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Margaret River, WA

The heart of Western Australia's premier wine region

Margaret River is both a town and a region. As a region it is a hugely successful wine growing district with over 80 vineyards, many of which have impressive cellar doors. At a town it is a typical wine growing region service centre with an emphasis on cafes, boutique shops and a sense of chic-ness. It has an impressive Farmers Market and an excess of upmarket restaurants. It lies close to superb beaches and impressive  limestone caves. The district's magnet is its vineyards which produce some of the best wines in the country.

Location

Margaret River is located 270 km south of Perth via Bunbury and Busselton.

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Origin of Name

The first Europeans into the area were settlers from Augusta travelling north in 1831 trying to find land which was productive. It is likely that the river was named after Margaret Wyche, a cousin of John Garrett Bussell. She was planning to come to Australia.  The name first appeared on a map in 1839.

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Things to See and Do

Rotary Park
Located on Bussell Highway at the entrance to the town, is the Rotary Park, a beautiful stretch of woodland on the banks of the Margaret River, which is ideal for picnics, bird watching (notably the white-breasted robin and golden whistler), wildflowers in the spring and barbecues. There is an excellent children's play area and a steam engine which has a sign explaining ''Kate is a locomotive built in England in 1889 and shipped to Margaret River in 1890. It was used for log hauling until 1909. Eventually in 1917 it was sent to Wyndham where it was used until the early 1950s. It was transported back to the area in 1964 as a memorial to the pioneers of the timber industry in this district, Margaret River."

Old Settlement Historical Museum
Walk through Rotary Park and across a bridge to the 'Old Settlement Historical Museum'. Established by the local Rotary Club in 1977, the Settlement is a memorial to the Group Settlement farms of the area with its Group House, dating from 1924; its Bramley Group School; the Cowaramup Group House; as well as a blacksmith's shop; farm buildings (an old Milking Shed and Dairy) and farm machinery. This is a model of how an historic village can be run. Visitors are introduced to the area by a brief tape on the history of Group Settlement then a guide takes people through explaining the various buildings. There are also displays of wood turning and the blacksmith's art. Of particular interest is the photographic museum which may well have the finest collection of old cameras in Australia. It is open from 9.00 am - 5.00 pm daily. Contact (08) 9757 2775 for more details. Or check out https://www.margaretriver.com/members/margaret-river-old-settlement.

Margaret River Trails
There are a number of trails along the Margaret River all of which start at the Rotary Park. As the signage at the beginning of the walks explains: "The trails retrace the old timber and railway lines and feature river views amidst natural bushland at a leisurely pace. They offer a pleasant half day out with opportunities for picnicing, nature, study and swimming."

* The South Bank River Trail heads south from the bridge to the Barrett Street Weir and does an easy 2.4 km loop. See https://trailswa.com.au/trails/rotary-south-bank-river-trail/print for a map and more details.

* Margaret River Heritage Trail - is a figure eight which combines the South Bank River Trail with a northerly trail. It starts at the Rotary Park and takes between one and three hours. There is a very detailed description of the walk, with some excellent photographs, at https://www.thelifeofpy.com/margaret-river-heritage-trail.

* Karri Walk is a 1.5 km walk through bushland

* Ten Mile Brook cycle and walking trail - this is a 15 km return trail (it will take around half a day) which runs alongside Ten Mile Brook. The trail tends to follow the old timber tramway formations up the Margaret River to the Rusden picnic site at Ten Mile Brook Dam. For a map and more details check out https://trailswa.com.au/trails/10-mile-brook-trail/print.

* Wadandi Track - a 23 km walking and cycle track from Cowaramup to Witchcliffe with a number of different entry points. It follows the railway line which was built in the 1880s to transport timber to the jetties at Hamelin Bay and Flinders Bay. The railway was closed in 1957. The route includes bridges and cuttings. For more information check out https://www.margaretriver.com/members/wadandi-track.

