Saturday, September 24th, 2011: Bunbury, Australia
Bunbury is a small coastal town of about 55,000 people along the southwest Australian coast and is the gateway city for the Margaret River wine region. That’s our focus today and we hire a car and take to the roads, headed for the world famous wineries that call this fertile grape growing region home.
Arriving into Bunbury at 8am in the morning, the ship pulled up to the dock, where we were extremely fortunate to have our rental car driven right to the ship for pickup, no muss, no fuss. Dave, our local Hertz manager was at the portside with our white Toyota Corolla just a few minutes after we walked off the gangway, and that allowed us to make the most of a realtively short port of call (back at the ship by 3:30pm!).
We wasted no time getting on the road, heading south along the coast and then to Highway 10, the main north south road between the Margaret River region, Bunbury, and Perth. Thankfully, once we got out of the main city limits, the speed limit increased to 110kph (66mph) and we were quickly making our way towards our destination.
As we were able to get started on time, we were able to reach Margaret River just before 10am in the morning, stop off at the market to pick up lunch and reached our first winery, Leeuwin Estate just after they had opened. While Natalie enjoyed a number of complimentary wine tastings, Darin went about exploring the grounds.
It seems that wineries in this area of the world are not just about the grapes and the wineyards (though the wines are exceptional and win countless accolades around the world), but the wineries and the grounds they occupy are worth seeing independent of the wine. Exceptionally manicured, with rolling green hills, ponds, lakes, waterfalls, wildflowers, amongst a number of landscape masterpieces, each place requires a separate time period to walk the grounds, have a picnic, or examine all of the “artwork” created by the plants and gardens on the property.
Leeuwin Estate was unfortunately overtaken by a cruise ship tour bus of 50 or so people while we were there, so we made a quick exit and headed just a minute or two down the road to Voyager Estate, another winery, where their 250 hectacre property had a massive and beautiful tasting room, along with a restaurant, two rose gardens, reflecting pools, greenhouses, and over a kilometer of walking trails around the property. While we enjoyed exceptional whites and reds of the region, we balanced that time with endless views of beautiful wide open spaces, punctuated only by grape vines, an occasional dairy ranch, and these epic wineries. Voyager alone employs nine (9) full time gardeners and the time and attention clearly attracts countless accolades.
From here, we continued to Cullen Winery, a much smaller winery, but with a unique growing and natural manufacturing process with a focus of “letting the fruit do the talking” and creating a substantial set of wines that we both thoroughly enjoyed. We were even more pleased to learn that they are distrbuted in the states, and so we will have the opportunity to continue to enjoy them long after our trip has ended.
Our next epic winery of the day was Vasse Felix, where not only could you enjoy the wineries, but also spend the afternoon in their art gallery (on site), walk in their park on the grounds, and take a km long “sculpture walk” admiring a number of sculpture works on the property as you walked your way through. It seemed that these wineries might want to start charging an entrance fee just to park your car, but ironically, everything, including all of the wine tasting here — was free. Just another massive bonus to such a great day in the Margaret River valley.
We closed out the day at our fifth and final winery for our independent tour, a place called Palmer. Though they have just a small event venue (for smaller weddings, banquets, and events) on site at the winery, the staff member pouring was a bubbly woman with a serious Barry White music kick (it must have been on repeat the entire time we were there) and provided us with a huge number of great ideas of how to spend the rest of our afternoon. After a lengthy wine pour with her (we had the place to ourselves while we were there), we headed out and slowly worked our way back through the towns of Dunsborough and Busselton and headed back towards Bunbury to return to the ship.
As we approached the port, along Ocean Road in the town are a number of beach access points with amazing views of the crashing waves and surf (though we did not enter the water — just two weeks prior someone lost their life at this exact beach to a great white attack), we sat in the car and enjoyed a late picnic lunch. It was a great day, and returning our car right to the port was a plus as it saved us almost 30 minutes each way in picking up our car from the town center and walking back to the ship in the afternoon. Dave, Rebecca, and the team at Hertz/GoWest Southwest Australia did a fantastic job and we would highly recommend them.
Back to the ship for dinner and rest as we have one more port tomorrow — Albany!