You always hear that Australia is a perfect destination for families but I had not realized how true it was until we recently travelled from our home base – Hong Kong - to Southwestern Australia (7h flight to Perth – no jetlag). This trip was initially scheduled for Christmas however we soon realized we’d better avoid the busy Australian summer holidays and wait until Chinese New Year (February), which proved to be a perfect time to travel to Perth and its South coast: ideal weather, nicely warm with clear blue skies, no flies (heard they can be very annoying) and no crowds.
Our ten-day trip was perfectly balanced with just enough road-trip discoveries and laid-back beach and wine treat.
As economically dynamic as the capital of Western Australia may be, it remains a relaxed city, sitting by the quiet Swan River. Landing in Perth, we immediately got that sense of space, which is so specific to Australia: large avenues with brand new skyscrapers, wide green parks and endless cycling-trails along the sleepy riverbanks. We stayed one day in Perth and it started by a visit to the zoo, which is set in lush nature. This was an occasion to discover local species such as kangaroos, koalas or dingos, but also many others with the insightful guidance from the zookeepers. This is probably the nicely kept zoo we have ever visited.
We went through the business center at lunchtime, it was bustling with people on a break, enjoying a bite together with lively street performances, and we happily joined them. We loved the ambiance in the Northbridge district with its colorful low-rise buildings, ethnic restaurants (Chinese, Japanese, Greek, Lebanese, etc) and local stores. The cultural center was quiet at that time of the day but we could easily picture the atmosphere at night with outdoor performances and nearby bars; our highlight there was our stop at the Ben & Jerry’s trailer for yummy ice creams.
After a restful break by the hotel’s swimming pool (Hyatt regency), we headed for a late afternoon walk in beautiful Kings Park, which offers sweeping views of the city. We certainly missed the dining scene and I regret we couldn't make it to the Indiana Tea House in Cottesloe, which is well renowned for its colonial setting.
Southern coast and forests, a taste of wilderness
We left Perth with our rented car and immediately got the feeling of the road-trip once getting on the Albany highway linking Perth to the southern town of Albany, a 400km road with only two lanes, crossing the bush, unbounded farm-lands, dry plains and just a few villages where it felt wise to fill-up with fuel and refreshments. We stopped for lunch at the Woolshed in Williams and were thrilled with the local atmosphere of this remote village.
Our destination was Cape Howe cottages located on the southern coast, halfway between Albany and Denmark. We were greeted in this homey cottage by a group of wild kangaroos and a warm British couple. The cottage was set in the woods, only five-minute drive from a beautiful sandy beach with lots of trekking paths accessible directly out of our doorstep. It was a cultural shock going for groceries in the nearby general store: we couldn't go more local!
We spent a day exploring Denmark’s surroundings. The inland offers picturesque landscapes with vineyards, forests, rivers and sheltered inlets. Our kids particularly enjoyed our stop at the Denmark Animal Farm where they got a chance to pet and feed koalas, kangaroos and many other farm animals. We had lunch at the Castelli Estate, at the top of a hill with gorgeous views over the vineyards. The rest of the day was spent exploring the coast at the William bay National Park (splendid Greens Pool and Elephants Rocks) before enjoying our first bath in the Ocean at the stunningly beautiful Ocean Beach, luckily the waves were gentle at that famous surfers’ spot.
After a second night in our cottage, we headed East towards Walpole-Nornalup National Park. It was a total change of scenery once we entered the Valley of the Giants with the road winding amidst the giant tingle trees. The children were thrilled when we went for the Tree Top Walk, a 600m-long ramp which goes into the canopy of the giant trees, going up to 40m above the ground. We had a memorable picnic on the splendid and wild Mandalay beach in D’Entrecasteaux National Park. On our way to our next destination, Pemberton, it was very sad to drive through the devastated forest, which had just burnt a couple of days before.
We stayed one night in a delightful and comfy cottage at Foragers from where we could easily go for countryside walks; we even had a chance to spot a fox running in the bush. It was another authentic and local experience to have our Sunday dinner at Pemberton’s pub.
Beach & wine feast in Margaret River’s region
The next day we drove (1h30) to Augusta, which is a tiny and colorful town standing at the mouth of the Blackwood River, constantly swept by strong winds. We had a tasty bite at a local coffee shop, the Deckchair Gourmet. From there, it was only a 5km drive to Cape Leeuwin lighthouse, the very southwesterly point of Australia, where the Indian and Southern Oceans meet. The sea there was rough and crushing nervously against the rocks filling us with a sense of adventure. It was such a contrast to discover a few kilometers up North the turquoise and tranquil water of the lagoon-like Hamelin Bay where we swan alongside rays (there can be waves on certain days though). The white sandy beach seemed to stretch forever without a soul on it, a vision of paradise!
We pursued our way up North along the scenic 250 road. The landscape was slowly changing, getting a bit more polished with wine estates elegantly fenced and vineyards sunbathing on hilly slops. It was again a change of atmosphere when we reached our final destination, Dunsborough. We immediately liked the beach holiday atmosphere of this little town. We rented for five nights the perfect beach cottage from a rental website. We loved the fact that it was on one level with a large terrace stepping down to a garden directly ending on the beach. From then on, we dropped the nomad rhythm to settle into a completely relaxed mood, exploring at a slower path the nearby beaches and wineries.
Our family had a crush on Bunker bay’s beach where we kept coming back: it was safe for the kids to swim; they enjoyed snorkeling and exploring the wild life on the nearby rocks. We had lunch at the Bunker Bay café where our collective sweet tooth particularly appreciated their freshly baked cakes. From there it was only a short drive to Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse and the magnificent trails circling the cape.
Eagle bay was another very good pick: the beach is pristine, the water so clear and the sand immaculate, a paradise for sand castle builders. We liked that there were no waves, as it felt safer for our young children. It is common to see dolphins swimming there; unfortunately we did not get that chance. It was a fantastic experience to get out of our wet suits, the skin still salty and to just drive five minutes inland to have a gastronomic lunch at the nearby winery Wise. The restaurant’s terrace is on top of a hill overlooking the green slopes gently melting into the deep blue ocean.
On the only greyish day of our stay we turned our back to the sea and headed to Margaret River. We went for a wine tasting and lunch at the superb Voyager Estate. The food was exquisite and we particularly liked their Cabernet sauvignon Merlot. By the time we had finished lunch, the sky had cleared up and we went for a walk on the estate, which has gorgeous gardens. While we were in this area we decided to check Prevelly beach, which sits at the mouth of Margaret River; we had a fun time there admiring surfers and kite-surfers.
The region has plenty of family activities (which we did not try) to offer from swimming with dolphins, to feeding farm animals, or discovering chocolate & ice-cream factories. You can’t think of a more children-friendly destination.
Our evenings were all spent in our homey beach cottage where we had the best family barbecues on the terrace, getting a taste of the Australian way of life!
The road back to Perth airport (3h) took us through large open landscapes with changing skies, lights and colors, filling us one last time with this unique and precious sense of space and communion with nature, which certainly was the major take away from this memorable family holiday.