St Thomas More Catholic Church
Located at 22b Wallcliffe Road, the St Thomas More Catholic Church, has been built of rammed earth and local timber. It is a fine example of contemporary church architecture with some excellent joinery and interesting leadlight and stained glass windows. Check out https://stmcps.wa.edu.au/our-community-parish for more details.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Wineries in the Area
In areas like Margaret River, where there are more than 82 cellar doors, it is best to refer to the specific knowledge provided by the local tourist information sites. The Margaret River Region Wineries site (https://www.margaretriver.com/eat-drink/wineries/), part of the official Margaret River website, provides maps and all the details of opening hours, phone numbers and contact point for each winery in the district. The Margaret River vineyards and wineries lie between Busselton and Witchcliffe. The climate in the area is perfect for wine growing. It is classically Mediterranean with cool frost-free winters, good soils which retain the moisture, low summer rainfall and a long, slow ripening period. The first grapes were planted as recently as 1967. Today the region is producing Rhine Riesling, Chardonnay, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Shiraz.

Historic Homes in the District
Wallcliffe
Arthur Bussell, a member of the famous Bussell family who gave their name to Busselton, built Wallcliffe on the road between Prevelly and Margaret River, in 1855–65. It has the appearance of an English country house with its wide verandas, gabled roof and attic windows. It was built from local stone and pit sawn timbers by a team of workmen who, according to legend, included deserters from American whalers, an Aboriginal stockman and ex-convicts. It is recognised as one of the most important historic homes in the district. The house was seriously damaged by a bushfire in 2011 and has been rebuilt to recapture the glory of the original. See https://www.wallcliffehouseblog.com/blog/backgroundandoverview for more details. See also https://www.amrtimes.com.au/news/augusta-margaret-river-times/five-star-resort-for-wallcliffe-house-ng-b881313142z for details of the planned changes to the house.

Basildene Manor
Located at 187 Wallcliffe Road, Basildene is a huge two storey granite dwelling built in 1912. "It was built in 1912, by Percy Willmott and his wife Margaret (Brockman) for his family. Two sons (Henry and Edward), and a daughter (Madge) were raised at Basildene and their descendants remained at Basildene until the late 1970’s. Inspired by the beautiful and unique natural materials abounding in Margaret River, he painstakingly built a residence that would stand as a beacon of grandeur against the surrounding Karri trees. The Manor is shaded at the front by a huge oak tree that was planted in approximately 1910 from an acorn acquired from the grounds of Buckingham Palace. Granite rocks were quarried on the property and the finest selected to build the magnificent walls, while inside superbly finished local jarrah was used to fashion the staircases, balustrades, the floors and the majestic central gallery and main hall." In recent times it has been converted into the Mercure Basildene Manor with 19 rooms and suites. The above quotation is from their website. It is possible to stay in refurbished rooms in the original Manor House. Check out https://www.margaretriver.com/members/basildene-manor for more details. It is listed by State Heritage which provides a very detailed history of the construction and ownership at http://inherit.stateheritage.wa.gov.au/Public/Inventory/PrintSingleRecord/91ab9f27-2e35-42bc-bef6-f37bbd15f521 which notes of the building: "The original house was built in 1912 in the Victorian Georgian style. Large extensions were built in the late twentieth/early twenty-first century (relating to its use as a guest house). The construction of the original house is as follows. The floor construction consists of timber floorboards, probably on traditional bearers and stumps. The walls are of random stone. The haunched sashes of the double hung timber windows are divided into two panes each. Windows and doors have stucco surrounds. The design of the roof is such that the ridge line is parallel to the east, north and west external walls giving the appearance of a normal hipped roof."

Ellensbrook
Located on Ellen Brook Road, Ellensbrook, built in the 1850s by Alfred Bussell for his wife Ellen, is now owned by the National Trust and, as the entry in the National Estate notes, it is "constructed partly of wattle-and-daub, and partly of vertical laths and battens, it contains driftwood spars in the roof structure." The National Trust website explains that "In 1857 Ellen and Alfred Bussell chose the site of their new home. Sheltered from the winter storms, the site had access to fresh water and was surrounded by fertile soil. Over the decades the house was built in stages by ticket-of-leave convicts, deserting seamen and local Noongars. The Ellensbrook venture was successful, with income derived from the sale of beef, butter and cheese. Much of the success was due to the practical skills, energy and sound management of Ellen. Alfred and Ellen left Ellensbrook in 1865. Between 1871 and 1877 Ellensbrook was managed, and the homestead extended, by the eldest of their five daughters, Fanny. Later, the second daughter Edith made Ellensbrook her permanent home. In 1899 she established the Ellensbrook Farm Home for Aboriginal Children. The Home continued for 17 years during which time Edith continued the tradition of extending the main building." The grounds are open daily and the house is open Thursday to Saturday from 10.00 am - 4.00 pm. Tel: (08) 9755 5173 or https://www.nationaltrust.org.au/places/ellensbrook and https://ellensbrook.com.au.

