After saying a fond (and a bit sad) farewell to our “Seattle SeaGnome” at Gnomesville, we struck out for Margaret River.
Along the way, we came across the little seaside town of Busselton. This town is known primarily for its Busselton Jetty. Here is a good example of how Australian English differs from American English. In the US (at least on the west coast), a “jetty” is a breakwater: a big pile of big rocks built to protect the mouth of a harbor or river from crashing waves. In Australia, a jetty is a pier or dock. Along most of the west coast of Australia, reefs create very shallow water close to the shore, so jetties must be built far out into the ocean to allow ships to dock at them. Busselton was an important port from the 1860s to the 1970s. The jetty was built in 1865 and enhanced over the next 90 years to extend nearly two kilometers (about a mile and a quarter) into Geographe Bay in the Indian Ocean. It was a working jetty accommodating cargo ships bringing goods into Australia and taking away what this area produced, most notably timber.
By the 1970s nearby Bunbury, with its deep-water harbor, had become the favored port, and the government shut down Busselton’s jetty in 1973. The community fought to save its historic and iconic jetty from the threat of government demolition, through a devastating cyclone and a ravishing fire. Now the jetty is Busselton’s primary tourist draw. It has been beautifully restored to be the longest timber-piled jetty in the Southern Hemisphere. We rode the little train from the excellent Interpretive Centre with its historical displays 1.7 km (just over one mile) to the Underwater Observatory nearly at the far end of the jetty. There we were guided down a spiral staircase eight meters (about 24 feet) past eleven viewing windows where we could see colorful sponges and corals clinging to the jetty’s pilings and watch all kinds of fish swim past the windows. As we walked back the length of the jetty, we learned more about its history and could see its development through the years.
Margaret River is only about 50 km (30 miles) southwest of Busselton. This town was nearly surrounded by forests at one time, much of it jarrah, a strong beautiful red wood used to build just about anything. Agriculture and the timber industry supported Margaret River from its founding in the 1830s until the jarrah ran out in the 1950s. Then the government did a study to figure out how Margaret River could make a living without the timber. The study showed that the climate, topography, and soils of the area would do best growing either wine grapes or potatoes. Since there wouldn’t be many tourists coming to watch potatoes grow, Margaret River wisely decided to grow grapes. There are now over 150 wine producers in the region.
We took a delightful full-day Cheers Winery & Scenic Tour with Hillary as our driver/guide. As she drove us around the region, she told us about its history and the stories behind the three vineyards and the gourmet producers we visited. None of the wineries in this region are huge producers; their goal is to produce premium (read “expensive”) wines for discerning connoisseurs. Our first stop was at Watershed Premium Wines where we toured the barrel room and had our first tasting. We also had an excellent lunch there. This vineyard had been a dairy farm until the late 1990s when a wealthy entrepreneur from Perth spotted the property and had what he called a “watershed moment” – a vision of a beautiful winery there. He purchased that property and others in the area and planted the first vines in 2001. His vision has certainly come to fruition. Other wineries in the region tell similar stories.
Through the day, interspersed among the three wineries, we visited a venison farm where sausage and salami are made from deer meat; a nougat candy-making factory (adjunct to one of the wineries); a cheese-making factory; and a chocolate factory. At each stop, we sampled the wares. We ended the day at a brewery in the suburb of Cowaramup, commonly called “Cow Town” by the locals. A bevy of painted cow statues have sprung up throughout the region as a fund raiser. In front of the brewery was a cow visibly filled with beer. By that time many of our tour group were drinking coffee and very glad they were letting someone else do the driving.
There are many little towns in Western Australia that end in the suffix “-up.” Our guide on this tour told us that these are Aboriginal names, and the “-up” simply means “place of.” So if you know what the first part of the word means, you know what grew there or happened there. We don’t remember what “Cowaram” means, so we don’t know what exactly grew or happened there. To us it was “the place of beer.”
As a non-drinker, Sharon was an interested observer of the behaviors of the 15 or so people on the tour. At the first tasting, it became obvious that the women would taste only white wines while the men tried everything. One woman quickly became a bit tipsy and seemed proud of it. At each winery, fewer and fewer participated in the tastings; only about four of the men and none of the women stayed the course throughout. Many of the group had come from Perth the day before and were headed back on their bus that night. We suspected they would probably sleep most of the way.
The Margaret River Region is very scenic with hills and forests of lovely tall trees among the fields and vineyards. From our caravan park, we walked along the Margaret River enjoying the views of the river including an interesting “rock ramp” fishway around a little weir (dam). We saw lots of little wildflowers along the trail. (We have pretty much given up on trying to identifying them.) The banks of the river were lined with peppermint trees covered with their tiny white flowers; it looked like a dusting of snow.