Friends of Merribrook, enjoy this recent article about a few of the wonderful people and places around Margaret River.
“There’s more to Margaret River than wine”
- by: Andrew L. Urban
- From: The Australian
- February 08, 2014 12:00AM
HE flew in on his own 767, followed by a back-up plane, and was driven around in a bulletproof car, surrounded by bodyguards, at least at the start.
The man Time magazine nominated as one of the world’s most influential in 2008, Saudi oil minister Ali Al-Naimi had booked a private five-day Margaret River Discovery tour, putting himself in the hands of one-man tour operator Sean Blocksidge. “He loved the fresh air and hours of uninterrupted walking without seeing anyone,” recalls Blocksidge of the 2010 visit. By day two the bodyguards had been dismissed; they just wouldn’t have looked right paddling a three-man canoe down the river behind their 75-year-old boss. Blocksidge has fond memories of this client, one of the vast array of people he meets. “It’s the best part of it for me,” he says.
We are driving in Blocksidge’s six-seater Land Rover towards the spot on the river where his canoes are stowed, not far from my Busselton base. It’s a small outfit – Blocksidge does it all. Prior to starting the business he’d spent five years as operations manager at Voyager Estate winery, but saw an opening for a boutique eco-tourism operation, launching just as the global financial crisis hit. After investing $100,000 he was on the verge of closing when one of the few customers he’d had posted a rave review on travel website TripAdvisor. “The phone and emails went nuts,” he recalls. That was more than four years ago and he’s been working five days a week ever since.
Blocksidge offers “tours for people who don’t do tours”. I’ve opted for a day with him and a day exploring on my own. As we paddle into the calm of the river, swollen by heavy rains the week before, he points out an eagle above and the freshwater river mussels just visible beneath the canoe, while giving a commentary on the trees and plants along the shore.
We beach the canoes for a quick drive to the Yalgardup Falls, so tucked away that Blocksidge reckons 98 per cent of the locals have never seen it. On flat rocks beside the gurgling flow he takes out three squeezy jars of honey, each from a different local tree, and we sample the distinctive flavours in a moment of silent contemplation.
We don’t see any of the famous local marron but later, eating lunch in the casual elegance of the Leeuwin Estate winery restaurant, we sample its sweet, tender flesh, which chef Dany Angove serves with pork. “You can catch them if you are slow and patient by wiggling your toes in water and waiting and waiting as they crawl over to have a look if you’re edible,” Blocksidge says. “The trick is to grab them lightning fast from behind without losing a finger in the process.” The marron, he says, can only be caught in a one-month season (January 8 to February 5).
A short drive away is a section of the 135km Cape to Cape (Naturaliste to Leeuwin) hiking trail, where we walk off lunch over a 4km round trip, enjoying the ocean views and masses of wild flowers at our feet. It’s a world-class biodiversity hotspot with about 2000 species of plants and wildlife.
Back in the Land Rover we head for the village of Prevelly, 20 minutes away and just south of the Margaret River’s mouth. As we approach we see a beautiful white Greek chapel
on a hill. Is this a multicultural village?
No, the chapel was built by returned serviceman Geoff Edwards as a tribute to the community in Crete who helped hide him from the enemy during World War II. It stands facing the sea, waiting for worshippers. Sitting outside at the Sea Gardens cafe, we catch sight of one of the 40,000 whales that pass this stretch of coast every year.
Bunker Bay was so named because it was the last place sailors could take refuge along this part of the WA coast. Now customers coming by boat can book a mooring in advance and find refuge at Bunkers Beach Cafe, where, over breakfast the next day, we again keep watch for passing whales. As well as breakfast and lunch, the 70-seat cafe (with wood fireplace) caters for functions, making full use of the timber terrace outside with steps leading to the sweeping, crescent-shaped 2km beach. Wedding planners love it.
Blocksidge’s Discovery tours also offer a couple of wine tours, with tastings at some of the 80-odd cellar doors in the Margaret River region. I head off on my own to the Forester Estate winery, one of the most impressive in the area, with its French Renaissance-style sandstone facade. Co-owner Kevin McKay has just opened it to private tours this month. Small in output but with a solid reputation, Forester makes reds, whites and the unique Georgette, a dry, sparkling rose.
Next stop is Cape Naturaliste Vineyard, where Craig Brent-White, a ship’s pilot, steers his boutique winery with the same precision he uses with the big vessels in the Kimberley. He alerted his client P&O Cruises to the potential of the Margaret River region, the company sent executives to check it out and they quickly put it on their cruise map. From 2015, Pacific Jewel will anchor off the mile-long Busselton jetty and send 2000 passengers into the arms of waiting retailers, wineries and land tour operators.
