Margaret River is a beautiful little town nestled among the forest near the WA coast, about three hours drive south of Perth. The region is known for its stunning wineries, but if you don't feel like dragging the kids around while you go wine tasting, there's plenty of other things for families to do. Here are seven of them.
Bushtucker canoeing tour
This is a great day out if you have slightly older kids. My step kids are 11 and 12, and they were able to share the middle seat of a three person canoe (although this did seem to cause a lot of elbowing and arguing, so maybe go for a 4 seater if you can). The tour leaves from the mouth of the Margaret river, and heads inland.
The river is much wider that I'd thought, and for the most part, not very deep. The water is clean and you can see little brim and mullet swimming around, as well as other wildlife on the banks (including the odd poisonous snake, but thankfully we didn't see one of those). We stopped a few times along the way to see different plants and historical sites, including the historical Wallcliffe house, which burnt down in the fires of 2011. Our guide Gordon also gave us a running historical commentary of the area, including the story of one of the first families of the region, the Bussells.
During the four-hour tour, we got to pull the canoes up on the bank and take a swim, jumping off rocks into about 4 metres of water. We then stopped for a bush tucker lunch. We started by trying a few bush foods, including quondong fruit leather, bush tomatoes (less than delicious), bush limes (which might have gone a bit better with vodka), wild bunya nuts and blood limes. The lunch included smoked crocodile, kangaroo, emu (which made me glad I'm vegetarian) and chicken, as well as a bunch of different sambals and pestos, which we ate on pumpkin and wattle seed bread. Most of us had assumed a bush tucker lunch would include witchetty grubs, but to my relief, we were informed there's currently an Australia-wide shortage of them (who knew demand was so high?).
After lunch, we walked up to a cave carved into the cliff side, which apparently is a pleasant 19 degrees year round. We had the option of crawling through the cave on hands and knees, with the last part done lying on your stomach and dragging yourself through. It was filthy work and definitely not for anyone scared of confined spaces, or for young kids.
The tour finished with another swim to wash the cave dirt off and a race back to the beach (which we confidently thought we had in the bag before the wheels well and truly fell off and we finished last instead).
About 10 minutes south of Margaret River, Amaze'n is a great place to spend a few hours with kids of all ages. There's s mini golf course which is challenging and fun, but still compact enough for a family of four to get around in an hour or so (even if you kind of suck at golf like me).
There's also a plethora of other games to play, including bocce, giant chess and draughts and badminton. The grounds are beautiful, with plenty of trees, a big sandpit and playground and a large grassed area. There's also some botanical gardens, including a small lake with a waterfall, and of course as the name suggests, a maze.
There's also a little cafe on site, so you can order an ice cream after the family games champion has been crowned.
Millers ice cream
This place is a testament to the innovation of this family, who diversified the family dairy into making hand made ice cream as well. They opened up an ice creamery on the family farm, which is in Cowaramup (about 10 minutes from Margaret River). The business has since blossomed into a tourist attraction, including an adventure playground, a nature trail and a huge grassed area to sit and eat as many of their flavours as possible. In December 2015, they also started new live milking demonstrations at 11am daily, to show city people how it’s done! But if you haven’t got time to drive out there, they’ve also now got an ice creamery in town.
Boranup forest and cafe
The Boranup forest is about a 30 minute drive south of Margaret River and is full of enormous Karri trees, as well as a lookout where you can stand and admire them.
On the other side of the forest is a cute little cafe that does a really good breakfast, including heaps of vegetarian options, with a separate menu for little people. There's a play area on site, including an oversized chess board and snakes and ladders game. There's also a gallery next door to the café, which might be interesting for older kids to wander through.
Most wineries and breweries in the Margaret River region have caught on to the fact that to compete with all the others, they have to be attractive to families. One of the leaders in the field is the Colonial brewery, which has a big playground on site adjacent to the outdoor tables, so that parents can sit with a beer in their hand while they watch out for their little darlings.
They’ve got two main bars, and you can see the playground from the outside bar, so your kids never need to be out of your sight. On our last visit, they also had a juggler on stilts and live music. The food was pretty good, and the bartender even bought my partner a beer for his birthday, which was a really nice touch!
There are dozens of stunning white sand beaches a short drive from Margaret River.
If you're feeling adventurous, and have older kids, then Conto's beach is a great choice. It's about a half hour drive from Margaret River and the turn off is off Caves road. Be prepared for a 10 minute trek from the car park through a lot of black sand (apparently due to the ash from fires that swept through the region), so shoes are a necessity. Unfortunately for them, the kids learnt this the hard way and ended up having to bring seaweed with them to stand on on the way back.
Prevelly is an awesome beach to take young kids to. It's where the Margaret river feeds into the ocean, creating a calm pool that in summer is only about knee height, as well as a little island that the kids can wade out to. The river itself is also fine for swimming in and is shallow and calm.
Other options are Redgate, for snorkeling and searching for sea creatures between the rocks, and a bit further south, there’s Hamelin Bay which is calm and warm and has its own resident manta rays that come in to say hi in the evenings.
There are several caves to go exploring in, including Lake, Jewel and Mammoth caves. Each of the caves has a different reason to visit, but doing them all in one day could be a bit tiring. As the name suggests, Mammoth has an enormous open cavern. You have the option of taking an audio tour, which points out where ancient fossils have been found within the cave. Lake cave has a big underground lake, and boardwalks have been constructed over the top so you don’t have to get your feet wet. Jewel cave features beautiful crystalline formations and apparently has the world’s largest straw stalactite in a tourist cave.
Notes: For more info, see www.margaretriver.com