Southwest Australia. April 28-29, 2023

Tony Crocker

Staff member
We arrived in Perth late afternoon April 25 and drove north to the Pinnacles before returning to Perth for a night. We visited the Perth Mint and an art museum before driving south on the afternoon of April 27. We spent 3 nights in Margaret River, where the key tourist attractions are surfing (discovered in the 1950’s) and premium wines (first planted in late 1960’s). Map of the region:


Our stops are circled in purple.

We drove south to the first Jewel Cave tour at 9:30 on April 28. It was first explored in 1957 and so has little damage to its formations mostly created during times of wetter climate.




The laser line here shows a former water level.


Higher water also contributed to the “popcorn” bulbs at the end of a couple of soda straw stalactites.


This slab broke loose, leaving its stalagmites pointing diagonally.


The unique feature is that the local Karri trees drill taproots to the water table, some of them passing through 40 meters vertical of cave.


Closer view of a taproot:


We drove south to the Cape Leeuwin lighthouse at SW point boundary of Indian and Southern Oceans.


While there was Indian Ocean surf, it was calm in this chronically windy locale, part of the only landfall of the 1974 total eclipse.


Next was our 1:30 lunch at Vasse Felix, oldest Margaret River winery founded 1967 on advice with John Gladstones, with consultation from Dr. Olmo from UC Davis/Larkmead. It’s fall foliage season here.


This was a 5 course tasting menu. We bought the premium Tom Cullity cabernet, which like most Aussie wines has a screw top and was in fine form despite being only 2019 vintage.


On April 29 we got out early, drove to Swan Dive shop Busselton for two dives on the HMAS Swan, sunk in 1997 in 100 feet of water for scuba diving.


It was a half hour boat ride to the dive site.


Visibility was poor on the descent line but adequate on the ship, though not great for photography.



We did some good exploring including the elevator and bridge on the second dive. We were done about 3PM and drove down the coast in continuing best weather day in the southwest.

We stopped at the Injidup natural spa. Waves crash over rocks and flow into a sheltered pool where the water flow above and below the surface works like a massage.



Water was maybe 70F vs. 66F on the dives and Liz took an 11 minute video of me, one minute of that here.

We then drove to Surfer’s Point (blue area below Cape Mentelle on map), arriving about 10 minutes before sunset.


We saw the last two surfers take long rides in about 5 foot surf, about half as big as during the pro competition two days before.


The sun came through the thick clouds to that narrow opening at the horizon and produced an unexpected green flash.

On April 30 we drive to Fremantle and toured the historic prison there. We visited Fremantle’s shipwreck and maritime museums the next day and returned to Perth for dinner and our redeye flight to Melbourne, enjoying James-level luck with empty rows to sleep. Our fortunate 13 hour layover gave us time to explore Melbourne’s street art, Skydeck views, river cruise and finale gourmet dinner at Gimlet on May 2.
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This was a 5 course tasting menu. We bought the premium Tom Cullity cabernet, which like most Aussie wines has a screw top and was in fine form despite being only 2019 vintage.
Nice report as per usual Tony.
I'm not an avid wine buff but do enjoy a red. The Western Australian cabernets are very different to the South Australian cabs. I find them dryer. I have very little experience with the red wines of North America as I'm usually having one of your fantastic beers when I'm in the US or Canada. How would you compare the Margaret River cabernet to the Californian cabs?
How would you compare the Margaret River cabernet to the Californian cabs?
Vasse Felix Tom Cullity is probably the most famous wine from Margaret River. The other wines did not overly impress us. If we're going to haul just one or two bottles home in checked luggage, it's going to be:
1) Very high end wine and/or
2) Something we don't think we can find at home.

Living in California sets a high bar in the wine department. It's not only that we can visit wineries in person, many of which only sell direct and not through stores. The stores we do have are very competitive and not restricted by state government as in many US states and Canadian provinces. It's not uncommon to find excellent wines from Italy or South America in our local Costco for less than they would cost in their home markets. That's the reason for criteria #1&2 above when we are traveling.

I also got spoiled for wine in my 20's when first growth Bordeaux were available from Trader Joe's for $16-$20 per bottle. The British were historically the major consumers of that wine, and the British economy was very bad in the 1970's, resulting in those temporary bargain prices.

The last of those Bordeaux were consumed during Iron Blosam weeks in the late 1990's and early 2000's, and consensus was that some of my Napa cabs held their own with them. I'm not buying first growth Bordeaux at current prices but I have a handful of second growths and a lot of premium California cabs from the excellent 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016 vintages. The bad years for California skiing seem to correspond often with the great years for wine.
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Cullen and Moss Wood would rate up there with Vasse Felix I would think.
Have you tried any good Coonawarra cabs? Wynns? Or any renowned SA Shiraz like Penfolds Grange or Henschke Hill of Grace?
We have had a couple of Coonawarra cabs. Aussie Shiraz used to be the best value wines at Costco, but have been superseded by Argentine Malbecs. We have not had Penfolds Grange or other high end Aussie Shiraz.