At day’s end I head for The Laundry, in the middle of Busselton, converted to a bar and restaurant, both of which are super-busy when I arrive. If you go in late August you can sit outside as the stars – the film stars – come out at the annual CinefestOZ where Australian and French films are screened around the whole region, centred on Busselton’s Orana Cinemas. David Wenham is the festival’s patron and each year there is a Screen Legend award: the last two have gone to Bryan Brown and Jack Thompson. It’s almost like being on the Margaret Riviera.
margaretriverdiscovery.com.au Margaret River Discovery Tour $188-$208pp; Forester Estate offers private winery tours Friday afternoons and Saturday at $30pp, including tasting; Cape Naturaliste cellar door open seven days
My partner and I had the most relaxing and amazing stay at Merribrook Retreat on Tuesday night.
Thank you to Richard and Lorraine, the friendliest, knowledgeable and genuinly kind hearted owners, whom together have built Merribrook over 30 years.
Their hard work and passion to nature is truly shown with the stunning gardens, wonderful walks, lakes and beautiful villas.
A truly majestic place to stay in the middle of wine, food and surf country.
Time to escape the bustle of the city?
Urban myth or reality?
Once upon a time, Skippy was our Merribrook Retreat pet kangaroo. A huge strong and cheeky male, this gorgeous creature, some 18 years ago endeared himself to all. Perhaps some of you can remember him-up on the lodge verandah, nibbling my then young garden, scaring startled guests along the villa paths.
Once he held two bemused children hostage on their top bunk. He had entered the villa looking for biscuits-he had developed a passion for sweet food (not that we would offer him biscuits today, being more ecologically aware!!) The children were too scared to climb down and endured a long siege awaiting the return of their parents. All the while Skippy consumed the entire contents of their Christmas biscuit tin.
A passion for biscuits grew into a passion for beer, wine and ultimately champagne. In Villa Two, one spring a charming representative of Moet and Chandon was enjoying a magnificent Merribrook sundown.
The Moet was chilled, the glasses poured. The Frenchman stretched lazily on his wisteria clad verandah. Suddenly Skippy arrives on the scene. With grace and experience, he reached for the champagne flute and elegantly drained the glass. The startled Frenchman came running to us at the Lakeside Lodge. I have seen everything now, even Moet drinking bush kangaroos
I believe this story lives on in France to this day!
However we all realized our Skippy was becoming too familiar, too human. What of his own kind, his own life in the wild? We took him about 100km from Merribrook deep into the State forest and bid him a fond farewell. We thought often of him over the past 18 years.
This is now where the urban myth or Merribrook reality comes into play. My youngest daughter and I were walking over the new stone bridge by the waterfall and the dogs disturbed the biggest old roo I have seen in years. Actually, the biggest since Skippy went away. Strangely the roo, albeit cross with the dogs presence did not hop away. Instead we fled, a little confused and fearful from this strange encounter.
Next morning the very same large old male kangaroo was feeding close to the road. I wound down my car window- he was barely two feet from me. I questioned aloud,
Who are you, old boy? That afternoon I walked down to the old Western Grey who was now very close to Villa 6 verandah. It suddenly came to me. Was it, is it?
I walked up to him, looked him in the eye firmly and asked, Are you Skippy, the Moet drinking bush kangaroo? To my greatest joy his eyes sparkled, his ears twitched and his nose snuffed and He leaned into me.
Skippy, Skippy, you have come home.
I looked for Skippy the next morning, and the next morning. Where are you, Skippy?
The days turned into a week. The guests told me of a strong smell near Villa Six. On walking deep into the creek vegetation, I found dear Skippy, peacefully asleep, sadly dead.
On recounting Skippys story to my wonderful neighbour who has raised orphan kangaroos for years and has lived close to nature for almost six decades, she told me some startling facts.
Yes, kangaroos especially males do go home to die.
Yes, kangaroos can live in excess of 20 years.
And yes, Skippy, the Moet drinking bush kangaroo never lost his love for his early Merribrook home and travelled over 100kms to return home to die.
The not so secret Merribrook Retreat recipes for your enjoyment. Think Chocolate Banana Bread and famous Chocolate Cake! more
Breakfast at Merribrook is always special. Your Margaret River breakfast view in the warmer months…
Our Friends & Family Deal is excellent for a Margaret River Special for families and friends travelling together.
4th person stays free in a Forest Edge Garden Villa, Two night minimum stay. Includes a fully cooked breakfast for all. more
This can be booked online on ring Lorraine 0897 555 599