margaret River itinerary with a taste of the region’s fantastic produce and products. If you’re doing a tour with Josh (below), you’ll need to be at Margaret River Farmers’ Market when it opens at 8am. All stalls are operated by local farmers and artisanal producers from the Margaret River region and the Southwest of the state, so you can meet the makers of the marvellous stuff grown, raised and made in the region.
If you can’t function without coffee, choose your queue at any of the coffee vans – Yahava, Combi Coffee or Brew Shack, they’re all good – and if you haven’t had breakfast head to the Community Breakfast Bar for a bacon and egg roll (profits go to different community groups), to Má Là Margaret River Dumplings for plump Northern Chinese style dumplings, or to Forest Grove Olive Farm’s stall for sweet and savoury pies and tarts, including a pecan pie made with local pecans. If you’re staying in an apartment with kitchen, pick up some Jindong Free-Range Pork bacon rashers, Margaret River Free Range Eggs, Burnside Organic Farm avocados, sourdough from Margaret River Woodfired Bread, croissants from Margaret River Bakery, and creamy butter from Jardin Estate and you’re set for brekkie tomorrow.
Now to think about evening snacks: grab some Margaret River Gourmet Wine Crackers for your cheese (Cambray Sheep Cheese and Heidi Goat cheese are small batch cheese makers using traditional farmhouse methods) and charcuterie (get some house-made pâté and rillettes and truffle butter from The French Pantry and ham smoked with beech wood from The Farm House). Indulgent? Nah, you’re giving back to the local community. Better drop your purchases back at your lodgings as you’ll need some room in the esky. Margaret River Education Campus, Lot 272 Bussell Hwy, Margaret River, Saturdays only 8am-12pm Apr-Oct, 7.30-11.30am Nov-Mar.
The name ‘Margaret River’ didn’t appear on a map until 1839, according to this excellent resource on Noongar Culture, when European settler John Bussell named the river after friend Margaret Wyche. And it wasn’t until 1850 that the first Europeans, Alfred and Ellen Bussell, moved to the area, settling at Mokidup, a traditional Noongar camping area, where they established a farm. For the indigenous Noongar people who had lived in the Southwest Boojarah region in Noongar booja (country) since the Nyittiny (creation times), also known as The Dreaming, Margaret River already had a name. It was called Wooditchup after the magic man Wooditch, who created the river in the Nyitting.
Archaeological evidence of Noongar occupation here – including human remains, animal bones, stone artefacts, beads, ornaments, and cooking hearths – date back some 48,000 years, with the Devil’s Lair cave being one of the earliest sites of human occupation in Australia. You can learn more about the first residents of the Margaret River and their rich, ancient culture and everyday life on a 2.5 hour Ngilgi Cave Cultural Tour with Wadandi custodian Josh ‘Koomal’ Whiteland, owner of Koomal Dreaming Tours. Josh shares the history and stories of the region on a bushwalk on which he’ll teach you how to identify traditional plants, native foods and ancient medicines linked to the six Noongar seasons, and how to make fire by rubbing sticks together. After descending into the cave, you’ll get to experience a magical didgeridoo performance by Josh.
If you’d like to learn more about the culinary side of Noongar culture, Josh offers a longer tour that includes a spot of foraging for seasonal bush foods and medicines, along with a tasting of native flavours around a campfire, rounded off with a traditional barbecue that might include (depending on the season) ingredients such as kangaroo, emu, quandong, and salt bush. It’s worth noting that while the Noongar people foraged and hunted, they also farmed. There’s evidence that Noongar worked for the Bussell family, teaching them about local flora and fauna, working on the farm, herding cattle and sheep, milking the cows, making butter and cheese, fishing, and more. Before your weekend in Margaret River, read Bruce Pascoe’s ground-breaking book Dark Emu, which describes indigenous pre-colonial Australia as a complex, sophisticated, 60,000-year-old civilisation rooted in agriculture and innovation.
If you didn’t enjoy a barbecue with Josh, then you’re going to want lunch. For many visitors, it wouldn’t be a weekend in Margaret River without a leisurely winery lunch overlooking the vineyards, and for many of those same visitors that means lunch at the likes of one of the top wineries, such as Vasse Felix, Leeuwin Estate, Voyager Estate, or Cullen Wines. However, from Ngilgi Cave, it’s just a 12-minute drive south along Caves Road to the Restaurant at Will’s Domain, located off Abbeys Farm Road, which was one of Western Australia’s best-kept dining secrets until a few years ago.
While Western Australian diners and critics have long appreciated the deliciously-innovative cuisine of head chef Seth James, who has helmed the kitchen since 2013 – the restaurant has won numerous West Australian Good Food Guide Regional Restaurant awards and Seth himself was awarded 2019 Regional Chef of the Year in the WA Good Food Guide – it seemed to take forever for Australia’s east coast food media to discover the chef and his wonderfully imaginative food based on a combination of sustainable wild-harvested ingredients and produce grown in the gardens on site.
Our unforgettable first lunch, a 5-course degustation menu, started with a series of creative snacks, and included a comforting main (melt-in-your-mouth beef short ribs with kai lan, pear balls and miso), a zingy sorbet, and decadent dessert (chocolate, beetroot, olive oil, and caraway) but most memorable was the raw dish of sweet Hiramasa kingfish – which is indigenous to Australia’s southern cold seas and sustainable – with pickled cucumber and native ingredients, including wattle and lemon aspen. It tasted of the bush and ocean and washed down wonderfully with Wills Domain’s 2013 Single Vineyard Semillon from Block 2. There are sweeping vineyard views, but book a table (well ahead) in the main dining room with views of the kitchen. You can take in the vineyards after lunch. Wills Domain, 17 Brash Road, Yallingup, lunch daily 12 noon-2pm (degustation menu), 12noon-3pm (a la carte); cellar door 10am-5pm.