The Berry Farm
Located at 43 Bessell Road, Rosa Glen, The Berry Farm is 16 km south-west of Margaret River. In season it offers a range of berries including strawberries, raspberries and boysenberries and, all year round, it offers homemade Jams, Preserves, Sauces, Syrups and other gourmet creations as well as Sparkling Fruit Wines, Dessert Wines, Fortified Wines (Ports), Liqueurs, Ciders and Vinegars. It is open from 10.00 am - 4.00 pm. Tel: (08) 9757 5054 or check out https://theberryfarm.com.au.

Prevelly
Located 9 km west of Margaret River, Prevelly has become a fashionable haunt because of its pristine location, the sublime surfing conditions and the arrival of a number of resorts and cafes. It is famous for its superb surfing conditions. It used to be the setting for the Masters surfing competition (it still is - but the competition changes its name according to sponsorship) and the steady waves which roll in from the Indian Ocean attract surfers from all over the country - as well as international board riders. This is a surf for serious surfers. The waves can be huge and the skills involved ensure that the viewing platforms at Surfers Point are often packed with admirers with binoculars.

Mammoth Cave
Mammoth Cave is located 13 km south-west from Margaret River. It was discovered by Tim Connelly around 1900 and is hugely important because of the fossils which were found.  These fossils included  the remains of a Tasmanian tiger, a Tasmanian devil and a giant kangaroo all of which have been extinct in Western Australia for hundreds of years. Over 10,000 animal bones were found in the cave. The cave was first opened to the public in 1904. Tim Connelly became the caretaker and guide. Mammoth Cave is open seven days from 9.00 am - 5.00 pm. There is a self-guided tour. For more information check out http://www.margaretriver.com/operators/7705 or tel: (08) 9757 7411.

Lake Cave
Lake Cave is located 2 km south of Mammoth Cave and is recognised as the most delicate and pretty of all the caves in the region between Dunsborough and Augusta. The entrance to the cave is through a collapsed cavern which forms a huge crater. This crater was first discovered by Fanny Bussell in about 1867 but it wasn't until the 1890s that Tim Connelly climbed down the 30 m cliff and entered the cave.The cave was open for public inspection in 1901. The lake and the delicate white formations, including an unusual ‘table formation’ created by a piece of flowstone and two columns, make this a cave of exceptional beauty. There are guided tours of the cave with the last tour at 3.30 pm. Check out http://www.margaretriver.com/local-business/7706-lake-cave or tel: (08) 9757 7411.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was inhabited by members of the Wardandi Noongar people.

* In 1831 the first Europeans into the area were settlers from Augusta moving north trying to find land which was productive.

* By the 1850s Arthur Bussell, a member of the famous Bussell family who settled around Augusta, had moved to the area. He built the family home, Wallcliffe, between 1855–65.

* The area became important for timber cutting in the 1870s.

* By 1894 Thomas Higgins and his family had set up a livery stables to change coach horses on the track from Busselton to Karridale. At the time the area was known as 'Upper Margaret'.

* By 1910 Higgins had set up a hostel which was also operating as a Post Office.

* Lots of land were surveyed at Margaret River in 1912.

* The townsite of Margaret River was gazetted in 1913.

* In 1918 the town became officially known as Margaret.

* It wasn't until after World War I that the town of Margaret River really became established. The Group Settlement Scheme, an attempt to attract migrants to Western Australia and open up the good rural land, attracted settlers to the Margaret River district.

* In the winter of 1922 over 100 settlers (soldiers and their families) moved into the district.

* The railway line from Perth reached the town in 1927. That year saw the town's name change to Margaret River.

* By the 1930s dairy farming was a dominant local industry.

* The railway closed down in 1956.

* In 1967 cardiologist Dr. Cullity planted the first commercial vineyard at Vasse Felix.

* In 1969 the first national surf titles were held on the coast.

* By 1972 Moss Wood, Cape Mentelle, Cullens and Sandalford wineries had opened.

* In 2019 the Margaret River Perimeter Road bypassed the town.

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Visitor Information

Margaret River Visitor Centre, 100 Bussell Highway, tel: (08) 9780 5911, Open 9.00 am - 5.00 pm seven days a week.

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Useful Websites

There is a useful local website. Check out https://www.margaretriver.com/towns/margaret-river.

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