It’s already Saturday afternoon and you haven’t had nearly enough food and wine for one weekend in Margaret River so after lunch do the self-drive Tom Cullity Food and Wine Trail. From Wills Domain it’s just 12 minutes to the top end of Tom Cullity drive, where this gourmet itinerary developed by the local Margaret River tourism board begins. You could easily spend a day doing this drive, putting together a picnic with purchases along the way. But you can still get a taste of this delicious route in a couple of hours, collecting midnight snacks and edible souvenirs en route. You’ll just have to be selective about where you stop.
Highlights include lesser-known but still outstanding wineries, including Ashbrook, Heydon, Thompson and Peacetree Estates. If you decide only to call in at one, make it one of our favourites, Heydon Estate, where you’ll get to meet the charming wine-making couple at the intimate cellar door, and sample their superb drops with whimsical cricket names. Then there’s hand-made chocolate at Margaret River Chocolate Company, hand-crafted nougat at the Margaret River Nougat Company at Bettenay Wines, and a jaw-dropping range of local products, including olive oils, preserves, jams, teas, spice mixes, relishes, and condiments galore at Margaret River Providore at Coward and Black Vineyards. Make this a priority.
Juniper Estate has beautiful gardens (perfect for a picnic), but if you’re stuck for time, make your last stop the legendary Vasse Felix, established by Dr Tom Cullity in 1967 making it Margaret River’s founding wine estate. If you want to savour the sunset over the Indian Ocean before you head home, make a beeline for the beach at Gracetown, an 8-minute drive away, where there are a few vantage points offering spectacular vistas over Cowaramup Bay.
Book well ahead for dinner at chef Mikihito Nagai’s buzzy Miki’s Open Kitchen, long the hottest table in town, but particularly now as diners need to be seated further apart due to coronavirus-safe spacing restrictions. Pre-pandemic, chef Mikihito had built a reputation for creative contemporary Japanese-Australian degustation menus based on the finest local produce, and inventive tempura in particular. The menus included an option where you let the chef feed you, a menu that changed daily and including everything across six courses, a menu with sake pairing, as well an a la carte menu.
Seats at the U-shaped counter that wrapped around the lively open kitchen would be booked up several weeks in advance for the two sittings, the first at 6pm and the second at 8pm. The chef has had a lot of support during the ‘stay at home’ period with his takeaway degustation menus and his ramen proving popular, so if you can’t get a table order takeaway in advance and eat in. If you’re lucky enough to get some seats, we recommend the second sitting so you don’t feel rushed. Miki’s Open Kitchen, 131 Bussell Hwy Margaret River, 08 9758 7673.
Sunday Coffee and Breakfast
You won’t need breakfast if you followed our advice and brought some brekky ingredients from the market yesterday, but you will probably need coffee. A few options: you could do the 10-minute drive to the beach to the White Elephant Cafe (Gnarabup Rd) which opens at 7.30am and has a deck overlooking the gorgeous sands of Gnarabup Beach. Annoyingly it closes at 3pm otherwise it would be a perfect spot for savouring the sunset with a glass of white in hand, but its magic in the early morning too. The coffee is good and if you do need breakfast, it’s fab; same owners as Morries.
If you need coffee before you get behind the wheel of a car, make a beeline for the Riversmith (122 Bussell Hwy) in the main street of Margs, which opens at 8.30am (Wed-Mon only). This handsome light-filled café is located in a beautifully remodelled service station. There’s indoor and outdoor seating and they do takeaway. Or you could try Sidekick Café (5/110 Bussell Highway), also on the main street, which opens at 7am. The friendly staff and colourful murals on the walls make for a good start to the day. This eco-friendly café offers Duke’s single-origin fair-trade coffee, keep-cups, compostable takeaway cups, and bio-degradable straws.
You can’t spend a weekend in Margaret River without getting on the river, so book yourself onto a Margaret River Discovery tour with owner Sean Blocksidge. Sean likes to say he guides tours for people who don’t like tours, and while his two signature experiences are well thought-out, the slow pace and Sean’s easy-going manner make it seem like you’re not on a tour and are just hanging out with a mate for the day – a mate with insider access.
Sean used to run a winery and also offers a Best of the Best Margaret River Wine Tour, which features behind the scenes experiences, including a fantastic food and wine pairing at Cape Mentelle. However, his Margaret River Discovery Tour also includes wine, plus a taste of some of Margaret River’s other special experiences, including a canoe ride along tranquil Margaret River (pictured above), a coffee in a local café while you check out the surf at one of Margaret River’s top beach breaks, time to chill at an ancient waterhole that’s home to freshwater marron, and a short hike on the Cape to Cape walking track to Wilyabrup Cliffs where you might spot whales and wildflowers depending on the season.
The 5.5-hour small group 4WD tour also includes a private wine tasting and lunch with the winemaker between the barrels at Fraser Gallop Estate – which does not have a cellar door, so it feels very exclusive. Sean’s tour is all about introducing you to the Margaret River terroir – the geography, climate and geology that combine to make this food and wine region so distinctive. It’s a great way to end a weekend in Margaret River itinerary.